One of the best things about Marvel Studios' franchises is that, while every film and Disney+ series has an end, the MCU only continues. To help fans keep track, Marvel divides its various chapters into phases, and then those phases into sagas. And, to date, Marvel has only completed one - The Infinity Saga - which spanned 3 phases and a whopping 23 movies. Now that Phase 4 is well underway, so is Marvel's second overarching epic, the Multiverse Saga.
There's no denying that the Marvel Multiverse has been at the center of many of its projects, including the recently released Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Given its title, many expected the Doctor Strange sequel to connect the MCU's various Multiversal threads; however, it seems the film left audiences with more questions than answers.
However, in retrospect, the MCU has been laying the foundation for this new saga for years; and while its various stories seem to be branching in all different directions, seven different films and Disney+ series have led from one Multiversal event to the other, beginning with 2018's Avengers: Endgame.
Avengers: Endgame - The Cause of the MCU Multiverse
"You mess with time, it tends to mess back." - Tony Stark
Even though Phase 4 began in 2021, the Multiverse is not a new concept and was teased in early MCU films like 2011's Thor and 2016's Doctor Strange. But in retrospect, it appears that the Infinity Saga officially passed the baton to the Multiverse Saga in 2019's Endgame.
During the Avengers: Endgame Time Heist, things go wrong in a big way when Tony Stark loses the Tesseract in 2012 New York and it falls back into Loki's possession.
Even though Tony and Steve Rogers salvage their own mission, the Ancient One warns Dr. Bruce Banner of the ramifications of a rogue Infinity Stone, saying,
"The Infinity Stones create what you experience as the flow of time. Remove one of the stones, and that flow splits. Now, this may benefit your reality, but my new one, not so much. In this new branch reality, without our chief weapon against the forces of darkness, our world would be overrun. Millions will suffer."
"But we can erase it. Because once we're done with the stones, we can return each one to its own timeline at the moment it was taken. So, chronologically, in that reality, it never left."
At the end of the film, Steve Rogers' Captain America returns the stones; however, there's the Loki problem. While his Disney+ series showed that the branched timeline he created was pruned, he still ends up at the TVA. This sets him on course to meet Sylvie and eventually confront He Who Remains, who she then kills.
WandaVision - A Preview of Coming Attractions
"In a real magic act, everything is fake." - Wanda Maximoff
Up until 2021's WandaVision, Wanda Maximoff's powers had been rather ambiguous. It wasn't until WandaVision on Disney+ that her ability to create and alter reality was first explored due to the events of both Infinity War and Endgame.
Many fans suspected that Wanda tapped into the Multiverse when the Fox-Verse version of Quicksilver, played by Evan Peters, appeared on her doorstep. But even though the series played the Quicksilver cameo as just a wink at the fans, the WandaVision Nexus commercial, coupled with the show's post-credits scene of Wanda hearing her kids' cries for help from the Multiverse, confirmed it as a soft entry to other MCU-related realities.
Loki - Marvel's Multiversal Primer
"If you think I'm evil, well, just wait till you meet my Variants." - He Who Remains
Loki on Disney+ began where the God of Mischief's Endgame story left off; and to date, has done the most legwork in educating fans on the MCU Multiverse. In addition to educating audiences on the Sacred Timelines, Variants, Multiversal Wars, and He Who Remains, the show actually unleashed the Multiverse and the threat of Kang the Conqueror and his Variants.
According to both Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige and producer Richie Palmer, many of the recent events of Marvel's Phase 4 can be attributed to Loki and Sylvie's vengeful killing of He Who Remains.
“If the events of Loki never took place, if Sylvie didn’t do what she did, this movie and the events of Spider-Man: No Way Home wouldn’t have been able to happen. It was the activation of the Multiverse, or maybe the reactivation of the Multiverse at the end of Loki that really led to the possibilities that you see in What If…?, Spider-Man: No Way Home, and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.”
Since Marvel Studios has already confirmed Season 2 of Loki, it appears that the God of Mischief's influence on the Multiverse has only just begun.
What If...? - One Show Changes Everything
"Time, space, reality. It's more than a linear path. It's a prism of endless possibility. Where a single choice can branch out into infinite realities, creating alternate worlds from the ones you know." - The Watcher
After Loki's Multiversal education, Marvel Studios took things a step further with its first animated series, What If...?
This ambitious Disney+ series explored alternate timelines within the MCU with the Watcher as the audience's guide and concluded with a storyline involving the Guardians of the Multiverse.
While What If...? explored an alternate T'Challa, Thor, and Black Widow, the series particularly highlighted Peggy Carter as Captain Carter and Doctor Strange Supreme, both of which were echoed in live-action elements of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
Now that Phase 4 has actually explored the Multiverse and Variants on the big screen, it will be interesting to see what Season 2 of What If...? will bring to this ongoing epic.
Spider-Man: No Way Home - The Multiverse Meets the MCU
"These are my friends. This is Peter Parker and this is Peter Parker. He's Spider-Man, he's Spider-Man. They're "me's" from other universes." - Peter Parker.
In Spider-Man: Far From Home, Quentin Beck's Mysterio explained that there are other realities and that he was a hero from Earth-833. While Mysterio's identity proved to be a lie, Peter Parker did meet actual heroes from other realities and/or timelines in Spider-Man: No Way Home, such as Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield's Spider-Men Variants.
Their arrival - along with that of their villains - was due to Doctor Strange's spell gone wrong; and while audiences largely blamed Strange and Peter for being so cavalier, fans now know they weren't all to blame.
As Kevin Feige recently explained, "He Who Remains is gone and that allowed a spell to go wrong in Spider-Man: No Way Home..."
During the film's climactic battle atop the Statue of Liberty, the Multiverse appears to crack and is on the verge of ushering in other Multiversal visitors; but Tom Holland's Spider-Man saves the day when he has Doctor Strange cast a spell, making everyone forget who Spider-Man is.
While the future of Tom Holland's web-slinger completely changed, so did the MCU. Characters from other realities (*cough* franchises) entered the MCU and contributed to events that happened there, and the film's third act was a preview of the dangers that the Multiverse holds.
The film also introduced Doctor Strange to Multiversal visitors; and that, of course, leads to his own film and the MCU's next theatrical adventure.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness - The MCU Enters the Multiverse
"You opened a doorway between universes, and we don't know who or what will walk through it." - Wong
Fans who saw Doctor Strange 2 not only left with new questions about the current Marvel Studios saga but also new additions to their Phase 4 lexicon, particularly Incursions and the Illuminati.
First introduced in the comics, an Incursion is when reality intersects or collides with another. This usually results in the destruction of either one of those worlds or both.
Meanwhile, the Illuminati is a secret society of heroes who, in Multiverse of Madness, are from Earth-838, where they executed their own Doctor Strange for his Darkhold doings before arresting the MCU's own prime Strange. Even though Wanda Maximoff seemingly murdered every member of the Illuminati, with the exception of Mordo, there's already speculation that fans haven't seen the last of the Illuminati.
Doctor Strange 2 also introduced a new Multiversal visitor - America Chavez - who has the ability to punch star-shaped portals into the Multiverse and to travel those realities. Once again, a character like America and her powers probably wouldn't exist without the events of Loki. But now that they do, the Multiverse is more accessible now than ever.
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania - Hello, Kang the Conqueror
Even though Marvel has Thor: Love and Thunder, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, and Disney+ shows like Ms. Marvel and She-Hulk ahead of Ant-Man 3, fans already know that Quantumania will be integral to the Multiversal Saga because of Kang the Conqueror's confirmed role.
Whether he will appear before that 2023 film or not remains to be seen, but the fact that Marvel announced the character's role in Quantumania ahead of He Who Remains' cameo in Loki says a lot about this threequel's importance to both Phase 4 and the Multiverse Saga.
The Future of Marvel's Multiversal Saga?
Even though Marvel fans still have questions about the Multiverse, there is a method to the madness. Endgame led to WandaVision and Loki, Loki led to What If...? and No Way Home, and No Way Home led to Multiverse of Madness and likely Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.
Of course, Marvel Studios' other Phase 4 projects, such as The Marvels and Fantastic Four, could play into this ongoing Multiversal drama and eventually build to an Avengers-level threat hitherto undreamt of.
Of all the theories circulating amongst fans, the leading consensus is a climatic Secret Wars event film. But there's a chance it may go beyond that.
At 2022 CinemaCon, Kevin Feige shared that he and the Marvel Parliament were mapping out the next decade of the MCU; and with "new storytelling tools with the Multiverse, anything can happen."
Therefore, even though audiences have already experienced 7 Multiversal projects, it sounds like Marvel's Multiverse Saga has only just begun.