In the wake of new awareness regarding whom Hollywood elevates to superstardom, the superhero cinematic world has landed on a clever fix: the multiverse. After numerous scandals, allegations, and criminal charges against their tentpole actors, franchises like Marvel and DC are probably more grateful than ever for the rise of this narrative conceit.
After all, what better way to manage embattled stars than to make them replaceable?
For franchises with billions at stake, the rise of multiverses within the Marvel and DC franchises has become an unexpected PR crisis management safety net. The concept provides the perfect narrative loophole to undo past mistakes, change storylines, and introduce new characters (or new iterations of the same beloved characters) with a handy casting switcheroo.
As Quentin Tarantino reminded comic-book audiences, DC and Marvel actors are just vessels for the true stars — characters like Hawkeye, The Flash, and Kang the Conqueror — to shine. But what happens when on-screen superstars turn out to be more villains than heroes offscreen?
Studios now have the built-in potential to recast and make it canon to boot. Hollywood seems to realize that nothing (and no one) is a sure bet and that it’s better to stand by an IP than a person battling a lawsuit. It’s not luck; it’s an industry pivot.
That potential swap-out could go into effect sooner than later. This past weekend, newly anointed Marvel star Jonathan Majors — poised to guide the superhero franchise through its next half-dozen films — was arrested for an alleged assault against a woman that involved strangulation and harassment. The “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” actor was arraigned and charged March 26 with multiple counts of assault in the third degree, three counts of attempted assault in the third degree, one count of aggravated harassment in the second degree, and one count harassment in the second degree. Majors’ attorney denied any wrongdoing on the actor’s behalf in the domestic dispute.
Majors himself already teased that there could be many variants of Kang moving forward, with slated appearances by the character (or characters, plural) in “Avengers: The Kang Dynasty” and “Avengers: Secret Wars,” which are meant to cap the MCU’s Phase Six and its overall “Multiverse Saga.”
Majors’ roles in “Lovecraft Country” and “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” helped propel him to the Marvel deal. Majors is still flexing his power in the indie space with “Magazine Dreams,” which debuted at Sundance in January (and is currently set for release by Disney’s own Searchlight Pictures in an awards-friendly December slot). Majors also went toe-to-toe with Michael B. Jordan in “Creed III” and his upcoming slate ranges from portraying Dennis Rodman in “48 Hours in Vegas” to leading Spike Lee’s “Da Understudy.”
As for DC, the future of the franchise seemed to be gone in a flash when star Ezra Miller was arrested numerous times for assault, disorderly conduct, harassment, and trespassing. Allegations of grooming minors and running a cult also followed the “Flash” star, who identifies as non-binary and uses they/them pronouns.
The film, set for release on June 16, is poised to set up a multiverse for the DCU. Ben Affleck and Michael Keaton are back as two iterations of Batman in the film, opening the door for many actors to play the same role. For now, Warner Bros. and DC Studios are standing by Miller as The Flash.
“Ezra is completely committed to their recovery, and we are fully supportive of that journey that they’re on right now,” DC studio head Peter Safran said during the 2023 DC presentation earlier this year. “In our conversations with them over the last couple of months, it feels like they’re making enormous progress.”
Miller issued their own statement last year, opening up about enduring a “time of intense crisis” that encompassed years-worth of erratic behavior as well as appearing to choke a woman in Iceland. “I now understand that I am suffering complex mental health issues and have begun ongoing treatment,” Miller said in the statement.
Before the introduction of the MCU’s bent toward the multiverse, the franchise had to deal with controversial stars, including Jeremy Renner, Chris Pratt, and Letitia Wright, in other ways. Mostly, that meant keeping them around.
Renner, recently heralded as a real-life hero following his snowplow accident saving a neighbor, allegedly abused his ex-wife and threatened to kill her by putting a gun in her mouth. (In a fall 2021 interview with Men’s Health, he described the allegation as “nonsense.”) After those allegations, Renner’s Hawkeye character spurred an eponymous spinoff Disney+ series. For now, Renner is rumored to be returning as Hawkeye in “Avengers: The Kang Dynasty” alongside Majors.
Pratt has been deemed “Hollywood’s most hated Chris” after seeming to support homophobic religious sects that promote conversion therapy. The “Guardians of the Galaxy” actor was called out for attending anti-LGBTQ church events but still continued his arc in the MCU. Pratt is also rumored to officially exit the role of Star-Lord following the fourth and final “Guardians” film directed by new DC Studios co-head James Gunn.
Letitia Wright, who took over the role of Black Panther following Chadwick Boseman’s death, came under fire for anti-vaccine statements amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Marvel producer Nate Moore said during the “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” press tour that Wright’s social media statements were irrelevant to the experience on set. “She only ever was the utmost professional and a joy to have around.”
For Renner, Pratt, and Wright, their respective franchises stood by them. But did Disney and Marvel learn from these controversies that could be applied to their multiverses?
The genius of a multiverse narrative clause is that it works in favor of the overall franchise and brand, not its stars. Marvel and DC no longer have to stand by an actor whose behavior is condemned by the public. Instead, depending on contract stipulations, the studios can easily pivot a franchise with the same character, albeit played by a different actor, under the multiverse clause.
Recasting is, of course, nothing new in Hollywood. It’s long been the norm for Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, not to mention James Bond movies.
We’ve also seen it in supporting characters in superhero films, like Katie Holmes in “Batman Begins” or Terrence Howard in “Iron Man,” though those switcheroos were due to everything from scheduling issues to contract disputes. Elsewhere, Johnny Depp was dropped by the “Fantastic Beasts” films, with Mads Mikkelsen stepping into the fantastical role, following Depp’s domestic abuse allegations. Like the multiverse caveat, that franchise is able to use “magic” as a way to paper over the weirdness of a recast.
These days, it seems the multiverse scheme isn’t just a cool new narrative arc; it’s also a way for the franchise complex to cover its spandex-clad and cape-covered ass from the potential fallout. But to purposefully build in the escape hatch of a multiverse concept in the superhero space feels like this is a true next phase of both comic book IPs and Hollywood as a whole. Normalize casting swaps and distance the brand from a potentially bad press blitz.
Did #MeToo inspire the multiverse, or has it always been everywhere all at once?