Warning: This article contains spoilers for Ms. Marvel.
In real life, universes, dimensions, and alternate timelines are all one in the same. The terms can be used interchangeably, with no real differentiating factors. But if you’ve been getting all of your theoretical physics from watching the MCU movies (probably don’t do that) you may also be confused by the previous statement that universes and dimensions are the same thing. That’s because so far, the MCU has done a pretty poor job of setting up the rules of its multiverse, and disseminating those rules and regulations to us, the audience.
This has become less maddening, though, with the fantastic job done by the writers on Ms. Marvel, who have made it very clear how their Noor dimension works, and in turn, how all dimensions in the MCU are different from its universes. But to really understand what dimensions are in this vast multiverse, we first need to understand where all the confusion began.
Marvel Studios’ Ms. Marvel: Who’s Who in the Cast?
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Nonexistence
It started back in 2016 with Doctor Strange, wherein The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) attempts to explain how the MCU’s multiverse works. She says, “This universe is only one of an infinite number. Worlds without end. Some benevolent and life-giving. Others filled with malice and hunger. Dark places where powers older than time lie ravenous … and waiting.” This quote is accompanied by visuals showing glimpses of the Mirror Dimension and the Dark Dimension, as well as Dormamu, insinuating that these dimensions are some amongst those infinite universes The Ancient One mentioned.
We didn’t know it at the time, but the multiverse hadn’t actually existed yet. Or at least The One Who Remains had already clipped all the branches and made up the MCU into his tidy little Sacred Timeline. If that was the case in 2016, then how does The Ancient One know about the multiverse, and how did the Mirror Dimension and the Dark Dimension already exist? Maybe one day we’ll learn of an ancient text that tells of a time before the Sacred Timeline, but for now, it just makes the all-knowing wizard look a bit less so.
In reality, Doctor Strange (2016) and the first season of Loki are just two blockbuster projects made five years apart by two completely different teams at vastly different points in their connected cinematic universe, and their seeming contradictions are far from the only inconsistencies in the MCU. But it has obviously taken up a non-zero percentage of my brain power as I lay awake each night, so there must be others who are just as obsessed with all this stuff. There must be.
Ms. Marvel Attempts to Clear Things Up
Now that we live in a post-Loki world, the multiverse has exploded into significance for the MCU. It’s affecting just about every property in some way or another, and Ms. Marvel is no exception. Despite not directly dealing with the multiverse, the series has had to set up the rules for its little corner of the MCU. The series introduces us to the Noor dimension, a world unto its own, but it is not a universe. It’s a dimension, and the show has been given the responsibility of explaining the difference. Luckily for us, Ms. Marvel has quite possibly done the best job of any other Marvel property in telling the audience just how it all works.
The Veil of Noor is briefly explained to us through Kamala Khan’s (Iman Vellani) short-lived mentor, Waleed, played by the illustrious Bollywood star Farhan Akhtar. “The Clandestines and Aisha are from another realm. This map shows you how our two worlds coexist. There are many dimensions around us that we cannot see… It’s connected to our world but hidden behind the Veil of Noor, that separates our world from theirs.” Red Dagger (Aramis Knight) continues the explanation; “Noor is the energy source of that realm. The Veil, the Clandestines, even your powers are made of it.”
These details are all pretty specific to the Noor dimension, so not all of it is going to be useful in discerning the difference between the MCU’s universes and dimensions, but it does lay some solid groundwork. The map Waleed shows Kamala lays over a map of the Earth, showing how the two worlds “coexist.” It seems the two move along the same timeline, in the same universe. That would mean that the Dark Dimension, the Mirror Dimension, and any other future dimensions we encounter should follow those same rules. To bring it back to Doctor Strange (2016), this would explain how dimensions existed at a point in the timeline before Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino) had blown everything up.
What’s been great about Ms. Marvel is how clearly and steadfastly they’ve held to their wording. Every time the Noor is mentioned, they say “dimension” or “world” rather than “universe.” It’s a small differentiation that makes it clear that these new worlds are not alternate timelines that the TVA just hasn’t gotten to yet, but something else entirely.
Phase 4 and Feige’s Big Meeting
Post-Endgame, the MCU feels a bit all over the place. With more than 49 hours of content in Phase 4 (which we’re only half way through), it will by far be the biggest and most expansive era the MCU has seen. The sheer size of it means that we’ll be introduced to new ideas and rules faster and more frequently than we have in Phases 1, 2, and 3. So far it’s been hit or miss, with COVID throwing a serious wrench in many of Marvel Studios’ plans for many of the Phase 4 projects.
Lucky for all of us, Kevin Feige is one other someone who lies awake at night thinking about the multiverse and its wacky ways. Or at least he thinks about it at work, having told the D23 Inside Disney podcast back in July of 2021 about a meeting he had held with Marvel Studios where they figured out just how their multiverse works, at least going forward. At that point, Loki, Spider-Man: No Way Home, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and Ms. Marvel were all already in production.
“The multiverse is coming up in a big way,” Feige said. “There’s interconnectivity there that people have already started to see and suss out and I had a meeting this morning with the whole broad Marvel Studios team going through the multiverse and the rules of the multiverse and exactly how to really deliver on the excitement surrounding the multiverse .”
Feige would go on to mention COVID, and how just as they were about to get a whiteboard for the office so that they could keep track of all their multiversal rules, everything got shut down. For the Marvel Studios team, it meant that their movies were getting delayed and reordered on a seemingly daily basis. Zero films from Marvel Studios were released to theaters in 2020, and Phase 4 has come out in a much different sequence than the studio had originally intended. The most noticeable of which were the reordering of Spider-Man: No Way Home and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, as well as Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 and Thor: Love and Thunder swapping places. Both of these pairs would have been better able to establish story elements and rules if they had come out in their intended order, but the pandemic and the weird firing and rehiring of James Gunn have made things harder for the MCU’s storytellers.
This is all just to say that Phase 4 has had a rough go of it, and the plan has had to change at a moment’s notice. Both the movies and the streaming shows have suffered due to everything the pandemic messed up, and it could take a while for things to get back on track. At least now they probably have that whiteboard.
Every Plot Thread the MCU Abandoned
With every new entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we get more information about the stories they’re building and how they all work together. It’s quite become a beast to keep track of, and it won’t be slowing down any time soon. Ms. Marvel had the task of introducing us to a brand new slice of this world, and has done so in a very clear way, which is nice. New universes and dimensions are only going to come up more and more, and Ms. Marvel has laid a path for any future projects that deal with dimensions. With movies like Blade in the works, and the introduction of Kit Harrington’s Black Knight in Eternals, it wouldn’t be far off to say that the introduction of vampires, demons, and even Hell could be on the horizon. Is Hell just another dimension? Again, I’ll be up at night thinking about it.
Tyler Robertson is Social Media Producer at IGN. You can follow him on Twitter @TylersNewGroove.