MCU Theory: Marvel Already Teased Earth-616’s Illuminati in Shang-Chi

After many delays and reshoots, the long-awaited sequel to 2016’s Doctor Strange has finally arrived. Marvel fans are once again flocking to theaters to catch fan-favorite director Sam Raimi’s foray into the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Following Master of the Mystic Arts Stephen Strange as he protects young multiversal traveler America Chavez from a corrupted Wanda Maximoff, Multiverse of Madness is packed with Raimi’s signature horror themes and several fun cameos nodding to both the director’s film history as well as the future of the MCU. The most notable of these is the live-action introduction of Marvel’s Illuminati.

The Illuminati, a super-group from Marvel Comics that serves as a sort of World Security Council, is comprised of Marvel powerhouses like Professor Charles Xavier, Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic, Iron Man and Stephen Strange. While teasers for Multiverse of Madness hinted at the reveal of the Illuminati onscreen, it was the appearance of Sir Patrick Stewart reprising his role as Professor X from Fox’s X-Men films and The Office alum John Krasinski bringing the role of Reed Richards to life that sent fans into a frenzy. Filling out the rest of the live-action Illuminati was Hayley Atwell’s Captain Carter, an adaptation of the character from the Disney+ series What If…?, Lashana Lynch once again filling the shoes of Maria Rambeau, this time as a variant of Captain Marvel from Earth-838, as well as a cameo from Anson Mount as Black Bolt, who appeared in the long-forgotten Marvel TV show Inhumans. Unfortunately for Marvel fans, the excitement over this version of the Illuminati was short-lived, as they were all brutally murdered by Wanda within minutes of their introduction.

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Note that this version of the Illuminati from Earth-838 are variants — a concept introduced in Loki, wherein MCU characters have multiple versions of themselves in different universes — and not from Earth-616, the designation assigned to the MCU’s current timeline. While this means that John Krasinski and Patrick Stewart may show up again as different variants of the Illuminati in Earth-616, TikTok user theoriesbyt posted an interesting theory that suggests Earth-616 has an entirely different Illuminati, and they were already teased in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. The mid-credits scene of Shang-Chi revealed that Shang and Katy were now closely communicating with Sorcerer Supreme Wong, who had called in the assistance of both Bruce Banner and Captain Marvel to try and determine the origin of the ten rings Shang’s father had in his possession for so long.

Both Bruce Banner and Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel are MCU powerhouses that played integral roles in Avengers: Endgame in the eleventh hour against Thanos, but they haven’t been seen much on screen since then. Banner is set to appear in the upcoming Disney+ series She-Hulk and Danvers will be on the big screen in The Marvels in 2023, so they’re still functioning players in the MCU despite not having as much on-screen time as earlier Phases, but what if they’ve also been working on something behind the scenes that Marvel fans are unaware of? Theoriesbyt broke down the basic components of Earth-838’s Illuminati and compared them to Earth-616. He noted the Illuminati was comprised of the smartest man on Earth, an intergalactic, super-powered pilot, the First Avenger and a Sorceror Supreme. He also noted that Earth-616 already has several of those players in the MCU.

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After the death of Tony Stark, and with no Earth-616 Reed Richards making his way into the MCU yet, it seems safe to assume that Bruce Banner is currently the smartest man on Earth. While Maria Rambeau was Captain Marvel in Earth-838, Carol Danvers is still very much Captain Marvel in Earth-616. Though Steve Rogers did hang up his shield at the end of Endgame, the mantle of Captain America now belongs to Sam Wilson following the events of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Lastly, while Stephen Strange of Earth-838 originally had a seat on the Illuminati, following his betrayal and ultimately his death, Mordo now holds his seat in 838’s Universe, while Wong currently holds the title in Earth-616, revealed in Spider-Man: No Way Home.

Despite Multiverse of Madness’ Illuminati differing from the comics slightly, these similarities are interesting to note and could hint at an Earth-616 Illuminati reveal sooner rather than later. While theoriesbyt brings up interesting and notable points, there isn’t much evidence to support that Bruce, Wong and Carol are quietly forming an Earth-616 Illuminati behind the scenes. However, stranger things have happened in the MCU, including Wanda’s drastic shift from hero to villain in Multiverse of Madness, so this may be only the beginning of the Illuminati in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Fans should keep their eyes peeled for further intimation that Marvel is setting up something even bigger for Phase Five.

dr strange 2 illuminati
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