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Multiverse of Madness? Why the Marvel Cinematic Universe no longer exists in perfect isolation | Film

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The internet briefly looked up from its coffee and raised an eyebrow last week when Doctor Strange director Scott Derrickson appeared to confirm that every Spider-Man movie since Tobey Maguire’s 2002 debut as the wisecracking web-slinger is now considered to be part of the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe. “All Spider-Man iterations are defacto MCU,” wrote Derrickson during a Twitter exchange with Moon director Duncan Jones.

The film-maker, currently working as an executive producer on the Sam Raimi-directed sequel Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, later clarified he was only joking. But given how connected Marvel’s movies now seem to be to the Sony Spidey films (and that Raimi directed all the Tobey Maguire movies), it’s easy to see why fans wondered if Derrickson might have inadvertently revealed a Hollywood insider secret.

For where the MCU was once its own perfect, solitary island in the superhero ocean, able to craft intelligently interconnected tales of costumed crimefighters without fear of interference from other, less competent studios, it now finds itself in a position where shaky land bridges have inadvertently formed to other continents, created not for creative reasons but for corporate ones. The danger here is that allowing its gleaming superhero monolith to be taken over by invasive species could undercut a quality control system that has seen Marvel outpace all rivals over the last 12 years.

It all started after Sony made a mess of its own Spider-Man films with the undercooked The Amazing Spider-Man 2 in 2014 and came wall-crawling to Marvel for help. Thanks to this link-up we now have a Marvel-led Spidey (Tom Holland) who appears both in his own Marvel-Sony spin-offs and also regularly in the mainstream of Marvel films. But we have also started to see strange nods to the older Spider-Man movies, such as the inclusion of JK Simmons’ J Jonah Jameson in Spider-Man: Far from Home, ostensibly an MCU movie. There are also industry reports that Jamie Foxx is to return as Electro (reprising his role from The Amazing Spider-Man 2) in the as-yet-untitled third Marvel-Sony Spidey film.

Then, of course, there’s Deadpool. The Merc with a Mouth is due to arrive in the MCU thanks to a different corporate deal, the one that saw Marvel owner Disney buy up 20th Century Fox last year. Industry insiders now report the potty-mouthed mutant will retain his R-rated status, despite the Marvel movies always being made for a PG-13 audience. There are two solutions here: either Reynolds avoids dropping f-bombs and keeps the bloody violence to a minimum whenever he appears in a mainstream MCU film, or he simply does not appear outside his own standalone movies. Neither sounds precisely perfect.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness offers yet more potential for crossover with other superhero universes, since it will introduce the concept of the multiverse, via which alternate reality versions of Marvel’s best-known superheroes might well exist and end up meeting. Then there’s the speculation in the geekosphere, fuelled by news that Warner Bros is to bring back Michael Keaton and Ben Affleck as different versions of Batman for the rival DC universe’s crossover episode The Flash (loosely based on the comic book Flashpoint event), that Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield might return as Spider-Man/Peter Parker in the next Spidey movie. Sony already included multiple wall-crawlers in the Oscar-winning animated film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse after all, though it’s an unwritten rule of comic book flicks that film-makers working in animation are usually allowed far more leeway than their live-action counterparts.

The studio has so far handled its newfound interconnectedness to other people’s movies relatively well. The monologuing vlogger J Jonah Jameson of Spider-Man: Far from Home may or may not have been the same as the rowdy newspaper editor we saw in the Sony films; only Spider-Man has been allowed to appear in the main Marvel series, though I cannot be the only fan of Willem Dafoe and Alfred Molina who would love to see the Green Goblin and Doc Ock somehow resurrected.

But can Marvel really just cherrypick all the best bits of the movies it didn’t have a part in making, while asking us to ignore the worst? If you turn up to the cinema in 2022 for the opening night of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and are greeted with the horrible sight of Tobey Maguire sashaying through Manhattan’s theatre district with an awful emo-haircut, you’ll know it’s all gone horribly wrong …



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