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Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness Is Starting To Make Us Worried

Following the success of "Spider-Man: No Way Home," the Marvel Cinematic Universe will be kicking off its 2022 slate of feature films with another movie that promises to continue the franchise's multiverse plotlines: "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness." The upcoming film promises to directly deal with the consequences of Peter Parker (Tom Holland) and Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) accidentally inviting the multiverse to the world of the MCU, bring Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) back into the fold after the events of "WandaVision," and expand on the MCU's multiverse that was first directly introduced in "Loki." To say expectations are high for the sequel to 2016's "Doctor Strange" is quite an understatement. Cumberbatch dutifully played supporting roles as the reality-protecting Strange in four MCU movies before getting his second solo film six years later, and director Sam Raimi's return to superhero movies is sure to make even an MCU skeptic curious about the potential for the director's horror-inspired style to influence the film. 

A movie that features Doctor Strange traveling across the unlimited multiverse must have unlimited potential. In theory, audiences can encounter anyone and anything in the multiverse. That's where the film's production grows worrying. Rumors of reshoots reportedly inspired by the cameo-driven success of the last "Spider-Man" movie and the film's official trailers, which start to tease just exactly who Strange might encounter, bring a real possibility that the new movie will re-introduce more actors and characters from past Marvel film franchises. In doing so, the studio would run the serious risk of misreading the moment and packing their latest movie full of hollow fan service that comes off as corny, rather than well-considered.  "No Way Home" director Jon Watts pulled it off, but unless Marvel is careful, they might run into some multiverse problems of their own.

If the rumors are true, we may be getting more Marvel crossovers in Doctor Strange 2

In a December 2021 edition of The Hollywood Reporter's Heat Vision newsletter, it was reported that the reshoots "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" underwent were allegedly in part a response to the positive reception of other recent MCU offerings. "It seems like Marvel was jazzed by the many actors crossing paths with each other in No Way Home and the playfulness of having alternate versions of characters appear onscreen in Loki," Heat Vision reports. "So they decided to have 'more fun with the multiverse ...'"

The best example we've seen of this so far with "Doctor Strange 2" is Patrick Stewart's inclusion in a still-undisclosed role in the movie's Super Bowl trailer. Stewart, known to superhero fans as Professor Charles Xavier in 20th Century Studio's "X-Men" movies, is not confirmed to be playing that specific character, but considering the multiverse of it all, he could be playing any number of Charles Xavier variants. Further rumors suggest cameos upon cameos. There have been rumblings that Tom Cruise may appear as an alternate version of Tony Stark, or that Marvel reached out to Ben Affleck about reprising his role as Matt Murdock from 20th Century Studios' 2003 "Daredevil" film (via Twitter). 

If rumors like these turn out to be true, including these characters has to serve as a vehicle for improving Stephen Strange and Wanda Maximoff's journey in the new movie — not just for fans to squeal because they recognize an actor in a surprising appearance. Sure, "Spider-Man: No Way Home" brought back actors who audiences never thought would reprise their past Marvel roles again, but while Willem Dafoe and Alfred Molina helped sell tickets, their presence alone isn't what made the movie's story effective.

Spider-Man: No Way Home used cameos to tell a surprisingly strong Spider-Man story

If Marvel Studios is taking cues from "Spider-Man: No Way Home," it needs to understand what the movie actually accomplished in its exploration of characters from the various Spider-Man universes. At Peter Parker's (Tom Holland) lowest moment, he meets the only two people who can understand him — other versions of himself. Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield's Peter Parkers help the MCU's Spidey learn that life as a superhero comes at tremendous risk to his loved ones. Director Jon Watts brings back familiar faces but they ultimately come together to tell a story that feels true to Spider-Man's character, not merely as a nod to the Marvel back catalog. The movie humbles the MCU's Peter Parker and repositions him as a young man with no support structure trying to make his way in New York City. It takes him to a place where his personal failures have made him better understand the burden of his powers, rather than merely being a high schooler hand-picked by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) to lead the charge into the future.

It's one thing when Marvel Studios and Sony work together to both give fan-favorite "Spider-Man" actors another turn as Peter Parker, while also using those characters in a way that uncovers new depths to their story. It's another thing entirely to keep bringing back actors who play Marvel characters outside the MCU into new movies just because it's possible and popular.

Like their characters, Marvel should tread carefully with the multiverse

Marvel Studios has opened the multiverse. There is no going back, and that's fine — plenty of fans are excited to see what the MCU can do with the concept in the "Doctor Strange" sequel and beyond. However, there needs to be strong character and narrative reasons for any multiverse shenanigans Stephen Strange and Wanda Maximoff get up to in the new movie. Otherwise, the film runs the risk of feeling like a cloying montage of Marvel characters. 

If Kevin Feige, Sam Raimi, and screenwriter Michael Waldron have written a version of Professor X or a Tom Cruise-Iron Man and are confident that including those characters will benefit the story, so be it. Strange and Wanda meeting an alternate version of Tony could work well, given the magnitude of their Tony's sacrifice in "Avengers: Endgame." But if the moment is whiffed on cheap fan service, it will look all the worse for botching the potential. Similarly, the filmmakers would be wise to not use Patrick Stewart's appearance to jump-start the MCU's "X-Men." Look no further than "Avengers: Age of Ultron" for an example of what happens when movies are too beholden to setting up other movies.

If the reshoot rumors are true and "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" arrives with a bevy of high profile, shoe-horned in cameos that add little to the story, it will be hard for the studio to shake the perception that they hastily overreacted to what worked in "Spider-Man: No Way Home" and "Loki" without considering why it worked in the first place. And that would not bode well for the MCU at large as it plunges into the future.