The multiverse is an unwieldy storytelling device with potential positive and negative impacts. For example, meeting alternate variations of favorite characters has the potential to undermine earlier stories. However, it could also potentially provide emotional flourish to stories that haven’t been possible previously. Some fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s consistency are concerned about how the multiverse could fray the cohesion of the MCU. The multiversal elements of Loki and What If…? have shown us hints of how the multiverse stories we might be seeing in Spider-Man: No Way Home and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness can be kept tight and concise.
Loki’s head writer Michael Waldron and director Kate Herron have both spoken in multiple interviews about the themes of their series. Loki spends much of the season up against the bureaucratic order of the TVA. He also finds himself grappling with his identity in the face of Loki variants from alternative universes. Order versus chaos. Self versus selves. The structure of these debates brought up in the show also show another theme Waldron and Herron have spoken about, in the gray space between villainy and heroism. It’s clear that these themes are present even without confirmation from interviews because of how tightly woven into the narrative action they are.
On the surface, an anthology show like What If…? shouldn’t necessarily have a narrative or thematic coherence between episodes. Yet we have seen enough to know we are getting a conclusion to some of the previous episodes in the finale. In this context, should there be a thematic reverberation between the heroes of each episode? It’s not easy to point one out. Loki’s themes are much tighter as almost every scene has a thematic resonance. An anthology show doesn’t need coherent themes but where there is a continuing story, What If…? is perhaps missing something thematic to bring the season together.
So perhaps if Spider-Man: No Way Home can use the multiverse to weave themes tightly, it can produce an impactful story regardless of multiversal incursions. Much of the trailer is connected to Spidey’s identity as Peter Parker. The public release of that information and Peter’s going to Doctor Strange to have it erased from public consciousness. It’s clear that they “tampered with the stability of [the] space-time” continuum when performing the spell. The full impact remains to be seen but it is easy to see how themes of identity, responsibility, and fate can be tied to this spell gone wrong and possible multiversal variants. It remains to be seen how tightly woven those themes might be into the story.
So can we spot the themes for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness as clearly and easily? Given Wanda Maximoff was last seen studying The Darkhold, also known as The Book of the Damned, it stands that she might face some corrupting forces. To some extent, this is a theme that can be extended from Doctor Strange as Kaecilius became corrupted by Dormammu. Corruption, alongside the fraying of the multiverse which Strange admits he knows “frighteningly little” in the No Way Home trailer, can also point in the direction of balance as a theme. How will Strange weigh up the dilemmas of the incursive multiverse? In a meta-sense, if the film can get that thematic balance right, then the rumoured cameos won’t seem as uncoordinated as some fans fear they might be.
Parenthood and family are themes that Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania could manifest. With Kathryn Newton taking on the role as Cassie Lang it seems as though she might play more of a role with the heroes, with Scott, Hope, Janet, and Hank having to figure out parental decisions related to that. It’s not immediately obvious how Jonathan Majors’ Kang will connect to that, though being a citizen of the future, it’s possible an ancestor of his might be involved in the story. How they will connect the multiversal elements to the existing Ant-Man themes will be the test for how tight of a story we’ll be getting.
Beyond the second seasons of Loki and What If…? there are no major clues about what other Marvel Studios projects the multiverse incur upon. It will be interesting to see whether Loki can keep up its thematic resonance during its sophomore season. Similarly What If…? could either fully embrace the anthology format or increase the thematic and narrative continuity between the episodes. The multiverse certainly won’t be vanishing so other characters like Doctor Strange, Wanda Maximoff, and Ant-Man might still have to contend with it. Wherever it does emerge though, using the multiverse concisely and closely connected to the themes of the project seems like it will be a successful approach.