Multiverses are all the rage right now, but no Marvel movie or Disney+ show will ever take the concept of alternate realities as far as Everything Everywhere All at Once does. The new film from the Daniels, the filmmakers behind 2016’s Swiss Army Man, is a mind-bending sci-fi epic that imagines not only universes that look exactly like ours, but ones where everything is animated, where human beings’ anatomies turned out completely differently, and perhaps most hilariously of all, where organic life was never able to evolve on Earth.
It’s the most wholly original sci-fi film since The Matrix, and watching it evokes many of the same feelings of wonder, awe, and excitement that a first viewing of that 1999 sci-fi masterpiece does. The film works as a martial arts action movie, zany Douglas Adams-inspired sci-fi adventure, outrageous comedy, and family drama all at once. It manages to be all of that, while also boasting not just one, but three performances that are among the best to appear in any movie in quite some time.
A feast for the eyes
Written and directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, Everything Everywhere All at Once follows Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh), the co-owner of a laundromat who finds her life turned upside down when a visitor from another universe arrives to tell her that she’s the only person capable of stopping an evil threat that has the power to destroy the entire multiverse. Equipped with technology that allows her to hop between universes, Evelyn embarks on a journey that forces her to reexamine not only her own life choices, but also the bonds she shares with her family members.
With Swiss Army Man, a film about a stranded man whose life is saved by a flatulent, strangely sentient corpse, the Daniels announced themselves as two artists who shared a unique directorial vision. It was an odd and ingenious, if not perfect, debut feature from a promising directorial duo.
Everything Everywhere All at Once is a fulfillment of that promise. The duo’s same goofy sense of humor and penchant for tweaking the human body in uncanny ways is just as present here as it was in their 2016 feature, but so is their eye for slick, feverish visual storytelling. Every shot in Everything Everywhere All at Once is a statement, a dose of adrenaline delivered to keep the film’s high-wire energy going from its melancholy first frame to its tongue-in-cheek last.
The resulting film is one that feels undeniably indebted to the work of Edgar Wright, Lana and Lilly Wachowski, and Jackie Chan, but never feels like an imitation of any of those artists’ movies. It moves at a breakneck pace for nearly the entirety of its 146-minute runtime, but never drags or exhausts, and that’s a testament to Paul Rogers’ editing. Despite having to balance a staggering number of alternate timelines in the film, Rogers and the Daniels ensure that the audience is rarely confused about which universe they’re in at any given time — even in the moments when they begin to blur together.
Different lives, different choices
Beyond its various technical and editorial achievements, it’s the film’s emotional through line that makes Everything Everywhere All at Once hit as hard as it does. From its very first frame, an image of Yeoh’s Evelyn happily dancing with her husband, Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), and daughter, Joy (Stephanie Hsu), the film is invested in its central family. The multiverse adventure that follows not only tests Evelyn’s bonds with Waymond and Joy, but also sees her become enticed by the allure of her more glamorous alternate lives.
It’s in Evelyn’s struggle to reconcile her personal choices with those made by her alternate reality selves that Everything Everywhere All at Once goes further with its multiverse premise than Marvel Studios ever has. The film, for all of its zany sci-fi touches, doesn’t lose sight of the personal what-ifs that make the possibility of a multiverse so alluring in the first place. Over the course of the film’s runtime, Yeoh’s tired, stretched-too-thin Evelyn is given the chance to visit timelines in which she never had to worry about money, love, or disappointing her children, and she feels understandably drawn to each of them.
In that way, Everything Everywhere All at Once’s multiverse isn’t just used as an excuse for the Daniels to bring every idea they’ve ever had to life in the same film. Instead, Evelyn’s exposure to the multiverse gives her the necessary shove she needs in order to move beyond the cynicism and personal regrets that are dragging her down when the film begins. Yeoh’s performance perfectly communicates the subtleties and extremes of her character’s complex emotional journey, while Hsu and Quan turn in similarly stunning work opposite her.
The chosen one
For some viewers, Everything Everywhere All at Once‘s rapid pace and numerous raunchy jokes, not all of which land as well as others, may wear thin too quickly for them to fully enjoy the film. However, as was the case with Swiss Army Man, those who do manage to get on the same rhythm as the Daniels will likely find themselves surprised to discover that there’s a big, vulnerable heart beating at the center of their latest film.
For that reason, the biggest compliment that can be paid to Everything Everywhere All at Once is that, while it is inarguably one of the grandest and most ambitious original sci-fi movies of the past decade, it never loses sight of the characters at the center of it. That’s because Everything Everywhere All at Once is, above all else, a love letter to Michelle Yeoh, a star who has long deserved the opportunities that this film finally gives her.
Throughout her career, Yeoh has proven herself to be one of the most versatile performers in the world, an actress capable of doing just about everything. In that sense, Everything Everywhere All at Once is the only kind of tribute worthy of a performer like Yeoh. It’s a film that lets her do so much — fall in love, break hearts, fight, fail, grow — and doesn’t just show us that she can pull off everything that’s asked of her, but usually with more style, grace, precision, and empathy than just about anyone else.
Everything Everywhere All at Once will be released in select theaters on Friday, March 25, before expanding nationwide on Friday, April 8.
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