Whether you liked the movie or not, most comic book fans would probably admit that Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness handled the concept of alternate realities superbly on a creative level. Opening up portals to other universes allowed Marvel to introduce old favourites such as Patrick Stewart’s Professor X into the MCU without having to explain how they got there.
Sam Raimi’s high-octane, hyper-kinetic style lent itself perfectly to the scene in which Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch sent Charles Xavier, Mister Fantastic, Captain Carter, Captain Marvel and Black Bolt into oblivion without so much as a pause. The shock factor was palpable but the impact on the future of the MCU was not – because we have no idea if we will see any of these versions of the characters on screen ever again. It’s a creative sandbox with endless possibilities and zero risk.
It remains to been seen how DC handles its own journey into the multiverse. But we already know that Andy Muschietti’s upcoming film of The Flash, based on the universe-mashing Flashpoint comic and due out in June, is going to be heading deep into the realms of stunt-casting. Michael Keaton’s Batman, not seen on screen since 1992’s Batman Returns, will be back, and new reports based on what appears to be leaked footage from last year’s DC FanDome event suggest he’ll be at the head of a completely new version of the Justice League.
Remember Ben Affleck’s Batman, Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman and Henry Cavill’s Superman? Well, while Gadot and Affleck are both involved in The Flash, they won’t apparently be part of this new superhero team, which will feature Keaton’s caped crusader alongside Sasha Calle’s Supergirl and two versions of The Flash (Ezra Miller). Quite how this is going to work out, who knows? Especially as reports suggest one of these Flashes will be the movie’s main villain. It’s either going to be a mess or a joy.
“We are presenting [a] Justice League that is not the powerful Justice League that we all know,” Muschietti says in the footage. “As Bruce Wayne said, it’s like a retired vigilante, a half-solar-powered alien and two idiots.”
Also returning for The Flash is Michael Shannon’s General Zod, who was killed off at the end of Man of Steel, then sort-of revived without Shannon’s involvement in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice as the zombified monstrosity Doomsday. Presumably this new Zod will have avoided both indignities, so should be primed to give the new Justice League a run for their money.
Might any of the new superheroes we meet in Justice League actually stick? That’s the thing about alternate realities: they can always be hived off the main timeline until somebody decides that a certain new version of Batman went down well with audiences and they should probably bring them back. (Not that DC needs any more versions of the Dark Knight on the big screen – there are already four if we count Lego Batman.)
With James Gunn having taken the reins at DC with a promise to shake things up, The Flash could be the last time we see any of these superheroes on the big screen in their current incarnation, especially given the recent stories about Miller. Or it could just as easily prove a seminal episode that ends up inspiring a revival of the entire superhero macro-verse.
Either way, Muschietti looks like he’s going to have a whole lot of fun – just don’t be surprised if Keaton’s return as Batman lasts all of 20 seconds. As the Multiverse of Madness proved, alternate-reality versions of major characters can prove to be a lot more disposable than their single-universe counterparts.
Nor can film-makers be blamed for taking great relish in sending such characters to their doom. After all, there’s always another version ready to appear from another dimension to take their place.