It’s 2022 and the multiverse is in!
Comics and science fiction fans are well acquainted with the essentially fictional theory that infinite Earths exist in infinite universes, one for each possibility at every crossroads in every human life ever. All across the space-time continuum(s) there’s hypothetically one version of you for every major decision that you personally have ever had to make. Sometimes you chose well; sometimes you chose poorly and ruined everything. Either way, whatever choices you didn’t make, there’s a you for those. Of course that isn’t counting the timelines where you didn’t even exist because your parents or your ancestors chose poorly, or someone killed them too soon, or Earth was prematurely destroyed, or our planet survived but the dominant lifeform was amoebae, dinosaurs, or orcs.
Alt-timeline hi-jinks are plentiful in pop culture, in which characters bounce back and forth between their Earth and one (1) radically different Earth, compare and contrast What Might Have Been with What Is, and learn what George Bailey should’ve taught them when they were kids. But now, thanks to the success and awesomeness of Into the Spider-Verse, two measly Earths in a single story is no longer enough. Next month’s Doctor Strange sequel threatens to capitalize on its ingenuity, expand on the foundation laid in Avengers: Endgame and TV’s Loki, and overwhelm viewers with potentially more universes than Spider-Verse had, each with its own Benedict Cumberbatch, all of whom have to split a single paycheck. DC Comics, the very first publisher to give us Earth-vs.-Earth conflict in funnybook history, remains hard at work on riding Marvel’s multiversal coattails with their long-gestating Flash movie, which, given its current production pace and behind-the-scenes embarrassments, may give Marvel some stiff competition when it’s ready for release in the year 2525.
But why should superheroes have all the fun? If we take the multiverse as a given, then it stands to reason that there are in fact realities where multiversal mayhem occurs but isn’t centered on costumed do-gooders because they don’t exist. Enter writer-directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (Swiss Army Man), who took a small cast, a modest budget (about the same as a single Loki episode) and who knows how many substances, and together concocted the madcap psycho-farcical Everything Everywhere All at Once.
Once upon a time on another Earth, a Michelle Yeoh who was a brilliant scientist and not a martial arts queen discovered a means to connect to every Michelle Yeoh throughout the cosmoses and open a rapport that allows them to borrow each other’s skill sets and in extreme circumstances quantum-leap across infinity into each other’s bodies. If there’s a Michelle Yeoh possessing every conceivable talent as well as every inconceivable one, hypothetically any Michelle Yeoh can do anything as long as there’s a Michelle Yeoh for that. But before all the Yeohs out in Yeoh-ville could be contacted and networked in, a mysterious force calling itself Jobu Tupaki began jumping from one Earth to the next and murdering them one by one. Somewhere out there, it stands to reason, is a Yeoh who can save the day.
Alas, Dr. Michelle Yeoh Alpha is not the main character. Our Hero is a Yeoh named Evelyn, a beleaguered manager of a humble laundromat alongside her husband Waymond (child-star legend Ke Huy Quan) on behalf of her elderly father (adulthood legend James Hong). She has problems of her own — everyday laundromat malfunctions, a major IRS audit, her disappointing daughter Joy (potential future legend Stephanie Hsu), and her ineffective husband’s unpleasant news he’s been keeping from her. Frankly, she doesn’t have time for nonsense from beyond the stars. When Alpha Waymond barges into her reality, followed within moments by body-jumping minions from elsewhere, Evelyn doesn’t have much of a choice: jack in and learn kung fu and other talents Neo-style, or become just another senseless Yeoh-kill.
Providing too many details of the ensuing beyond-Freaky Friday lunacy would crush its pleasures. Rows and rows of Yeohs and Yeohs appear in varying lengths, some for a single frame apiece, many of them individually lit and toned for other genres. The most meta among them exudes a romantic grandeur that feels like what I imagine Wong Kar-Wai films are like. (Maybe I should watch one?) Naturally a fair cross-section are revved up for fight scenes, excellently staged in the grand Jackie Chan tradition that allows for every object in reach to become a weapon. Yeoh is as fiercely poised as ever, but she isn’t the only warrior at hand: Quan, who’s spent years behind cameras as a fight choreographer, rules a few melees himself, particularly when he takes on an entire security guard team while armed with only a fanny pack. Between the two of them, theirs is my favorite kind of ballet.
But the film is not merely two hours of fight scenes. Apropos of the best science fiction tales out there, the day cannot be saved by Good simply punching Evil. Lessons are to be learned and awakenings to be had as our lead family have tons of baggage to sort with each other. Sometimes they’re on the same side; sometimes not a bit. The biggest hurdle for some is the stubborn reluctance to accept friends and especially family despite their fates, their fickleness, their forgoing of our traditions and beliefs, and what we might perceive as their failures, when in fact “failure” might be a bit harsh. Or in some cases maybe they are failures by a baseline definition. But it’s like when that Hamilton guy taught us we only get “one shot”: as beings of limited dimensionality we only experience a single timeline in our singular life to make our choices, one timeline to suffer the consequences, make the course corrections, and — when we’re not jacked in to alternate environs for gratification or power-ups — keep our connections with those loved ones booted up and stabilized. And yes, this means Yeoh has some tiger-mom blood on her hands, which feels even less fresh if you’ve just seen Turning Red.
Everything is at its jazziest whenever the goofiness abounds, though not all of it is meant for sensitive viewers. The contrived quantum-tastic trigger mechanism for Yeoh hivemind downloads involves committing highly improbable acts — some silly, some gross, and some twisted on a Parker/Stone gag level that may horrify anyone who doesn’t keep a steady diet of R-rated sex comedies. But that’s the danger of dealing in myriad timelines as brainstormed by a pair of writer-directors who apparently consider very few options to be off-limits: somewhere out there, choices can be made that you never want to witness in person if you can at all help it, lest you spend years afterward trying in vain to unsee it. Call it, I dunno, Infinite Perversity in Infinite Abominations or whatever. (They don’t quite go grotesquely illegally worst-case scenario here, but what I’m saying is, be prepared for some ick factor.)
With caveat in mind, I’d otherwise love to keep droning on about Everything — about the bagels, the hot dogs, the rocks, the googly-eyes, and the year’s best Pixar homage that had me laughing tearfully more than once. Or there’s the editing that strikes balance between its caffeinated jump-cut romps and its more textured exchanges that need extra space to breathe, to catch up, and to feel life resonating between souls and in between calamities. Or the cast who bounce off each other with grace and finesse, especially Yeoh herself, shaming any viewer who only knew her as a martial arts queen and had no idea she is large and can contain multitudes. Or just the seemingly never-ending muchness of it all that’s such an exhilarating rush, all of it woven into a unique tapestry with firmly sewn ends, no chance of dangling threads that lead to twenty-seven other tapestries you’re expected to buy next. Sometimes it’s pretty sweet when you can get just one really big rug to tie it all together.
Meanwhile in the customary MCC film breakdowns:
Hey, look, it’s that one actor!: Jamie Lee Curtis is at her most unrecognizable and de-glamorized (even more so than she was in that last wretched Halloween sequel) as an IRS desk jockey burdened with the “Name Game”-ified moniker Deirdre Beaubeirdra. Jenny Slate (Parks and Rec, Zootopia) is a laundromat customer with a cute doggie. Harry Shum Jr. (Glee) is a rather dexterous teppanyaki chef.
How about those end credits? No, there’s no scene after the Everything Everywhere All at Once end credits, no cutesy hint that all of this is a prologue to the Everything Cinematic Universe. If they ever make a sequel with new ideas, that would imply the title to this one’s a lie, wouldn’t it.