Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is promising to be packed with cameos and Easter eggs after a new trailer revealed the movie would include a zombified Doctor Strange, Ultron bots, and even Professor X. A popular fan theory following the latest teaser is that Doctor Strange 2 will introduce the concept of Marvel’s Illuminati to the MCU, which could either retcon or discredit a forgotten Easter egg from Iron Man 2 in 2010.
Iron Man’s solo sequel included Easter eggs and references galore, including many that have since become integral to the greater MCU story. For instance, Wakanda was first teased at the end of Iron Man 2 and is now a fan-favorite MCU location and home to the Black Panther. Also worth noting is Project Pegasus, which turned from a simple name-drop from Tony Stark in 2010 to the thickest plot point in 2019’s Captain Marvel.
Every so often, an Easter egg goes untouched for years before it’s referenced again in the MCU— if it’s revisited at all. Iron Man 2 included a few of those big teases that have yet to be developed, such as Project Exodus and the Lost City of Atlantis.
But there was one glaring Easter egg in Iron Man 2 that may be brought back into the spotlight in Doctor Strange 2, and Sir Patrick Stewart’s return as Professor X has fans ready for this big question to be answered: will Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness include The Illuminati’s MCU debut?
MCU: Illuminati Who?
Based on the most recent trailer for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, it seems that the Big City Sorcerer will encounter some form of The Illuminati along the way.
The Illuminati is a secret think-tank from Marvel Comics that originally consisted of Mister Fantastic, Iron Man, Professor X, Doctor Strange, Black Bolt, and Namor. Their main purpose was sharing information and strategies to better protect Earth from threats greater than those that humankind could defend against.
This theory is based largely on the six chairs that Doctor Strange approached in the trailer, as well as the all-too-familiar voice of Sir Patrick Stewart, who is presumably reprising his iconic role as Professor X.
But this isn’t the first time that The Illuminati has been teased in the MCU; another hero teased the existence of The Illuminati all the way back in 2010 when Tony Stark pulled his phone out and an app labeled “Illuminati” could be seen.
With that in mind, the question becomes whether Tony Stark’s Illuminati tease was a seed planted for Marvel Studios to refer back to, potentially with Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
Does The Illuminati exist in the MCU, and was Tony Stark involved in its creation? Or, will The Illuminati be created as a result of Doctor Strange 2 with Stark in mind? The Direct has speculated on some of the most likely scenarios regarding the MCU’s Illuminati and how the group will be introduced.
Has The MCU’s Illuminati Been Here All Along?
If the app on Tony Stark’s phone indicates that The Illuminati is a real group within the MCU, then a big explanation is owed as to why fans haven’t seen more than a tease acknowledging their existence since 2010.
However, potentially the most crucial detail regarding Marvel’s Illuminati is the fact that it is a secret organization designed to stand independently from (and unrecognized by) any other major world government or organization.
Similarly to how the Time Variance Authority in Loki was explained away, the existence of The Illuminati would a more favorable scenarios in which Marvel Studios can play the card saying “fans didn’t know about The Illuminati because they didn’t need to know about The Illuminati.” After all, The Illuminati’s “Rule Number One” for its members is likely similar to that of Fight Club: don't talk about The Illuminati.
Phases 3 and 4 have retconned certain plot points in MCU history to make its ever-expanding story continue to make narrative sense, such as how Nick Fury lost his eye when Captain Marvel revealed it was Goose the Cat that impaired him, or how Carol Danvers inspired the Avenger Initiative.
Other examples of the MCU's recent retconning include Wanda Maximoff when her backstory was adjusted in WandaVision to imply she’s an actual witch. Also included was when the Eternals were shown trekking through Earth’s history and having a major impact on the establishment and growth of many human cultures and societies.
Nevertheless, if a group as prominent as The Illuminati is revealed to have been lurking in the shadows for who-knows-how-long, its roster would have to look a bit different than the more traditional Marvel Comics lineup, since most founding members haven't even made their proper MCU debut yet.
Mr. Fantastic, Professor X, and Namor have yet to show up in any form. Black Bolt was introduced in ABC’s Inhumans series, but a soft reboot with fresh faces is widely expected after how poorly that network show performed.
Considering Tony Stark gave his life to stop Thanos in Avengers: Endgame, that only leaves Doctor Strange as the only original Illuminati member that audiences know is alive and well in the MCU.
There is a chance that Tony Stark and Doctor Strange spoke in private about forming an Illuminati-style group during the events of Avengers: Infinity War. However, limited time and more pressing matters at hand indicate that Strange’s encounter with Tony likely wouldn’t have allowed for a conversation of that scale.
That could still mean The Illuminati does exist in the MCU, but Stephen Strange isn’t a part of it. It’s important to remember that Doctor Strange has only been practicing the Mystic Arts for the past few years, meaning there’s a ton of MCU history where The Illuminati could have been established prior to his emergence as a powerful sorcerer.
Perhaps Doctor Strange learns of The Illuminati in his sequel film and questions why he isn’t a part of it. However, he’d have to figure out who the actual members of the club are before he can get upset about it.
MCU Illuminati: Who’s In and Who’s Out?
Since Patrick Stewart’s voice as Professor X can be heard in Doctor Strange 2’s latest trailer, there’s a good chance that the Illuminati group that Strange encounters will consist of comic-accurate members from across the Multiverse. This may indicate that, if The Illuminati does exist within the MCU, its members could be vastly different from what fans are used to.
Potential members of the MCU’s already-existing Illuminati could be Nick Fury, who’s certainly up to something secretive up in space, or Captain Marvel, considering her limited and still-somewhat-mysterious role in the bigger picture thus far.
Despite Tony Stark’s initial distrust in SHIELD, Nick Fury became one of Tony’s most trusted allies. In fact, Tony trusted Fury so much that he entrusted the SHIELD director to get the EDITH glasses to Peter Parker in Spider-Man: Far From Home.
This is especially curious considering Fury was blipped for five years while Tony was left alive, and there was no time for conversation once Fury returned, as Tony died just minutes later. Perhaps Stark and Fury were already working together on a new project before the events of Infinity War, and now Fury is carrying out those plans in Tony’s absence.
Captain Marvel keeps popping up at just the right moment throughout her MCU appearances, like her late-to-the-game assist in Avengers: Endgame and her quick cameo in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Because of this, the Avengers keep Captain Marvel updated and involved, despite her spending little-to-no time on Earth (barring any universe-threatening circumstances, of course).
Nevertheless, Tony told Captain Marvel, “we need you; you’re new blood,” shortly after she saved his life in Avengers: Endgame; perhaps he wasn't only speaking about recruiting her for the Avengers. If Tony knew that Nick Fury trusts Captain Marvel, then perhaps Tony was inclined to cue her in on his Illuminati agenda as an outer space advocate that he could trust, too.
As for who else could make up the remaining portion of the group, Tony Stark seemed fond of Wong in Infinity War — he even invited the sorcerer to his wedding! Wong has also been working hard behind the scenes, seemingly training former bad guys like Abomination under the radar. Perhaps this was an Illuminati effort to rebuild Earth’s defenses following Thanos’ visit?
This idea becomes even more fun when imagining the look on Doctor Strange’s face if he learned Wong was asked to be a part of Tony Stark’s super-secret-boy-band instead of him. He's already upset enough after Wong took over the role of Sorcerer Supreme in his absence, but what if Tony Stark also recruited Wong to his new Illuminati club while Doctor Strange was gone?
Between Fury’s space mission and Wong making bad guys good again, there are numerous instances from recent MCU history that could point to The Illuminati already being present. Even so, these instances can only be used as potential evidence because there are no real answers given to those events yet and what they mean to the greater story.
What if The Illuminati doesn’t exist in the MCU? What if the reference all the way back in Iron Man 2 was intended to lead to something greater, but just never came to be?
Did Marvel Scrap Its Illuminati Plans?
Alongside the Illuminati icon on Tony Stark’s phone in Iron Man 2, the other apps on the screen point to various concepts that Tony was toying with at the time, including his yet-to-be-used Mark 5 suitcase armor, the SHIELD logo, and an app titled “Monaco.”
If fans look past the glaring Illuminati Easter egg, it’s odd that Tony had a SHIELD program on his phone despite him having no actual commitment/obligation to SHIELD at the time. Iron Man 2 dealt with whether Tony would be of any value to SHIELD, and he wasn’t offered any official role with the organization until the end of the film, so their logo on his phone was also a tease of what was to come.
Additionally, the inclusion of “Monaco” on Tony’s phone brings further credence to this device being filled with Tony’s unexecuted ideas. Monaco was a place Stark would visit later in the film where he shocked and surprised everyone by racing in his company’s Formula One car.
Fans will remember that Monaco is also where Tony had his first run-in with Ivan Vanko, which forced him to use his Mark 5 suitcase armor for the first time.
Ironically, the Illuminati app is the only readable logo on Tony’s phone in Iron Man 2 that wasn’t visited in some capacity within that same film; nevertheless, the other apps shown were all “upcoming” events and ideas, alluding to the Illuminati also being something that would soon come to light but had not yet taken form.
2012’s The Avengers showed fans that Tony Stark didn’t trust Nick Fury at that time, which was made clear when Tony hacked into SHIELD’s database as soon as he stepped foot on their helicarrier. With that in mind, it makes sense that Tony would want to take steps to form his own organization before learning what SHIELD was truly all about and realizing he didn’t have to do everything on his own.
It’s fair to ask what Tony’s “next steps” would have been had he not joined SHIELD. If the Avengers never formed but the invasion of Earth still took place in 2012, Tony’s approach to creating “a suit of armor around the world” could have been quite different, requiring him to scour the world for any help he could trust and possibly forming the earliest version of The Illuminati as a result.
Tony Stark’s eventual trust in Nick Fury was established in 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier when Fury revealed that Stark had helped redesign his helicarriers, so perhaps the Illuminati never came to be, simply because Tony ended up trusting Fury and SHIELD and didn’t feel a need (at the time) to take matters into his own hands.
With that in mind, the MCU could be a universe that has yet to have the Illuminati take form. This would give Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness the chance to introduce the concept in its own way without having to tiptoe through MCU history to make sure the story lines up with past events.
If Doctor Strange is given the opportunity to form a new Illuminati in the MCU, what are fans supposed to make of the Illuminati Easter egg in Iron Man 2?
Iron Man 2’s Illuminati: A Fake?
If The Illuminati is destined to appear in the MCU, then the Iron Man 2 Easter egg teasing the group’s arrival will either be connected to it or written off as a fun nod to comic fans while discrediting its existence.
This wouldn’t be the first time that Marvel has given fans an epic Phase 1 tease that ends up amounting to nothing. 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok made some fans laugh while others got angry when Hela wrote off Odin’s treasured Infinity Gauntlet as "fake.” Despite years of speculation surrounding the right-handed glove since its first appearance in 2011’s Thor, it was thrown away like garbage as if it never mattered.
When an Easter egg as big as the Infinity Gauntlet (with all six Infinity Stones attached) is teased that early on, it’s difficult to come back around to a reference like that while still making it make enjoyable sense to the story that’s since expanded.
The same can be said for Iron Man 2’s Illuminati Easter Egg. Although it was a fun nod at the time, the MCU has grown so much since the 2010 reference that it would be difficult to make the tease make sense to the story twelve years later. And since Tony Stark isn’t even around anymore to help with that effort, the odds of his Illuminati app being anything more than a private web browser are looking pretty slim.
Even so, the eventual formation of the MCU’s Illuminati could still honor Tony Stark, even if the Iron Man 2 tease is nothing more than a fun joke about Tony being at odds with the United States government.
Will Iron Man Inspire Doctor Strange 2’s Illuminati?
If Doctor Strange is inspired by the idea of The Illuminati following the events of his sequel film and decides to form his own iteration of the group, there’s a good chance it will be formed around the same ideals Tony Stark lived and died for.
Tony’s entire journey following the first Avengers film revolved around him trying to protect Earth from other-worldly threats, and it ended with him giving his life for that very cause. As fate would have it, those are the same values that The Illuminati was founded on in Marvel Comics after a Skrull invasion left the world in shambles.
Doctor Strange reviewed more than fourteen million timelines in Infinity War while trying to find a way to defeat Thanos. If Tony Stark’s sacrifice was the only outcome that made a difference, then maybe Strange will see that Tony’s ideals need to live on. This could inspire the Defender of the New York Sanctum to form a group of people that would hold the same values, should Earth ever be in danger again.
Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home — as well as upcoming projects like Armor Wars on Disney+ — prove that Tony Stark will continue to influence the MCU even now that he’s gone. Perhaps Doctor Strange will have Tony’s principles in mind when The Illuminati makes its way to the MCU.
As for how the group will take form in the MCU, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness seems to be Marvel's best shot yet at bringing the long-awaited Illuminati to life.