Everything is bonkers all at once

every1Everything Everywhere All at Once, 2022, 139 mins, 4K UHD

Writing as someone more comfortable with the pace of a Denis Villeneuve or Terrence Malick film, the hysterical madness of Everything Everywhere All at Once, which seems edited to literally display on film just what its title suggests, is either something genius or utter idiocy. I’m still not sure which side of the fence I’m on- is it the pinnacle of style and spectacle over empty content, or is there substance hidden in those dizzying visuals and frenzied pace? Is it a martial arts parable about dysfunctional families not communicating or just a martial arts demo reel stretched over a vacuous plot? My wife was adamant it was the latter- admittedly not the biggest fan of martial arts films she increasingly hated every moment as the sedate opening descended into an almost unintelligible chaos that, frankly, is the default state for most of the rest of the film. It simply does not let up, and Claire was happy to see it finally end her exhausted misery after its surprisingly long running-time. “Never again,” she finally said.

Which didn’t help my initial thought that I’d need another viewing to properly digest it, as that intention may be thwarted awhile.

So a visual feast? Yes certainly, those stunts and fights are quite impressive even if they stretch most credibility- I do wonder as things become ever-more cartoon-like whether film-makers should reign things in somewhat. One could accept most this kind of thing in a Matrix or an MCU film but I have to wonder if some traditional martial arts fans are irate at some of the comicbook silliness infecting their favourite genre (or maybe I’m missing the escapist appeal). But outside the frantic editing and stunts, is it profoundly moving and ambitious or shockingly empty and annoying?

The problem with this current preoccupation with the concept of the multiverse remains the same for everything in comics, film and television that tries it- it offers vast possibilities for ignoring continuity (which is the central appeal I’m sure) but undermines most of the weight of traditional drama. When removed from the criticality of the one, the individual, whether it be a character or a planet or a universe, a dramatic work or narrative seems to lose its stakes. Regards the Kelvin timeline of Chris Pine’s Kirk in the Star Trek reboots – why care what happens to Chris Pine’s Kirk if one’s more invested in the William Shatner one? I appreciate that the existence of both does not necessarily make either redundant, but…

Everything Everywhere All at Once tries to both ridicule and take advantage of this curious fact regards multiverse narratives. Its main antagonist is a nihilist utterly despondent at the perspective of endless universes in which, she feels, nothing really matters, nothing is critical anymore because if you’re a failure in one world you’ll be a millionaire in another, if you’re slim in one world you’ll be fat in another, why strive to succeed if you’ve already succeeded/failed elsewhere? The protagonist, her mother, eventually seems to realise that love conquers all, that the individual really does matter after all, but she seems to only arrive at that after increasingly sophisticated martial arts fights. Maybe its a twist on the rational arrived within Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (that the needs of the many outweighs the needs of the few (or the one)) in that the needs of whatever universe you are in outweighs the needs of the many universes beyond. Or maybe the grass isn’t always greener in the multiverse, or something like that.

Or maybe its about the sausage-fingers and the really cool fighting. But I will say one thing- this film is worth it just for the boundless pleasure of 93-year-old James Hong (Blade Runner, Big Trouble in Little China and countless others) still working his magic. Pretty much any scene he is in outdoes all the stunts and effects for me.


6 thoughts on “Everything is bonkers all at once

  1. Tom

    I feel like this is closer to genius than pure idiocy but I definitely have some issues with just how much madness the Daniels stuff into a two hour movie. I read another review that described it as being enough to fill three seasons of a show, and I would have to agree with that. There’s just too much going on, it toes the line of artistic freedom and pretentiousness. I began to check out of it during the rocks sequence. At this point I was mostly just seeing the shape of the movie and not feeling any of the depth.

    1. Its just too much; it hits overload by thirty minutes and never really satisfactorily explains itself, which to me is the ultimate sin. I could forgive the excess and indulgence if it just took a minute to take stock and explain what’s happening and why- the magic of The Matrix, for instance, is that it takes time out to explain everything, what’s happening and why. I never understood how giving yourself a painful papercut downloads martial arts or whatever was going on. Maybe it did explain but hey, blink and you miss it I guess.

      1. Tom

        So what opens up the movie a lot is this justification that people need to perform an act intentionally in their current reality, something that no person would ever think to do on purpose, and that (somehow) triggers the so-called Verse-jump. This is also what gives the Daniels cart blanche to allow half of their run time to be taken over by goofiness. There’s a lot of stuff going on, but I felt it was more the structure of the story that was exhausting. Breaking it down into ‘Everything,’ ‘Everywhere,’ and then ‘All at Once’ is a gimmicky thing, yeah I guess, but more so it was so unevenly divided — I think the first act was an hour or more, the second about 40 minutes and the last one about 10 minutes. It was that in conjunction with the energy levels. And now they have re-released this movie into theaters, with — get this — 8 (eight) additional minutes of footage! Like, what’s the point! Really? Will even the most fervent supporter of the original cut actually notice the added footage?

  2. Matthew McKinnon

    I sort of felt I was being pressured into watching this, as it was all the rage in London hipster circles. And it was playing for cheap at the Prince Charles on days I wasn’t working.

    But it doesn’t… look very good? It seems like the sort of movie that people who are passionate about music videos would idolise.

    And it’s two and a half hours!

    I’ll get back to you when it turns up for free on a streamer.

    1. I find it rather fascinating which films seem to strike gold with the cultural zeitgeist and those which, er, don’t. I suspect that part of this film’s appeal is that it is a timely, comic, self-knowing spin on a frequent preoccupation of franchises lately- the multiverse, and has rather gotten a rep for being ‘cool’ and taking the whole concept to its ridiculous endgame. Doesn’t mean its particularly good, mind, but that popularity for you. I look forward to your eventual lengthy fury: the scenes with the two talking rocks may break you.

  3. Pingback: The Weekly Summary # 10 – the ghost of 82

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