Warning: This article contains spoilers for WandaVision and the Loki series premiere!
Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has officially begun. If there’s one buzzword on every fan’s lips these days, it’s “multiverse.” Between WandaVision’s recent, shocking Marvel cameo and upcoming projects like Marvel’s What If… and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, it appears the MCU is now expanding to include alternate realities and other versions of iconic heroes. We’re seeing the birth of the Marvel Cinematic Multiverse, and it’s one that may well include familiar faces from Marvel movies of old.
What exactly is the multiverse, and what does it all mean for the future of Marvel in movies and TV? Let’s take a look at everything we know so far and the clues leading up to Marvel’s live-action multiverse.
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What Is the Marvel Multiverse?
Marvel and DC’s superhero universes are similar in that they both exist as part of their respective multiverses – cosmic super-structures consisting of hundreds of thousands, or depending on the writer, an infinite amount of parallel universes. Some of these alternate realities are similar to the traditional Marvel and DC Universes, while others are wildly different. The biggest distinction between Marvel and DC is that the core DC Universe is usually treated as the center of its multiverse – the foundation on which all other worlds are built. That’s why it’s usually referred to as “Earth-1” or “Earth-Prime.” Whereas Marvel’s classic comic book universe is classified as “Earth-616,” signifying that it’s just another blip in an infinite sea of universes and alternate realities.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe also exists as part of that Marvel multiverse. According to The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, its designation is Earth-199999. We can assume the various other Marvel movie worlds introduced over the years, such as Fox’s X-Men universe, Sony’s previous two Spider-Man universes, and New Line’s Blade universe, are all included in this multiverse as well. There’s now growing evidence we’re going to see the heroes of some of those various worlds begin to interact.
Spider-Man’s Multiverse Fake-out
While Phase 4 seemingly marks the point where the MCU really starts to acknowledge its place inside a larger multiverse, it’s worth remembering that the concept of the multiverse already played a big role in the final Phase 3 movie, Spider-Man: Far From Home. There, Spidey briefly teams up with Quentin Beck, who claims to be a refugee from Earth-833. Beck also refers to the MCU itself as Earth-616, a nod to Marvel’s traditional comic book universe. But, as we quickly learn, this is all an elaborate ruse designed to gain the trust of Spider-Man and Nick Fury. Beck isn’t actually from an alternate universe; he’s just a jilted former employee of Tony Stark. Who could have guessed a guy who calls himself Mysterio isn’t to be trusted?
Beck’s ruse does raise the question of whether the multiverse concept actually does exist in the MCU. If Marvel faked us out once already, should we really put much stock in rumors about the multiverse coming into play in Phase 4? But as we’ve seen with characters like The Mandarin and artifacts like the Infinity Gauntlet, the MCU does have a track record of subverting a familiar Marvel element, only to backtrack and tackle a more faithful version later on.
But again, there’s enough evidence elsewhere to suggest the MCU is indeed part of a larger multiverse. And don’t forget that Far From Home’s “Fury” is revealed to be the Skrull leader Talos in disguise, which might actually explain why he so easily buys into Beck’s lie. As a spacefaring civilization with advanced technology, the Skrulls may already be aware of the multiverse’s existence and would have no reason not to take Beck’s story at face value.
The point of Far From Home’s multiverse red herring probably isn’t to make viewers doubt the multiverse’s existence, but to remind them that this subplot may not play out exactly as expected. Marvel’s Kevin Feige may not want to follow the exact path of the comics when it comes to the multiverse, particularly since Warner Bros. is ramping up its own efforts on the multiverse front. Rather than partake in some sort of multiverse arms race where the two studios try to top each other by bringing back beloved icons like Michael Keaton’s Batman on one side and Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man on the other, Marvel may be planning something more unexpected.
The Watchers and Marvel’s What If…
2017’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is the first MCU movie to allude to the existence of the multiverse, albeit indirectly. That movie’s obligatory Stan Lee cameo features Lee’s astronaut character conferring with a group of Watchers. These omniscient cosmic beings are charged with observing the Marvel Universe, seeing everything that unfolds but forbidden from interfering in mortal affairs. However, they also have the power to peer across the multiverse and observe other worlds where events unfolded differently.
Earth’s designated Watcher, Uatu, will play a prominent role in the upcoming animated series Marvel’s What If…, where he’ll be voiced by Jeffrey Wright. As in the comics that inspired it, Marvel’s What If… showcases a number of these alternate universes where one key alteration to the timeline results in a cascading series of changes. For example, one episode will show a world where Peggy Carter is given the Super-Soldier Serum instead of Steve Rogers, while another will show a young T’Challa being taken away from Earth in place of Peter Quill. Each of these worlds exists as part of the multiverse alongside the MCU.
WandaVision’s Quicksilver Cameo
WandaVision is the first official release in the MCU’s Phase 4 lineup, and the series certainly hints at a larger focus on the multiverse. WandaVision takes place in Westview, NJ, a surreal town that now exists as a faux-TV sitcom seemingly controlled by a grieving and unstable Wanda Maximoff. Wanda is determined to build the happy family life that was denied to her thanks to the Sokovian Accords and the Blip, causing her to somehow resurrect Vision and conjure twin sons into being.
Episode 5 seemed to suggest the series was delving into the multiverse concept, ending with the surprise return of Wanda’s dead brother Pietro. The catch – this Pietro is played by X-Men movie veteran Evan Peters, not Age of Ultron’s Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Whether through Wanda’s spell-casting or the interference of a secret villain, this version of Quicksilver apparently crossed over from the X-Men universe to the MCU.
Sadly for X-Men movie fans, this turned out to be another red herring. “Pietro” is actually just an ordinary guy named Ralph Bohner (yes, really), who was forcibly recruited by Agatha Harkness to manipulate Wanda.
Marvel may not have brought the Fox version of Quicksilver into this world, but we already have confirmation that Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool is making the jump to the MCU. So there is still some precedent for these two cinematic universes converging.
Loki and the Time Variance Authority
The first episode of Loki seems to finally get the ball rolling on the multiverse front. The series shows what happens to the 2012-era Loki who escapes with the Tesseract in Avengers: Endgame. This Loki is almost immediately captured by the Time Variance Authority, who have made themselves responsible for deleting all branch timelines and maintaining the “sacred timeline” as ordained by the mysterious Time Keepers.
As the captive Loki soon learns, there was indeed once a vast multiverse of alternate realities and branching timelines. The Time Keepers deleted these timeline in order to stop a chaotic war and end the “madness” plaguing existence.
Based on this reveal, it would seem there is a Marvel multiverse, but it was eliminated by the TVA. Naturally, it’s probably just a matter of time before Loki or someone else (Kang the Conqueror?) undoes the TVA’s work and restores a multiverse of unlimited possibilities.
Given previous fake-outs with the Marvel multiverse, we can’t be 100% sure this new information is to be trusted. But it does appear as though Loki is laying the foundation for future MCU projects like Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
Doctor Strange, Spider-Man and the Multiverse of Madness
While WandaVision itself didn’t wind up introducing the multiverse, the series does lead into the upcoming Doctor Strange sequel. Wanda herself will be a major character in the film, likely either as Stephen Strange’s reluctant pupil or as a tragic villain whose uncontrolled magical powers threaten the very fabric of reality. Or both, perhaps.
That Doctor Strange sequel looks to be tackling the multiverse concept in a very significant way. It is in the title, after all. The aforementioned Loki episode may even clue us into the meaning behind the sequel’s title. According to the TVA, the very existence of a multiverse is a catalyst for madness, and characters like Loki and Wanda may be responsible for bringing back the multiverse and threatening the sacred timeline the Time Keepers worked so hard to create.
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Meanwhile, the untitled Far From Home sequel will also be closely intertwined with Doctor Strange 2, to the point where Strange himself will play a significant role in Spider-Man 3. Current casting rumors suggest Spider-Man 3 will delve headlong into the multiverse, with both Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire’s versions of Peter Parker rumored to appear, along with a wide range of supporting characters and villains from those earlier Spider-Man movies. That movie may wind up being more of a multiverse crossover adventure than 2018’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and Doctor Strange is the likely guiding hand behind it all.
Granted, Tom Holland has denied these casting rumors, but between his hilarious track record of accidentally leaking plot details and Disney’s ironclad secrecy, those denials don’t necessarily hold much weight. One way or another, the Marvel multiverse is fast approaching.
Jesse is a mild-mannered staff writer for IGN. Allow him to lend a machete to your intellectual thicket by following @jschedeen on Twitter.