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Now that audiences have had a chance to see and digest Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness – and to decide if they enjoyed it or not – the initial wave of discourse moves, inevitably, to what certain scenes and actions within the film will mean for the Marvel Cinematic Universe going forward. That ability to call back and call forward is one of the great aspects of the Marvel method (and sometimes its curse), leading to a lot of interesting discussions about what could be and questions that being with “What if …?”
And as it happens, there are plenty of potential hooks to be found in the film from direct suggestions of a Doctor Strange 3 to spillage into other film properties and, of course, the possibility of Mephisto finally making his debut. One moment even suggests the possibility of a director for an upcoming Marvel Studios film. So let’s dive into some of those winks to the possible future within the Multiverse of Madness.
[Warning: Spoilers for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness follow. Lots of them.]
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Let’s start with the mid-credit tease. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), seemingly now in control of his third eye, encounters a woman in purple-hued armor wielding a knife capable of cutting between worlds and realities. She happens to be played by Charlize Theron and certainly left people wondering who she was meant to be. It was later confirmed that she is Clea, the niece of Dormammu.
Introduced in 1964, Clea was an ally of Strange until the two performed a wedding of sorts in 1989 that remained — on and off — for the next few decades of comic book stories. Sadly, it ended in the death of Doctor Strange (a literal 2021 Marvel Comics Miniseries) and Clea taking his place as the Sorcerer Supreme. She also took his last name.
Of course, Marvel Studios can alter her origins and trajectory, but the fact she married Strange in the comics leads us to believe she will most directly lead to a third Doctor Strange film. Thanks to Multiverse of Madness, it is clear Strange’s reticence to be an equal partner in a romantic situation is one of his biggest stumbling blocks. A third film could confront this in a very direct way, with it switching tone from horror to screwball comedy – just one that also features the two protagonists saving a universe from annihilation.
But one complication we want to mention is that third eye. Considering Stranger’s darker variant noted the eye as the price one pays for reading The Darkhold, we can’t help but wonder if it is a visual sign that the bill is coming due. And despite his seeming control of it in the scene with Clea, will she soon learn it is as much her enemy as the rest of Strange is her ally?
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Seeing Anson Mount in a comics-accurate Black Bolt costume is one of the most extraordinary things in Multiverse of Madness’s Illuminati scene for a number of reasons. First: it happened. Marvel’s Inhumans was a black eye for the company, an eight-episode ABC series born partially out of the difficult relationship between Marvel Studios and Marvel Entertainment. Inhumans was initially planned as a film to be released around the same time as Captain Marvel and Black Panther. But when the studio moved from Marvel Entertainment to The Walt Disney Studio – a change that removed much (if not all) of Marvel Entertainment’s say in the various film projects – its interest in making an Inhumans movie dropped dramatically. In the end, the film became an underfunded and somewhat perfunctory TV series starring Mount as the king of the Inhumans living on the Moon. It did not go over well and seemingly ended any thought of continuing the characters or the concept itself in the MCU.
But to see Black Bolt among the Illuminati (he also has a seat among them in the comics) is the first time Marvel Studios has ever admitted that the Inhumans misadventure happened at all and that the concepts exist somewhere in the Multiverse.
Although it may be some time before we see Mount as another variant of Blackagar Boltagon, other Inhumans could make their way into the MCU proper. One who immediately comes to mind: Ms. Marvel’s Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani). Despite various trailers and comments from the likes of Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige indicating her powers will come via some Kree Nega-Bands, it is still possible for the story to re-introduce the Inhuman concept by having the bands amplify a potential already within Kamala. Should she dramatically lose them at some point, another character could prompt her to use her innate abilities to save the day.
We grant that is a long shot, but considering how unlikely even a tacit admittance of Inhuman’s existence seemed just two weeks ago, anything is possible.
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Let’s go beyond John Krasinski’s cameo as Reed Richards for a moment and look at some other events. On April 29, word broke indicating Spider-Man: No Way Home director Jon Watts would no longer helm Marvel Studio’s Fantastic Four. Just a few days later, the first press screenings and world premiere of Multiverse of Madness revealed Krasinski as Mr. Fantastic. A week later, on May 9, headlines revealed that the actor’s current project, Amazon’s Jack Ryan series, will conclude with the currently in-production fourth season. That all sure feels like it is leading up to something doesn’t it?
Beyond giving audiences their first look at the cursed Richards — although it is still unclear if his appearance was anything besides a fan-service cameo — we think all of those bits of news are pointing in a certain direction: Krasinski will also direct Fantastic Four in addition to playing one of the lead roles. It is not unreasonable to assume Emily Blunt will play a variant of Sue Storm, the wife Earth-838 Reed mentioned just before Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) killed him. This movie is on its way, and it always possible Krasinski made the choice to do it his way a condition of appearing as Mr. Fantastic, which is, in its own way, the most Reed Richards-like thing Krasinski could do.
Now, we freely admit this is conjecture based on very little other than the wildly convenient timing of events. In terms of story, Reed’s mention of his children suggests they may be part of the eventual film. And if his daughter, Valeria von Doom, appears, then her favorite surrogate father has to make his MCU debut as well. And, as we’ve been saying for the last few years, the arrival of the FF’s villains gallery is almost more exciting than the Fantastic Four’s own introduction into the universe. Well, presuming the film even takes place in what Multiverse of Madness refers to as the 616 universe. It is always possible the team will be set up in their own reality.
(Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images)
Back in the comics, Namor: The Submariner is a member of the Illuminati. His absence among the Earth-838 version of the group is notable thanks to unconfirmed rumors that the character will be played by Tenoch Huerta in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and serve as one of the antagonists. If that is the case, why not give fans another dopamine hit by having Huerta sit next to Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) as the Submariner?
There is one good story reason to hold him back – both he and Professor X are Mutants. It is entirely possible Namor, retconned as the first Mutant in 1963 (although Marvel would make little mention of this until the 1990s), will be the proper introduction of the concept during Wakanda Forever’s story, opening the floodgates for various Gambits, Rogues, and the x-gene itself. Alternatively, it is equally possible that Huerta is not Namor in any variant universe, and the character is still on the shelf in the Marvel offices.
Of course, those who know Namor’s relationship with the Fantastic Four may guess Reed kept him off the team for very personal reasons.
(Photo by Jay Maidment/©Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)
The first rule of superhero storytelling: the death isn’t real if you don’t see a body. Therefore, we immediately posit that Wanda did not die while destroying the Darkhold inscriptions and the temple at Mount Wundagore. So, if that’s the case, where is she?
One option: the Loki variant (Tom Hiddleston) at the TVA pulled her out in the last second. He could be forming a team to fight the being He Who Remains (Jonathan Majors) said would appear if the Multiverse returned. If that’s the case, we wonder if she’ll be standing next to him when he inevitably reaches out to his brother at the end of Thor: Love and Thunder.
The other, darker possibility: she is in Hell with Mephisto.
Sure, that still seems as unlikely as his once-rumored appearance in WandaVision, but consider Strange’s own mention of the souls of the damned when he dreamwalked into his variant’s corpse. Also note the existence of Wanda’s temple itself. Who put it there, and who prophesied the coming of the Scarlet Witch? Over on Moon Knight, we’ve learned that there are many afterlives, so Hell is absolutely in play, and so is its master (in the Marvel cosmology, anyway). Back in the comics, an Elder God known as Chthon wrote the scrolls that would become the Darkhold at Mount Wundergore — he is also name-checked in the film — but considering Marvel’s interest in building a more conventionally supernatural corner of its Multiverse, a literal Devil seems like the most obvious author of the corrupting manuscript. And, perhaps, setting someone up to be the Scarlet Witch was part of his long-term design so that she would end up in his domain.
(Photo by Jay Maidment/©Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)
America Chavez’s (Xochitl Gomez) decision to remain in the 616 MCU is an indication that when the Avengers assemble again, they will be decidedly younger. A celebrated Young Avengers comic book series by Kieron Gillen and James McKelvie saw America join a team which also included Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld’s character over on Hawkeye) and Wanda’s sons in their superhero guises of Speed and Wiccan. It also included characters called Hulkling, Marvel Boy, Patriot (played by Elijah Richardson in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier), Prodigy, and Kid Loki (Jack Veal in Loki). Considering six of these characters have been introduced in the MCU, it feels inevitable that a Young Avengers is a long-term goal of Marvel Studios.
(Photo by 20th Century Fox Film Corp. courtesy Everett Collection)
All the talk of incursions in Multiverse of Madness – and Clea appearing to take Strange straight to one – certainly feels like a setup for an eventual Secret Wars film. That title, or variations of it, has been used in a number of Marvel Comics event storylines, but the one that also makes use of Mutliversal incursion is the 2015 Secret Wars by Jonathan Hickman, Esad Ribic, and Ive Svorcina. In it, a final incursion between Earth-616 (the Marvel Comics Universe) and several other recognizable realities (the Ultimate Universe, the 2099 Universe, etc) leads to a re-ordered universe with Doctor Doom as its architect. But when various heroes and villains start to recall the old order of the universe, factions plot to remove him and rebuild the world as they remember it. In the end, the Marvel Universe and Ultimate Universe combined for keeps, establishing Miles Morales as someone who always existed in the 616 universe.
Hickman also established the notion of incursion, which allows the two realities to coexist for roughly eight hours before one or both are annihilated. We wouldn’t be surprised if Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) falls through one of those incursions in Deadpool 3. Maybe it’s the situation Clea and Strange are racing off to confront.
But beyond the way it can help certain films already on the production calendar, a loose adaptation of the Hickman Secret Wars could also lead to an exit from the Multiversal chaos in, say, 2026 or an opportunity to make the X-Men and Fantastic Four debuts in the MCU a more operatic thing. It could also generate a film with enough spectacle to rival Avengers: Endgame.
At the same time, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness also indicates how far we are from the characters even realizing the problem they face, let along a grand climax to the Multiverse story. Maybe more than one would-be conqueror will use the incursions to their advantage before the saga draws to a close.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is currently in theaters.