Is the multiverse hype distracting from the big MCU stories?
The next big thing in the MCU is the multiverse and fans are in it, but does this concept and the hype surrounding it weaken smaller-scale MCU movies?
Recent and upcoming Marvel Cinematic Universe releases focus on the popular concept of the multiverse, in which the universe of the main films is just one of the infinite realities occurring simultaneously. The concept is popular in the comics and fans are already excited to see it on the big screen, but is the multiverse eclipsing Marvel’s small-scale stories?
Marvel movies have always operated on various scales, some built around national military threats, others spanning the depths of space. These stories manage to blend together well, but the addition of theoretically infinite alternate universes in which all possibilities could arise threatens to weaken the stakes of the other films.
The first introduction of the MCU’s multiverse has arrived Loki, which strongly focuses on the concept of fracturing realities leading to infinite alternate worlds. The next Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness center the concept in its title, integrating it into marketing as soon as it is announced. The recently announced series what if is a series of possible multiverse explored by the almighty Watcher, an exercise in playing with existing characters in new scenarios. These properties seem to be intertwined with narratives on a much smaller scale, such as Wandavision and Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Engaged fans might shy away from more personal stories that keep their narratives tight, in favor of the more universe-shaping fare.
It’s a fun concept, but surely at this cultural point of time, the only thing that could overshadow Marvel’s power is Marvel itself. Introducing a concept like the multiverse is a big risk, similar to the risk taken years ago that created this huge, interconnected cinematic universe. Movies coming to the MCU include Eternal, which focuses on the secret group of immortals living on Earth, and Shang-Chi and the legend of the ten rings, a martial arts film about a master fighter attacking a terrorist organization. Movies like these are fun and interesting, but if fans are only interested in the multiverse, they will miss some great puzzle pieces in the larger Marvel tale.
There is no point of comparison for this phenomenon, no film empire has ever reached the heights where the concept of the multiverse was a possibility. This type of high-profile sci-fi can be a huge draw for longtime fans, but it could also be a turn off for newcomers. Some members of the audience find the existing MCU impenetrable due to its enormous overall autonomy, between all the concepts, characters and events that a newcomer is supposed to understand. This idea, extending the canon to endless alternate universes, could make the MCU even harder to get past.
The MCU’s smaller-scale movie is likely Spider-Man: Homecoming, which primarily focuses on young Peter Parker taking control of his powers, working to impress Tony Stark and facing his double life. The villain of the film is a junkyard turned arms dealer who threatens to arm most petty criminals with dangerous weapons. Some huge action sets are certainly happening, but overall it’s a very character-driven tale, examining Peter Parker’s personal life and struggles. This movie has almost nothing to do with Sam Wilson’s Big 3; aliens, androids and wizards. While the film is largely not involved in the larger MCU narrative, fans loved it. Back home and deeply connected with Parker. The filmmakers have proven that even when a story is primarily stand-alone and personal, they can still retain fans and newcomers.
The existence of the multiverse introduces endless possibilities for future narratives with both existing characters and new favorites. Marvel comics have used the multiverse to create wild alternate stories that would destroy the suspension of disbelief in the mainstream universe, and are regularly praised for the idea. The concept is strong, but the risk of it eclipsing smaller-scale films can only fail if small-scale films are narratively weak. These upcoming MCU movies may not have the multiverse to draw the crowds, but they can still fall back on the usual draw; captivating action, adorable characters and sheer simple fun.
The MCU’s most memorable moments often have little to do with the overall universal narrative, they’re usually more focused on moments of a cathartic character. Even moments related to the larger universe are more memorable for their significance to the story than for their contributions to the network as a whole. From Hulk’s “puny god” to Yondu telling Star-Lord “he might be your dad, but he wasn’t your dad,” the moments that remain in fans’ hearts for years are won thanks to the emotional arc of a character. The multiverse hype can cycle the marketing for movies like Eternals a little quieter, but no aspect of the overall narrative will change the power of the character-centric narrative.
The concept of a multiverse will change the MCU forever, and some fans are sure to miss out on great stories if they focus exclusively on them. However, no new dimension or concept expansion will divert the core of Marvel’s production.
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