[This article contains major spoilers for the plot of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.]
The Disney+ Marvel Cinematic Universe series WandaVision is about Wanda Maximoff’s grief at losing her family. Despairing and alone, Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) uses her godlike powers in a gathering of eldritch denial which inflicts great harm on large numbers of people. Over the course of the series, she recognizes the harm she’s causing, and completes her emotional arc with remorse and acceptance.
The MCU film Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness takes place after WandaVision. It is about Wanda Maximoff’s grief at losing her family. Despairing, alone, Wanda uses her godlike powers in an orgy of eldritch denial which inflicts great harm on large numbers of people. Over the course of the series, she recognizes the harm she’s causing and completes her emotional arc with remorse and acceptance.
You may notice a certain repetition there.
The MCU has transformed cinema, and television too, by using comic-book continuity as a springboard to create an innovative shared world that connects disparate characters and properties into a single endless narrative. Seriality has long been a staple of television soap opera, and to a lesser extent of (multiple) film trilogies like Star Wars. But the MCU expanded the concept as never before, bringing in dozens of movies and a growing number of tv shows, some of which loosely connect, and some of which directly feed into one another.
When the interconnection works, it can be a breathtaking logistical achievement—as in Spider-Man: No Way Home which cleverly built on recent MCU movies while simultaneously pulling in disparate Spider-Man films and characters from earlier decades, retroactively creating its own prequels.
Sometimes, though, it works less well. MCU creators have been working in the serialized format for 15 years or so now. But bringing in TV shows is relatively new, and there seems to be some hesitation to fully commit. The forces that be at the MCU don’t quite seem confident that the TV watchers have seen the movies, or vice versa. Rather than following character arcs from one medium to the other, they often repeat the beats from the big screen on the small, and vice versa.
You can see this in the transition from the movie Endgame (2019) to the tv series The Falcon and The Winter Soldier (2021). At the end of Endgame, Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) dies and passes his shield on to his friend the Falcon/Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie.) It’s clear that Sam is going to be the new Captain America.
But then, in The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, Sam is back to being the Falcon, and the whole series is about him deciding to pick up the shield that we saw him decide to pick up at the end of Endgame. We already know how his arc is going to end, and the elaboration feels like superfluous wheel-spinning, rather than depth.
Again the same thing happens with WandaVision and Multiverse of Madness. Wanda is mourning her husband in the first and her children in the second; you could argue that that’s somewhat different. You could argue that we’re seeing that grief is a cycle rather than a line.
But those distinctions and nuances aren’t really elaborated on in the story itself. Instead, you see Wanda just replay the emotional journey in the second that she traveled in the first without any discussion of or recognition of the fact that she’s doing the same thing again. It’s like the creators have selective amnesia, or think their viewers do.
Comics tell the same story over and over again too; Wanda has gone evil who knows how many times over the decades. Characters get the same beats again and again; it’s hard not to repeat yourself over 40 or 50 years of stories. Usually, there’s a decade or at least a few years before you run the same narrative again., though You don’t have the story function as its own sequel because change is important as well as familiarity, and you assume readers want to experience at least slightly different stories one after the other.
The problem I think is that Marvel films are still a little leery of their own serial format. They think they have to bring viewers up to speed—or possibly they think they can get away with repetition because viewers won’t notice. And perhaps they’re right; Multiverse of Madness has passed $500 Million worldwide including a huge international box office—and international viewers are much less likely to have seen the Disney+ shows.
Still, there are a lot of people who follow Marvel products obsessively. The MCU could do a better job of telling them stories that don’t depend on them not following Marvel products obsessively.
Maybe Marvel needs to have a short “previously in the MCU” before each new film or television show. A feature like that could remind fans of important details, or help the less completist viewers get up to speed. It would also underline for creators that the story is ongoing and that certain bits of it have already been told. Wanda was already grieving and already in a vortex of violence and already remorseful. Try something slightly different. Multiverses get boring if they’re all the same thing.
More From the Wealth of Geeks
- From ‘Iron Man’ to ‘The Incredible Hulk’: Marvel’s Phase One Movies Ranked
- From ‘Ant-Man’ to ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’: Marvel’s Phase Two Movies Ranked
- From ‘Black Panther’ to ‘Captain Marvel’: Marvel’s Phase Three Movies Ranked
This post was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Image Credit: Marvel Studios.
Noah Berlatsky is a freelance writer based in Chicago. His book, Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism in the Marston/Peter Comics was published by Rutgers University Press. He thinks the Adam West Batman is the best Batman, darn it.