Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness has been attracting largely positive reviews from critics and is already the third biggest film of the year at the worldwide box office.
It also had fans cheering and applauding at the sight of its many multiversal cameos, some of which were signposted in the trailers, and others that were tightly guarded secrets.
Who are these fan-familiar faces that have had diehard Marvel-heads in a frenzy, and what does it mean for the ever-expanding and seemingly endless Marvel cinematic universe (MCU)?
Read on to find out more, but beware – here be spoilers.
What in the multiverse is the Illuminati?
The bulk of the cool cameos that have fans spilling their popcorn and spit-taking their soft drink comes from a mid-film appearance by a group known as the Illuminati.
Much like with the real-world conspiracy theory, the Illuminati of the Marvel comics is a secret cabal of some of the best and brightest who secretly run the world.
The group was formed by Tony Stark (aka Iron Man) in the wake of an intergalactic battle that threatened Earth, after Stark realized several super-powered individuals had key information about the aliens involved but did not share it with each other.
The first version of the comic-book Illuminati featured Iron Man, Reed Richards (aka Mr Fantastic), Professor Charles Xavier of the X-Men, Black Bolt of the Inhumans, Black Panther of Wakanda, Sorcerer Supreme Dr Stephen Strange and Namor the Sub -Mariner of Atlantis.
Over the years, the group has gathered in secret to discuss how to deal with major threats, including deciding to shoot the Hulk into space due to him proving too much of a danger to Earth (which totally backfired in the excellent World War Hulk comic series ).
They’ve also tackled Incursions, which are mentioned in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and occur when two neighboring multiverses threaten to collide and destroy each other unless one can be destroyed.
The Illuminati’s members have changed over the years and the group has disbanded a couple of times, but their mission to save Earth remains a regular way for comic book writers to explore morality, sacrifice, philosophical ideas and the notion that even the smartest people can do incredibly stupid things.
But what you really want to know is who’s in the MCU version of the Illuminati?
Here goes – last chance to bail before the spoilers.
Patrick Stewart – Professor Charles Xavier
There’s been talk of a Marvel reboot or crossover of the X-Men since Disney bought 20th Century Fox in a deal finalized in 2019.
It’s finally kinda sorta happened here with Professor X appearing as part of the Illuminati on Earth-838 (that’s the number assigned to the Illuminati’s multiverse).
The OG Xavier, as played by Stewart for the eighth time, makes his appearance to the sound of the nostalgic theme from the ’90s X-Men cartoon, not looking like he’s aged a day since 2017’s Logan.
Stewart’s cameo not only officially crosses the streams of the Fox X-Men movies and the MCU, but suggests there are other mutants in this universe and his School for Gifted Youngsters probably exists.
John Krasinski – Reed Richards (aka Mr Fantastic)
Played by Miles Teller in 2015’s Fantastic Four, Ioan Guffudd before that in 2005 and 2007, and Alex Hyde-White in the legendary unreleased 1994 version, Krasinski’s iteration of Mr Fantastic got a lot of whoops and cheers in cinemas.
A tightly kept secret, Krasinski as Reed Richards has been a dream fan casting, and the reaction to his appearance backs it up.
While we do not see Richards use his ultra-stretchy limbs much before he meets a painful end, it’s probably a safe bet to say this is not the last time we’ve see Krasinski’s Mr Fantastic in the MCU, given his popular reception and the fact a Fantastic Four reboot is in development.
But it begs the question: Will we get to see the equally popular fan casting of Krasinski’s wife, Emily Blunt, as Richards’ wife Sue Storm (aka the Invisible Woman) in the MCU?
Hayley Atwell – Captain Carter
One of the best episodes of the animated Disney + series What If introduced us to Captain Carter, the answer to the question: “What if Peggy Carter received the super-soldier serum instead of Steve Rogers?”
The big-screen debut of Captain Carter gives Atwell the chance to put a new spin on the popular character of Peggy Carter, last seen slow-dancing with Captain America in the final moments of Avengers: Endgame.
The live-action version of Captain Carter gives fans hope we’ll see her again – while her Earth-838 version meets a grisly end via her own shield, she proves to be just as cool as her animated counterpart, or perhaps even cooler because she has a jet pack, and everyone knows jet packs make everything cooler.
Lashana Lynch – Captain Marvel
In the comics, there have been a number of Captain Marvels, including one named Monica Rambeau, who adopted the name before handing it back to Carol Danvers and becoming known as Photon, then Pulsar and eventually Spectrum – this kind of thing happens a lot in the comics.
Monica Rambeau has appeared in the MCU previously; as a kid in 2019’s Captain Marvel and as a grown-up government agent in the Disney + series WandaVision.
But it’s her mother, Maria, as played by Lashana Lynch in Captain Marvel, that turns up here as the hyper-powered space warrior, suggesting an intriguing alternate path where Maria becomes Captain Marvel rather than her best friend and fellow fighter pilot Carol Danvers.
This may be the last we see of Maria, but daughter Monica is appearing in the upcoming film The Marvels, fuelling speculation she’ll become Photon – or is that Pulsar? Or Spectrum?
Speaking of fueling speculation, a split-second shot of Maria Rambeau in action in the trailer caused a frenzied online buzz that Tom Cruise would appear as an alternate multiverse Iron Man, but that was not to be.
Take that as you will.
Anson Mount – Black Bolt
It was a cameo that gave Scarlet Witch the best delivery of the best line in the film – “What mouth?” – and also one of the movie’s most gruesome deaths.
Black Bolt previously appeared in the TV series Inhumans, which lasted one season and received such bad reviews that only the most diehard of Marvel fans bothered to watch it.
It’s a shame it was so botched, because Black Bolt is a cool character – not that we get much of a chance to see it in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness before he inadvertently blows his own brains out using his super-powered voice.
Given how poorly received Inhumans was, this could be the final appearance of Mount as Black Bolt.
Of course, the deaths of all these characters does not necessarily preclude them from popping up in the MCU again in another film or their own spin-off TV shows – after all, this is the multiverse, so there are infinite versions of these superheroes populating an infinite number of universes.
But what about Charlize Theron?
Theron took to social media recently to unveil her mid-credits appearance as Clea, a sorceress who magically appears in a New York street asking Dr Strange to follow her into the Dark Dimension to help prevent an Incursion.
In the comics, Clea is the niece of Dormammu (the villain in the first Dr Strange film) and Strange’s lover who joins him on a range of increasingly weird adventures.
Given that Dormammu is still out there and Clea’s appearance in the film is over as quickly as it begins, it’s safe to say she’ll play a substantial role in any future Dr Strange movies.