*Note: The following will contain MAJOR SPOILERS for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
For anyone who has seen Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, the latest entry from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), the film raised many questions and fueled intense speculation for what lies ahead with the MCU and its version of the multiverse or alternate realities.
The MCU has toyed with the concept of the multiverse for some time and further explored it in recent Disney+ TV shows, and even Avengers: Endgame, but the sequel to Doctor Strange is the first MCU film to fully dive into the concept. During the film, the sorcerer Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) encounters a young woman called America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), who has the ability to travel between universes or the multiverse. She is being hunted by Wanda Maximoff aka the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), who wants to steal her power (and killing her to do so) in order to travel to another reality where her fictional children that she conjured in WandaVision are actually alive. During a confrontation between Strange and the Scarlet Witch, Strange and Chavez wind up traveling through several bizarre universes before arriving in a universe numbered 838. The MCU we know of is designated 616, even though that designation belongs to the regular Marvel Comics universe, which itself designated the MCU 199,999.
Despite the weird worlds Strange and Chavez traveled through, like an animated universe or one where they turned into paint colors, the 838 quickly stood out in the way that society embraced living more harmoniously with nature and with its heroes. Strange met the superhuman team called the Illuminati who deal with the deadliest threats to reality and included alternate MCU heroes and new ones, as well. The most interesting Illuminati members were Captain Carter (Hayley Atwell), a What If…? character perfectly realized in live action, Reed Richards, leader of the Fantastic Four (played by John Krasinski, a fan-casting dream come true), a comics-accurate version of Black Bolt (reprised by Anson Mount who originated the role in the Inhumans TV show), and Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who was a new version of the Professor X seen in the Fox X-Men films.
As great as it was to see these heroes, some fans were disappointed that the film did not feature more appearances by alternate characters such as a rumored Iron Man played by Tom Cruise, Tobey Maguire returning as Spider-Man or Chris Evans as the Human Torch (a role he played in the first official Fantastic Four films). Sure, it would have been terrific to see more cameos but to do so threatened to take away from the main story of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, which had to focus on Strange and his foe. The appearances we got were to merely whet our appetite for things to come, which were clearly outlined in the film. So fear not, this is just the beginning. Before long we’ll have a deep dive into the multiverse.
Richards and the other Illuminati members warned Doctor Strange about incursions, which was a mulitversal threat in the Marvel Comics. Incursions were introduced in The New Avengers comic book from 2012 and are events where two universes collide with each other. A way to prevent the destruction of both universes was to destroy one of the Earths before collision, which led to difficult choices and Marvel Comics’ second version of Secret Wars. In the 2015 comic book mini-series, the 616 Marvel Universe and the 1610 Ultimate Marvel Universe were the final universes remaining and a war broke out between the two universes. The combatants were unable to prevent the collision of both their worlds, however, Doctor Doom absorbed enough god-like powere to create a new Earth that was made up of segments of other alternate realities. As these events go, the good guys figured out what was going on and defeated Doom. This left Reed Richards of the 616 universe to take off in an interdimensional mission to recreate the alternate realities.
Admittedly, Secret Wars was a bit of a high concept that may be difficult to translate into film for general audiences. But it is obvious that is the direction the MCU is going. After the epic Infinity Saga, which spanned several films, how can Marvel Studios top or even match that cinematic event? On the other hand, we should be reminded that in the past the Marvel films never did a literal adaptation of a comic book event. Rather Marvel Studios loosely adapted the concept of the comic books and gave us streamlined, yet satisfying adaptations like Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War. Expect the eventual Secret Wars film or films to be more trimmed down, somewhere along the lines of the Arrowverse version of Crisis on Infinite Earths. Most likely the scope of the action will be limited to the regular 616 MCU and the 838 universe.
The premise would mirror the early events of Secret Wars and serve as a sequel to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness where the heroes of the 838 universe invade the regular MCU looking for revenge after the Scarlet Witch killed off most of the Illuminati. This would create more incursions and the eventual creation of a fusion world made up of different realities. In this new Earth we could see an alternate Iron Man played by Tom Cruise, the worlds of the Fox X-Men films and the Sony Spider-Man films, and even lesser known film and TV properties like Ghost Rider played by Nic Cage or Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. The appearance of the last group could be used to explain how the ABC TV show was initially part of the MCU until time travel events created a new reality for the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents.
The Secret Wars film saga could begin in the next Doctor Strange sequel as was hinted in the mid-credits scene of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness when Clea (Charlize Theron) recruits Doctor Strange to help with an incursion that he created. This third Doctor Strange film could also introduce some of the wildest concepts introduced in the sorcerer’s comics like Eternity or the Living Tribunal (who had a brief cameo in the second Doctor Strange film). The next film in the saga could be about a new team of Avengers fighting the characters of the 838 universe and the aftermath could lead into a Fantastic Four or X-Men film about the fusion world ruled by Doctor Doom as in the comics or Kang the Conqueror. That is just one possibility.
The concept of multiverses and parallel/alternate realities is very engrossing deep dive not just for heroes like Doctor Strange, but casual viewers and devoted fans. It has to be carefully presented so as not to become too confusing or daunting to watch. While it can be a delicate balancing act for the most talented filmmakers, but if anyone can pull it off it would be the people of Marvel Studios.