If 2020 wasn't a year more in need of a good comic book movie than any that has come before it, then it wouldn't be such a horrible thing that 2020 could be the first year in over a decade without a major comic book blockbuster release. I'm certainly one of those people that is disappointed that I can't go to a theater and watch superheroes kick some butt. It would be a significant benefit to my mental health to be able to do that. Instead, I've had to make due by following the news surrounding all the upcoming comic book movies, because while the release of these films has been delayed, development on movies like the next Spider-Man, The Flash, and The Batman have certainly not stopped.
But now, I have to admit, I'm starting to get a little worried. I've been curious about exactly what the plans for the Flash movie have been since early on – whether or not the movie would deal with the popular Flashpoint storyline has, at various times, been confirmed, before being discredited, but we're back in a period where it seems clear that's the plan. With reports that the new movie will include not only Ben Affleck's Batman, but also Michael Keaton's version from the original series of Batman films, it looks like DC is going to try to go all out and build its entire big-screen history into a single multiverse.
Not to be outdone, we're now seeing hints that the Marvel Cinematic Universe (or at least the Sony subsection) is now looking to do something incredibly similar. The recent news that the next Tom Holland-led Spider-Man movie will include Jamie Foxx as Electro is notable primarily because Foxx already played that role in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, a movie entirely separate from the existing Spider-Man universe. There's certainly still more that we don't know than we do know, but this casting decision could certainly indicate that the plan is to create a live-action "Spider-Verse" where we discover that the various Spider-Man stories we've been watching on the big screen for the last twenty years are all set in alternate universes linked by a greater multiverse (the ultimate plan being to bring the likes of Tom Holland, Andrew Garfield, and Tobey Maguire together in a single movie).
While there is certainly a lot to be excited about in that idea, I'm really not sure it's the way to go.
The Multiverse Is Simply Unnecessary
In a sense, comic books themselves have been preaching to the choir for the last few decades. It's not new information that while movies based on comic books are the hottest things in theaters, the industry driving the source material is struggling. The problem is that because these popular characters have been fighting supervillains for literally decades, their histories are incredibly long, and as a result it can be headache-inducing for new readers. Massive universe-changing events have been employed with the intention of simplifying everything and to make the stories easier to understand, but these events have the potential to confuse new readers, rather than inviting them into the fold.
This is something the movies, for the most part, simply don't need. And to the degree that they do, it has the potential to do more harm than good. Both DC and Marvel have largely done a good job of making their respective movie universes make sense, especially to those who never read a comic book in their lives. That's why they're good. Building in the concept of comic book continuity has proven to work, and building in anything more complicated has the potential to make things confusing enough to turn off casual fans.
The multiverse in comic book stories is a useful tool. Comic book continuity has always been an important part of the medium, but so much has changed between the Silver Age of the 1950s and the 1970s that various parts of the universe don't always make the most amount of sense, and the multiverse helps comic book writers to explain that away. Case in point, the reason the Flash and Green Lantern used to be totally different guys than they are now is that they're from a parallel universe.
But comic book movies simply don't require this tool, and pulling the trigger on it could cause cause problems. DC seems to reboot its comic book universe every couple of years at this point. Once it starts it doesn't seem to end.
Is Flashpoint A Course-Correction Or a Gimmick?
When it comes to DC's movie universe, things are especially complicated. Justice League had such a struggle at the theaters that even the DC movies that ostensibly exist within that same universe that have been released since haven't made that fact important in their stories. Both Aquaman and Shazam! were successful films in their own right. Of course, Zack Snyder's Justice League is going to become a thing before too long, and maybe there will need to be some sort of official ruling about which version is truly DC Universe canon.
Of course, the current belief is that this is exactly where The new Flash movie will come in. The movie will reportedly tell a version of the Flashpoint story which sees Barry Allen use his speed to travel in time, change the past, break reality, and then put it back together again. This will open the floodgates to alternative universes where we could see other versions of popular heroes, including a look at Michael Keaton's Batman, and probably others. Will we see a CGI Christopher Reeve in this movie? Is there any reason to believe we won't?
The whole thing just feels like a gimmick. Seeing all these characters together on the screen sounds cool, but why is it really necessary? I'm a fan who certainly appreciates the opportunities this story could create and the cameos we could get, but I'm I'm sure that the plan is for the Flash movie to tie everything up in a neat bow by the end. If the point of the movie is to literally just be a gimmick full of cameos that won't have further-reaching implications, that's fine. If however, the plan is for the multiverse to really become "a thing" then we could have problems.
The Multiverse Runs The Risk Of Shrinking The Audience
This multiverse concept is perhaps understandable when it comes to DC. If Warner Bros. is still determined to build a strong MCU-like universe, that's a project that still needs a good amount of effort to be applied. But the Spider-Man side of this industry development is unnecessary.
To be sure, it's entirely possible that the Jamie Foxx casting is, in fact, not designed to bring the Amazing Spider-Man 2 version of Electro into the MCU/Sony version of the character. When J.K. Simmons appeared in the post-credits scene of Spider-Man: Far From Home the general understanding was not that Simmons was playing literally the same character he portrayed in the three Sam Raimi directed films, but rather that the same actor had been hired to play a new version of the character, and that's simply what the plan could be here. Based on what Foxx himself has said, that would seem to be the case.
I certainly hope that's what is happening, though, with a look at the first trailer for WandaVision and the fact that an upcoming Doctor Strange movie is literally called The Multiverse of Madness, I'm far from convinced.
Multiverses can give you great moments, but they're often at the expense of cohesive storytelling. What the modern comic book movies have done incredibly well is strip these characters down, given them coherent origins, and found understandable ways to tie them all together. Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame work because they make sense as logical progressions for all these characters. Yes, it's the movie equivalent of the massive superhero team-up event that comic fans love and multiverse storylines are part of that, but it was done in a way there that was still fairly easy to follow, and you didn't actually need to see every movie for it to make sense.
The multiverse is an element that just runs the risk of confusing things. It will work for the serious fans, but the more casual movie-goer is going to be far less impressed, especially if we start to get multiple movies that start taking place in alternate timelines and universes.