What is the Multiverse?
As Doctor Stephen Strange warned, the Multiverse is a 'concept about which we know frighteningly little'.
With this in mind, the upcoming release of Sam Raimi’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness has us scratching our heads and consulting the Wikipedia pages on what exactly a Multiverse is. While comic book fans might associate the Multiverse with the fictional pages of Marvel Comics, it’s actually an idea that finds its basis in real life.
As far back as the Third Century, Greek philosopher Chrysippus theorised that the universe exists in a constant cycle of death and regeneration, suggesting there are multiple alternates out there.
Picture the scene that for every decision you make, there’s a branch universe where you didn’t. Instead of reading this article, you decide to make a cup of tea, leading to an alternate Multiverse.
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Remembering how many decisions you make in a single day, it’s a baffling concept to try and wrap your head around.
Don’t worry though, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is here to explain it to you.
The birth of the Marvel Multiverse
Marvel’s comic book Multiverse was introduced in 1971’s Avengers #85, which played out like an episode of Sliders when Earth’s Mightiest Heroes realised they weren’t in their own world.
The comics later revealed that Captain Britain was just one of many, and each reality is assigned its own under the Captain Britain Corps. Given that DC favourite Henry Cavill has said he’d love to play Captain Britain in the MCU, we’ll have to watch this space on whether it’ll come true.
The MCU has already whipped us through realities including the Dark Dimension, Soul World, and Quantum Realm, but get ready for a few more.
The standard comic book Marvel universe is referred to as Earth-616, whereas the MCU is Earth-199999. Others include Spider-Woman’s Earth-65, the zombie-ravaged Earth-2149, and the X-Men movie franchise existing in Earth-10005.
The Marvel Multiverse was first teased in live-action after the original Doctor Strange mentioned our universe being one of an 'infinite number'.
2019’s Avengers: Endgame poked fun at time travel movies like Back to the Future being 'bulls***' and revealed that meddling with time travel leads to branch realities. Playing the long game, the MCU continued to tease the Multiverse's existence with Mysterio’s fake story in Spider-Man: Far From Home.
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Last year’s Spider-Man: No Way Home finally unleashed the Multiverse, bridged the gap between Spider-Man generations, and brought Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parkers into the world of Tom Holland’s wall-crawling hero.
The future of the Multiverse
Perhaps the best place to start with your Multiverse mapping is the Tom Hiddleston-led Loki. This trippy timeline adventure saw the God of Mischief explore multiple realities and set up the future of the franchise with the 'next Thanos'.
Jonathan Majors made his MCU debut as He Who Remains — a variant version of Kang the Conqueror — and although Kang is tipped to be the big bad of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, there's a chance he’ll pop up sooner.
Although some were originally confused about its place in MCU canon, Marvel’s What…If? expanded the Multiverse and will bleed into Multiverse of Madness with the villainous Strange Supreme, zombies, and the probably debut of Hayley Atwell as a live-action Captain Carter.
Undoubtedly though, Multiverse of Madness’ big reveal has been the return of Patrick Stewart as Charles Xavier from Earth-10005.
The Illuminati are set to be a major presence in Multiverse of Madness, and by the looks of it, this shadowy cabal exists outside standard MCU continuity. Xavier and his floating wheelchair are inspired by the ‘90s X-Men: The Animated Series, which opens up even more confusing doors.
As well as potential returns for the likes of Famke Janssen’s Jean Grey and James Marsden’s Cyclops, there’s also the mind-boggling idea that Hugh Jackman could reprise his role as Wolverine.
With the star repeatedly saying he's done, others think Multiverse of Madness is ready to introduce a new Wolverine to the MCU. We’re looking at you, Taron Egerton. In terms of where we go next, the Multiverse has the potential to resurrect everyone and anyone.
Read more: Everything we know about Doctor Strange 2
Bringing a Multiverse Tony Stark into the fold might rob us of his big Avengers: Endgame death, but we’d bet Robert Downey Jr. will return someday
A multitude of Multiverse
Of course, Marvel can’t take all the credit for coining the Multiverse. In fact, DC gets to take that crown with the Golden Age of Comic Books.
1940’s All-Star Comics #3 formed the Justice Society of America and was the first time comic book characters shared the same continuity. Prior to that, heroes like Hawkman, Doctor Fate, and Flash has lived in their own respective stories. Jump forward 83 years, and Andy Muschietti’s The Flash is finally getting in on the action.
The movie is a live-action adaptation of the acclaimed Flashpoint miniseries, where we already know the Multiverse will be in full effect.
As well as Michael Shannon reprising his role as General Zod, the big casting is the long-awaited return of Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne from Tim Burton’s Batman days, neatly setting him up for a part in Batgirl.
Keaton seems to be his own master of the Multiverses thanks to hopping realities as Vulture in Daniel Espinosa's panned Morbius. Where the Worlds of DC goes next remains to be seen, but much like the MCU’s Multiverse, fans are excited to see where Warner Bros. takes us.
The real life multiverse
Search for an actual Multiverse has increased in modern times. In 2010, scientists including Stephen M. Feeney analysed Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe data and claimed that our universe collided with another in the past.
However, others said there's no actual proof of this. Either way, Multiverses are all the rage on the screen and in scientific circles.
If you aren’t sitting down for a superhero movie, how about Sonic the Hedgehog, Everything Everywhere All At Once, or even Rick and Morty to pique your interest?
While Multiverses are a hot topic right now, it’s over to our spandex-clad supes to navigate these infinite realities while us mere mortals try and wrap our heads around the concept of a real-life Multiverse without turning our brains into scrambled egg.
To be honest, we don’t envy Doctor Strange or Barry Allen.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is in IMAX and cinemas 5 May.
Everything Everywhere All At Once is having IMAX previews on 4 May, and is on general release from 13 May.