(Editor's Note: The interview with Paul Bettany took place in November 2020, during the US elections.)

It is the day after 3 November and Paul Bettany sounds weary over the phone. “I’m just a little shell-shocked.” His words have that leaden air of someone who is spent. Like most Americans, Bettany stayed up all evening and into the wee hours of the morning, just waiting on the results of a continuous election. “[Joe] Biden is still predicted with a 90 per cent chance of winning. But yet again, the polls got it wrong, the media got it wrong… I just don’t know how democracy survives if there are two sets of facts. How do you vote if both sides have been fed by their own media outlets?”

Bettany is political and is aware that his celebrity might get in the way of said politics but he couldn’t just be quiet on social issues. So, four years ago, when Donald Trump was inaugurated, the British actor filed for US citizenship. He had already lived in New York for about 16 years then and wanted to dig in to save the republic. “I’ve lived here for a long time and I understood the political processes, what the electoral college is, which is the remnant of slavery, and that is still deciding our elections, instead of the popular vote.

“And so, I’ve decided to vote. I decided to get involved.”

Then a fatigued beat. “What I didn’t realise is that I should have also moved to Florida [to make some sort of difference].” Bettany catches himself. “I mean, this isn’t the conversation you were probably expecting.”

It wasn’t. But we weren't surprised either. The interview was supposed to focus on Bettany’s latest project, WandaVision, but given the climate (Nevada still hasn’t finished tallying the votes), politics does seep in and momentarily hijacked the conversation. In this year’s election, President Trump faces off with former Vice-President Biden and the numbers aren’t looking too good: the purported ‘blue landslide’ that was supposed to occur didn’t. And even if the Democrats squeak by with a win for the  presidency, they still do not get a majority in the Senate, which makes it harder for a Democrat president to get anything done in the White House. In a world where Trump, an erstwhile businessman and a reality show host is the 45th president of the United States (though ‘united’ might be a bit of a stretch at the moment) of America; this is the world that Bettany must contend with.


In a different world, Bettany might not have been Vision.

He was the voice of Tony Stark’s AI. As JARVIS. His voice is a spring-heeled walk across syllables—light and precise—the dependable Girl Friday who handles Stark’s affairs with aplomb. As the story goes, Jon Favreau, who appeared with Bettany on Wimbledon, was the director of Iron Man and said they needed “the voice of a personality-less robot” and thought of him. Bettany found that funny and agreed. He voiced JARVIS in the Iron Man trilogy and first Avengers film before transitioning to an acting position as Vision in Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Speaking with BBC Radio 1, Bettany confesses that a producer told him his career was over, which blew up in a shouting match. When Bettany stepped outside, he was gripped with this fear that maybe there was some truth to it; that maybe he was done. As he sat on the sidewalk on Sunset Boulevard, trying to compose himself, he got a call from someone. It was Joss Whedon, who was going to direct the sequel to The Avengers. Whedon was calling Bettany, asking him if he wanted to be Vision.

If that was a movie, you couldn’t have written that scene any better.

As Vision, Bettany has a lot of scenes with Elizabeth Olsen, who plays his love interest, Wanda Maximoff aka the Scarlet Witch. Olsen and Bettany display that sort of rand relationship that’s doomed from the start—she a living, breathing mutant; and he a robot that’s only alive because of the soul gem.

Bettany is rather resistant to the idea of on-screen chemistry. He’d describe the incredulity of a scene where the blocking, the too-bright lights, the heavy make-up that “looks great on celluloid but not in real life”, is just concrete ground where any real emotion finds no purchase. It is acted out, which—surprise, surprise—is what Bettany, an actor, does really well.

But that is not to say Olsen and Bettany don’t get along with each other. They do. Both are professional thespians who are cognisant of being on time to the set, being judicious about their lines.

Having shuffled off the mortal coil in Avengers: Infinity War, Vision returns. Kind of. We’re not sure as Disney likes to keep a lid (with an NDA pasted over the hasp) on its projects. But this is what we do know: Wanda and a seemingly alive Vision returns in a TV miniseries called WandaVision.

Exclusive to Disney+ online streaming platform, the show is based on two story arcs from the comics: Tom King’s run of The Vision creating a family and living in suburbia, and Brian Michael Bendis’s House of M storyline where the Scarlet Witch’s reality-warping powers created a world in which mutants have sovereignty over human beings.

“I’m sure you’ve seen the trailer,” Bettany says. “It is as mad as it looks. Jac Schaeffer did such a great job with the writing and the show works as a beautiful puzzle box—it shows itself the more you peel back the layers.”

The series has Wanda and Vision live out their lives in different sitcom settings—the black-and-white backdrop à la Leave It to Beaver to the vibrant hues of the ’70s—and each framework has a “reason and purpose” according to Bettany. It’s also Marvel’s way of having a conversation about the history of American sitcoms, which Bettany says makes the series “very different from any of the other Marvel stuff”.

To understand the periods and genres his character goes through, Bettany brushed up on his sitcoms. “It was really pleasant research. There were lots of Malcolm in the Middle… you know, lots of shows with a loving family unit and all of those sort of references. And it was interesting to see how they become more cynical throughout the years. In the ’50s in America, they were buoyant; during the ’70s with shows like The Brady Bunch, where it’s so happy but it feels false because of the Vietnam War. Roseanne, in the ’90s, has a blue-collar family that argues and talks about [real things that affect real people]… sitcoms become less gilded and less romanticised.” The sitcoms he grew up watching in the UK were different. There were the reruns on Saturday mornings like I Love Lucy but he remembers Only Fools and Horses and later Blackadder.

The idea for WandaVision is to have the same sort of production values as any Marvel movie. But you’re working on eight hours of television for the production cost of a two- to three-hour movie. “It was difficult but that was easily mitigated by one director, Matt Shakman, an absolute genius.”

Bettany reveals that like a sitcom, the first episode was shot in front of a live studio audience. “Done in two days, shooting it like what they would have done back then, afforded some clever time management as the time taken is usually focused on the tail end of production to shoot the big action stuff.”

As part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), WandaVision is supposedly tied into the feature film, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. The careful crafting of the MCU means a punctual release of its projects but with a worldwide pandemic, films are withheld from screening in the theatres; productions have halted. While without specifics, WandaVision is expected to debut in December but that remains to be seen.


A Different Path Not Taken

There was a moment in Bettany’s career that hinted at the promise of an action hero.

In 2010, he played the gun-toting archangel Michael, who fell to earth to prevent the end times. It is as gonzo as it sounds. It was an unexpected role for Bettany, at least to me, who had played in more dramatic outings like Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World and A Beautiful Mind, both Oscar winners. Then a year later, Bettany did Priest which was based on the Korean comic book of the same name. In it, he plays the titular character who battles his way through a vampire horde to rescue his niece. Again, it is exactly as gonzo as it sounds.

While Bettany isn’t opposed to being the lead of another action film, Priest and Legion weren’t box-office hits. The movies came out during the post-recession years, a period that economists cited as the weakest recovery since the Great Depression. He was married to Jennifer Connelly with two children to care for and another that was just born; Bettany needed to find work to support his family. “Everybody was scrambling to get jobs, to make some cash in case the world fell apart. Luckily, Vision happened for me around that time, I think,” he says.

As for the unexpected action hero role, Liam Neeson has donned that crown since Taken. “Was Neeson in his 50s when he did Taken?” Bettany asks. “Give me another 10 or 15 years. Maybe by then I can take over, move into that market position that Neeson has taken.”


A Simpler Time

While it would be nice for a simpler world, Bettany can’t get behind the idea of a superhero team unilaterally deciding to ignore sovereign borders and carry out extrajudicial killings. “I think that would be awful. That’s what Captain America: Civil War was about. In fact, that would be more like The Boys.”

As consumers of entertainment, the superhero genre offers a respite from the real world. It’s an escapism. But Bettany is active in causes that he feels are important. With this celebrity, he is amplifying movements that he cares about. “I’m kind of an optimist in that way.”

And assuming Trump gets four more years?

“Trump claiming a victory now without all the votes being counted is no victory. Right now, I can only see as far as the ballot counting. At the moment, we’ll have to get through this.” There’s a pause on the other end. “[If Trump is elected again] it’s very likely to be dreadful.” The numbers show a country that’s divided. Regardless of who wins the presidency, one-half of the population will feel disenfranchised. The wound remains open, the split threatens to widen.

But one of the keys to being an actor is empathy. Bettany sees acting as “trying to [place] yourself imaginatively in different people’s circumstances”. He believes that the power of films is the spellbinding evocation of empathy. And maybe, all of us can be actors, in our own ways.

We can escape to new worlds of our choosing, but for Bettany, this is one he opted for the long haul. Despite its sharp edges and surprising joys, this is the world he lives in and will continue to do so.

Our World, Now

After the interview, Bettany will nurse a cup of coffee. As the caffeine fires up his senses, he will ruminate about what to get for his wife for her birthday. Then his mind will hopscotch to Christmas, and then he’ll pore through scripts, deciding on what other new places to explore. He wonders about the reception of WandaVision, he’ll prepare to do press for his next project, an Amazon Prime Video film called Uncle Frank.

Invariably, he’ll excessively read the newspapers and scroll through his newsfeed, hoping to see if the numbers have changed, hoping to catch a glimpse of light at the end of a very long tunnel.

Originally published in December 2020

Although Madame Web boasts the superpower of seeing into the future, there’s no way she could’ve foreseen this disaster…

To date, Madame Web has generated USD57 million worldwide. Yikes.

The Hollywood Reporter published that this is the worst opening for a Sony movie that features characters directly from the Spider-Man ethos. And unfortunately for those with ‘I Love The Multiverse’ in their LinkedIn profile, the carousel of underperforming superhero movies—both Marvel and DC—is only continuing, if not speeding up.

Madame Web is laughably bad. The script is FULL of clunky lines like the memeified "He was in the Amazon with my mom when she was researching spiders right before she died," the action is shoddy, the characters are dull. It desperately wants to be a Spider-Man movie, but it isn't pic.twitter.com/Ing2amf56n

— molly freeman (@mollyrockit) February 13, 2024

With a shocking 13 per cent score on Rotten Tomatoes, this may very well be the beginning of the end for the reign of superhero films.

Madame Web is riddled with mistakes that will be noticeable to even somewhat mindful viewers, like anachronisms with the movie’s 2003 setting, questionable medical knowledge, obvious product placement, camera angles that overtly reveal that scenes make no sense and a seeming ignorance of the film’s own established plot points,” notes KCENTV.

But is the film the only one to blame? Or are there additional factors that have contributed to the film’s shameful descent into cinematic Armageddon?

As someone who spends copious amounts of time at the movie theatre, there was surprisingly little promo for the film. Especially since this was not some indie flick but rather a new instalment in the biggest franchise ever. To my memory, the only time a Marvel film has received such little attention, was 2021’s Eternals. That film, perhaps until now, was the biggest Marvel flop to date. Not even a star-studded cast including Angelina Jolie and Kumail Nanjiani’s recently acquired biceps could keep the film afloat. And what’s perhaps even more surprising is that Madame Web was clobbered by the recent biopic Bob Marley: One Love. Despite Bob Marley being an icon of music, few could foresee him toppling Spider-Man.

Maybe It's the Lead

Dakota Johnson has also generated some serious flack online. Mostly for her indifference not just toward the film, but toward any form of promotion, having gone viral for saying she “isn’t good at talking to journalists.” I'm going to make a bold claim here. That nobody who has to use spreadsheets likes to use spreadsheets, but we do it because we have to.

One is instantly reminded of the current backlash Rachel Zegler faced for her souring comments about her upcoming Snow White remake. Many suspect that, due to the public outrage over her disreputable comments on the iconic Disney character that literally built the foundation on the which the company now stands, Disney is secretly in talks to not just reshoot large parts of the film, but to recast Zegler as well, but alas, I digress.

In an interview leading up to the film, Johnson struggled to name a single Tom Holland Spider-Man film. She'd admit later that she’d personally only seen less than five per cent of any of the superhero movies. Considering the current fanbase for these flicks, that probably isn’t the best way to get people on your team. Adding that "drastic changes" were made to the script throughout the press tour, again, isn’t the biggest insinuator that the movie is going to be a hit.

Online, memes have already been posted about how Madame Web is even worse than Morbius. Remember Morbius? Not only was it the worst superhero film ever made, but one of the worst movies of all time.

Morbius waking up seeing the Madame Web reviews... pic.twitter.com/Tyo562DQT4

— ScreenTime (@screentime) February 13, 2024

What many don’t know is that Madame Web isn’t actually part of the MCU, but rather a standalone Sony picture. The company still partly owns the rights to Spider-Man, and is understandably not looking to give those up anytime soon. Another film not part of the MCU but slyly promoted as so? Morbius. Perhaps we’re catching on to a pattern here. Say what you will about the Marvel films, but they have a winning formula. And when they deviate from that formula, not just story-wise but with productional backing, well, then perhaps you get Madame Web and Morbius, two of the (sorry) least exciting characters from the Spider-Man universe.

In 2014’s Birdman, Michael Keaton’s character is putting on a Broadway play, and when he suggests actors for consideration, he realises that everyone is busy with superhero movies. “They put him in a cape too?!” he laments. Ironic coming from Batman. Especially one who reprised his role in last year’s horrendous The Flash. But the point of all this is that if you put on a cape, you’re guaranteed a fat paycheck. Edward Norton admitted that he was only paid USD4,200 for Moonrise Kingdom. And when you take that into consideration, one can sympathise with the decision of every major movie star lunging at the opportunity to do karate in front of a green screen. Even if the movie sucks.

Originally published on Esquire ME


It's official. Just when you think the Deadpool & Wolverine teaser wasn't enough, on Valentine's Day, Marvel announced the cast of The Fantastic Four film on Twitter- sorry, I meant "X". Internet Daddy, Pedro Pascal, will play Reed Richards aka Mister Fantastic; Vanessa Kirby is Sue Richards aka Invisible Woman; Joseph Quinn is Johnny Storm aka the Human Torch and Ebon Moss-Bachrach will voice (and possibly motion-capture) Ben Grimm aka the "Ever-Lovin' Blue-Eyed" Thing.

The announcement was accompanied by a retro-looking illustration of our cast, along with a new title logo. Matt Shakman, who directed WandaVision and two episodes of Monarch: Legacy of Monsters, will helm The Fantastic Four. And for an added bonus: the film will be out in theatres on 25 July, 2025. But we have questions... oh so many questions.

Given the '60s feel of the artwork, will the film be set then or now? How will Marvel's First Family be introduced into the MCU? Were they always around or did they go on some adventure in the past and only now returned? Will HERBIE be likeable? Who will voice HERBIE? Can Mister Fantastic's stretching powers ever not be goofy-looking? And who will play... Doctor Doom (rumours about Adam Driver as a forerunner is rife)?

No doubt, more information will be forthcoming but with the The Fantastic Four announcement, it means that MCU's Phase Six is back on track.


The next Deadpool movie has been speculated to death. From the hearsay and scant images that we get from behind the scenes of the next Deadpool movie, all we gathered was that Hugh Jackman will reappear as Wolverine (in the blue and yellow suit natch). Other than that... nada.

That is until the recent Super Bowl LVIII, where the teaser was revealed, along with the official title: Deadpool & Wolverine. Here are three things that we took away from the teaser.

Time Travel

We know that Deadpool is prone to breaking the fourth wall but he's also not opposed to breaking the laws of time travel. Thanks to Deadpool's shenanigans, where he travelled back in time to right a few wrongs (see video below), it might incur the ire of the TVA (Time Variance Authority).

We first saw the organisation in the series, Loki, and while we didn't see Loki or Mobius, we saw Tom Wambsgans- sorry, the TVA agent, Paradox (played by Matthew Macfadyen). He's behind the kidnapping/recruiting of Deadpool for a mission. To give him a "chance to be a hero among heroes".

Familiar Faces

The third chapter of Deadpool will have a host of well-known faces. The teaser's opening shows a few well-known faces including Blind Al (Leslie Uggams); Shatterstar (Lewis Tan); Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) and Peter (Rob Delaney).

The reappearances of Shatterstar and Vanessa—who died in the last instalment—are more proof that Deadpool's time-travel hijinks are what got the TVA's undies in a bunch. There are two other recognisable X-Men characters in the teaser.

There's the aforementioned Wolverine... but there's also Aaron Stanford's character, Pyro. Since this is a time-travel movie, we can expect to see other IP characters. Like 21st Century Fox's portfolio, after Disney acquired the media corporation in 2019.

Retcon Imminent?

Given the time-travel vehicle, it may not be out of the ordinary that Deadpool & Wolverine will retcon the MCU. Thanks to the various scandals (Joss Whedon; Jonathan Majors) and the pandemic (contrary to Kevin Feige's explanation), the MCU's Phase Four was delayed and had to be revised. Deadpool's devil-may-care antics can prune a few troublesome timelines. Adjustments to few narratives (mutants!) and swapping out Dr Doom for Kang the Conqueror could help the next MCU event.

It will be a huge overhaul. One that will impact numerous franchises. But it'll put Feige's grand plan for the MCU back on track. Maybe.

We'll find out when Deadpool & Wolverine lands in theatres on 26 July.

After the monumental success of Avengers: Endgame, I remember wondering, like many people, what Marvel could possibly do to follow up such a cultural juggernaut. How could they raise the stakes or stage bigger battles? What else was left to explore?

Then, in the trailer for Spiderman: Far From Home, after Tom Holland’s Peter Parker learns from Nick Fury that Quentin Beck is “from Earth, just not ours,” Peter asks with nervous excitement, “You’re saying there’s a multiverse?”

Yes, Peter, there is—well, I’m not sure if there are actually parallel worlds adjacent to ours, but in terms of contemporary storytelling? There are multiverses everywhere. There is, if you will, a multiverse of multiverses.

To name just a few, there’s the Academy Award-sweeping film Everything Everywhere All at Once, the popular sci-fi cartoon Rick & Morty, Amazon’s Philip K. Dick adaptation of The Man in the High Castle, Apple’s space race alternate history For All Mankind, the sprawling DC and Marvel franchises, and even onward to novels like Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, Lauren Beukes’s Bridge, Matt Haig’s The Midnight Library, and Iain Pears’ Arcadia. In recent years, tales of adjacent realms and alternate timelines have become more and more pervasive in popular culture.

Of course, stories involving alternate timelines, what-ifs, and speculative histories are nothing new (in fact, as we’ll see, they long predate the scientific theories that explain them). What, after all, is Dickens’s Ghost of Christmas Future but a glimpse into a multiverse? Because Scrooge heeded the three ghosts’ warnings, the vision shown to him by that ghost wouldn’t come to pass, meaning that this dark timeline is either an illusion conjured by the spirit or an alternate version of Scrooge’s life. The same can be said of It’s a Wonderful Life, the multiple finales to the film adaptation of Clue, the Gwyneth Paltrow romance Sliding Doors (and its precursor, the Polish film Blind Chance), and the ‘90s cult show Sliders.

But the cluster of multiverse narratives of the past decade has not just technically been multiverse stories. They’ve been explicitly multiverse stories—as in, they employ the scientific language that originated with the theory. They are directly inspired by the Many Worlds Interpretation, not merely tapping into the kinds of emotional desires that the multiverse offers.

For God’s sake, Marvel’s recent spate of ten films, eleven shows, and two shorts (and many more on the way) are collectively referred to as the Multiverse Saga. Even more significant, though, is how, much like time travel, the multiverse as a storytelling device began as a nifty concept and eventually deepened into a fruitful (and quickly overused) tool to explore things deeper and closer to home. What began as an esoteric theory and a heady narrative device has become as mainstream and emotionally resonant as any cinematic trope.

But as soon as an idea enters the zeitgeist and then the upper echelons of corporate IP, it gets flattened by the cynical and crass exploitation of pandering and profit hunting. The seven Oscars awarded to Everything Everywhere All at Once probably mark the apex of our current multiverse saga, now that the DC and Marvel films lashed to this subject have become increasingly unsuccessful, bombing at the box office and engendering some heavy animosity from fans. The multiverse has gone from an obscure theory to a sci-fi trope to a popular mainstream conceit to an underwhelming excuse for fan service of the crassest kind.

Paul Halpern’s new book, The Allure of the Multiverse: Extra Dimensions, Other Worlds, and Parallel Universes, regales us with the history of the concept—from Pythagorean cosmology to quantum mechanics—in scientific terms. With his insight and expertise, perhaps we can illuminate the social side of the story. Why has the multiverse emerged so ubiquitously in the past decade? What mode of contemporary life does it capture? Why did it catch on so infectiously? And why does it seem to be crashing just as dramatically?

The multiverse as a theoretical concept fittingly has numerous origins. Science—particularly high-level physics—relies on brilliant thinkers intertwining each other’s ideas into a cosmic braid of impenetrable complexity. As The Allure of the Multiverse makes clear, radical and counterintuitive theories like the multiverse—also called the Many Worlds Interpretation, parallel realities, etc.—arise out of a series of breakthroughs, insights, discoveries, and audacious leaps of logic. It typifies, in many ways, the highest level of human thought.

But the multiverse as a metaphoric concept has been nestled inside our ponderous and rueful psychology for as long as humanity has possessed a psychology. Our unique self-awareness, responsible for our physically fragile species’ global dominance, also causes our unique melancholy: we know that we have only one life. And what a precious life it is. The more exposure a person has to the bewildering and intricate enormity of existence, the more one is keenly attuned to the infinitesimal capriciousness of one’s place in it. As Richard Dawkins elegantly put it in the opening of Unweaving the Rainbow:

We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.

Imagine, then, knowing how much it has taken for us to be born and how easily it may not have happened. The pressure this awareness places on our one precious life! It is miraculous to even draw breath at all—now what are we going to do with this gift?

Mostly, not a whole lot. Remember, it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here. We can’t all be winners, kid.

And so we’re left, at the end of our days, with regrets and musings about alternative paths, convinced our benighted fate was not inevitable, but rather the result of a misstep, a wrong door, a left instead of a right. Who might we have been? What other choices might we have made? Could we have lived a better, more fulfilling life? Or might our circumstances have been worse? The hypothetical versions of ourselves we invent in our minds may not outnumber the sand grains of Arabia, but maybe, like, Cocoa Beach?

The multiverse, then, in addition to attesting to human ingenuity, also represents the most fundamental aspect of the human condition. The multiverse lives in the depths of our minds and our hearts.

In the preface to the revised edition of his 1969 novel The Eternal Champion, legendary sci-fi author Michael Moorcock claims to have coined the word multiverse in his first novel, The Sundered Worlds (1965). He didn’t. That distinction belongs to William James, the philosopher, psychologist, and brother to novelist Henry James, who invented the term to characterise the ambivalence of existence. “A moral multiverse,” he wrote in his 1895 essay “Is Life Worth Living?”, “and not a moral universe.” What Moorcock did was provide the word with the meaning we’ve become so familiar with: “an infinite number of slightly different versions of reality,” as he puts it.

Before Moorcock’s influential usage, the theory languished in the physics world under many different names. Attempts by sci-fi writers to christen the multiverse were similarly unsuccessful, though not always because their entries were inferior. Take Philip Jose Farmer’s The Maker of Universes (1965), published the same year as Moorcock’s debut, in which a man uses a magic horn to travel between “tiers,” or “world upon world piled upon each other like the landings of a sky-piercing mountain.” The novel’s front cover declares it “the many-levelled cosmos,” which is a lovely phrase I quite enjoy. As wonderful as it is, it’s not quite portable enough. Perhaps in another universe…

The contexts for the two origins of the word “multiverse” are worth a brief detour, as they afford some convenient insights into the heart of the concept itself. The subject of the essay in which William James coined the word multiverse was optimism and pessimism. Optimism here does not refer to a generally positive outlook, as we mean today, but rather a philosophy championed by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz in his 1710 work Theodicy and popularised by Alexander Pope’s Essay on Man.

This optimism addresses the problem of evil in theology by arguing that our reality has been chosen by God from a selection of “all possible worlds.” Our reality may contain evil and sin and suffering, but according to Leibniz, realities without the bad stuff are not any better. Ours is, in an infamous phrase, “the best of all possible worlds.” This is an early example of the multiverse, albeit one that exists only in the mind of God. The notion of alternate realms can be found all over philosophical and theological thought.

On the other hand, when Moorcock discusses his use of the multiverse in his novels, he waxes giddy about its storytelling utility. He can narratively “deal in non-linear terms with versions of perception” and create “simplified models of ideal worlds (for which large numbers of people in Western society yearn so nostalgically),” allowing him to consider “by what particular injustices they might be maintained.” Right away, Moorcock saw the treasure trove of metaphoric largesse the multiverse granted a novelist—how the vast expanse of the cosmos could be used to explore the innermost depths of the human soul.

Comic books, those precocious nieces and nephews of genre fiction, similarly grasped the potential of the multiverse. Consider, for instance, the origin of DC’s Barry Allen, a “police scientist” who becomes the second iteration of the Flash (the first being Jay Garrick from the 1940s comics). Barry Allen’s introduction occurred in Showcase #4 from October 1956; in it, Barry is shown reading a comic book featuring his idol, the Jay Garrick Flash (referred to as the Golden Age Flash). So when he’s quite coincidentally struck by lightning and also doused with chemicals, gaining superhuman speed, he names himself after his hero.


DC cleverly incorporated their earlier era into their new one. But in 1961, Garner Fox wrote an issue of The Flash called “Flash of Two Worlds.” In his wonderfully informative book The Physics of Superheroes, James Kakalios explores this story as an introduction to quantum mechanics; he writes, “it was revealed that the Silver Age Flash [Barry] and the Golden Age Flash both existed, but on parallel Earths, separated by a ‘vibrational barrier.’” The explanation is that Barry “accidentally vibrated at superspeed at the exact frequency necessary to cross over” to what they refer to as Earth-2.

“Flash of Two Worlds” was a hit, and as companies are wont to do, DC repeated the formula over and over, increasing the number of Earths each time, now with Earth-3, Earth-S, Earth-X, and Earth-Prime (our reality), culminating finally in 1985’s massive crossover “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” which, like Moorcock, emphasised the utility of the multiverse for the practicalities of narrative.

The major comic event was orchestrated, as Kakalios puts it, to “normalise the multiverse,” a “vast housecleaning of continuity… to weed out poor sellers from many of the less-popular worlds and bring all the heroes from the best-selling titles together on one Earth.” Executive editor Dick Giordano wrote a memo listing the fallen characters (which included Barry Allen), commanding, mafioso-like, “they should never be seen again, nor should they be referred to in story.”

What unites DC’s coldblooded housecleaning and Moorcock’s pragmatism is their sense of testing out the utility of multiversal plots. Each had found a new mode of narrative and were keen to stretch its limitations. But in the scientific community, the theory of the multiverse remained a subject of much derision; it wouldn’t become an accepted mainstream notion until the ‘90s. Thus these stories, which incorporated a version of the actual physics concept rather than merely a hypothetical, had niche audiences.

For all their innovations with the multiverse, from coining the term to crafting it into novels and expanding the world of superheroes, none of these figures fully realised the notion of infinite realities as an avenue to richly scrutinise the pitiful and helpless exercise of wondering what might have been.

If you wanted to explore the emotional possibilities of the multiverse before the 21st century, you did so without mention of any quantum mechanics or general relativity. Instead, you severed the idea from any esoteric mumbo-jumbo that might catapult your novel or film into nerdy territory. Because anything nerdy, for a long time, wasn’t considered emotionally evocative or even representative of typical human experience. Nerds, like the multiverse, existed on the fringes.

The multiverse was born for me when, as an early 20-something reading Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, I was startled by the famous passage about the fig tree. Esther, the protagonist, a 19-year-old aspiring writer, contemplates the innumerable choices that lay before her by comparing them to figs falling from a tree she’s sitting under, each one representing “a wonderful future [that] beckoned and winked.”

“One fig,” she writes, “was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor.” Other figs are exotic places she could travel, lovers she might take, ambitions she may pursue. And while this seems like a particularly envious position for a young kid to be in (each of her hypotheticals is a good scenario), Esther is instead filled with prophetic fear:

I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.

As a young adult, I couldn’t have understood the pangs of remorse given off by older people looking back on an imperfect life. But I could absolutely fathom the frightening prospect of future remorse. Plath’s evocation of paralyzing choices and the many lives those choices might lead to struck a chord with me. For the first time, I grasped the insane caprice of the human condition: how every YES inherently implies a NO to everything else. As the priest says in Charlie Kaufman’s film Synecdoche, New York, “There are a million little strings attached to every choice you make; you can destroy your life every time you choose.”

While we’re on the subject of Synecdoche, New York, isn’t the central conceit of that film that the obsessive recreation of life into art leads to a concerning inability to tell the difference between the two? When we make art, don’t we effectively create multiverses in which we make a different decision or kiss a different person or move to a different city or pursue another career?

Art allows us a peek into the multiverse. Take poetry, for example—it abounds with the mournful, melancholic, and mopey among us pondering the possibilities of passed-over paths. A.E. Housman laments “the land of lost content” made up of “blue remembered hills” in a lyric in A Shropshire Lad (1896), which employs landscapes as its metaphorical terrain, as does Robert Frost’s infamous poem “The Road Not Taken,” from Mountain Interval (1916) twenty years later.

Neither Housman’s blue hills nor Frost’s forking roads feature any suppositions about their might-have-beens—only the utterly human tragedy of regret, our tendency to agonise over our decisions and blame the caprice of causality for all of our problems. The multiverse, in its most basic sense, is about our perpetual unhappiness.

The multiverse, in its most basic sense, is about our perpetual unhappiness.

This is why the multiverse is an immensely appealing device in fiction. But it's also why it’s ultimately unsatisfactory as a means of narrative self-exploration. The multiverse is too multi. Human beings can’t accommodate notions like infinity. Moreover, our lives don’t hinge on endless possibilities but rather on starker binaries like Frost’s splitting roads. Our regrets are small, in the grand scheme of things. And any attempt to extend our regrets into cosmic proportions tilts the realm of human meaning somewhere bewilderingly distant from what we understand.

This accounts for why an otherwise uninspired romantic comedy that was a minor hit in 1998 can coin a phrase that’s persisted in culture for much longer than any of the details of the film itself. Sliding Doors articulated and named humanity’s relationship to the multiverse. We obsess over missed connections, either/or scenarios, door #1 or #2, yes or no, stay or go.

Tales of two outcomes of the same moment entice us, but more options added to the menu tend to overwhelm us emotionally, leaving only our intellectual side intact. Ricky & Morty succeeds because it aims at our brains, revelling in cleverness. But a version of Sliding Doors with three, four, 10, Gwyneth Paltrows would undercut the personal stakes for us.


Multiverse stories can, in fact, diminish their own narrative stakes, particularly in franchises. Corporate studios see the multiverse as an opportunity to expand the scope of their IP. They bring in characters from past cinematic universes, as in Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of MadnessThe Flash, and Spider-Man: No Way Home. In this last example, the Spider-Man films featuring Toby Maguire and Andrew Garfield are now MCU canon. As film critic Clarisse Loughrey observed, the multiverse, for major studios, doesn’t lie in its “creative potential,” but “its cameos.”

More significantly: an endless series of universes means that any character’s death is impermanent, that all dire circumstances are reparable, and that all possibilities tend to equate to no possibilities. This last idea can be summarised by a line from a superhero movie: the recurring theme of Brad Bird’s The Incredibles (2004) is if everyone is special, then specialness loses its specialness and thus no one is special. Specialness is defined by contrast to regularity, just as the weight of our life choices is tied to the limited amount of alternatives we perceive.

Of course, it’s true that at any moment, we can radically change our lives. This means that for any given scenario in which we see only two options, there are in truth many paths we could take. Gwyneth Paltrow could have been hit by the train, too. Our minds ignore these possibilities because we aren’t fully aware of them (who, after all, thinks, Well, I could have turned left at that light or I could have done doughnuts in the intersection until the cops showed?). Just as we aren’t conscious of the millions of coincidences that don’t happen, only the rare ones that do.

What we’re less inclined to enjoy are multiverses with many scenarios where we lose our cosmic footing. Ironically, the MCU’s move to the multiverse—which seemed like such an inspired way to up the ante from Thanos’s threat to half of one universe to a vast war involving infinite ones—had the opposite effect: it flattened the stakes, making them more representative of corporate mergers than insightful explorations of personal potential.

In physics, the multiverse is a fascinating concept that lends theoretical support to other unexplained phenomena of existence. But in our daily lives, a multiverse is mostly meaningless. We cannot consider every possibility, or even many of them; indeed, keeping mental tabs on a single branch (which itself branches again and again) is pretty much impossible. If the multiverse were proven to be real, our natural proclivity for minor regrets would render the world more suited to the scope of our tiny, insignificant lives, which are also—to us—the most important in the universe.

Theories explain; metaphors reflect.

The multiverse, as a theory, emerged because of some as-yet-unexplained problems resolving Einstein’s general relativity with the mysteries of quantum mechanics, not because our hearts are filled with longing and regret. It seeks to account for certain aspects of reality. Whatever emotional implications it also evokes are beside the point. Relativity, quantum physics, infinities—these are beyond our capacities.

But the chance to investigate the many ways our lives could have gone by vivisecting seemingly arbitrary decisions? That is as appealing to people as pondering the ability to stop time, to fly, or to make the right choice in the first place. But these multiverse fictions are not legitimate attempts to explain our current state. Instead, they represent our feelings about our current state. When you’re at your most joyful, you don’t waste time relitigating past choices—unless it’s to marvel over how lucky you’ve been.

Rather, you bathe in the present moment, content that in all the infinite possibilities of this vast, eternal, and relentlessly enigmatic universe, that out of the millions of strings attached to every action, that in the teeth of such stupefying odds, you’ve managed to eke out a sliver of life that gives you purpose and pleasure. Those mired in miserable circumstances are much more likely to sift through their timelines to locate potential missteps. The multiverse, then, explains more about our self-regard than it does the vagaries of light and gravity and particles and waves.

People are filled with regret and weighted by creativity. So we can conjure up invented selves with a magician’s ease, but only for so long. Very quickly our ideas run their course, mostly because we aren’t personally invested in worlds where we’re made of paint or have hot dog fingers or are controlled by the Nazis. These are too far-fetched to be anything but thought experiments, emotionally inert and pragmatically irrelevant.

But give us a missed train or an unrequited love or an untaken journey, and we’ll dedicate much of our lives to concocting stories in which we got things right, found our passions, and chased our dreams, as if it were possible for us to say, as E. E. Cummings once wrote, “there’s a hell / of a good universe next door; lets go.”

Originally published on Esquire US

Spider-Man 2. SONY

The anticipation is palpable: Spider-Man 2 is set to swing onto the PlayStation 5, promising to be bigger, bolder, and even more thrilling than its award-winning predecessor. The buzz is hardly surprising; the game has been put together by Marvel and Insomniac Games, the who previously built iconic franchises like Spyro and Ratchet & Clank. Insomniac was ultimately acquired by Sony after the huge success of the first Spider-Man game, and since then has been diligently at work on the sequel.

But what can fans expect from Spider-Man 2? We caught up with Bryan Intihar, the creative head behind the series, to delve into the narrative depths, gameplay innovations, and the vision driving this eagerly awaited sequel.

Spider-Man 2 (left), Bryan Intihar (right). SONY

A big highlight about this game is certainly the Venom symbiote bonding with Peter, stripping him to his abilities, but at a cost. Can you delve into the challenges this bond presents for Peter?

Bryan Intihar: The symbiote story has always been significant for any Marvel or Spider-Man fan. Its portrayal over the years has resonated with many. Given that this is technically our third Spider-Man game—following Spider-Man and then Miles Morales—we aimed to take our characters to uncharted territories.

Emotionally, we approached the symbiote as a metaphor for addiction. This perspective isn’t solely about the impact on Peter, but also on his circle of friends and family. It’s a narrative that pushes Peter into unfamiliar territory.

As players delve deeper into the game, the bond with the symbiote intensifies and Peter undergoes profound changes. There’s a moment in the launch trailer where Peter exclaims, “You’re not the hero.” It’s hard to fathom Peter ever making such a declaration.

On the gameplay front, this presented a golden opportunity for us to showcase a different facet of Peter. Both Peter and Miles are incredibly powerful characters with their unique superhero abilities.

Introducing the symbiote allowed us to amplify and celebrate the sheer, raw strength it offers. The symbiote, in essence, isn’t just an alien entity. It profoundly influences Peter emotionally and redefines gameplay mechanics. It’s been genuinely exciting for our creative team to stretch our capabilities in narrating Peter and Miles’ story in ways we hadn’t explored before. This shift has dynamically impacted both gameplay and narrative, and that’s what excites us the most.

Spider-Man 2 gameplay. SONY

This is the third game in the series. How has the development process evolved? Were there any lessons from the first two games that have been incorporated into this third instalment?

Bryan Intihar: When we started the journey with Spider-Man 2, we began from the ground up. Our aim with the first game was to showcase that we could craft a compelling Spider-Man experience. The feedback from the first game gave us clear indications of what players loved, and the subsequent message was: “Don’t tamper with what’s already working.” For instance, swinging and traversal mechanics were highly appreciated. So our approach was to enhance it further, not overhaul it.

One of our guiding principles has been to juxtapose the superhero fantasy with a relatable, human story. While we dive into the darker realms with characters like the Symbiote and Lizard, our intent remains to narrate a heartfelt story.

Reflecting on areas of improvement, we realised that boss fights needed more depth. We also wanted to amplify the exploratory elements in the open world. With Spider-Man 2 being exclusively developed for PlayStation 5, it was crucial to harness its capabilities, be it faster traversal speeds, seamless hero switching, or grander set pieces.

In essence, our philosophy was to preserve what’s cherished and enhance areas ripe for improvement. As we approach our ninth year since beginning our Spider-Man journey in 2014, the familiarity and rapport within the team have been invaluable. The core leadership from the first game remains intact for Spider-Man 2, mirroring a seasoned sports team that’s in sync. It’s been rewarding to witness this bond, especially when new leaders emerge and take on added responsibilities. For me, observing this evolution has been one of the project’s highlights.

An annoying trend with video game sequels, is when characters will helpfully “misplace” all the last game’s gadgets (so the developers can spend time giving the character’s new tech to play with). Thankfully, this game doesn’t do that. But did that make coming up with new powers and gadgets that much harder?

Bryan Intihar: It’s a challenging balance. From a player’s perspective, it might seem puzzling when certain capabilities are stripped away in sequels. One reason is the time gap between releases; players might forget game mechanics, and developers sometimes reset to help everyone get back on track. But that aside, our primary focus was ensuring continuity in the characters’ power sets and gadgets.

Drawing inspiration from the comics, we infused a touch of the "Insomniac flair" into the gadgets. While Miles is defined by his unique abilities like bioelectricity and camouflage, we wanted the first mission to showcase both characters with a rich arsenal. We took cues from the comics, specifically the Iron Spider arms, which also harks back to the first game with Otto’s mechanical arms. This led to the idea of Peter adapting that tech, enhancing it, and incorporating it into his toolset. It was essential to ensure both Peter and Miles felt powerful and distinctive, giving players a choice in how they wanted to engage.

As the game progresses, players will see Miles’s powers evolve, intricately tied to his personal journey and his interactions with characters like Martin Lee. Peter’s evolution is also evident with the introduction of the symbiote.

Our objective has always been to make players feel like Spider-Man from the get-go. Every game starts with swinging through New York City because we want players to immediately connect with that exhilarating Spider-Man sensation. When it comes to combat, the emphasis is on delivering that authentic Spider-Man experience with a mix of classic and new tools.

Spider-Man 2 gameplay. SONY

Given the sandbox nature of a Spider-Man game, there usually needs to be a balance between free exploration and structured narrative. How do you approach this balance?

Bryan Intihar: Honestly, we don’t strictly adhere to a 50-50 model. Depending on where they are in the game, players might delve deeper into optional or open-world content.

Reflecting on our previous titles, we identified a need to elevate the quality of open-world content. In a Marvel game, storytelling is paramount. Our goal was to ensure every piece of optional content offered a gripping narrative, whether it’s a brief standalone quest or a chain of events that build and culminate in a climax.

Furthermore, we aimed to instill a richer sense of exploration and discovery. We wanted to move away from merely relying on UI and waypoints. Instead, we integrated more environmental cues. For instance, after introducing Sandman, players might notice sand clouds in the distance, sparking their curiosity and drawing them into new experiences.

Lastly, we wanted to better integrate the main story with the open world by emphasising the cause and effect. For instance, in the first Spider-Man, after a significant event like the helicopter chase with Mr Negative, the aftermath would quickly vanish. We wanted the effects of such events to linger, making the world feel more dynamic and interconnected. By weaving narrative into the environment and enhancing exploration, we aimed to ensure the main story has a tangible impact on the broader world.

Working with a giant like Marvel must be exciting. How involved are they in the creative process? Do they give you autonomy, or are there specific directives about what can and cannot be done?

Bryan Intihar: This is a question I get asked quite frequently. To be honest, working with Marvel has been nothing short of fantastic. There might be a general apprehension when collaborating with IP holders—this fear that they might be overly protective or restrictive. However, my experience has been the complete opposite. Marvel consistently encourages us to think ambitiously and to be bold.

Many of us at Insomniac are avid Marvel enthusiasts, and we’ve grown up immersed in the Marvel universe. This deep-rooted respect for the brand ensures that we handle the material with care. But while these characters have been around for decades, we believe that fans don’t just want a carbon copy of what they’ve read in comics. They crave surprises while still feeling that the core essence of the characters is intact. Our guiding principle has always been to honour the original DNA of these characters while not shying away from innovating.

Of course, the Marvel team comprises exceptional storytellers and game developers. We’d be remiss not to seek their insights and feedback. So, while people might expect a restrictive dynamic, our collaboration with Marvel has been incredibly harmonious and remains one of the most fulfilling aspects of my career.

There’s loads of new games out at the moment. What sets your game apart from the rest? And, I am going to say you can’t mention Spider-Man

Bryan Intihar: To be candid, my personal game playing this year has been a bit sparse. I’ve set a personal rule for myself: I don’t play other games during a year we’re launching our own. Hence, I’ve only recently begun catching up, I just wrapped up Jedi Survivor and eagerly queueing up Final Fantasy XVI next. The sheer quality and quantity of releases this year are remarkable.

So take this with a pinch of salt, but I’d say one big aspect of our game is the cinematic scale we’ve integrated into an open-world environment. We’ve really tried to inject blockbuster-esque moments, reminiscent of linear game narratives, into our expansive, dynamic world. From the get-go, our game gives players an experience where massive, gripping set pieces seamlessly mesh with the freedom and spontaneity of open-world gameplay.

It might sound a bit audacious, and I hope I’m not overlooking any other game doing something similar, but this blend of cinematic immersion and open-world exploration is something we’re genuinely proud of.

Originally published on Esquire ME

The last time we saw Loki (played by Tom Hiddleston), he and Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino) killed Kang (Jonathan Majors) (the latter plunging a dagger into Kang's heart) and started a multiversal war—one that is the McGuffin for MCU's Phase 4.

Except, that was waylaid by a worldwide pandemic. And Majors' domestic abuse scandal didn't help matters so we don't even know if Majors will be a major player (ugggggh) in Marvel's future. There has been a bit of rejigging in terms of the storyline so we're not sure if Kang will be the big bad. But with enough time and distance, people will forget about the hiccups in favour of a newer, better thing.

But even with the presence of Kang in the second season of Loki, this is still about Loki. This is after all the titular demi-god of trickery and excellent hair's rodeo. He's now an agent of TVA (Time Variance Authority) and he'll be working with Mobius M Mobius (Owen Wilson), Hunter B-15 (Wunmi Mosaku) and introducing OB or Ouroboros played by Oscar winner, Ke Huy Quan. And who is OB? According to a featurette, he acts like a Q-type who is in charge of the gadgets and sage wisdom.

Loki is also susceptible to timeslipping, where he phases in and out of his current and other timelines. Will this be detrimental to his well-being like the Spider variants from the Spider-Verse? Is this a side-effect of the multerverse? And what is the deal with Miss Minutes, TVA's animated anthropomorphic clock mascot (voiced by Tara Strong)? We won't know until the first episode drops 6 October.

Loki season 2 will drop on Disney+ this Friday.

10-Word Review

Now this is how you do an animated Marvel film.

The Skinny

Spider-Man aka Mile Morales (played by Shameik Moore) travels across the Multiverse, where he meets the Spider-Society—an organisation of multidimensional Spider-People charged with protecting its very existence. It's all fun-and-transdimensional games until Morales is confronted with the truth of his origins.

Here Be Spoilers...

What we like:

I didn't think that the sequel would improve on Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse but there you go. The film has equal parts action and a more intimate unpacking of the characters. Despite being 28, Shameik Moore, who voices Morales, nails that teenage register; there's that gung-ho front that's anchored with that adolescent uncertainty. We get to see the dynamics of the Morales and we are reminded about how we, as teenagers, tend to butt heads with our own parents and widen the generational gulf.

It's great to see Spider-Woman (Hailee Steinfeld) take her place in the spotlight. In the last chapter, we just got a quick recap of her origins—bitten by a radioactive spider; joined a band; saved her dad; couldn't save her best friend, Peter Parker—which gives us what we needed to know her in 30 seconds. For Across the Spider-Verse, we get more depth to her character and how she has to wrestle with her relationship with her policeman father, George Stacy (Shea Whigham), as a daughter and as the police's most-wanted vigilante, Spider-Woman.

The new antagonist, the Spot (Jason Schwartzman) goes against the mould of your classic Marvel villain and that's refreshing. This is a dude, who resorts to robbing ATMs because that's all he can do. He starts out as a wannabe crowing for Spider-Man's attention and eventually becomes worthy. There are cameos galore, especially, when we get to the Spider-Society. There, we meet the many versions of Spider-Man that range from the brooding Ben Reilly (Andy Samberg) to the happy-go-lucky Pavitr Prabhakar, there is not a wasted minute introducing each of the Spider-Person.

And the visuals... let hosannas ring around this eye candy. When Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was released, critics crowed about their pushing the envelope in the animation field. With Across the Spider-Verse, the envelope is now pushed off the table, rolled down the hill and opened up to reveal the winner of next year's best-animated film. Eye-popping and ground-breaking, the art comes at you fast and furious. Each dimension and its characters come with their own style: Stacy's universe is more hand-painted with changing colours to reflect her emotions; Brown's universe is, according to the filmmakers, 'hand-cut, pasted, drawn, glued together' to evoke the DIY look of punk rock posters; O'Hara's world is like a 'Syd Mead-style illustration of what the future might look like'. These different styles give a more varied and believable layer to this world- I mean, universe-building.

Also, please more of Pavitr Prabhakar and lessons in grammatical redundancy:

What we didn't like:

No Spider-Man Noir? For shame!

What to look out for:

There are a host of cameos at the Spider-Society, some as a one-note joke and others, surprising. Aside from the fire soundtrack and visual narrative touches, look out for the two narrative turns in the film: the first is a gut punch when we find out more about Morales' origin but the second twist sets up what's the come in the next chapter.

Then, there's the scene where the Spot travels to a real-world convenience store where he talks to the owner Mrs Lu (Peggy Lu). If you're like me and have wasted your time watching less-than-marvellous adaptations of anti-hero IP, you'd recognise the set from Venom and Venom: Let There Be Carnage.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is now out in theatres.