In this FandomWire Video Essay, we explore why Everything Everywhere All At Once is the perfect multiverse movie.
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Everything Everywhere All At Once Is The Best Multiverse Movie?
The Multiverse has been a highly speculated and pondered idea for as long as we can remember. It’s an incredibly philosophical and theoretical concept that perfectly lends itself to the world of storytelling and entertainment. One of the earliest examples of an alternate universe being portrayed on screen came from the Twilight Zone’s season four episode, “The Parallel” which found an astronaut in space returning to an altered and noticeably different earth. That was the launching point, but in the years that followed there would be no shortage of science fiction stories willing to tackle the complicated subject matter of parallel universes and timelines. From Star Trek to the Back to the Future trilogy, audiences were engrossed by the idea that alternate versions of themselves could simultaneously exist.
But even the best genre tropes can begin to feel bloated and unwelcome when they’re overused. Today, Marvel and DC are leaning full force into the Multiverse narrative. And yet, amidst this saturation of Multiverse in cinema, Everything Everywhere All At Once released to surprising acclaim and fanfare. With an impressive 95% Rotten Tomatoes score and critics like Matt Hudson of “What I Watched Tonight” writing: “Bonkers. Chaotic. Wild. A cinematic maverick. Everything Everywhere All at Once is a rare treat,” the genre-bending film came out of the gate strong and continued to gain momentum.
So, how did it do it? How did a strange little film from the relatively unknown filmmaking duo of Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, collectively known as “Daniels,” defy the odds to excel at heights far greater than films like Doctor Strange In The Multiverse of Madness and Spider-Man: No Way Home, two similarly themed movies with largely established fanbases? The heart of Everything Everywhere All At Once success, not only with critics and awards groups but with mainstream audiences, can be traced to three significant achievements: Its willingness to go Absurd, its Emotional Weight, and its Cast.
Prior to making Everything Everywhere All At Once, one of Daniels’ only film credits was Swiss Army Man, a film in which Daniel Radcliffe plays a flatulating corpse who becomes uniquely bonded with a man, played by Paul Dano, stranded on a deserted island. It’s a wild movie in which Paul Dano literally RIDES Daniel Radcliffe like a Jet Ski while he propels them through the ocean with farts. While it’s arguably less effective of a film, it highlights just how willing the filmmakers are to dive headfirst into nonsense, while using that nonsense to the story’s benefit.
When tackling a subject matter inherently as absurd as the Multiverse, there is no limit to where the film can be taken. Daniels’ use that freedom to craft a viewing experience unlike anything else and where anything is possible. One significant critique of Sam Raimi’s Multiverse of Madness was the unmistakable lack of Madness. With each new universe, we see a New York that is strikingly similar to the one we know. Each variation of Doctor Strange feels familiar, and although we’re given glimpses of universes filled with prehistoric dinosaurs or animation, those are never explored.
With Everything Everywhere All At Once, Daniels utilize branching timelines to show us various life paths for several of their characters, primarily the film’s lead, Evalyn, played by Michelle Yeoh. These alternate paths work as sliding doors to showcase a life that might have been if only a different choice or action had occurred in their lifetime. It’s the theory of the Butterfly Effect expanded to immeasurable extents and the further out those timelines branch, the stranger those realities become.
We see a universe where its characters are rocks and one where they’re pinatas. We see a universe where people have hot dogs for fingers and one where an animatronic raccoon named Raccacoonie controls a human chef by tugging his hair. It’s a clear play on the popular Pixar film, Ratatouille, but witnessing it play out in live-action makes for a far more preposterous and hilarious viewing experience.
And the Daniels utilize all aspects of their story to explore boundless absurdity. Not only with alternate universes, but with the manner in which those alternate universes can be accessed. Making use of the theory that even the smallest, most seemingly insignificant action can lead to a vastly different future, we witness characters learn valuable new skill sets through actions like professing their love to an enemy, rubbing hand sanitizer in their eyes or chewing on chapstick or used gum. It’s a ridiculous and hilarious display that shouldn’t work as well as it does, and yet the film is better for their inclusion. Because one thing that makes Everything Everywhere All At Once so special, is the way it can make you laugh hysterically one moment, and sob like a baby another.
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Despite its incredible heights of absurdity, ‘family, acceptance and belonging’ are the core values at the heart of Everything Everywhere All At Once and it explores them masterfully. Evalyn and Waymand are married. Together they run a laundromat and struggle to keep their taxes in order. It’s a modest life that seems to have left both of them wanting more. Their daughter, Joy, is gay and has a girlfriend. Joy’s sexuality is something that goes against the “traditional” thinking of Evalyn’s culture and upbringing. As a result, Joy never feels accepted for who she is and a wedge is driven between the mother and daughter. That wedge drives the entire plot.
As Evalyn journeys through various branching timelines, she sees the perceived failures and, more significantly, successes of her alternate life paths. Including one path in which she never marries Waymond, and goes on to become a famous film star. In this universe, she runs into this timeline’s Waymond at a premiere. It’s the first time the former lovers have seen each other since Evalyn left him and he appears to have found greater success, as well. He’s dressed sharply and his hair is neatly combed, a clear distinction from the Waymond we meet in the film’s opening.
What follows is a deeply romantic and tragic encounter filled with longing of a love lost. The segment acts as an homage to films of auteur filmmaker Wong Kar-Wai. Primarily his masterpiece, “In The Mood For Love.” The segment works as a revelation that despite the apparent benefits of life apart, they would spend their lives longing for one another. Longing for a love that was true and pure. This is primarily displayed by what is perhaps the film’s greatest line, perfectly delivered with a sorrow and sadness by Wamond actor Ke Huy Quan.
In a way, this line acts as the perfect summary of the film’s overall message. It’s about accepting and appreciating those closest to you and not wasting the time you have with them. While it’s certainly not a new concept explored in cinema, Everything Everywhere All At Once uses the massive scope of the multiverse, to take an intimate look at the relationships of a single family and those closest to them.
It takes a lot to make a great film. From writing to directing and editing, in many ways, it’s a miracle of teamwork that allows a movie to succeed. But no matter how strong of a script you have, a film is only as good as its cast. And in the case of Everything Everywhere All At Once, that’s a very good thing. Because its cast… is impeccable. Consisting of Hollywood icons,
Martial Arts legends,
And a long-awaited comeback.
It’s a well-rounded ensemble of powerhouse performances that elevate the already fantastic writing and direction. Funnily enough, the casting was nearly very different. Daniels originally conceived the idea with action icon Jackie Chan in mind for the lead role; however as they began to flesh out the details of the story, they soon realized that by swapping the roles and making Evalyn their lead, they were able to explore the story in a whole new way. During one interview, filmmaker Daniel Scheinert revealed, “As soon as we switched it, we were like, ‘Oh, now the husband and wife characters are more relatable.”
It’s easy to imagine Jackie Chan in Everything Everywhere All At Once. He’s a dedicated actor with a knack for comedy and physical performance. And while he has delved into dramatic territory with films like The Karate Kid and The Foreigner, this is the area in which Michelle Yeoh truly has the upper hand.
Yeoh, who’d worked with Chan on the international action hit Super Cop, possesses the rare combination of martial arts expertise and acting talent to believably pull off the pivotal role of Evalyn. Something that few performers could handle. There’s a nuance to the performances, something that sounds odd considering much of the material, but that nuance is pivotal to selling the emotional elements of the film, of which there are many.
The casting of Waymond proved to be difficult. According to Daniels, Yeoh was always their top choice for Evalyn. So much so, that without her, they claim the film wouldn’t work. However, the duo struggled to find an actor capable of adequately fulfilling the pivotal role of her husband… until Ke Huy Quan entered the picture. Quan was a child actor, best known for his roles in The Temple of Doom and The Goonies. Following his early success, he’d decided to leave acting behind to focus on working behind the camera where his studies of Taekwondo allowed him to work choreographing cinematic action, like the Wolverine versus Mystique fight in the climax of X-Men, and the Jet Li starring film, The One.
During an interview with Deadline, Quan said, “There’s a big difference between real fighting versus cinematic fighting, so when it was my turn to do the fanny pack fight sequence in this film, I was very comfortable in that space.”
Stephanie Hsu is tasked with playing the equally pivotal role of Joy. The mother-daughter relationship, and the wedge that is driving them apart, is the anchor and driving force to the film’s plot.
Reconciliation and salvaging broken relationships is a pivotal theme throughout the film and hitting those emotional notes is no simple task. Yet, Hsu holds her own acting opposite a cast that is far more experienced than her, delivering some of the movie’s most heart-wrenching and poignant dialogue. Arguably, removing a single member of the core cast would drastically alter the film as a whole. Like a teetering Jenga tower, each actor supports the other and brings the best out of the performance in a way that feels natural and beautiful.
Everything Everywhere All At Once is the rare example of a film that captures the heart and imagination of the general public while earning near-universal praise from the critic community. It stands alone in a saturated genre of multiverse stories by never limiting itself, and daring to be more of a Multiverse of Madness than anything Marvel or DC have ever attempted. Sure, the multiverse will continue to be an endless well of content for filmmakers for the foreseeable future, but it’s unlikely that any will achieve the same mastery of the subject as Daniels did. It’s riveting and effective. It’s heartfelt and funny. It’s Everything… It’s Everywhere… All at once…
Do you agree that Everything Everywhere All At Once is the greatest Multiverse story of all time? What’s your favorite movie or TV show featuring alternate timelines? Let us know in the comments. Don’t forget to like, follow and hit the notification bell, in THIS, and every universe. We’ll see you next time.
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