WB Games recently released a new trailer for its upcoming Smash-like fighter Multiversus. In it, characters like Harley Quinn, Bugs Bunny, and Shaggy fight each other before Superman and the Iron Giant show up at the end. While some enjoy the trailer, other viewers are disappointed to see the Iron Giant, a massive robot who famously chooses a path of non-violence in his film, again used by WB as a generic, warlike robot, completely contradicting his established character.
The iconic robot first appeared onscreen in the classic, and fantastic, 1999 animated film The Iron Giant, an adaptation of British poet laureate Ted Hughes’ novel The Iron Man. In the film, the Giant is a robot from outer space, built for war and destruction, that crashes on Earth and is discovered by a young boy. The kid helps teach the robot about life and death, and inspires it to be more than what he was designed to be. Eventually and uh…spoilers here for a 1999 animated film…the Iron Giant sacrifices himself to save the kid and his whole town from a nuclear weapon.
The entire premise of the film is that the Iron Giant is more than just a “gun.” As director Brad Bird famously pitched to WB, the movie really is: “What if a gun had a soul, and didn’t want to be a gun?” The Iron Giant has moments in the film where it acts violently or destructively, but these are always treated as mistakes that the Giant needs to grow beyond. The Iron Giant might technically be a superweapon, but he’s not a killer. He chooses to be more than a gun. And he saves the day not by fighting a big battle, but by heroically and nonviolently sacrificing himself for the greater good. So having him appear in Multiversus, a game about characters beating the shit out of each other, even if presented in a comical and cartoony tone, feels wrong to those who grew up with the film.
But even worse than making the Iron Giant fight people, this is just another example of how all of pop culture—all past films, TV shows, and characters—are being slowly merged together into a giant gray mush that some call the multiverse, but I find really boring and sad.
Multiversus, Warner Bros’ upcoming free-to-play multiplayer fighting game heavily inspired by Smash Bros., is a typical example of this trend. And like Nintendo’s Smash, this free-to-play brawler will contain a large library of characters from different franchises and properties. But all of the characters in Multiversus are directly ripped from the large corporate library of WB parent corporation Warner Bros. Discovery. Included in this giant collection of classic TV shows, movies, games, and the like is the beloved 1999 animated film, The Iron Giant. And because WB owns that character, it can toss it into a giant blender alongside Bugs Bunny and Batman to create a fighting game that only highlights how few companies own so much of our pop culture.
To be clear: I’m not angry or offended that the Iron Giant is in this game. I do think it’s dumb and I think the moment in the trailer calling back to the Giant’s heartrending sacrifice at the end of the movie is cheap and shitty. I also hate the idea of the character being shoved into a game to earn a few more nostalgia points regardless of if it runs in direct opposition to the themes of the beloved robot’s film, which was about a powerful weapon deciding not to fight. To change. To rise above the circumstances of their creation.
Sure, I’d love it if Warner Bros could stop using the Iron Giant as a cool action robot, like he was in the already-forgotten film Ready Player One. (That movie that predicted a future where humanity stops creating new art and just plays with old stuff in one giant metaverse…which seems to be pretty prophetic now, huh…)
But the real problem is that a single company like WB Discovery can—and does—own so much of pop culture. Between Disney, WB, and Universal, a large and vast swath of classic film, TV, movies, books, and other media are all owned and controlled by a few boardrooms. And this phenomenon will only grow more pronounced as large corporate mergers and buyouts continue to proliferate.
This is a bad situation for people who want original stories or unique experiences. Instead, companies like Epic, Krafton, and others continue to push toward a Ready Player One-like metaverse. In that future, all of our favorite characters and stories are mashed together into a gray goo of nostalgic comfort. And now more than ever, these mega-mass-media conglomerates own more shit and seem more than willing to play ball.
As a result, it has become easier than ever for other companies and publishers to license characters or make deals since only a handful of companies seemingly own it all in 2022. No longer does Epic or other devs need to knock on 40 doors to get track down rights to famous heroes. And far fewer original creators of these characters and worlds have a say in how their creations are used. Instead, companies looking to cash in on crossovers can now easily unlock a treasure trove of internationally recognized cartoon villains or video game stars in one fell swoop.
And of course, the handful of companies that now own all that valuable IP can now go and spend some of their own millions on competing metaverse projects and crossovers. They’re all dying to be a part of that growing trend of mashing everything together, like kids playing with toys in a sandbox.
All of this is why, in 2022, every battle royale and free-to-play online game under the sun is crossing over with anything even remotely popular. Godzilla in Call of Duty? Sure! Evangelion in PUBG? Why not! Slipknot in Smite? Uh…okay! Whatever. Ryu in Fortnite? Fine. Hell, Disney has published at least three separate mobile games in the last few years that revolve around mixing together all its various characters and IP. It’s becoming harder to find big games that are simply themselves and have zero crossover IP or special cameo characters or costumes.
Look, I don’t mind a few companies having fun with some of their characters. But when everything is merging into everything else, it becomes tiring and sad.
I mean, did PUBG Mobile really need a Baby Shark event? I start to worry that more beloved characters, like the Iron Giant, will end up as nothing more than roster fillers in future crossover events and games. Sure, a few cameos are fun, but eventually, this goes too far (if it hasn’t already) and we end up in a world where there are like four games, two TV shows and five movie franchises all made up of everything spilt into a few multiverses owned and controlled by megacorps. That just seems so boring.
I really don’t want to live in a world where all media is just “The Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny” made real.