No doubt about it, Marvel's Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness has left us with a lot of questions. The Sam Raimi-directed sequel drops a plethora of cameos throughout its runtime that hints at the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
With Phase Four of the MCU now proceeding at a pace (Thor: Love and Thunder, released in July, is the next MCU instalment), we find ourselves wondering about the future of the franchise. Multiverse of Madness drops a few breadcrumbs as the titular Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) seeks to protect the multiverse-hopping America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) from the machinations of the tragic Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), who risks blowing the parameters of time and space to smithereens.
Of course, the standard Marvel mid-credits scene is one of the movie's biggest talking points. With spoilers, we examine what it means for the MCU as we move forward.
DOCTOR STRANGE SPOILERS AHEAD
What happens at the end of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness?
An awful lot occurs during the Doctor Strange sequel, so let's get down to brass tacks and simplify proceedings. Essentially, Stephen Strange is able to rescue America from the clutches of Wanda, the latter of whom is pulled into an alternate dimension where she comes face to face with her monstrous new personality.
Wanda is exposed to her alternate 'children' who recoil in horror at the fact that she's a witch and has given in to the Scarlet Witch side of her personality. In her final act of redemption, Wanda sacrifices herself by bringing down the roof of the Mount Wundagore temple on her own head.
In the process, she destroys all traces of the all-powerful Darkhold, a demonic spell that allowed her to earlier 'dream-walk' between one dimension and the next by possessing the bodies of her multiverse alternates. This effectively rounds off the character's WandaVision character arc. (Of course, never say never as far as the multiverse is concerned.)
Restored to his own universe, back at the sacred temple of Kamar-Taj, Strange and his friend, Sorcerer Supreme Wong (Benedict Wong) reconcile with Chavez. They leave her there to continue rebuilding the temple that was earlier destroyed in the battle with Scarlet Witch.
However, back in New York, Strange suddenly develops the third cyclopean eye that was sported by the alternate Strange who had been corrupted by the Darkhold. Cut to black.
Who appears in the Multiverse of Madness mid-credits scene?
That would be one Charlize Theron who has asserted her action movie bonafides with the likes of Mad Max: Fury Road, Atomic Blonde and the recent Fast & Furious entries. Her character materialises from another dimension in front of the now three-eyed Strange, repeating the film's earlier warnings of an 'incursion' – essentially when two universes collide with one another.
Having apparently reconciled with the fact that the Darkhold is present within him (we imagine there's more to tell on that front), Strange steps through the rent in reality with the mystery woman. Into the Dark Dimension he goes, and we immediately get to thinking: who is the mystery figure and what does this portend for the MCU?
Although she's not credited in the brief sequence where she appears, eagle-eyed viewers will notice Theron's character's name is Clea. Cue all Marvel die-hards and comic obsessives dropping a knowing 'ah, right' to their unassuming friends and family members.
Who is the character of Clea in the Multiverse of Madness?
Clea is an all-powerful sorcerer who eventually becomes Doctor Strange's wife. Created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, the character's origins date back to 1964, and she has in fact been depicted on the big screen before. In 1978, Canadian actress Anne-Marie Martin played the character in TV film Dr. Strange, but, clearly, Theron's portrayal will emerge to be the definitive one.
Will Clea replace Strange's thwarted and newly married love interest Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams)? It certainly appears so – Multiverse of Madness puts the Strange/Palmer relationship to bed after he reconciles with Christine's multiversal alternate, an Illuminati scientist, in the process stopping Scarlet Witch's plan.
Hailing from the aforementioned Dark Dimension, Clea belongs to the lineage of interdimensional beings known as the Faltine, and she has a complicated history with the god Dormammu whom fans will remember from the first Doctor Strange movie. (Strange used the time stone to essentially troll Dormammu into a subservient position, a neat twist on the usual climactic battle trope.) Clea's mother Umar is Dormammu's sister, and Clea and Strange eventually develop an inter-dimensional relationship.
It remains to be seen how much of this will be translated into future MCU movies. We imagine that said relationship will be more of a factor in Phase Five of the Marvel Cinematic Universe once more MCU stratagems have been put into place.
What does Clea mean for the future of the MCU?
Now, there's the key question. And, honestly, it's anyone's guess at this stage. Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige hasn't let anything slip about Clea (for obvious spoiler reasons), although once the Multiverse of Madness dust has settled, we imagine that he will be a tad more forthcoming with the details. (Maybe we can expect some kind of Comic-Con revelation in the not-too-distant future? Maybe a reveal about Doctor Strange 3?)
Clearly, the ending of Multiverse of Madness sets up a jaunt through the Dark Dimension. But we're more curious as to how the Strange/Clea dynamic will run up against the newly emerging strands of the MCU. For example, will they run into Kang the Conqueror? The all-powerful villain was revealed in the Disney+ series Loki as played by the excellent Jonathan Majors, and Kang will make his MCU movie debut in 2023's Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania.
Given the Ant-Man movies' predilection for alternate timelines and realities, we might imagine that Strange and Clea will cross over, even if only briefly, with Paul Rudd's titular superhero as he battles the nefarious Kang.
Questions, questions and so few answers. But that's what makes it all so exciting. One all-important question is this: when will the third Doctor Strange movie hit our screens? Theron is one of the most in-demand stars in the business and there will surely be a lot of juggling around her schedule. (In just one of her upcoming big-budget projects, Theron returns as the villainous Cipher in next year's Fast X.)
If this has got you itching to travel to the multiverse again, then click here to book your tickets for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Don't forget to tweet us your Clea story theories @Cineworld.