There was so very much to digest from Marvel Studios' presentation at San Diego Comic-Con this year. Two years of films make up the next phase of the MCU and one of them is Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Of all the new projects announced last weekend, this is by far the one that I find the most interesting. For a number of reasons, from both a storytelling and business perspective, I think this is the most important movie of Phase 4.
First and foremost, Multiverse of Madness is already being called the first horror movie of the MCU. This on its own is exciting. While several different Marvel movies have previously fallen into specific genres of action, heist and space opera, this will be the first time that Marvel has really tried to get under our skin with some of the more terrifying elements in comic book history. While one figures this will be a PG-13 horror movie, and thus maybe not as scary as it could be, it's a step in the right direction.
This is because Blade will be right around the corner. The biggest announcement of the Hall H panel was that Blade will be joining the MCU, and it seems quite clear that Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is something of a test balloon. Blade has the potential to be a "real" horror movie if Marvel wants to go there, and if Strange does well, we could see an entire branch of the MCU focus on supernatural horror.
The next reason that the Doctor Strange sequel means so much to the future of the MCU is that big "multiverse" word in the middle of the title. While fans were teased with the multiverse idea in the recent Spider-Man: Far From Home, that appears to have been a Mysterio dodge, and yet, it looks like the real thing is going to be introduced in the new film.
The fact that Elizabeth Olsen will be joining the movie as well is a big signifier that something serious is going down here. In Marvel Comics, Scarlet Witch is technically one of the most powerful people in the universe. Her powers give her the ability to alter reality itself. The MCU has yet to dig too deeply into this idea, but the combination of the multiverse and Scarlet Witch would seem to indicate something along those lines happening here.
Obviously, the multiverse opens up a literally infinite number of doors for the MCU. While I wouldn't expect Marvel's films to lean too heavily on the multiverse, there are certainly some creative ways that it could be used, not the least of which could include introducing a world where mutants exist, and thus using that to bring in the MCU X-Men.
However, while these ideas are certainly interesting concepts from a story perspective, there's one other major reason that Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness feels important and it has nothing to do with canonical story lines and everything to do with Disney's business.
We were specifically told during the presentation that the events of the Disney+ series WandaVision will lead directly to the events of Multiverse of Madness. This means that if you want to have a complete understanding of the MCU going forward, you're going to need Disney+.
The fact that half of Marvel's Phase 4 will take place on the small screen is a huge deal just to begin with. We've known since the first Disney+ shows were confirmed that they were going to tie into the MCU films, but this is our first indication of just how closely these things will be connected.
Not all of the series look like they're going to be all that important to the main story line. What If...? is designed specifically to tell unrelated stories and Loki will take place within an entirely different timeline.
However, WandaVision is something else entirely. The connection between these two projects could take a variety of different forms. Multiverse of Madness could be a direct follow up to WandaVision. Perhaps the series will end on a cliffhanger that the movie will resolve. It could also simply be that, if we are going to see a more powerful Scarlet Witch in the movie, we could see the beginning of that transformation in the series.
Either way, Elizabeth Olsen's character will likely be in a very different place at the start of the new Doctor Strange movie compared to where she was when Avengers: Endgame ended. Will fans be willing to subscribe to Disney+ just to be sure they don't miss something? And what about those people who love WandaVision? If you get hooked on the Disney+ show, will you run out to the theater to catch a Doctor Strange movie in order to see what happens next?
And everything gets even crazier when you consider that some of these Disney+ shows could end up being multiple seasons. If WandaVision gets a second season, but Multiverse of Madness is a bridge between them, the movie becomes important even if you only care about the show.
Whatever the connection between the series and movie is, the fact that there is a connection at all is important for both the success of the series and the film. Disney+ is going to see pretty significant initial interest. It's going to be a player in the streaming game from day one. Having said that, the subscription service business is playing a long game. Netflix has about 150 million subscribers right now, a number that has grown exponentially since 2011, but the company's stock price still rises and falls based on how many new subscribers it gets on a quarterly basis.
When WandaVision debuts in 2021, Disney+ will have been active for about a year and a half or less. Even Disney has admitted the service will initially be a money loser, which means it will need subscribers, that's why we're getting so many MCU-connected series. If you're a fan of the MCU who goes and sees every movie, Disney wants you to subscribe to Disney+ so that you can get all the different series.
If this push to get MCU fans works, then everybody who loves Marvel Studios pays their monthly fee and buys tickets to the movies, Disney gets the money and the fans get the stories. Everybody wins.
If, however, Disney can't convince people to shell out for Disney+, then fewer people see WandaVision. If Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness is going to expect you to have seen the series then does the movie's box office suffer if people haven't? Will people skip the movie if they feel they're going to go in at a handicap if they haven't seen the show?
The trick of the MCU is that you don't actually need to see all the movies for the larger story to make sense; the connections are usually much less important than each individual story. Still, if people feel like they're missing something without Disney+, that could make them subscribe, but it could also make them decide to skip movies if they feel like they're missing something if they don't see the shows.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness opens in theaters on May 7, 2021. Stay tuned to CinemaBlend for more updates.