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We never thought we'd see THAT person in the MCU again
[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, which opened in theaters Friday. Read at your own risk!]
WandaVisionisn't the only Marvel series you need to watch to fully understand Doctor Strange in the Multiverse Madness.
Marvel Cinematic Universe continuity has grown increasingly ambitious and complicated as it has progressed. In the first three phases, you simply had to make sure you saw each movie leading up to the climactic Avengers team-up film. However, Phase 4, the post-Avengers: Endgame era, requires even more homework because you must now worry about Marvel's original Disney+ series like the aforementioned Emmy-nominated limited series starring Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany. (Sure, the first two seasons of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.tied into both Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Avengers: Age of Ultron, but the underrated ABC drama wasn't mandatory viewing because the movies paid little attention to it.) Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness feels like the first movie that fully takes advantage of the franchise's expansion into television in a major way because it not only connects to multiple Disney+ series, but also references a (blessedly) forgotten broadcast show, too.
A sequel to 2016's Doctor Strange, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness forces Benedict Cumberbatch's titular cynical sorcerer to protect a superpowered young girl named America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) from an Avenger who broke bad: Wanda Maximoff (Olsen), who sews chaos as the Scarlet Witch now. America can travel to any alternate Earth in the multiverse simply by punching a star-shaped hole in the fabric of reality, and Wanda is hellbent on stealing that power for her own (and very personal) ends. As the title suggests, the story wildly hopscotches across several universes; however, many hours of TV time are required to fully appreciate the movie, which was directed by Sam Raimi (Spider-Man trilogy) and written by Lokicreator Michael Waldron. To that end, TV Guide is breaking down how the film ties into the House of Ideas' many small-screen adventures.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse Madness essentially functions as a sequel to 2021's WandaVision, which was Marvel's first Disney+ show. In the nine-episode sitcom pastiche, a grieving Wanda (accidentally?) casts a hex on a small New Jersey town, creating a reality in which everyone behaves like they're on a classic TV comedy and her dearly departed lover Vision (Bettany) is not only alive but also helping her raise their superpowered twin boys. Unfortunately, this fantasy doesn't last and she's forced to say goodbye to her family once again when she lifts the spell and frees the citizens of Westview. While she expresses some remorse for what she did, she ends the series with a dark new mission: Reuniting with her kids in the multiverse.
This dangling thread is Wanda's motivation in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Using the Darkhold, an evil and corrupting spellbook, Wanda discovers that she has kids in every universe except for this one; she believes America's powers are the key to finding her children, and she doesn't care if she has to kill America or the other Wanda Maximoffs in the multiverse to do it. Wanda's arc is very similar to her WandaVision one because here's another instance where grief drives her to do something evil, she eventually sees the error of her ways after a big battle, and makes a sacrifice.
In Multiverse of Madness, Strange and America accidentally travel through multiple universes, visitings versions of Earth where food is free, or everyone is paint, or everything ended because two realities crashed into each other. This unlikely duo wouldn't be able to rack up multiversal frequent flier miles, however, if it weren't for Loki.
In the timey-wimey six-episode series — which has been renewed for a second season last summer — the Time Variance Authority recruits an Avengers-era version of Tom Hiddleston's eponymous God of Mischief to track down Sylvie (Sophia di Martino), a rogue Loki variant from another reality who threatens the Sacred Timeline. Loki actually ends up teaming up with Sylvie because they discover the Sacred Timeline is the result of the TVA destroying other realities and isn't a naturally occurring thing; it was created by the enigmatic He Who Remains (Jonathan Majors) as a way to prevent multiversal war between his alternate selves. Sylvie kills He Who Remains in the finale, thus the Sacred Timeline splinters and births the multiverse. Before this, it was almost impossible to visit another timeline because the TVA wouldn't allow it, but the multiverse is now free to blossom in all its glory. (The events of Loki also explain how Tom Holland's Peter Parker was able to meet Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield's iterations of the web-slinger in Spider-Man: No Way Home.)
While on the run from Wanda, Strange and America wind up on Earth-838, where the Illuminati, a secret organization of heroes, arrests Strange for his crimes against the multiverse. The Illuminati consists of several familiar faces from across Marvel's history on the big and small screen. One of those characters is Captain Carter (Hayley Atwell), a.k.a. Peggy Carter, who is the first Avenger in this universe.
Those who watched Marvel's animated anthology series What If…?, which criss-crossed the multiverse, probably weren't thrown by Captain Carter's appearance. The show's first episode explores an alternate timeline where Peggy Carter takes the super soldier serum instead of Steve Rogers and becomes Captain Carter; in other words, there's no Captain America. That being said, it's important to note that the version of Captain Carter we encounter in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness likely isn't the same one as What If…?, because there's likely multiple Captain Carters out there.
Now this is one TV connection that nobody was expecting…
In addition to Captain Carter, the Illuminati also includes: Mordo (Doctor Strange's Chiwetel Ejiofor); Captain Marvel Maria Rambeau (Captain Marvel's Lashana Lynch); Professor Charles Xavier (X-Men's Patrick Stewart, in the iconic floating yellow chair from X-Men: The Animated Series); Reed Richards (John Krasinski making his MCU debut as the Fantastic Four leader); and Black Bolt, played by…Anson Mount.
That last one is particularly shocking because Mount reprises the role from 2017's forgotten and critically maligned Inhumans. Originally conceived as a two part movie before becoming a one-and-done ABC drama, the series centers on an alien-created race of superhumans led by Black Bolt and the rest of the Royal Family, who escape to Hawaii after a military coup. Black Bolt is mostly mute because his voice is so powerful that it's deadly. The series also starred Iwan Rheon, Serinda Swan, and Ken Leung.
Mount's cameo in Multiverse of Madness is yet another instance where the MCU has honored casting from the pre-Disney+ Marvel series. While shows like S.H.I.E.L.D., Inhumans, and Netflix's Defenders series were conceived as canonical to MCU, that has never been explicitly confirmed and their relationship to the MCU could be described as tenuous at best because they were produced by Marvel TV, which was a separate division from MCU overlord Kevin Feige's Marvel Studios until it was shuttered in 2019. This has started to change, though. Agent Carter's James D'Arcy cameoed in Endgame. Then in 2021, Daredevil's Charlie Cox and Vincent D'Onofrio reprised the roles of Matt Murdock and Kingpin in Spider-Man: No Way Home and Disney+'s Hawkeye, respectively. One can hope this is a sign of more connectivity to come.
Either way, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness confirms what Marvel producers have been saying for several years now: The Disney+ shows are integral to the future of the MCU and you'll have to keep up with them to understand everything.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is now in theaters.