Spoilers for Loki episode 1 on Disney Plus.
Loki’s TV series has finally arrived on Disney Plus – and, true to what its cast and crew have been saying in the lead up to its release, it’s on track to be the most important story in the MCU yet.
There’s lots to take in during the show’s premiere, but the most interesting part of Loki episode 1 (in our view anyway) happens less than 15 minutes into the series: we find out how the Marvel Cinematic Multiverse (MCM) works.
Here, we’ll take a more in-depth look at how Loki episode 1 sets up the MCM and what impact it’ll have on future Marvel movies and TV shows.
Suffice to say, we’re about to enter spoiler territory for Loki episode 1. If you haven’t watched the show (or at least the first 15 minutes), turn back now.
The Marvel Cinematic Multiverse: who are the Time Keepers?
As animated character Ms. Minutes explains to Loki before he stands trial inside the Time Variance Authority (TVA) for his crimes, the Time Keepers are a group of cosmic beings who protect the flow of the Sacred Timeline.
Long ago, a large war was waged between numerous universes. Known as the Multiversal War, each universe battled against one another to ensure that their timeline of events reigned supreme. This conflict was so fierce that it almost resulted in the destruction of everyone and everything.
However, the emergence of the Time Keepers put a stop to the Multiversal War. Reorganizing the MCM into a single timeline – known as the MCU, or Sacred Timeline – the Time Keepers brought peace to the cosmos.
It’s unclear at this stage how the Time Keepers were created or where exactly they came from, but we’re hopeful that this will be answered in a future episode of Loki.
The Marvel Cinematic Multiverse: what is the Time Variance Authority?
To ensure that another Multiversal War wouldn’t break out, the Time Keepers also created the TVA. This bureaucratic organization exists outside of time and space, and helps to protect the Sacred Timeline by ‘pruning’ any branching timelines created by ‘Time Variants’.
Time Variants are individuals who leave their predetermined path on the Sacred Timeline and, as a result, create a branching timeline.
Loki is a perfect example of this. During the Avengers’ slightly botched time heist plan in Avengers: Endgame, he steals the Tesseract and uses it to escape back in 2012. Given that this isn’t how his life path has been mapped out, his escape causes an offshoot from the Sacred Timeline and alerts the TVA to his presence. Loki is subsequently arrested by Hunter B-15 and his group of TVA enforcers.
These branches or offshoots are also referred to as Nexus Events. We’ve heard about these before in another MCU TV series – WandaVision – but we’ll revisit this in another passage below.
For now, just know that Nexus Events are the cause for Multiversal Wars. If they’re left unchecked by the TVA, they create instability in the Sacred Timeline and lead to reality breaking down.
How does the TVA factor into this? They capture Time Variants who cause Nexus Events, use a Time Reset Charge to eradicate any timeline branches and set time back on its expected path, and charge (and delete from existence) any Time Variant who causes such incidents. Loki being one of them, in this show.
The Marvel Cinematic Multiverse: how Loki sets up Spider-Man: No Way Home and Doctor Strange 2
Now that we know how the MCM will work, we have a good idea of how this could tie into upcoming movies in Spider-Man: No Way Home and Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness.
Let’s start with No Way Home. We know Spider-Man villains (from previous Sony movie adaptation of the webslinger) will cross over into the MCU in No Way Home. Alfred Molina’s Doc-Ock and Jamie Foxx’s Electro are basically confirmed at this point, and there have been rumors about other Spider-Man foes making appearances.
Given Ms. Minutes’ explanation of the MCM, we can deduce that these Spider-Man adversaries will cross over into the MCU by way of Nexus Events.
It’s unclear if Loki will have something to do with that (could he cause another Multiversal War later in his series?), if Spider-Man himself will inadvertently create multiple Nexus Events, or even if Wanda Maximoff (through her Darkhold research) could cause them.
Regardless, whoever is responsible for them, we’re pretty confident in saying that Nexus Events will be formed, a new Multiversal War will emerge, and villains from Sam Raimi’s and Marc Webb’s Spider-Man universes will likely be transported to the MCU.
As for Doctor Strange 2, the plot of the Sorcerer Supreme’s next movie will focus heavily on the MCM. The ‘Multiverse of Madness’ part of the title gives that away and, given that Doctor Strange is rumored to have a role in Spider-Man: No Way Home, it seems that the titular character may look to halt and even reverse the collapse of the multiverse.
The alleged synopsis of Doctor Strange 2 alludes to this happening. Per Backstage.com, “Dr. Stephen Strange’s continuing research on the Time Stone is hindered by a friend-turned-enemy, resulting in Strange unleashing unspeakable evil”.
We don’t know what this “unspeakable evil” is, or who out of Baron Mordo or Wanda Maximoff will be the “friend-turned-enemy”. Both characters are set to appear in Doctor Strange 2 and either of them could be the individual who hinders Doctor Strange’s research.
What could that research be? Maybe Stephen Strange wants to use the Time Stone to reverse time and prevent the Nexus Events (seen in Loki and potentially No Way Home) from ever happening. After all, the Time Stone can, well, turn back time, so there’s no reason why Doctor Strange wouldn’t try to use this to prevent multiverses from bleeding into each other and causing another Multiversal War.
Then again, the TVA’s existence may negate the use of Infinity Stones in such circumstances.
As we learned in Loki, the TVA has a number of Infinity Stones from alternate timelines – TVA office worker Casey even says they’re used as paperweights by staff members – stashed in a drawer.
Clearly, the TVA don’t consider these all-powerful, cosmic stones to be more important than themselves. If that’s the case, the TVA negates the Infinity Stones as a plot device, so Doctor Strange may not be able to use the Time Stone in the way he hopes.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe: could we see a live-action adaptation of Secret Wars?
It’s possible. Loki head writer Michael Waldron refused to rule this out during a chat with Murphy’s Multiverse ahead of episode 1’s release. If another Multiversal War is on the way, Secret Wars would be the perfect comic storyline to end Marvel’s Phase 4 or Phase 5 plans.
For those unfamiliar with Secret Wars, it’s the name of two Marvel limited comic series, which were released in 1984 and 2015 respectively.
The 1984 comic run brought a bunch of superhero groups and villains together (against their will, no less) by a cosmic entity, known as the Beyonder, where they were forced to do battle on a planet called Battleworld.
The 2015 comic run, though, is far more interesting from an MCM standpoint. This nine-issue series involved the destruction of the mainline Marvel and other alternate universes, and led to every universal version of Earth joining together to form Battleworld.
With various incarnations of the same heroes and villains living in the same plane of existence, the 2015 run of Secret Wars could be something that the MCM follows in the future.
If the TVA, Doctor Strange and others fail to prevent the collapse of the multiverse, we could see the Sacred Timeline converge with other timelines, Battleworld’s formation, and a huge multiverse crossover event. It could be Marvel’s Phase 4 or 5 equivalent of 2012’s Avengers or 2019’s Avengers: Endgame, with numerous superheroes and villains sharing screen time.
However the events of Spider-Man: No Way Home and Doctor Strange 2 play out, or if Secret Wars will be a future Marvel Studios project, one thing is clear: now we know how the Marvel Cinematic Multiverse works, and it’s all thanks to Loki’s Disney Plus series. The phrase ‘Multiversal War’ could well define what the next few years of Marvel movies look like.