Warning! Major spoilers are ahead Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness
At this point, the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” is a misnomer. Recently released films include Spider-Man, There’s No Way HomeThe just-released Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, have thrown their characters—and the franchise—into a vast and complex multiverse, as have TV shows like LokiOn Disney+. It’s a lot to keep track of, especially since this all started with a simple movie about one guy building an iron suit. Marvel’s newest movie. Multiverse of Madness Further complicating the MCU, audiences are taken to new worlds featuring familiar characters. Here’s a brief guide to the MCU multiverse, and where it stands to go next.
I wonder, is there a multiverse?
Multiverses—alternate worlds that may be identical, subtly altered, or radically different than the ones our heroes normally operate in—have been a part of superhero comics for decades, arguably going back to a 1961 issue of DC Comics’ Flash Two versions of the speedster crossed paths. The narrative device soon became popular, and why wouldn’t it? Multiple worlds gave comic writers a near-infinite canvas to play “what if?” and Marvel Comics did just that with its similarly titled What If…?The comics, and more recently the Disney+ series, are both popular. Multiverses are a way to travel through time. It is possible for characters to be identical, or there may be alternative versions. And you can easily explain anything by linking it with an endless number of parallel worlds.
However, the MCU didn’t start out as a multiverse. The exception is the Thor movies’ talk of “realms,” which are more akin to mythically connected regions of the cosmos than parallel worlds, the first several films of the MCU take place on Earth or, occasionally, in space. It wasn’t until the first Doctor Strange movie that the Ancient One (played by Tilda Swinton) explicitly mentioned the existence of other universes.
A scene from Marvel Studios’ DOCTOR STRANGE in THE MULTIVERSE of MADNESS.
Marvel Studios photo
However, the multiverse the Ancient One was talking about isn’t quite the multiverse that MCU fans commonly understand these days. Doctor StrangeThe Astral Plane was introduced, as well as the Mirror Dimension and Dark Dimension. In practice however, it seems that they are more like aspects of the Marvel Universe than distinct entities. But this question is open to debate. A Disney+ episode What If…? show featured an alternate version of Doctor Strange who seemed to have visited his own reality’s version of the Dark Dimension, for instance.
Other movies and shows added new “dimensions” to the MCU, including The Ancestral Plane (Black Panther), the Quantum Realm (Ant-ManSoulworld (Infinity WarTa LoShang-Chi, the Legend of the Ten Rings and Shang-Chi), and the Duat (Moon Knight)). All of these are unique places that seem to exist in tandem with the main reality of the MCU, though it’s somewhat hard to say, as terms like dimension, world, plane, reality, and universe are all used somewhat interchangeably with little concrete explanation of what they actually are in the grander scale. Fans are not talking about these multiversely distinct realities. That involves timelines, warped versions of the universe we know, and the possibility of bringing other movies and characters into the MCU’s fold.
Learn More: This is a breakdown of every significant character who appears in Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness
What Marvel movies and series do I have to see to fully understand the multiverse
While a trip to the Dark Dimension is neat, it doesn’t generate the same excitement as seeing a same-but-different version of a familiar character. For that, the MCU turned to time travel—at least at first. You can find out more at In Avengers: EndgameThey use the Quantum Realm for time travel. An ancient version of the Ancient One explained that this allows them to create branches. Functionally these realities can be described as alternate universes.
Tom Hiddleston and Sophia Di Martino Loki
Chuck Zlotnick—Marvel Studios
However, LokiTelevision’s Time Variance Authority revealed He Who Remains and took the TV show to the next level. It was discovered that there were many parallel timelines and universes. Many of them look the same as MCU’s timeline. However, some have different endings. Loki, in one universe is, however, a female. Another universe, however, saw him kill Thor. In yet another, he’s an alligator. The TVA monitors all these various universes to protect the “Sacred Timeline”—in reality pruning branches that would lead to a multiversal war that would screw up the entire timeline.
Loki tells a twisty tale by using parallel universes. Spider-Man is Far From HomeOther purposes were also possible with the multiverse: to maximize intellectual property. Peter Parker (Tom Holland), a filmmaker, turned to Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), for a spell that could alter reality and memories by harnessing power from the multiverse. Peter’s edits and Strange’s hastiness led to a botched version of that spell that brought characters from other universes to the main MCU universe. The Spider-Men from the two Sony Spider-Man movie series, Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, as well as five villains from the five old movies—movies that, before this, were not at all connected to the MCU. (Tom Hardy’s Venom was also pulled into the MCU, but only for a funny post-credits cameo. Morbius’Post-credits scene taken Spider-Man Homecoming’s villain, Michael Keaton’s Vulture, into whatever cinematic universe Sony’s building.)
(l-r: Tom Holland and Benedict Cumberbatch) Spider-Man, There’s No Way Home
Matt Kennedy—Marvel Studios
By establishing that the Sony Spider-Man movies were universes that existed as part of the MCU’s multiverse, You can’t go home! retroactively made them MCU canon—that is to say, part of the official storyline. They are not, however, part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s main universe. It was a game-changer for fans’ understanding of what a multiverse implied. Now, a multiverse wasn’t just a plot-specific alternate realm, like Doctor Strange’s Dark Dimension, nor was it a funhouse mirror timeline, like Loki’s parallel realities. The multiverse gave us the chance to do so. AnythingThe MCU has canon. Multiverse of Madness, which was teasing the appearance of Patrick Stewart’s Professor X from the X-Men movies and characters from the What If…? The show seemed to be poised for further expansion of the multiverse, and the inclusion of more familiar faces in the MCU fold. However, it subverts almost all of those expectations by making those highly anticipated characters into more of a prank than building blocks for the franchise’s future
Now, how do you make it work? Doctor Strange 2Was it for the multiverse, you ask?
Multiverse of Madness does not introduce the X-Men to the MCU, and it’s not a “sequel” to What If…?As many believed. Instead, America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), who has the ability to travel the multiverse at will (though she can’t control her powers at first) sends Doctor Strange and herself to another universe that has quite a few differences from the main MCU. That universe’s version of Christine Palmer explains that this universe is Universe 838 and the MCU we’re familiar with is Universe 616. Mysterio also called the MCU 616. Spider-Man is Far From HomeHowever, he denied he had ever been from another universe, and he also claimed a false identity.
In Universe 838, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes formed a team called the Illuminati, not the Avengers, and their roster is different from the group we’re used to. There’s a Captain Marvel, but apparently in this universe Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch) got the powers instead of Carol Danvers (Brie Larson); a Captain Carter (Hayley Atwell), but seemingly a different version of the character than the one in the What If…? show; a Professor X (Stewart) who seems to take more after the ‘90s X-Men cartoon than the Fox movies; a Black Bolt who probably isn’t the same as the one from the maligned and forgotten InhumansAnson Mount, and Mr. Fantastic (John Krasinski) of the Fantastic Four, Marvel’s first family who have yet to make their proper debut. Scarlet Witch kills them all, making it hilarious and brutally cruel.
Learn MoreDoctor Strange and the Multiverse of MadnessDoes it feel extravagant, sexy, or crazy?
So, while the X-Men appear to exist in the MCU’s multiverse, there’s no confirmation that the X-Men of the Fox movies exist (Stewart reprising his role is more of a casting gag the way WandaVision’s casting of Evan Peters as “Fake Pietro” was), and the X-Men certainly don’t exist in the main 616 universe yet. There are Mutants out there in Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s not just. This universe. And, it sure doesn’t seem that any of the Illuminati are going to be major players in the future of the MCU because, well, they’re all dead.
How can you? Doctor Strange 2Tell us what the future holds for the multiverse within the MCU.
Multiverse of Madness doesn’t actually expand the multiverse as much as You can’t go home! did, and for all the cameos the various universes introduced, they don’t really impact the main MCU continuity at all. It does however reveal new details about the multiverse’s functioning. We learn that dreams are actually visions of something that’s happening in another universe, as seen in Wanda’s dreams of a reality where her two children in WandaVisionThese were in fact real.
Even more important, Multiverse of Madness introduced the concept of incursions—disastrous, potentially mutually universe-destroying events that can happen when two universes cross streams. In retrospect, we can see what actually happened at the beginning of You can’t go home!(May have been an incursion. Incursions, taken from comics writer Jonathan Hickman’s incredible Avengers run in the mid ‘10s, are seemingly going to be a problem in the MCU going forward. The post-credits scene where Clea (Charlize Theron) appeared to enlist Strange’s help in fixing an incursion, suggests the hero’s next adventure will involve multiversal incursions.
Learn More: Let’s Talk About the Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of MadnessScenes of End-Credits
We might need to wait a while to see what’s next for the MCU’s multiverse. This year’s Marvel movies are listed. Thor: Love and ThunderAnd Wakanda ForeverIt is likely that these events will take place in only the 616 universe. It won’t be too long until heroes are popping between dimensions again, as Ant-Man: Quantumania will almost certainly explore the multiverse, and there’s a second season of LokiOne thing and another Doctor StrangeAdventure is also on the cards. Given that, it’s hard to predict exactly what will happen next, from a storytelling perspective. Most immediate and significant change Multiverse of Madness made to the MCU’s multiverse is that it, somewhat unexpectedly, lowered the stakes. In this film, the multiverse served more as a storytelling tool than it did to build a world. This opens up possibilities for future visits to the multiverse that are lighter and more fun than burdensome.
Benedict Cumberbatch portrays Dr. Stephen Strange, in DOCTOR STRANGE: THE MULTIVERSE of MADNESS.
Trying to keep all of the various universes and dimensions in the MCU is, as the Doctor Strange sequel’s title suggests, maddening. Looking at the arc of the multiverse’s film history, you can see it grow more complicated and possibly contradictory. That’s OK, as long as the filmmakers and the viewers have some sort of handle on the rules and the stakes as they pertain to the specific story that’s being told. As any comics fan will know, things can quickly get messy. You should enjoy the process and be open to having fun. MultiverseSam Raimi was certainly right. You can’t introduce a universe’s worth of hyped-up heroes and then kill them off for laughs unless you’re having a ball playing in the multiverse.
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