As early as 2005, the phrase was "gritty." In 2012, it became "Cinematic Universe." One decade later, the hottest buzzword in superhero movies is "Multiverse." And finally, it is time for the Multiverse of the MCU to be thrown into madness. The Multiverse in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been a concept in development for nearly eight years. Over the past 16 months, four individual projects have featured the Multiverse in their plot.
Add that all up, and 45% of Phase 4 projects have played some part leading up to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. With significant players from three of those four projects confirmed to appear in the Doctor Strange sequel, director Sam Raimi's return to superhero movies is shaping up to be a bonafide Multiverse event in the MCU.
And just like any other Marvel Studios spectacular, there has been a variety of seeds planted. However, to best appreciate the payoff Multiverse of Madness offers, fans must understand the ins and outs of this vast Multiverse.
So here is everything you need to know about the Multiverse in the Marvel Cinematic Universe ahead of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
Setting the Strange Stage
Before diving into the history of the Multiverse, it is important to understand some of the more confusing elements involved. First, these movies about wizards and witches and magic are bound to be some unique verbiage.
Planes are different forms of mystical elements across the MCU. For example, the Ancestral Plane and Duat have been presented as spiritual locations for the soul of an individual, while the Astral Plane is a state of existence separate from someone's physical form. These states of existence are very much candidates to affect the Multiversal journey ahead but different from the alternate realities of the MCU.
Alternate realities, universes, and timelines are used interchangeably to simplify the chaos. This is one of the most common confusions of the MCU Multiverse so far and one that many fans hope is cleared up in Doctor Strange 2.
The concept of the Multiverse was first introduced in 2016 in Doctor Strange as a source of power for practitioners of the Mystic Arts. The rules and regulations of the Multiverse were fleshed out as the main plot of 2021's Loki. In addition, it served as a story element in a variety of projects, including WandaVision, What If...?, Spider-Man: No Way Home, and even Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
With all of this build-up over nearly a decade of MCU projects, it is still a developing concept, and nothing is an exact science. Everything in this article is an educated attempt to narrow down the ambiguous nature of the Multiverse. As always, everything is up for individual interpretation.
The History of the Multiverse
While fans were first introduced to the Multiverse as a tool for magic users, the history behind the phenomenon was not explored until 2021's Loki. However, it has always been present in the MCU.
Discovering the Multiverse
It all began when an Earth scientist from the 31st century discovered the existence of other universes outside his own. He found a way to contact different versions of himself across the Multiverse as they attempted to do the same. This led to the discovery of the concept that knowledge, resources, and power can be shared from one universe to another.
The Multiversal War
Until one day, one of those Variants of that scientist (presumingly Kang the Conqueror) set out to conquer the other universes. Each timeline battled with one another for supremacy, igniting the great Multiversal War.
That original Variant then uncovered Alioth, a creature created by the energy of torn universes. After domesticating and weaponizing Alioth, the original Variant swiftly ended the Multiversal War.
"Winning" the war consisted of reducing the ever-expansive Multiverse to a string of timelines that only result in the existence of that original Variant... He Who Remains. There would be no war between universes with no other Variants of himself to discover.
This was similar to adding filters to an internet search to only result in specific pre-approved outcomes. These approved timelines make up a collection of universes known as the "Sacred Timeline:" a Multiverse with one version of He Who Remains.
An event in one of these universes could lead to another variation of He Who Remains, known as a "Nexus Event." A Nexus Event, if unchecked, would lead to the revival of the Multiversal War.
The Time Variance Authority
Once He Who Remains established the parameters of the Sacred Timeline, he needed a way to police and contain it. Enter the Time Variance Authority or the "TVA." The TVA is a bureaucratic system of legislators and law enforcers that ensure that any Nexus Events are properly trimmed or "pruned."
Pruning is the removal of any remanence of people and things that result in the branched timeline. As long as a timeline is properly pruned before it reaches the "red line" across the threshold of the Sacred Timeline, it is a successful prune. People and things that are pruned are teleported to the Void at the end of time. There, they are inevitably eradicated by Alioth, the guardian of the Void.
Individuals that deviate enough from the Sacred Timeline and cause a Nexus Event are known as "Variants." Variants are the most crucial element of pruning and vital to the restrictive structure of the Sacred Timeline. Loki is the most pruned Variant in the history of the TVA and a constant analogous survivor of the Void.
The Multiverse in MCU Proper
While the Multiverse allows for an infinite universe to exist, fans have gotten a specific look at how it plays a role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The Mystic Arts
Within the MCU, the Multiverse is the fuel that powers the "magic" vehicle in the MCU. As explained in 2016's Doctor Strange, magic is performed by tapping into energy from other universes across the Multiverse. The Ancient One explained the ability to tap into different universe's power as a language that creates a variety of spells or codes when pieced together correctly.
Sorcerers, Witches, Asgardians
Sorcerers and witches study ancient texts and practices to tap into this energy on Earth. The spells are precise and dependent on a specific order of the Multiverse. Asgardians can use "magic" more scientifically to advance their technology and powers, similar to how Wakandans use Vibranium.
Pocket Universes & Realms
There have been high levels of magic, spirituality, and science that use these practices to create "pocket universes" within a specific universe. Examples of this are the Hex of Westview in WandaVision and the hidden city of Ta-Lo in Shang-Chi. Reality and power are different within these pocket universes than outside their barriers.
The Quantum Realm is a hyper-powerful plane of existence that allows someone to accurately manipulate time, the driving law of nature in the Multiverse.
The Importance of the Sacred Timeline in the MCU
The Sacred Timeline was forged to prevent the destructive potential of a full-powered Multiverse. Being the source of magic in the MCU makes that delicate and precise landscape essential to magic users.
Since the Multiverse typically functions as a systematic collection of pre-approved universes, changes to this system could drastically affect anyone tapping into it for resources, such as magic.
Breaking the Multiverse
In the season finale of Loki, Loki Variant Sylvie chose to kill He Who Remains and effectively disbanded the intended directive of the Time Variance Authority. With no governing body preventing other variants of He Who Remains, an unlimited variance of timelines can grow and evolve—unleashing the full power of the Multiverse.
Fans were given a look into the magnitude of the variance amongst these universes in the animated series What If...?.
The TVA's primary purpose was to restrict the variance of Variants of He Who Remains. With that filter removed from the Sacred Timeline, the overall variance of all Variants across the Multiverse increases exponentially.
It also unlocks the potential for the resurrection of the Multiversal War. This means that more and more dominant timelines expand and clash, leading to a greater opportunity for unpredictable connections and entanglements with other realities.
The Fallout in the MCU
There have been instances in Phase 4 that seemingly tease a disruption in the forces of the Multiverse.
In the post-credits scene for WandaVision's final episode, Wanda is studying the Darkhold, a mystic book of dark magic that has been called "the book of the damned." Through tapping into this powerful dark magic, Wanda can hear the voice of her children, most likely in another universe.
This is a magical precursor to the same circumstance of He Who Remains—contacting other beings from other universes. Wanda achieving this god-tier level of Multiversal awareness through dark magic is seemingly a bad omen.
In the Loki Season 1 finale, Loki arrives at the TVA to a statue of a Variant of He Who Remains in place of the more diplomatic Time-Keepers. This Variant is wearing an outfit reminiscent of Kang the Conqueror's comic character. A Variant of He Who Remains is the one many suspect is the catalyst for the Multiversal War.
This implies that the Multiversal War is well underway, and this Variant has seemingly obtained the TVA for more nefarious means.
No Way Home
The Multiversal events of No Way Home can be traced back to a miscalculation by Doctor Strange or interference by Peter Parker, leading to people from other universes being dragged into MCU proper. However, even after the spell goes awry, Stange makes a point to say "that isn't supposed to happen."
It is plausible that the new and erratic structure of the Multiverse caused the crossover events of those characters.
The Multiverse of Madness
So now it is time to address all of these loose threads and enjoy the fruit of the seeds being planted since 2016. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness will seemingly focus on Stephen Strange discovering the true magnitude of this beast and his role in it.
With infinite universes now evolving to prominence, there are seemingly more powerful forces seeking judgment on the dangerous actions of Doctor Strange.
Fans are also in store for an example of the crossover potential of this Multiverse, with characters from all different universes confirmed to make appearances.
And with the Multiverse being more extensive and powerful than ever, it will change the hierarchy of power in the MCU forever. Practiced magic users like Stephen Strange, who have perfected the Sacred Timeline's intricacies, will now have to adapt to a more unpredictable playing field. Magic users who rely more on raw power, such as The Scarlet Witch, now have more resources than ever before.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness releases in theaters on May 6. Hopefully, this guide has prepared you to understand and enjoy the full force of the Multiverse in the MCU.
However, it is paramount to remember that, no matter how much you think you know, the Multiverse is a concept of which we know frighteningly little.