You’d be forgiven if you need a primer before watching Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. The Marvel Comics Universe expands to its 28th feature film with the release of Benedict Cumberbatch’s latest star turn as Doctor Strange.
There is a lot to keep track of. That’s typical for Marvel movies, which have increasingly complex plots– from The Avengers movie and beyond– becoming decreasingly accessible to non-obsessive fans.
A casual fan would be forgiven for being confused by the epic fight near the conclusion of Avengers: Endgame. As portals open to other worlds, scores of bad guys and good guy pour onto a scorched battlefield. Stan Lee might have made one of his famous cameos as a combatant and people wouldn’t have noticed. That’s how many familiar faces popped onto the screen.
Anybody who’s ever had a comic book subscription knows the feeling. They are illustrated soap operas; nothing is ever entirely OK in comic book world. And after 27 films, it’s time to get weird with it.
Stay deep in the Marvel Universe and see how The Avengers movie changed movies forever.
Are Marvel Movies Getting Too Weird?
We can’t talk about the present swath of Marvel movies without diving into the multiverse. You’re probably familiar with the butterfly effect: Go back and change any one moment of your life, and the ripple effects could be enormous. Marvel has taken all those universes, with different outcomes and characters, and merged them into a multiverse.
When it works, it’s a thing of beauty. Spider-Man: No Way Home hinged on three universes colliding, thanks to Doctor Strange casting a spell, with three very different Spider-Man characters coming together to save the day. Spoiler alert: The plot worked because past Spider-Man franchise characters Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield join current-day Spider-Man Tom Holland. All three characters played their old characters — if perhaps hobbled by older age.
The plot is not convoluted. It is irreverent and fun. As a result, it appeals to a broad audience, which might explain why Spider-Man: No Way Home was a smash hit, ranking No. 2 in all-time box office take for a Marvel movie with more than $800 million in worldwide earnings.
Audiences have an appetite for the multiverse. The new “Doctor Strange” movie promises to test those limits.
A Strange World
Comic books have always veered toward servicing hardcore fans. When Captain America successfully called Thor’s hammer, Mjölnir, to his hand at the conclusion of Endgame, audiences in theaters burst into cheers and clapped . That moment in theaters gave birth to dozens of YouTube videos and fawning articles.
The moment is also nearly completely baffling for casual fans. Yes, there is a brief explainer early in the movie about how nobody but the “worthy” may wield the hammer. But only a longtime fan, steeped in the mythology, would burst out in cheers in a movie theater for the moment. Which is fine, except for the person behind them in the theater, baffled by the reaction.
The new “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” movie has it right there in the title: This is a film about the madness that happens when you mix universes. Trailers for the movie talk about dreams and nightmares intermixing. They show people in viking helmets, demons, buildings collapsing upon each other and Doctor Strange’s face being ripped apart by internal forces.
Does it work? This isn’t a review; we won’t know until we’ve seen it. But we know this much: We can prepare for Doctor Strange. You don’t have to watch all 27 preceding Marvel movies (or 68, if you go all the way back to 1986 film, Howard the Duck).
How to Prep for “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness”
If you’re only going to watch two movies to get up to speed, there are two critical options. Obviously, you should watch Doctor Strange before you watch this sequel to the 2016 film. We’ll get to that in a moment.
But it makes more sense to start with Avengers: Age of Ultron. The 2015 movie introduces Wanda Maximoff, who goes on to be known as Scarlet Witch. Yes, she’s played by Elizabeth Olsen, who made her starring debut in Martha Marcy May Marlene just a year before. Life is a kick, isn’t it? “Ultron” introduces us to her special abilities, which are unleashed by evil experiments. Why start here? Because the Scarlet Witch is featured prominently in trailers for the new “Doctor Strange” movie.
Then, watch Doctor Strange. The 2016 movie introduces Cumberbatch as an arrogant surgeon whose life is destroyed by a car accident. He learns to control the world, unleashes the multiverse and becomes a superhero in his own right. Perhaps best of all: The plot is comprehensible, even if his powers over the world are … strange.
Are you up for a little more homework on the multiverse? Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse won an Oscar for Best Animated Feature. It’s a sometimes goofy look at what a multiverse is. Perhaps more straightforward is 2021’s Spider-Man: No Way Home. We’ve already told you about that one. If you need another push: it has overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics and audiences.
And it’s never a bad idea to watch Avengers: Endgame. It will refresh you on Strange’s all-knowing character, who quietly pulls all the right strings to set up an improbable upset victory for the Avengers. Plus, Captain America fights with Thor’s hammer, which is a very cool moment regardless of understanding the comic-book backstory.