How the Multiverse Can Reshape Marvel

Alfred Molina (doctor octopus) in 2004's Spider-Man 2
It's not just 'Spider-Man 3.' There's a lot more reality-crossing coming up in the MCU over the next two years.

The news that Alfred Molina will be reprising the role of Otto Octavius — his character from 2004’s Spider-Man 2 — in the upcoming third solo outing for Tom Holland’s cinematic Peter Parker adds more weight to the speculation that the movie will be a Spider-Verse-style outing mixing and matching multiple realities and their respective Spiders-Man and his Amazing Friends (and enemies). But could this also be an important step toward solidifying the big picture of the Marvel Cinematic Universe moving forward?

Molina’s casting follows news that Jamie Foxx will also appear in the movie as Electro, the villain from 2014’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2, meaning that at least three different incarnations of Spider-Man will be represented in the movie: Tobey Maguire’s, Andrew Garfield’s and Tom Holland’s. Given that Sony also found great success with the multiversal appeal of 2018’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, it would seem all but certain that at least one of the animated heroes from that movie will make a brief appearance — but could we also see cameos from Nicholas Hammond, the Spider-Man from the 1970s Amazing Spider-Man TV show, or a version of the Toei Spider-Man from the same era?

The clues that the untitled Spider-Man movie will involve the multiverse go beyond the reappearances of villains from past incarnations of the franchise, however. It shouldn’t be overlooked that Benedict Cumberbatch will be appearing in the movie as Doctor Strange. The third Spider-Man movie is due out Dec. 17, 2021, just months before the second Doctor Strange movie, which just so happens to bear the title Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

The second Doctor Strange movie will also tie in with January’s Wandavision television series, which perhaps puts the different versions of Wanda and Vision seen in the trailer in a new light. What if Wanda is breaking down walls between different realities in that series, setting up events for both the next Spider-Man and Doctor Strange movies?

Beyond giving Marvel Studios a chance to come up with its own version of DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths, a multiversal storyline offers Marvel the opportunity to clean up some loose ends while setting up the future of its cinematic universe, and fulfill some fan dreams in the process — both of which may be the primary reason for embarking on this crossover story in the first place.

The third Spider-Man movie was announced after a period where it seemed Marvel and Sony were too far apart on the future of the character, potentially separating Spider-Man from the rest of the MCU moving forward — a move that could go from subtext to text in a story where the stakes are large enough to literally allow for a portion of a universe to be broken off and put into its own bubble, permanently.

Even as the Sony/Marvel schism could lead to a reduction in the size of the MCU, a multiverse crossover storyline could also open up the universe to a cast of characters audiences have been expecting to appear since Disney acquired Fox almost two years ago: everyone included in the Fantastic Four and X-Men licenses.

Fans have been anticipating the potential of an MCU X-Men or Fantastic Four movie since the Fox/Disney deal was first announced, but the mechanics of just how to introduce them into the universe — especially given the mythology of both franchises, which require world-building and background details that would impact the larger MCU significantly — have remained a mystery. How, exactly, could mutantkind be retrofitted into the universe without its earlier absence being addressed? If Reed Richards truly was one of the smartest men on the planet, as he’s portrayed to be, where was he during all of the earlier Earth-threatening events in the Avengers movies? A multiversal storyline offers a simple answer: They were in another reality, until events brought them into the MCU moving forward.

This is, of course, all speculation and may bear no resemblance to Marvel’s actual plans, which may not touch upon the formerly Fox superheroes for many years to come. If one thing is for sure, however, it’s this: Doctor Strange’s appearance in the next Spider-Man movie is unlikely to be a coincidence, given the crossover between where both characters are headed in the next few years on the big screen.