The multiverse of the Marvel MCU is no longer the preserve of a handful of characters and a few films. The time travel in Avengers: Endgame may have saved the universe, but it also set the MCU on a much more complex path.
An endless path, actually, to infinite dimensions and parallel worlds. These branching timelines and other realities are changing the face of the entire franchise for every hero and villain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And this applies to both new and (very) old characters.
The Marvel multiverse can be very difficult to keep track of, even for those who created it. But even though all these roads can be confusing, they are important. Especially after Spider-Man: No Way Home and Doctor Strange in the Madness Multiverse.
Fortunately, this article is here to help you understand the most important figures in the multiverse, its plots and its countless divergent paths.
From the size of Doctor Strange, to the Quantum Realm, to variations of Loki and more, here’s everything you need to know about the MCU multiverse.
As explained by the Ancient One in Doctor Strange and confirmed by He Who Remains in Loki, the marvel multiverse exists in an “endless” world because the MCU multiverse is infinite.
There are enormously different parallel worlds , along with enormously different dimensions. Anything and everything can happen within them. And they can cause the total destruction of each other. However, there are differences between other dimensions and parallel worlds.
Another dimension is a completely different plane of existence within a shared reality. It is also possible to be in one plane and at the same time observe another. However, if you travel into the multiverse and enter a parallel world, you have entered another reality. If this confuses you, here are a couple of analogies.
Sometimes in the MCU, being in another dimension is like being a ghost. If you become a ghost, you exist in a different dimension, but you can still see the dimension you left behind.
Whereas, visiting a parallel world is like going through a portal to a new destination. Imagine entering a world identical to our own, but with a purple sky instead of a blue one.
In the MCU, the other dimensions are sometimes unable to impact each other. Even when one can be perceived within another. But both parallel worlds in other realities and other dimensions within the same reality sometimes pose existential threats to other dimensions and worlds in the multiverse.
Countless dimensions and realities (i.e., parallel worlds) also mean countless threats to humanity. The Ancient One explained this chilling fact to Stephen Strange when he first arrived in Kamar-Taj during the events of the first Doctor Strange.
“This universe is only one of an infinite number. Endless worlds. Some benevolent and life-giving. Others full of evil and hunger. Dark places where powers older than time lie ravenous — and waiting.”
The “infinite dangers” of which the former Sorcerer Supreme spoke have already been seen in many parallel dimensions and worlds in the MCU. these, are the ones that so far the marvel cinematic universe has shown us …
Stephen Strange is one of the first Marvel superheroes to actually understand the multiverse when his soul traveled through many dimensions in his debut film. Some were beautiful, some nightmarish.
He then got a taste of the diversity of parallel worlds during his unscheduled “jump” with America Chavez in the second film.
These places seen in passing are all visual wonders worth exploring for any witch doctor. So far, however, these dimensions have been unimportant in the MCU. However, the first Doctor Strange film introduced three vital dimensions to the franchise:
The astral dimension, sometimes called the astral plane, is “a place where the soul exists apart from the body.” Masters of the Mystic Arts can leave the physical body and enter the Astral Dimension. Within the Astral Plane they exist as pure energy.
However, they still look like ghostly versions of themselves. Sorcerers can also push other souls into this plane. The Ancient One did this with Stephen Strange in the first film.
Marvel’s astral plane exists around and alongside the physical realm of Earth. Souls in the Astral Dimension float in the physical world, but the two are not the same place.
They are different and independent planes of existence. What happens in the Astral Dimension does not affect the physical world. However, an astral projection can reveal itself to a physical being, as Stephen Strange did with Dr. Christine Palmer.
Time also works differently in the Astral Dimension. A single moment can be dilated so that a dying Sorcerer Supreme can have a long conversation with the next one. In Doctor Strange, we see a discussion begin and end before lightning strikes the ground.
Sorcerers also often access the Mirror Dimension. This dimension is an exact copy of the physical world to which it parallels. “Always present, but unnoticed.” “The real world is not affected by what happens here.” This is why the Masters of the Mystic Arts use it “to train, guard and sometimes contain threats.”
A sorcerer working to save the physical world can block an enemy in the Mirror world. Only the very powerful Wanda Maximoff was able to break out of the prison of the Mirror Dimension, moving through the reflections of the real world.
A master of the Mystic Arts could also learn new skills in the Mirror Dimension, to be used later against an unsuspecting and unprepared enemy. It is the ultimate secret training camp.
The Mirror Dimension is not invulnerable, however. Doctor Strange attempted to use it in his confrontation with Thanos on Titan in Infinity War. But Thanos used the Power Stone to shatter it and send it back to sender.
The name of this dimension is due to Dormammu, an interdimensional planet-devouring monster. The Dark Dimension is also known by the equally unpleasant appellation Infernal Dimension.
Earth almost became part of the unnatural Dark Dimension because a former Master of the Mystic Arts, Kaecilius, and his followers fell prey to his promises.
The Dark Dimension is “a world beyond time” and therefore a world beyond death. It is so strong that it is possible to draw power from it to prolong one’s life in other dimensions.
Marvel Multiverse: Doctor Strange: into the multiverse of madness and the connections between realities
We knew about the existence of parallel worlds in the MCU before Doctor Strange: in the Multiverse of Madness. We also knew about variations, thanks to the Loki series.
But what we did not know is how interrelated they may be. The film introduced new concepts that completely change the possibilities for everyone in each universe.
An incursion occurs when two MCU realities collide with each other. When this happens, one or both are completely destroyed.
This is why the Illuminati killed Doctor Strange of Earth-838, because His use of the Darkhold (book of the damned) caused an incursion that destroyed an entire universe, killing trillions of people.
A type of incursion can also occur when someone plays with the fabric of reality itself. Two variants of Doctor Strange have done so, causing the destruction of their universe.
The first occurred in What If…? The other occurred in Multiverse of Madness with Sinister Strange. When an entire reality disintegrates, it vanishes into thin air, like an ink cloud fading into an ever-darkening sky.
The introduction of forays into the MCU could mean that the franchise is preparing for its next big event, Secret Wars. This would mean a war between every dimension, realm and parallel world, exactly what He Who Remains warned Loki and Sylvie about, in the Loki series.
America Chavez has no variants, and he also has an amazing power-he can move freely between the realities of the MCU multiverse, an ability he finally learned to control at the end of Doctor Strange 2.
When someone in the MCU dreams, they are not seeing a creation of their subconscious, what they see is the real life of one of their variants of the marvel multiverse. Thus, every time someone in the MCU has a dream (not necessarily a vision) it introduces a new Variant into the franchise.
While dreams are passive links between Variants, “dreamwalking” or dream control is an active link.The Darkhold, or Book of the Damned, allows the user to remotely control the body of one of its Variants across dimensions.
Doctor Strange did this with the corpse of his Variant at the end of the second film. “Dreamwalking” is the darkest magic (especially used on a corpse) and it is not known if anyone can do it anymore now that Wanda has destroyed the Darkhold in every universe.
The Astral Plane, in Doctor Strange, is a dimension that living souls can access, but we have never seen the soul of a dead person there.
While in the Ancestral Plane in Black Panther is a realm where a soul goes after the death of the body. But it is not limited only to the dead. Both T’Challa and Killmonger traveled there while alive and spoke with their deceased fathers.
T’Challa and Killmonger traveled to the Ancestral Plane after consuming the Heart-Shaped Herb before being buried alive, according to an ancient tradition. This ethereal world appears differently depending on who enters it.
For T’Challa it is lands similar to those in his country, while for Killmonger it is the house where he grew up with his father in Oakland. When they wake up on Earth, much less time has passed than that experienced on the Ancestral Plane, as time flows much more slowly there.
The Astral Plane and the Ancestral Plane share many of the same characteristics and are clearly connected. So do the other realms of the dead in the MCU.
In Moon Knight, Marc Spector and Steven Grant, traveled to the Duat after their deaths. There they met the Ancient Egyptian hippopotamus goddess Taweret. She told them that they were not in the afterlife, but simply in “an” afterlife.
According to her, “there are many planes of consciousness.” This particular realm of the dead, the one in which the ancient Egyptians believed, leads the soul to freeze forever in the sands of the Duat or to live for eternity in the paradise known as the Field of Rushes or Camp Aaru.
But Taweret non etheless shows that he is aware of Black Panther‘s “splendid” Ancestral Plan, and according to his monologue in the film, supernatural beings living in the realm of the dead know and can visit other realms.
As for the Field of Rushes, it is unclear whether all these intermediate planes of the dead lead to one heaven for all souls, as characters who die in the MCU seem to arrive in the afterlife bound to what they believed in while alive. This is what happens to the Viking warriors of Asgard in Thor: Love and Thunder.
Asgardians believe that the souls of warriors who die on the battlefield ascend to Valhalla. Unfortunately, they are only half right.
Valhalla exists, but it is not necessary to die valiantly at the hands of an enemy. Jane Foster went to Valhalla, where Heimdall welcomed her, even though she died of cancer and not by Gorr‘s sword.
And just as Steven Grant has returned from the sands of the Duat and Marc Spector has returned from the Camp of the Bulrushes to the dimension of the living, there is reason to think that those in Valhalla may also return alive.
When someone uses the Soul Stone, they enter a separate dimension within the magical space rock.
The Soul World is not only where people go when they use the Soul Stone, it is where souls go when they die. The World of Souls could contain the Ancestral Plane, the Duat, Valhalla and all the realms of the dead. What really matters, however, is that there is a world beyond life in the MCU .
It has many names, takes many forms and can be accessed in many ways, but it is one place, hidden in the Marvel multiverse.
The Quantum Realm is very important to the MCU it is not simply a scaled-down version of Earth, it is actually a completely different dimension. If you shrink your physical form enough, you leave your plane of existence and move into another.
The Quantum Realm of the MCU is a unique dimension, just as the astral and mirror dimensions are. But it is apparently more important than both put together.
Its potential to totally disrupt the MCU in the future could go far beyond time travel. Especially if the Quantum Realm exists beyond the end of time itself, a place we saw in Loki‘s finale.
The castle known as the Citadel of He Who Remains exists in a dimension outside and independent of time itself. The exact location of the Citadel is not yet known. But its surreal and swirling environment, full of color, closely resembles the Quantum Realm.
Considering that the Quantum Realm can be used to enter and exit a timeline, it is the best candidate to be the place where the Citadel resides. If this is true, He Who Remains and the TVA staff are essentially time travelers who never grow old.
Loki ‘s six-episode series on Disney+ took everything we knew about the MCU and turned it completely upside down. In the series finale He Who Remains gave us answers to monumental questions, Sylvie created even bigger ones when she killed him.
Some valuable lessons that Loki taught us about the MCU multiverse remain valid, however.
The dimension in which the Avengers live, now called Earth-616, has an infinite number of parallel universes “stacked” on top of each other, and many of these parallel realities are similar to each other.
Doctor Strange 2 confirmed this fact, which the MCU first introduced in Loki, where the Variants and the many versions of He Who Remains fought a War Between Universes.
The existence of infinite parallel realities has important ramifications beyond what we have seen so far in the MCU. For example, Tony Stark died in the universe we know. But an infinite number of Tony Starks may still be alive in parallel universes.
In some, it may be evil. In others, he did not defeat Thanos, others Tony never became Iron Man, or lived the easy life of genius-billionaire-playboy-philanthropist. The same applies to every character, living or dead, in the main timeline.
Doctor Strange in the Madness Multiverse also showed how there are important figures in the multiverse never before seen in the reality of Earth-616.
Professor X and the rest of the Illuminati have dimmonstrated how similar yet different parallel worlds can be. The group included other versions of characters we know in the main timeline, as well as important characters who have no counterparts in Earth-616.
Spider-Man: No Way Home also made the non-Disney Marvel films part of the MCU multiverse. Then Multiverse of Madness meant that completely new actors could play roles heretofore seen only in Marvel films before Disney’s purchase.
And these crossovers are just the beginning. Kevin Feige has already promised that Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool will join the MCU.
This opens the door for all the Marvel films ever made that are now canonically included in the MCU. That is why Chris Evans may return to the MCU not as Steve Rogers or one of his variants, but as the Fantastic Four‘s Human Torch .
Netflix’s (former) Marvel shows and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, which apparently no longer exist in the same universe as the MCU, are already making their way into the actual franchise-in fact, Daredevil’s Matt Murdock and Kingpin are now officially part of the MCU.
Thanks to the multiverse, it is now possible for anyone who has ever played a Marvel character in film or TV to be considered part of the MCU , for any studio, a prospect as interesting as it is difficult to control.
The Doctor Strange films have shown us what the multiverse has to offer, both good and bad. The Ant-Man movies have shown us how another dimension can disrupt the world as we know it.
Avengers: Endgame kept its promise by manipulating time and reality to save the universe. And WandaVision, Loki and Spider-Man: No Way Home expanded the multiverse in ways that radically changed the MCU forever.
From Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and Loki 2, the MCU is diving headlong into endless possibilities, and with each step the franchise takes along this road, all of these paths will become more complex and intricate.