Across the Multiverse
Everything Everywhere All at Once
The Multiverse is big right now. It's the major theme of the Marvel Cinematic UniverseWhen it first began in 2008 with a little film called Iron Man no one suspected the empire that would follow. Superhero movies in the past, especially those not featuring either Batman or Superman, were usually terrible. And yet, Iron Man would lead to a long series of successful films, launching the most successful cinema brand in history: the Marvel Cinematic Universe., the DC Extended UniverseStarted as DC Comics' answer to the MCU, the early films in the franchise stumbled out of the gates, often mired in grim-dark storytelling and the rushed need to get this franchise started. Eventually, though, the films began to even out, becoming better as they went along. Still, this franchise has a long way to go before it's true completion for Marvel's universe. (whatever name it's going by) is getting into it as well, and over on television we had the ArrowverseWhen it was announced that the CW was creating a show based on the Green Arrow, people laughed. The CW? Really? Was it going to be teen-oriented like everything else on the network and be called "Arrow High"? And yet that one show, Arrow has spawned three spin-offs, various related shows and given DC a successful shared universe, the Arrowverse on TV and streaming. tinkering with super-heroics and multiversal crossing for years. There is no doubt that the concept of the Multiverse, in all its infinite forms and variations, is something intriguing writers and directors, giving them ideas to explore in all kinds of media. "What if this, but with a change?"
As far as deeply exploring the Multiverse, in all its greatness and wonder, though, it's not any of the superhero franchises that have really taken the baton and run with it. Instead it's a independent film, created on a budget of only $25 Mil, that really showed just how far the concept could be pushed. Everything Everywhere All at Once is, as the titles, says, just about everything you can think of. A family drama, a kung fu action film, a bit of science-fantasy, and so much more. It's a stuffed (but not over-stuffed), two-hour-plus film that follows every strange idea and permutation it can for the sake of answering one question: where do you really want to be? And it does it impeccably well.
The film stars Michelle Yeoh as Evelyn Quan Wang, a laundromat owner with a lot going on in her life. Her business, which she owns and operates with husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), is being audited by the IRS, and the paperwork for the business is a complete mess. Along with that, her father, Gong Gong (James Hong), is now living with her due to his declining health, this despite him kicking her out of his home years ago and cutting her off entirely when she wanted to be with Waymond. She has a Lunar New Year party she's trying to throw for her business, which is adding even more pressure since they need the party to go well to help drum up more customers. And her daughter, Joy (Stephanie Hsu), is growing more and more distant as Evelyn struggles to accept that Joy is gay, has a girlfriend, and wants to be free to be herself.
Things, weirdly, come to a head at the meeting with the IRS. On the elevator up, Waymond suddenly changes, acting like a very different person. He gives her a set of instructions, as well as a pair of earbuds, and tells her that she needs to make a choice. When she does, she suddenly finds herself plunged into the Multiverse, seeing the other lives of her various selves. This Waymond, who calls himself Waymond-Prime, can help Evelyn tap into the skills and knowledge of all her various versions, all so she can help fight the growing threat: Jobu Tupaki. Why Evelyn? because this version of her is the only one with the ability to really absorb all her other selves and use theirs skills to her advantage. But as Evelyn learns who and what Jobu Tupaki really is, she starts to question everything about herself, her life, and her place in the grand scheme of the cosmos.
On its face, Everything Everywhere All at Once is a deeply strange movie. It dives in deep on the Multiverse, throwing concepts at the audience quickly and expecting them to keep up. It does a lot, without every really explaining most of its tech (if you need the earbuds to travel the multiverse, how can they just exist in new universes?) because that would take too much time. It then does a lot of goofy things, playing many of ideas as almost farcical, creating this heightened sense of reality. Anyone watching the film is going to find themselves in for a strange and goofy ride.
The thing is, though, that's part of the joy of the movie. Much like it's title, and its concept, Everything Everywhere All at Once really wants to be everything. It wants to by that goofy stoner comedy, the kung fu action flick, the multiversal fantasy film, and so much more. Hell, there's one plot line involving a master chef who is really being controlled by a raccoon, a la Ratatouille, all because the film is willing to explore every idea it can come up with and so much more. It is deeply weird, with a purpose.
The strangeness of the film allows the movie to go to every angle it can think of in pursuit of its true story: the bond between a mother and her daughter. The film really boils down to Evelyn needing to find herself, needing to figure out who she wants to be. That's not just for herself, mind you, but also so she can heal the rift between herself and her daughter. As the film underlines more than once, despite her being treated like shit by her own father, Evelyn falls into the same patterns with Joy, but she's trapped in a cycle where she can't escape that. She pushes Joy away because she doesn't know what else to do, and it's only via her trip through all her other lives that she can see what she really wants and what really matters most to her: Joy.
And naturally, to go to that, the film has to set up a world ending event via an evil mastermind, a multiversal cult, and the hardest of hardcore everything bagels you'll ever see. We also get the aforementioned raccoon chef, two different universes where Michelle Yeoh is a kung fu action star, a world where everyone evolved to have hot dog fingers instead of normal bony appendages, and at least one universe where life didn't evolve at all. It's a lot, and the film goes through it all at breakneck speed because otherwise there would just be too much of everything to share in a two hour runtime.
That speed, though, works to the film's advantage. While it could slow down and explore each of the universes one at a time, that wouldn't really suit the nature of the story. Sure, there's potential in exploring each version of Evelyn, but the really point is that no one version of her alternate lives is more important than another. The lessons they learn are each part of the fractured whole and its only when our version of Evelyn brings it all together than she finds she can be a complete person. That's a character dynamic that I think people can relate to, how there are aspects of ourselves that we wish we had, or things that we wish we could improve or change. Evelyn can because she finds a way through the Multiverse and can use it like a superpower. And then she brings it all together to make herself an emotionally deeper and richer whole.
And yes, along with all of this there's plenty of solid kung fu action. You don't hire Michelle Yeoh without letting her do her thing as an action star, and the film gives her a couple of really solid action scenes (with more than one hat hung on them from time to time). It also let's co-star Ke Huy Quan have his own kick ass action sequence, one involving a particularly lethal fanny pack. The stars are in it, and the action is tight (only occasionally enhanced by wire work or CGI), making for very enjoyable, crunchy action sequences.
Frankly, the stars of this film would be great with or without the action. Yeoh brings so much nuance to Evelyn. Every version of Evelyn. This is an acting triumph for her, letting her really showcase all her talents in every form of her character. She gets to be everyone, all of them, and she performs each and every version wonderfully. Quan gets to really show his chops, playing both the vulnerable husband and then the hard-as-nails action star, and he's able to turn on both versions with a switch. And Stephanie Hsu gets to show off her skills as well, with all her various iterations, as we steadily learn what her part in the great Multiverse really is. The cast is, simply put, outstanding.
This is a big, strange, wild film. You won't be bored while watching it as the film never gives you a chance. But, along the way, you get sucked into a story about a family and all the multitude of ways they've found to grow distant despite all the permutations of the Multiverse. Its when they come together that the film finds its heart, reaching a satisfying conclusion that only this movie could pull off.