Doctor Strange Might Be Adding A Multiverse—But What Does That Mean?
If you’re a superhero fan, sometimes there’s no better feeling than finally seeing your favourite hero represented exactly as you always imagined them from reading the comics. Like, remember that first time you saw Spider-Man slinging webs on the big screen, or when X-Men finally made the switch to yellow jumpsuits and they actually looked pretty rad? And who can forget the magic we all felt when the Avengers joined together for the first time?
Gone are the days where we always have to temper our gleeful comic-book joy with muted colour palettes and “realistic” settings (not that those movies don’t still exist, just that we have more options now). Truly we live in a new Golden Age of caped crime-fighter—and leading the charge is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, whose unapologetic movies paved the way for superheroes that manage to be fun and exciting and dramatic and meaningful all at once, just like the stories they’re derived from.
But between all the pitch-perfect costumes, team-ups, and Stan Lee cameos, there’s one very important staple of Marvel comics history (well, up until recently, at least) that still eludes the MCU. According to a recent interview Marvel head Kevin Feige gave to Entertainment Weekly, when Doctor Strange hits theaters this time next year they might be changing their tune on that front.
In one sequence of the movie, Feige said, Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) will evidently be led through a long chain of different alternate realities as part of his first meeting with the Ancient One, a mystical being played by Tilda Swinton. “The sequence culminates in what we, behind the scenes, refer to as the “Magical Mystery Tour,’ which literally takes him in a shocking and very fast way through the multiverse,” Feige added.
Yup. The multiverse!
If you’re a comic book fan—or just a fan of the The Flash, which has been doing a bang-up job explaining DC Comics’ version of the multiverse over the past season—then you know what we’re talking about when we talk about the multiverse.
If not, here are the basics: you know Earth, that planet we live on? What if there’s an alternate universe with an entirely different Earth on it, where Alexander Hamilton got elected president? And another alternate universe where World War III happened and America is now an apocalyptic wasteland? And another one that’s exactly the same except everyone you know has a beard? And what if there are infinite other versions of Earth, too, that all exist parallel to one another?
That’s the multiverse in a nutshell, and beyond the world of comic books it’s an actual theory in quantum physics. Both Stephen Hawking and Neil deGrasse Tyson are pretty on board with the concept of infinite alternate realities—in fact, Hawking recently used the theory to try to comfort fangirls upset with Zayn leaving One Direction. It’s okay, 1D fans! In the multiverse, infinite Zayns exist and some of them are still in boy bands! Some of them are even married to you! Reality is infinite both in its complexity and its capacity for joy!
But for a particular kind of less science-y, more pop culture-y nerd, the multiverse is much more synonymous with the world of comics, where alternate universes give writers the chance to do all kinds of innovative storytelling without disrupting the iconic versions of everybody’s favorite superheroes. They can create dystopian futures (like the one in X-Men: Days Of Future Past, for example) and then keep returning to them after they’ve been “fixed;” they can reimagine characters’ origin stories, ethnicities, genders, sexual identities and their relationships with each other; they can even kill characters off “permanently,” because somewhere in the main timeline those same characters are still living it up and having adventures.
Certainly Feige would know the implications of using a term like “multiverse” instead of something made-up for the movies—see, for example, the MCU’s liberal use of the term “Quantum Realm” in Ant-Man, which is actually called the “Microverse” in the comics. So does Kevin Feige’s use of the term mean that the Marvel Cinematic Universe might be expanding outward in a big way?
It’s hard to say, but we sure hope so. Beyond just being a cool Easter Egg for fans, opening up the MCU to alternate universes would do a lot to innovate the types of stories they’re able to tellbeyond their regular timeline of events, and without sacrificing any of the set pieces they already have in place.
Wanna get fan favorite Miles Morales into a Spider-Man story without having to get rid of Peter Parker? Have them reach across the multiverse and team up together! Feel like killing Captain America at the end of Civil War? Bring a different timeline version of him back so you can keep Chris Evans around! Or would you just like to tell a huge world-shattering story in Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. without dumb people on the Internet asking how it’s gonna impact Avengers: Infinity War? Whoops, it happened in a different timeline and it’s fine now!
Sure, the Marvel multiverse might be a jumbled mess of continuity sometimes, but it’s such a beautiful mess where anything is possible and where occasionally all the Avengers are zombies or medieval knights or all have beards. And yeah, the single shared world has been the MCU’s shtick for almost a decade and at times it’s pretty exceptional. But it’s also massive and full of many moving parts of its own, so maybe it would be nice to be able to be able bend it just a little bit, if only to keep everyone on their toes.
Either way, when we do finally get to see the multiverse in all its infinite glory as it appears in Doctor Strange, it’s probably gonna be pretty spectacular—just like all the other comic book stories Marvel’s put on the big screen for us. But if somewhere in there we did get a nice glimpse at the all-beard Avengers, too, that’d be pretty darn cool. Just sayin’.