Doctor Strange star Benedict Cumberbatch sent fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe into a frenzy with his comments on the Thor: Ragnarok DVD/Blu-ray featurette “Marvel Studios: The First Ten Years — The Evolution of Heroes," teasing that what Marvel Studios has crafted isn't a universe after all, but a multiverse.
“What we’ve seen happen within the Marvel Cinematic Universe is this ever-expanding coterie of superheroes,” Cumberbatch said. “I think now we’re at the stage where this universe, even within our world, has gotten quite crowded and it’s just about to explode into other dimensions.”
Of course, comic book fans easily grasp the concept of a multiverse, and The CW's Arrowverse has brought it to television, but this may be a foreign concept for the average moviegoer who believes what they're actually seeing on-screen is all that exists. But while it may seem that Cumberbatch has spilled the beans on some big MCU secret, the truth is that we've pretty much already seen the MCU's multiverse in action.
Ant-Man's Quantum Realm
The multiverse officially debuted in Peyton Reed's Ant-Man in 2015. We learned of it when the first Ant-Man (Michael Douglas' Hank Pym) revealed that he lost his wife Janet (aka the Wasp) decades ago when the duo tried to disarm a Soviet nuclear missile. She went subatomic and entered the Quantum Realm to disable it, but, sadly, she never re-emerged. However, in the movie's finale we saw Scott Lang's (Paul Rudd) Ant-Man successfully enter and escape the microverse.
Pym explained, as you grow smaller and smaller, you pass through the microverse, where “all concepts of time and space become irrelevant.” What he ended up describing was basically a doorway to unexplored dimensions, witnessed when Lang traveled through this microscopic realm. Ant-Man will now be joined by Hank and Janet's daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) in July's Ant-Man and the Wasp, as they all attempt to rescue Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) from the Quantum Realm.
"If we do succeed in Ant-Man and the Wasp, then that does open a whole entire new multiverse to enter into and play around in," Lilly said of the sequel. "I’m not the story creator, so I can’t tell you what they’re going to do with that. But I definitely see the potential there."
Doctor Strange's Dimensional Journeys
We got our second look at the multiverse from Cumberbatch himself in 2016's Doctor Strange. Director Scott Derrickson revealed that Strange derives his power from the multiverse, and by manipulating it, he is able to bend space and time which allows him to travel just about anywhere and everywhere. An inexperienced Strange had his first interaction in exploring the multiverse when he met Tilda Swinton's The Ancient One, who pushed Strange's astral form through the several dimensions, showing him just how big the cosmos was and the unlimited possibilities it held.
As Strange fell through space and time, he encountered bizarre, neon-colored landscapes and Steve Ditko-inspired psychedelic visions (which matched the visual aesthetic we saw when Reed had Lang tumbling through his microverse). This hinted that the microverse is just one aspect of this multiverse; further illustrated when Strange traveled to another unique dimension: Dormammu's Dark Dimension.
Taking all this into account, it's likely Cumberbatch was simply saying the multiverse won't just be a doorway or Easter egg in the MCU. It may actually be taking an identity of its own and be art the center of future stories, told through the perspectives of characters that spill over to and from different worlds.
Opening July 6, director Peyton Reed’s Ant-Man and the Wasp stars Paul Rudd as Scott Lang, Evangeline Lilly as Hope van Dyne, Michael Douglas as Hank Pym, Michelle Pfeiffer as Janet van Dyne, Judy Greer as Maggie, Bobby Canavale as Paxton, Michael Peña as Luis, T.I. as Dave, David Dastmalchian as Kurt, Walton Goggins as Sonny Burch, Hannah John-Kamen as Ghost, and Laurence Fishburne as Bill Foster.