Multiverses are a known part of most comics canons that allow for experimentation with familiar characters, new settings, and multi-dimensional threats. And given how long the Marvel Cinematic Universe plans to be at this mega blockbuster business, expanding into the multiverse might be inevitable—especially if they want to keep broadening their list of characters.
But can the films really support that?
The reason for expanding the MCU into a multiverse should be obvious enough—due to various mergers, Marvel and Disney now have a heap of characters at their fingertips that they’re keen to use, primarily the X-Men. While there are plenty of ways to make that convergence happen, a multiverse requires very little explanation, at least at the forefront. Mutants simply show up when there’s a strange leak between universes. Maybe a little pocket of dimensional weirdness drops Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters right next to the Avengers compound (they’re both in upstate New York, after all).
On the other hand, Marvel has had a hard time keeping one universe cogent. After Endgame’s decision to explain-yet-handily-not-explain time travel to a satisfying end, the writers of the screenplay and directors of the film had differing view points on whether or not Steve Rogers landed in an alternate universe in his final trip to the past. So that’s one branch of the multiverse that already lives in a constant state of confusion.
Marvel insisted that they could loop television in with their sprawling film franchise, and they have plans to continue down this road with WandaVision, Loki, and Falcon and the Winter Soldier on the upcoming Disney+ platform. But the Marvel Netflix shows and even Agents of SHIELD had a hard time coexisting with the ever-expanding spiral of the MCU. Agents of SHIELD did better by having a few events that linked up directly with the plots twists from films (the Hydra reveal provided an interesting wrinkle for the series), but eventually lost sight of the general MCU plot. It was inevitable as the show gained its own momentum and needed to break from fealty to the MCU’s mega-arcs in order to do anything unique.
Daredevil, Luke Cage, and Jessica Jones all did their best to link up with the MCU when they premiered, but that veneer quickly fell away. If the shows are to be believed, New York City recovered quite rapidly from the major battle in Avengers—the shows only paid lip service to the larger schemes afoot with occasional mentions of Captain America or Hulk. More than anything, the Marvel Netflix ‘verse (including The Punisher and Iron Fist) felt like a place where superheroes were a little less surprising. There seemed to be more of them around every corner, and the larger world-threatening cycles were rarely commented on by New York’s street heroes. This became even more obvious in the final seasons of Daredevil and Jessica Jones, which should have made it more clear as to when they took place in order to avoid commenting on the Thanos’s “Snapture”… but both shows avoided the question entirely, taking place in some timeless year where nothing is affected by the outside world.
With the WandaVision and Loki shows set to involve a certain amount of time travel (WandaVision is headed for the 1950s and Loki is supposed to be time-hopping to his heart’s content), everything starts to get even muddier. We were told in Endgame that going back in time and changing things does not lead to splits in the timeline, but then that means that whatever these shows do has to lineup with what the MCU has ostensibly already done. As the universe expands, that will be a much harder task to manage, a task that Marvel already seems barely invested in. Even the simplest questions—does the MCU have a similar political timeline to our own Earth?—aren’t routinely checked and noted. Which is how Iron Man 3 can have a completely fictional president, but a character in Luke Cage has a picture of Barack Obama in their office when he likely would have been president at the same time as IM3‘s President Ellis.
The same can be said of Wakanda’s integration into the larger MCU; while Marvel had the perfect excuse in Black Panther, with Wakanda having isolated itself from the rest of the world for centuries, that seal has been broken now. Given their level of technology and pledge to help the world, the audience should be seeing Wakandan characters cropping up in nearly every MCU story, or at the very least evidence of their presence in relief efforts around the world. This gets even more woolly when considering a post-Endgame society, where the entire globe has been devastated by the absence of half the population for five whole years. But we’ll probably be expected to shrug that off as well, and only expect to see more of Wakanda in Black Panther 2.
If this is how the MCU’s sense of continuity within a single universe is already being treated, is a multiverse possible at all? Perhaps. But a better form of record-keeping is clearly needed if all of these new stories are going to continue to jive under the same banner.
It’s strange to think it, but maybe one of the best possible ways of organizing all of this information would be through a centralized hub. While a film series wouldn’t do the trick, having a television show where one group actually kept track of the multiverse and its possibilities would help prevent the MCU from from descending into incoherent time-space mush. Such a show wouldn’t have to be high on action, just thoughtful, maybe on the humorous side, but with a lot of heart and care toward the mechanics of story and worldbuilding. There are plenty of crews in the Marvel universe who could fit that bill, but the first that comes to mind is the Fantastic 4. Which Marvel now has the rights to, thanks to the Disney/Fox merger.
Just think. A show where Reed Richards stares at a multiverse tracking computer all day and tries to avert multidimensional disasters. Sue is constantly explaining how the multiverse is ticking along to Johnny and Ben, who don’t really care much about it, and only get excited when they have to be a little more hands on to save the day. It would be a fun way to utilize an iconic team that would probably just clutter up the filmscape.
That, plus the addition of a more robust mythkeeping team (sort of like the one Star Wars has) could help stabilize the Marvel Cinematic Universe well enough to create a satisfying multiverse. If Marvel wanted to put the time in, they could really hold the reins to the most meticulous multimedia storytelling venture of all time. But they’ll have to commit to keeping track of it in order to win that particular game.
Emmet Asher-Perrin would really love that Fantastic 4 show, hook me up, Marvel. You can bug him on Twitter, and read more of her work here and elsewhere.