New characters and franchises, reboots, and, of course, some returning favourites - the Marvel panel at this year's San Diego Comic-Con truly had it all.
Amidst all that, it's rare that a movie title creates as much excitement (and generates as many questions!) as the forthcoming Doctor Strange sequel – but then The Multiverse of Madness is no ordinary follow-up. It's pitched as one of Marvel's key titles in their Phase Four slate, and sounds very intriguing indeed.
With Spider-Man: Far From Home hinting at the existence of a 'multiverse' in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), and Avengers: Endgame creating various timelines, this franchise is about to get a whole lot bigger. We take a look at the multitude of possibilities that a multiverse could offer...
What on Earth is the multiverse?
In short, the definition of a multiverse is "a hypothetical group of multiple universes", but of course there is a lot more to it than that. A concept frequently utilised in comic books, the multiverse effectively opens the doors to all possibilities outside of the confines of logic, reason, space and time.
So it's little wonder the concept of the multiverse has got Marvel fans extremely excited – it promises exciting things for Phase Four of the franchise, which begins with 2020's Black Widow.
Many fans thought this summer's Spider-Man: Far From Home, the culmination of Phase Three of the MCU, would be the film to open up the door. That's because the multiverse is mentioned in conversation between Spider-Man/Peter Parker (Tom Holland) and Quentin Beck/Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal). However, this turned out to be nothing more than a sham – Marvel’s first real foray into the madness of the multiverse comes with the Doctor Strange sequel, once again starring Benedict Cumberbatch.
How will the multiverse fit into the MCU?
Although not part of the MCU, 2018’s animated smash-hit Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse completely redefined what was possible in superhero movies and showed what could be possible with the multiverse. In this dimension-bending film, multiple Spider-Man’s (including Spider-Ham) joined forces from other dimensions and realities to save the day, and to spectacular effect.
It is no wonder that the MCU is ready to unleash the multiverse, and the seeds have already been sown. In the first Doctor Strange movie, the titular character travelled through time, space and alternate dimensions with relative ease, and of course in Avengers: Endgame, there were all sorts of time-hopping adventures. In fact, the very concept of Endgame revolved around the mission to alter history, recover the Infinity Stones and defeat Thanos (Josh Brolin).
So what does this all mean? Well, in short, beyond what we have seen on screen so far, there are multiple realities, multiple universes and an almost infinite pool of untapped opportunities.
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It opens up opportunities for genres and sub-genres
Until now, most Marvel movies have been grouped within the 'superhero' genre, but with the multiverse also comes multiple opportunities to explore different facets of this universe.
The Multiverse of Madness is reportedly going to be the MCU’s first 'horror' movie, albeit one that will probably still manage to get away with a 12A rating. This however could be a test run for another big piece of news that came out of Comic-Con: Blade’s arrival in Phase Five of the MCU. Testing the waters of the horror elements in Doctor Strange’s next screen outing may play a crucial part in opening the doors for Blade (Mahershala Ali), and the idea of supernatural horror becoming a subgenre of the MCU.
The MCU has played with genre before, with Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) being a paranoid 'spy thriller' a la 1970s classic Three Days of the Condor. Outside the MCU of course, we've had the critically-acclaimed Logan (2017), which contained many elements that would have felt at home in a western rather than a comic book film.
The concept of the superhero film is no longer as clear-cut as it used to be, and thanks to the multiverse we may start to see superhero-horrors, superhero-rom-coms, or maybe even superhero-musicals (perhaps not).
The multiverse may allow some familiar faces to return
The 2015 reboot of the Fantastic Four proved unsuccessful, but could the multiverse mean that Marvel's original superhero family is now incorporated into the MCU? Marvel president Kevin Feige has already made such promises, claiming Fantastic Four is being lined up for Phase Five, and it doesn’t stop there – he's also promising an MCU version of the X-Men, the superhero series that reached an ignominious end with this summer's box office flop Dark Phoenix.
Like the Fantastic Four, the mutant heroes previously fell under the remit of 20th Century Fox, which is now owned by MCU distributor Disney. As far as fans are concerned, by bringing these characters under the MCU umbrella, Marvel can finally amalgamate disparate characters previously divided by studio politics.
It just goes to show that this is an incredibly exciting time to be a comic book movie fan – bring on the multiverse and the madness.
Sarah Buddery is a writer who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is released on 7th May 2021, so let us know @Cineworld what impact you think it will have on the future of the MCU.