Doctor Strange 2 is going to make the multiverse the next big thing for the MCU. Yes, I hear you saying we've already already explored some corners of the multiverse in MCU projects like Loki, What If…? and Spider-Man: No Way Home.
But it looks like Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is about to blow the doors wide open. How wide you might ask? Wider than any of us have expected. Wider than the fact that Patrick Stewart's Professor X looks to cross-over from the Fox X-Men movies.
According to one early reaction from film critic Gabriel Carvalho (opens in new tab), Doctor Strange’s second solo outing is going to add a whole new definition to the phrase "it’s all connected." For better and for worse.
Possible spoilers for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness lie ahead! (speaking of spoilers, we've got the Doctor Strange 2 post-credit scenes details in spoiler-free and spoiler-full versions)
There’s no denying that the MCU has become incredibly complicated and convoluted over the past 14 years. As Tom’s Guide gaming editor Marshall Honorof previously put it, the MCU “managed to recreate everything wrong with Marvel comic books — and in approximately a fifth of the time.”
Like Marvel comics, the MCU narrative interconnects so often and so frequently that it comes nigh-impossible to enjoy an installment on its own. You need to be aware of everything else that has happened up until that point, otherwise you may find yourself completely lost. And Carvalho's description could have even die-hard MCU fans scratching their head:
Not gonna spoil anything, but make sure you watch the seventh episode of the season 6 of "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D", the first episode of "What If...?", the whole "Loki" series, "Deadpool 2", the entire final season of "X-Men: The Animated Series" and unbelievably "Inhumans". pic.twitter.com/TBCZipnsFmMay 3, 2022
This description has us feeling as confused as Ant-Man star Michael Douglas (opens in new tab) who had been completely unaware of Ant-Man’s role in Captain America: Civil War. The actor admitted to being incredibly confused by the script for 2018’s Ant-Man and the Wasp, and someone had to explain that a movie he didn’t star in was having big ramifications on his character.
Anything can be MCU if Marvel is brave enough
From the sound of things, Dr Strange 2 is going to take the idea of staying up to date to a whole new level.
It sounds as though consuming every scrap of the MCU isn’t going to be enough. Dr Strange is going to blow a cannon-sized hole in the barriers of the universe, and that means just about any piece of Marvel media from the past few decades could have an impact on the MCU at large.
And that can extend to Marvel properties that weren’t some sort of MCU side project, the way Inhumans and Agents of SHIELD were originally supposed to be.
We’ve already seen this, to some extent, with Spider-Man: No Way Home. Tom Holland’s Peter Parker was joined by characters, both good and bad, from previous Spider-Man movies that had nothing to do with Marvel Studios.
But there’s a difference between canonizing big-screen adaptations of Marvel Comics’ most popular hero in the latest Spider-Man movie, and linking back to totally unrelated properties that fall under the Marvel banner.
The whole multiverse concept means canon can be whatever you want it to be
Carvalho’s tweet makes it sound as though nothing is off limits when it comes to the Marvel Cinematic Multiverse. Whether that’s an animated show from the ‘90s, the last good movie made by another studio, or a single-season TV show that was so bad that nobody tries to argue about whether it fits into the MCU proper.
Seriously, there are people out there that will argue to their dying breath about how Agents of SHIELD or the Netflix Marvel shows (now "The Defenders Saga") still fit into the MCU proper. But I have yet to see a single person try and do the same with Inhumans. It was just that bad.
But apparently not so bad that it deserves some sort of link to Dr Strange 2. If I were to guess, I’d say it has something to do with the fact Black Bolt is a member of the Illuminati in the comics. The group is officially confirmed to be in the new movie, and it has me wondering whether Anson Mount will be reprising his role as the purposefully-silent Inhuman king.
The real point I’m trying to make here is that when the multiverse is concerned, there’s no such thing as “non-canon.” The mainstream MCU timeline has its own continuity, but that doesn't invalidate anything else that doesn’t really fit.
A perfect example from the comics comes from the multiverse spanning ‘Spider-Verse’ event. Spider-Verse supposedly features every single Spider-man from across the Marvel multiverse, all involved in an interdimensional battle with creatures that feed on their essence.
The event allowed various different adaptations of Spider-Man to mingle together and take part, be it the often-maligned Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon, the Megazord-wielding Supaidāman from Japanese TV, and even the Spider-Men from old newspaper strips (opens in new tab) and Hostess Twinkie ads (opens in new tab). Yes, really.
Agents of SHIELD is a great example for the live action side of things. Once Season 6 rolled around, the show ignored the fact Thanos snapped away half of the universe and diverged into its own thing. It didn’t fit into the MCU at large, and an argument can be made that it isn’t canon. But with the multiverse that argument becomes moot, and Agents of SHIELD becomes its own canon.
The show happened somewhere out in the multiverse, no matter how it may or may not tie into the MCU movies. The same is true for Daredevil, and apparently Inhumans.
There are two ways to look at what Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is doing to the MCU at large. The first is that by breaking down the barriers between Marvel universes, it’s making the MCU’s future increasingly complex and difficult to follow. Why should you have to watch eight episodes of the most maligned series Marvel has produced in recent years, or 76 episodes of a cartoon that was cancelled in 1997 just to understand a small part of the next blockbuster movie?
The other way of looking at it is to realize that keeping up with everything is a futile endeavor. So sit back, relax, and enjoy each new installment of the MCU as it is. It’s not like Marvel Studios expects the majority of its audience will be up to date with a kids’ TV show that was cancelled 25 years ago. Alienating your audience is not how you make blockbuster movies, after all. If anything it just means more easter egg fodder for the uber-nerds.
It may all be connected, even across universes, but that doesn’t mean you have to watch it all. Especially when it’s really bad.