We open on the familiar sight of our hosts in the lobby of a movie theater. POPCORN looks up as CINEMA approaches, juggling a variety of snacks. Behind them, an usher is nudging the doorstop to a theater door, getting ready to close it. Light is coming up in the darkened space beyond. The previews are about to begin.

CINEMA: Alright, I’ve got the tickets. Are you ready???

POPCORN: Dude, you know I’m down for some multiverse madness.

CINEMA: You will not be disappointed, my friend. You’re about to see the craziest multiverse movie of all time . . .

Popcorn Cinema 48: THE MULTIVERSE IS MADNESS

by John E. Meredith

Everything goes dark. A voiceover that is neither POPCORN nor CINEMA, yet somehow a little of both, says: “When I watch a movie, it’s like there are two of me in the same seat. There’s that regular movie-going guy who likes blood and boobs and things that explode, the kind of movies we call POPCORN MOVIES. But there’s another fellow who accompanies him. This guy likes some of the same things as his friend, but he is a seeker and connoisseur of SERIOUS CINEMA. This guy doesn’t just want to see a movie, he wants it to change his life. It goes without saying that these guys don’t always see eye to eye.”

Ten minutes later, the screen has been occupied by Michelle Yeoh as a tired, harried Chinese-American woman who is struggling with the taxes on her laundromat, her distant relationship with her sweet but goofy husband, and her worries about her daughter coming out to her visiting traditional father. She is sitting at the dining room table, an ocean of papers splashed across its surface. Someone asks her what she’s thinking about. As she responds, her one-word answer flashes on the screen: “Everything.”  

POPCORN: Is this, like, a new Shang-Chi movie?

CINEMA: Are you high? No, it’s not a Shang-Chi movie.

POPCORN: Dude, all these crossovers are starting to get confusing. Lemme guess, a portal’s gonna open up and Doctor Strange is gonna stroll through. He’s gonna be all like, “Hey, gatekeeper chick, you can wash your clothes later. We got multiverse shit to take care of.” 

CINEMA: No, it’s not a Shang-Chi movie. It’s not a Doctor Strange movie. It’s not really a superhero movie at all, at least not as we’ve come to know them.  

POPCORN: Did you trick me into seeing some artsy shit again?? Seriously, dude. I just wanted to drop a couple edibles and escape from reality.

CINEMA: Oh, you’re definitely going to do that. Just be patient; I’ve already got tickets for Doctor Strange. We can compare.   

POPCORN raises his hands, putting them together in front of his face. He then pushes his face slowly through them as if he’s giving birth to himself. The camera cuts to his view, peering through his fingers. It really does look like he’s passing into another world.

CINEMA: This film left me a bit speechless . . .

POPCORN: Then we’re definitely in an alternate universe. 

CINEMA: It’s EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE, the most recent offering from A24 Studios, the company who brought us such films as MIDSOMMAR, THE LIGHTHOUSE, EX MACHINA, MOONLIGHT, EIGHTH GRADE –

POPCORN: See? Artsy shit. Dude, I knew it.   

CINEMA: – and the latest film by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, collectively known as Daniels. The last thing we saw from them was the 2016 film SWISS ARMY MAN –

POPCORN: The one where Harry Potter’s dead and spends the whole movie farting on the Riddler?

CINEMA: Well, there was a little bit more going on in that movie, but yeah, that’s the one. Honestly, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would. Paul Dano was great, and Daniel Radcliffe made a fine corpse, but somehow it never clicked for me. This one, though . . . 

POPCORN: I dunno, dude.

CINEMA: I’ve gotta tell you, this is the second viewing for me and it might end up being one of my favorite films of all time. Just forget everything you know and give yourself over to the experience . . .

 A shot of the movie poster flashes on the screen:

EVERYTHING

EVERYWHERE

ALL AT ONCE.

A time lapse, the movie has ended. The lights have come back up. The audience members have disappeared, being replaced by the usher pushing a broom. CINEMA, drenched with soda, turns to POPCORN, who sits laughing in the seat beside him.

POPCORN: (wiping his eyes

CINEMA: Are those tears I see?

POPCORN: Naw, man. When that dude threw his Coke at you, I got some in my eyes.

CINEMA: He didn’t throw it at me, he threw it at us . . . anyway, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were tears in your eyes, both of laughter and emotion. This film has a little bit of everything. There are some thrilling action sequences, science fiction lunacy, a genuine human story –   

POPCORN: Fight scenes with butt-plugs.

CINEMA: – fight scenes with butt-plugs, the weirdest reference you might ever see to RATATOUILLE, sentient rocks, an everything bagel that could destroy all of reality –

POPCORN: Some crazy shit with hot dogs.

CINEMA: – some crazy shit with hot dogs . . .

POPCORN: So I wasn’t trippin’?

CINEMA: It might feel like it, since this film is not like anything you’ve ever seen before. All of the people who say there is no originality left in Hollywood need to shut up and immediately go see this. The IMDb summary says, “An aging Chinese immigrant is swept up in an insane adventure where she alone can save the world by exploring other universes connecting with the lives she could have led.” I suppose that’s technically accurate, but it doesn’t even begin to describe what happens on the screen. 

POPCORN: For real, dude.

CINEMA: I would go into this film knowing as little as possible and just let it sweep you up into its whirlwind of storytelling. But the basics are, there is a woman named Evelyn Wang and she’s not having a very good day . . .    

POPCORN: She’s not having a very good life.

CINEMA: No, she’s not. She runs a family-owned laundromat with her husband Waymond . . . played by Ke Huy Quan, who was Short Round in TEMPLE OF DOOM and Data in GOONIES, before growing frustrated with the lack of roles for Asian-Americans. He retired from acting for twenty years, but then came back for this . . .   

POPCORN: Short Round kicks ass in this flick.

CINEMA: With a fanny pack even. I’m telling you, that’s one of the best fight scenes I’ve seen in a while.

POPCORN: Even better than the butt-plug fight?

CINEMA: Yes, even better than that. But, before all of the fighting starts, he’s just Evelyn’s quiet, nice-guy husband. She’s so caught up in her own world of stress that she barely even knows he still exists. He’s had divorce papers written up, but not because he actually wants to leave her. He’s just been trying so long to get her attention. Then there’s Evelyn’s father –

POPCORN: Ding Dong.

CINEMA: Gong Gong. Played by veteran actor James Hong, who’s been in over six hundred movies, TV shows, and even video games. Dragnet. The Outer Limits. The A-Team. Chinatown. Blade Runner. Big Trouble in Little China. He’s visiting Evelyn for his birthday, but his presence is disrupting an already tense family dynamic. In a few cleverly-placed flashbacks, we see some of the choices Evelyn has made, including the one to be with Waymond despite her father’s objections. He all but disowned her when she married him, convinced that their lives together would be a failure.  

POPCORN: He wasn’t wrong.

CINEMA: Not really. She’s tried countless hobbies and projects, but never stayed with any of them . . .

POPCORN: She kinda sucks at everything.

CINEMA: . . . which is, ironically, the very thing that makes her the perfect candidate to save all of reality. That’s like saying that you could save the multiverse. 

POPCORN: Well, if you visited another universe, you could actually go fuck yourself.

CINEMA: I might be tempted to try. At some point, Evelyn’s father looks at her and says, “You never finish anything.” But she’s tried just about everything. She’s even tried to claim all of these short-lived hobbies on her taxes, which has gotten her into a great deal of trouble. The story really gets started when Evelyn, Waymond, and Gong Gong arrive at the IRS offices for an audit. They are in the elevator when –

POPCORN: Waymond goes all (makes snapping sound, then twists around to look at CINEMA creepily), “I’m not the Waymond you know. I’m some other Waymond from some other place, and you’re the only one who can save us.”

CINEMA: He writes some instructions on the back of the divorce papers –

POPCORN: “Yo, like, put this headset on, then put your shoes on the wrong feet and think about the janitor’s closet.”

CINEMA: So she does, and –

POPCORN: And I gotta pee.

CINEMA: Seriously? We’re in the middle of making a video.

POPCORN (getting up): Sorry, dude. Run a clip or something.

CINEMA: Alright. Well, I’ll run a clip.

There’s a lot going on in the scene, which is more like three scenes at once. There is a kind of showdown between Evelyn and her daughter Joy, then another one between Evelyn and Waymond. “Be kind,” he says, but she tells him that it’s too late. They take each other’s hands and the light starts flashing, reflecting blue and orange and green across their faces. There’s a momentary flashback, a montage of happier moments with the Wang family, and then another scene seeps in, lit almost romantically. Evelyn is a movie star and Waymond is well-dressed. He turns to her and says, “So, even though you’ve broken my heart yet again, I wanted to say . . . in another lifetime I would have really liked just doing laundry and taxes with you.” Jump to the main Evelyn, sitting in a chair in the laundromat, watching her husband as he sings to himself while sweeping the floor. She gets up and goes to him. Back in the showdown scene, Evelyn and Waymond are both smiling now, laughing, as blue and orange and green lights flash across their faces . . .

CINEMA (tears in his eyes, he turns to look . . . then jumps, finding POPCORN sitting beside him, feet propped up on the chair ahead, gobbling a handful of popcorn as if he never left. He’s wearing a googly eye in the middle of his forehead ): Shit!!  

POPCORN (nonchalant): What? You ran the clip without me.

CINEMA: Yeah. You said . . .

POPCORN: (eating popcorn, loudly)

CINEMA: Okay. Alright, well . . . there are, uh, some really good performances in this film. There’s Yeoh, Quan, and Hong, as I’ve already mentioned, but the . . . breakout performance might just be Stephanie Hsu as the daughter Joy, in a role that requires her to be . . . many different things . . .

POPCORN: Jamie Lee Curtis was really good too. I’ve gotta tell you, Cinema, if I didn’t already know that she was in this movie, it might have taken me a couple minutes of watching her to know that she was in this movie. Know what I’m saying?

CINEMA (somewhat puzzled): I know.

POPCORN: None of the performances were wasted for me. Even the smallest of parts – like the bald security guard, for instance – seem to exist in the truth of their own reality, even when that reality is in a state of flux throughout the film.

CINEMA: Flux, right.

POPCORN: “Even in a stupid, stupid universe where we have hot dogs for fingers, we get very good with our feet.” That might be my favorite line. It shows that the human spirit will persevere no matter what obstacles it has to overcome.

CINEMA: Persevere, yeah.

POPCORN: (chewing loudly)

CINEMA: While it gets a bit . . . crazy . . . I feel like the actual storyline is really quite simple, and everything in the film ultimately makes sense. For me, it’s about finding the happiness in our odd little lives, even as we compare what we have to what we wish we had . . .

POPCORN: I’d agree with that . . . though I might add, it seems to be showing how absurd and meaningless all of this is. Joy, for example, is absolutely a Nihilist in her view of life – nothing matters, so let’s destroy it – but Evelyn is more of an Absurdist, subscribing to the belief that, if it’s all pointless, we might as well enjoy it. She sums up the film perfectly when she says, “We can do anything we want; nothing matters.”

CINEMA: Uh . . . yeah.

Someone clears their throat. Both of them turn to find the usher standing in the row behind them. He nods at the camera set up in the other seat.

USHER: So, you guys done or what? I gotta clean up before the next show.

CINEMA: Yeah, we’ll get out of your way. We’ve got another movie to catch anyway.

They gather up the camera and their snacks, making their way back up the aisle. CINEMA continues to look a bit puzzled. POPCORN seems oblivious to that puzzlement. They dump their empty packages into the garbage, then proceed through the lobby to the next show. Finding their seats, CINEMA begins setting up the camera in the seat he purchased in front of them.

POPCORN: I’ve thought about this a lot. Imagine setting off in a rocket and leaving earth, going way out to the end of the galaxy, then bursting through the furthest reaches of the known universe. There you make your way to another universe, another galaxy, and another earth, finding another version of yourself sitting there, watching the same movie.

CINEMA: That’s a classic science fiction trope . . . and how many of those gummies did you have anyway?

POPCORN (looking confused): No gummies, I just had the corn. You know, it’s totally possible that other universes exist. I mean, there are theories shared by both cosmologists and astrophysicists . . .

CINEMA: First we have to assume that space is infinite, stretching out in all directions, basically forever. It would be so mind-blowingly huge . . . that it would eventually have to repeat itself . . . including the existence of almost perfect doppelgangers . . . another me, another . . . you.

POPCORN: The idea goes all the way back to the Ancient Greeks.

CINEMA looks at POPCORN, then turns to look back at the camera, almost comically confused.

POPCORN: There was a philosophy called Atomism, which proposed that the physical world was made up of a combination of the tiniest pieces of matter – called atoms, of course – and the endless void into which they were born. The followers of this philosophy believed that these atoms were constantly colliding in that space, which gave rise to an endless number of other parallel worlds. All of them are supposedly less perfect than our own. Kinda like Alpha Waymond tells Evelyn: every path we don’t take creates another reality out there in which we did.  

CINEMA is silent, looking back and forth between the camera ahead of him and POPCORN beside him. The lights go down, then come up on the massive IMAX screen ahead. Several movie trailers pass, with POPCORN leaning over to comment. CINEMA, however, remains quiet.

The familiar Marvel Studios logo fills up the screen.

There is a huge roar of applause, then an expectant hush falls over the audience. The film opens with a desperate flight through the multiverse. Everything is swirling chaos and bright light. A new character, America Chavez, is running across some unstable something floating through space, joined by a version of Doctor Strange we’ve not seen before. Something big and colossally mean is shrieking after them. He points at an ornate kind of book displayed ahead of them, telling her, “That’s how we kill it.” They jump, then slide, then jump again. There are tentacles and fire and hands hurling magical light, trying to hold the unearthly creature.

Strange turns to look at Chavez. “I’m so sorry,” he says, “This is the only way . . . “

POPCORN: Badass.

CINEMA: Here we go.

A shot of the movie poster flashes on the screen:

DOCTOR STRANGE

AND THE MULTIVERSE           

OF MADNESS

A time lapse, the movie is almost over. There has been much cheering, moments of laughter, and even a few gasps. Most of the audience seems to love it. CINEMA, however, does not look overjoyed. POPCORN is grinning from ear to ear, with the googly eye still stuck to the middle of his forehead. He leans over to whisper-shout at his friend.

POPCORN: So cool that we finally see [redacted] in an MCU movie.

CINEMA (blandly): Yeah. But why is he so dumb?

POPCORN: Come on, man. He’s [redacted], he’s not dumb.

CINEMA: If he’s not so dumb, then why did he just dumbly tell [redacted] exactly how to kill [redacted]?? Because she did. Immediately. Thanks to him.

POPCORN: She would have figured it out anyway. It wasn’t like she struggled to kill [redacted] or [redacted]. Hell, all she did to [redacted] is (makes neck-snapping motion), and he’s supposed to be the universe’s greatest telepathic mutant. It’s just how the plot was written.

CINEMA: You mean badly?? I knew there would be some fan service, especially after how well FAR FROM HOME did . . . but it’s like they opened the door to all these cameos, then tossed any kind of plot logic out the window.

POPCORN: It’s a comic book movie, my friend. It’s got comic book plotting, comic book characters, and even looks like a comic book. It’s not meant to be Shakespeare, but it is everything it’s supposed to be. It’s fun. Besides, there’s nothing wrong with servicing a few fans, if you know what I mean.

CINEMA: Oh, it looks great, there’s no problems there. It looks like a Sam Raimi movie. This is definitely the most violent, gory, and horrific stuff we’re likely to see in a Marvel movie. Some of the best we are going to see in a PG13 film, that’s for sure. I’ve got no problem with cameos, if they work as well as they did in the Spider-man movie . . .

POPCORN: Then what’s the problem?

CINEMA: It’s like Rick and Morty floating through space on an acid trip.

POPCORN: And . . . ?

CINEMA: And  . . . where the hell is Vision? Why, after all that business in WandaVision, doesn’t Wanda give a shit about him anymore? How did she turn the entire population of Westview into meat puppets, yet Strange is still coming to her for advice? Like, “Oh, that. Whatever. I’m sure she’s fine.” Why did she send a giant octopus to get America Chavez when she could have just gone to get her without destroying a city? I mean, isn’t that kind of collateral damage the very thing that killed Wanda’s parents? Isn’t it the same kind of thing that brought about the Sokovia Accords, which she was opposed to? When Strange says that Mordo vowed to destroy him, how did he know? Is there some Doctor Strange movie in between the first one and this one? Why call it a multiverse of madness when they only spend time in two of them? And, most importantly . . . why introduce all of these amazing members of the Illuminati, with all this inherent storytelling potential, only to obliterate them fifteen minutes later??

From somewhere behind them, someone yells, “Yo, dude! I’m tryin’ to watch a movie here!”

POPCORN: Some valid points, I will admit.

CINEMA: I don’t hate it . . . but it doesn’t match the expectations I’d built up from the films and series preceding it. Raimi does fine with what he’s been given, but it feels like Marvel Studios undermined his vision of what it could have been.

POPCORN: Maybe.

CINEMA: My biggest problem with the MCU is the one of the things that I love about it. They have done a great job, in most cases, of making it a connected universe. This leads to this, which leads to this, and so on. We often get to see the consequences of events in previous films. But sometimes it seems like making those connections end up being more important than making a great film that stands on its own. Just look at BLACK WIDOW.

POPCORN: I get you, man. But consider this. Maybe Raimi is subverting expectations . . . like, sure, he gave the studio what they wanted with the Illuminati . . . the bulk of the reshoots he went back to do were including [redacted] and [redacted], because the fandom went apeshit when we got three Spider-men on the screen . . . but then, to just dispatch ’em like they were nothing . . . not only does that show how powerful Wanda really is, but . . . that’s some huge filmmaking balls there.

CINEMA: Maybe.

POPCORN: Personally, I just wanna enjoy the things in my life, whether I’m watching movies or whatever. It’s like Waymond said in the other one, “When I choose to see the good side of things, I’m not being naive. It is strategic and necessary. It’s how I learned to survive through everything.”

CINEMA: “We can do anything we want; nothing matters.”

POPCORN: Damn right, man.

CINEMA: Honestly, though I feel like the cameos were mostly a cheap stunt to distract us from a poorly-written script . . . I feel like, if that’s what they were going for, the film could have benefitted from more of them. Like, fill it up with every insane, ridiculous, wacked-out appearance that we could possibly have. It’s the multiverse of madness, after all . . . 

POPCORN: Let’s see some insanity.

CINEMA: Exactly. Like, where’s Iron Man?

POPCORN: He’s right over there.

CINEMA: Wait, what?

POPCORN (pointing): Right there, man.  

CINEMA (peering into the darkened theater): Holy shit, is that . . . ? 

POPCORN: Tom Cruise? Yeah, that’s him.

CINEMA: Whoa. He’s shorter than I thought.

POPCORN: He’s not the only one here.

CINEMA (finally looking around at their surroundings): That looks like . . .

POPCORN: Wolverine?

CINEMA: Uh-huh.

POPCORN: (points here and here and there)

CINEMA: Halle Berry??? Who’s that she’s sitting with?

POPCORN: Looks like Ed Norton.

CINEMA: Chris Evans! Is he Cap or Johnny Storm? I don’t even know.

POPCORN: Hey, it’s fuckin’ Deadpool.

CINEMA: Check it out. John E. Meredith is here, and he’s sitting with the Psycho Drive-In creator, Paul Brian McCoy.

POPCORN: Eh, no one cares about those guys.

CINEMA: Maybe not, but do they care about Toby Maguire??? . . . who’s hanging out with Andrew Garfield???

POPCORN: Yeah, they do.

CINEMA: . . . and they just waved at me.

POPCORN: Look, it’s Nicolas Cage

CINEMA: – and his head’s on fire.

POPCORN: Jon Bernthal . . .

CINEMA: Wesley Snipes . . . 

POPCORN: What kinda theater are we in anyway???

The usher has appeared beside them. He leans down, pressing his shush finger to his lips. When they look up at him, they see that he’s actually Loki in an usher’s costume.

They shush.

Then . . .

CINEMA (whispering):  Alright, I don’t know if you slipped one of those gummies into my drink or what . . . but I’ve got to get some air. My head is spinning. 

POPCORN: Cool.

While CINEMA makes his way up the aisle, POPCORN looks around at the audience as the movie ends. He watches them get up and file past, the anonymous and famous alike. Nodding his head, he’s got a huge smile on his face. And a googly eye. He checks his phone, then gathers all the empty snack containers together. Organizing. Killing time. He watches the usher, sweeping up near the front of the theater.

Finally, CINEMA plops down in the seat beside him. He’s got a huge bucket of corn and an equally big grin on his face.

CINEMA: Dude, so was that the best multiverse movie or what??

POPCORN: (turns to look into the camera, his face comically confused)  

The credits roll.

And roll.

And roll.

There is a brief pause, the screen going black for a moment. Then, as the POPCORN and CINEMA we have been watching all this time stroll up the aisle and out of the theater, there are two audience members left in their seats. It’s the POPCORN and CINEMA we usually see.

POPCORN: Dude, I thought those guys would never shut up.

CINEMA: Some people simply have no respect for others.

POPCORN: Kinda think we should do a YouTube channel, tho

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