As a Marvel fan, one word in Doctor Strange practically made me cheer. The first time it came, I blinked and grinned. Then, to my delight, it was repeated; time and time again. One word.
WARNING: Mild spoilers for Doctor Strange ahead!
What Is the Multiverse?
We already knew that Doctor Strange was adding other dimensions in the sense of the Dark Dimension: levels of reality that are normally inaccessible to four-dimensional human beings. Introducing the word 'multiverse', though, adds something very different. The idea is that our universe isn't the only one out there; that our universe exists in a bubble of space-time, but that other such bubbles of space-time exist. Many of these alternate universes are completely separate from our own, operating with radically different laws. For example, you could have a universe where the speed of light is different, or where gravity doesn't exist as a force. Doctor Strange is deliberately ambiguous as to whether or not the Dark Dimension is another plane of reality (as in the comics) or a separate universe, operating with different scientific laws and under the sway of Dormammu.
In science-fiction, though, the concept of the multiverse is usually tied to the human decision-making process. Imagine, for example, that one day you turned left instead of right. Walking down that street, you bumped into a man or woman you found attractive, wound up chatting with, and would ultimately go on to marry. Suddenly the whole course of your life would have gone in a completely different direction, all because you walked down a different road!
That's the basis of the multiverse theory in science-fiction. Look back at any decision in your life; according to science-fiction, there's a parallel reality out there where you made a different choice, where the path of your life branched out in a completely different direction. Science-fiction often ties this in with time-travel; what if a time-traveler went back in time and killed Adolf Hitler immediately after he was released from Landsberg Prison in 1924? The time-traveler would create a parallel reality where Hitler died before he could take control of Germany, and the Second World War might never have happened.
Beloved of Comics
Marvel has always loved the multiverse theory. In 1977, Marvel launched What If..?, a series of comics that imagined the world had superheroes made different decisions. What If..? typically revisited major events, and often you learned that a single misstep from a superhero would have resulted in tragedy. In other cases, though, you learned that a superhero's humanity had caused them to make an error of judgment, and that — had they chosen differently — the world could well have become a utopia!
In the comics, the multiverse is cared for by Uatu, the Watcher, a cosmic being who can see all of time and space. A common fan-theory is that the #MCU equivalent of the Watcher is played by Stan Lee, and that all his cameos — even in the non-MCU movies — are actually the Watcher walking on Earth, observing the actions of the world's superheroes.
Last year saw #Marvel celebrate the Multiverse as never before. The year began with "Spider-Verse", an event in which every reality's version of Spider-Man came together to battle against the Inheritors, a race who traveled between the parallel universes. It climaxed with "Secret Wars", where every one of Marvel's major realities collided into a single remnant, known as Battleworld. Marvel's Spider-Gwen, an alternate-reality Gwen Stacy who was bitten by the radioactive spider instead of Peter Parker, remains a fan-favorite since her creation in 2014.
What Does This Mean for the MCU?
We're told that the Ancient One is in fact the defender of the multiverse. That statement suggests that the main MCU continuity could well be the only one with a Sorcerer Supreme — and that the Sorcerer Supreme's realities transcend just the timeline we know and love. If that's the case, the future of the Doctor Strange franchise could well involve stepping through into countless new worlds, ones that are subtly different to the one we know and love.
Better still, with Doctor Strange launching the Marvel multiverse, we could well see a lot of fan-favorite ideas become a reality. Could we have a "Spider-Verse" adventure, uniting other versions of the wall-crawler? That's now possible, and who knows: with Sony and Marvel working together, perhaps it means we'll see Tom Holland work alongside Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, all playing different versions of Spider-Man! Could Dove Cameron get a role as Spider-Gwen? That could easily happen. Could Doctor Strange unwittingly step into a dimension where a guy with claws is busy trashing giant metal robots? There's no reason why not...
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I won't lie, for all that interviews had discussed the idea of 'other dimensions', I'd simply taken this to be the traditional Doctor Strange lore — that of other planes of reality, ones that we can't normally experience but that sorcerers can tap into. To my delight, though, Marvel has gone one step further. They've introduced the multiverse itself. And now anything is possible!
Do you want "Spider-Verse" to happen in the MCU?
Poll Image: Marvel Comics