No way back! Why the superhero multiverse is a totally bonkers idea

·5-min read

Now that anything goes in Marvel and DC’s extended cinematic universes, how long before the barminess of the comic-book blockbuster starts to get boring?

The Multiverse – or should that be Multiverses, as there are now Marvel and DC versions? – is clearly a good thing for superhero movies. Just as naysayers had begun to suggest comic book flicks might have exhausted all their vim and verve, along comes Spider-Man: No Way Home, a movie that uses the introduction of alternate realities to restore characters such as Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin and original wall-crawler Tobey Maguire with all the wide-eyed enthusiasm of a nine-year-old who’s just realised he can have He-Man and Jabba the Hutt battling a team comprising Snarf from the Thundercats and the Care Bears?

The problem is, the internet has now worked out that if Maguire and Andrew Garfield can return to the big screen despite having never previously been in any Marvel superhero flicks, fans can really have anyone they want in future episodes. Dig deep enough and there are web rumours that the upcoming Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness could feature the return of Robert Downey Jr as a version of Iron Man from another universe who did not die in the Infinity Wars. Not enough of an eye-popper for you? Some reports have even suggested that Tom Cruise could play a third version of Iron Man.

There is a danger here that we are getting into Snakes on a Plane territory, where fans end up almost writing the script for the film-makers. Andy Muschietti’s upcoming The Flash will see Ben Affleck and Michael Keaton return as alternative versions of Batman. And, let’s face it, there would hardly be gasps of shock if new kid Robert Pattinson turned up in Gotham at some point too. Thanks to the wonder of modern technology, DC could even re-enlist 1960s Batman Adam West if the late actor’s estate were up for it. It’s not like it hasn’t happened before.

It even looks as if Hollywood’s A-list is beginning to get in on the act. This month’s GQ features Willem Dafoe pitching the tantalising prospect of himself and Joaquin Phoenix as duelling clown princes of Gotham in an-as-yet-to-be-but-let’s-face-it-probably-going-to-be-now future sequel to the Oscar-winning Joker.

“There is something interesting about, like, if there was a Joker imposter,” Dafoe mulled. “So it would be possible to have not duelling Jokers but someone that [claims] to be the Joker that isn’t the Joker.

“And that kind of opens up the possibility of an interesting story, particularly if you had Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker, and then you had someone who was either imitating or riffing off what he did. I fantasised about that. But other than that I am not talking to anybody [about it], you’re the first one.”

But, in the current climate, it’s likely the GQ interviewer won’t be the last. And again, why not? We’re not entirely sure how Phoenix’s Joker really connects to the DC extended universe, where Jared Leto is still ostensibly Batman’s nemesis. In fact we’re not really sure if there is a DC universe any more, but there is certainly a Multiverse if The Flash is anything to go by. And that means everyone can have everything they’ve ever wanted right now, even if it means six different actors playing Batman in the same movie, like some gothic take on the spoof James Bond movie Casino Royale (1967 version) in which everyone from Peter Sellers to Woody Allen played versions of 007.

Not buying that this fan-fulfilling version of reality is the one we now live in? Let me just point out that Disney+’s biggest current show is an entire series based on a minor character from Star Wars who barely had more than a few lines in George Lucas’s original trilogy. And, yes, I love it too, green-skinned, pig-face henchmen and all.

So why shouldn’t Dafoe pitch his own Joker sequel? And why shouldn’t Iron Man be played by Cruise in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness? Except that eventually all this Multiverse-inspired stunt casting is going to become tired too, and DC and Marvel will have to think of something even more far fetched. Which, of course, we’ve all probably already worked out.

Related: Spider-Man: No Way Home review – a fun, more-is-more return to the multiverse

First, we had superheroes who appeared in each other’s movies. Then we had superheroes from different studios appearing in each other’s movies. The next logical step is for a massive DC-Marvel crossover event in which Disney and Warner Bros triple their values overnight by sending Batman into battle against Spider-Man, and Wolverine up against Superman. In fact, let’s throw Luke Skywalker and Ethan Hunt from Mission Impossible in for good measure. At this rate, Tom Cruise could actually end up fighting himself, and all in the name of good old-fashioned entertainment. It’s going to be like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen on steroids and LSD. I personally can’t wait.