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The variant problem in the movie Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a mix of several of the most important elements of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But also the definitive door to the complex concept of variants.

The variant problem in the movie Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a story experiment that strives to encompass everything the multiverse means. But beyond that, it also analyzes, deepens, and resizes a particular idea that is intriguing. That of the variants or the possibility that new and old characters have other versions in future projects of the study. The idea also encompasses a simple formula of uniting various story universes. Among them, that Marvel has just recovered thanks to the purchase of FOX by Disney.

The film has been the open door for two connections to future projects that have been rumored for years. On the one hand, the definitive link between the characters of the FOX X-Men franchise with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. At the other extreme, is the long-awaited reboot by Kevin Feige of the Fantastic Four saga. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness built a bridge between what was already raised in both subfranchises. It also provides the opportunity for them to develop on a whole new level and in new directions.

The scene that shows the room of the Illuminati presented, at last, two characters whose arrival was expected for years. This is Professor Charles Xavier played by Patrick Stewart and Reed Richards faced this time by John Krasinski. The appearance of both was rumored for months before the premiere of the film. In particular, the possibility that his inclusion in the Sam Raimi film could be his official arrival in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Finally, this has happened, although to the surprise of a good part of the spectators with a tragic exception. Both characters have been killed  — or at least mortally wounded — during the events of the film.

So the big unavoidable question posed by the Doctor Strange sequel is whether the existence of the variants is the answer to what happened. After all, the murder of both characters seems like a cruel joke after years of waiting for their appearance. But as the film demonstrated, the multiverse is infinite in answers. “A solution for every question and an answer for every mistake,” says Wanda Maximoff at one point. Is it the way the movie tries to make sense of what is possibly going to happen in the future?

All the faces in a mirror

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is the first Marvel movie to showcase the rules surrounding variants. In fact, both Strange and Wanda will have to face their multiversal versions. And in both cases, experience shows that although they respond to experiences in different worlds, they act according to a certain common pattern. In fact, one of the criticisms of the film is that it explored the variants on the slight differences between them.

At least, that’s how it was established in the franchise’s first formal experience with the subject. In the Loki Disney+ series, the concept of the multiverse is based on the idea that every decision and action affects a continuous present. This means that for each path or option that is taken, an alternative reality is created layered in millions of different ways. The central concept of the TVA and the multiversal villain Kang is that the proliferation of this almost infinite variety of realities can lead to chaos.

Now, how is reality interpreted in terms of variants? The same series also offers answers. In the show, Loki is a variant of the original character who died in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And he exists thanks to the decision the latter made to hold the tesseract and escape. The TVA’s role was to destroy the alternate timeline he created so that the first Loki, destined to be killed by Thanos, could thrive. In this way, the so-called sacred timeline was kept intact. But in essence, the Loki variant was identical to the original character.

A similar device was used in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness with Strange, Wanda, Baron Mordo, and Christine Palmer. They all had versions in different universes, essentially identical and making similar decisions. In fact, the characters that are part of The Illuminati are variants of many other heroes. This suggests that his permanence in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is definitive despite his death. A confusing idea? At least in the comic, it has been on more than one occasion the way to link stories in different universes and worlds. And even parallel narratives in a concrete whole.

A kaleidoscopic reality in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

The variants are an innovative resource, but also a plot risk. In Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, the different versions of the characters caused some criticism. Especially, because despite theoretically living different experiences and new situations, each character makes similar decisions. Is it an inevitable fate? The film does not raise it directly but it does make it clear that there is a certain idea of predestination in the subject. “All the Strangers are the same,” a furious Christine Palmer sneers.

But that’s how it is? Actually, the Loki series offers a broader version of the theme. The character runs into a female variant of himself. Also with a wide group of possibilities and points of view about the existence of him as an individual entity. After being sentenced to the Void, the Loki variant encounters dozens of his multiversal versions. And the series explores what the physical reality of variants in the Marvel Cinematic Universe may actually be. From identical characters to each other, to even some who only share history tangentially.

In Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, the idea is very similar. The Sorcerer stumbles upon at least three of his multiversal doppelgangers. And indeed it is made clear that there are as many as the multiverse can offer. This leads to the central question. Is the Sam Raimi movie the source of information for how the multiverse will play out going forward? In the same way that the Loki series acts as a reference, Michael Waldron’s exploration on another scale is interesting.

Can we expect another new version of Reed Richards, this time surviving Wanda’s attack? Or a younger or older multiversal version of Professor X? Even the movie raises a curious question: who is the Wanda Maximoff of the Illuminati universe? If Xavier is a hero — and apparently with the same ideals as the traditional version of him — the existence of other mutants is evident. And that includes the Wanda Maximoff of that reality being Magneto’s daughter, just as she is in the comics. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is the first stop on what is a road to the idea of the multiverse. From now on, all the timelines and possibilities of the cinematic Marvel could coexist. A world of possibilities that are just beginning to exist.

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Written by Christina d'souza

Proofreader, editor, journalist. I have been doing my favourite thing for more than six years.

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