This post contains major spoilers for WandaVision, Loki, and What If…?.
Mere weeks after it debuted in theaters, the latest Marvel Cinematic Universe entry Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness hit Disney+ on June 22. Great news for fans of superheroes, but there’s always a catch! Multiverse of Madness is the 28th feature film in the franchise, and that’s not counting numerous one-shots and television specials. So while the movie is explicitly a sequel to 2016’s Doctor Strange, which traced Dr. Stephen Strange’s journey from arrogant surgeon to Master of the Mystic Arts, it has more in common with several other MCU properties, especially the TV series WandaVision, Loki, and What If…?.
Fortunately, you don’t need to travel to Karmar-Taj and secure a Time Stone to be ready to watch Multiverse of Madness on day one. With this brief refresher, you’ll be caught up on the madness that brought Doctor Strange back to the MCU.
So important was WandaVision to Multiverse of Madness that the movie was originally intended to hit theaters just weeks after the finale. While production schedules forced things to rearrange, the show still has clear connections to the film. Although we all saw Vision die in Avengers: Endgame, WandaVision begins with not only the synthezoid alive and married to Wanda Maximoff, but the couple appears to be living in a black and white sitcom. Over several episodes, we come to learn that grief over Vision’s death has driven Wanda to use her magic on citizens of the town of Westview. In every episode, Wanda and Vision raise their twin sons Tommy and Billy in a new scenario, borrowing the visual style of shows such as Malcolm in the Middle and Modern Family.
Thanks to the intervention of Monica Rambeau, and SHIELD’s sister organization SWORD, Wanda not only frees the people of Westview but also wards off evil witch Agatha Harkness, who manipulated Wanda’s grief to her own ends. But that ending may not be as happy as it seems. To vanquish Agatha, Wanda must sacrifice all that she wanted, including the revived Vision and her children. In the process, she consumes Agatha’s dark magic, becoming the imperious Scarlet Witch. The series ends with Westview freed and Agatha seemingly destroyed, but with Wanda retreating to the mystical Mount Wundagore, where she uses her Scarlet Witch form to study a book of evil called the Darkhold.
Both Multiverse of Madness and Loki share a head writer in Michael Waldron, but Marvel resisted the temptation to force a connection between the two properties. Even if Thor’s half-brother Loki makes no appearance in Multiverse of Madness, the show does connect to the movie by introducing multiverses. As Doctor Strange’s mentor the Ancient One explained in Avengers: Endgame, changing the past or future sets a new reality branching off from the other.
Thanks to an organization called the Time Variance Authority (TVA), these excess branches get pruned and all alternate realities get erased. But when the TVA comes to prune a version of Loki who escapes during the Avengers’ “time heist” in Endgame, he instead goes on the run, teaming with another version of himself called Sylvie. The secrets about the TVA revealed by Loki and Sylvie will certainly have greater importance on the MCU as we get deeper into Phase Four. But for Multiverse of Madness, it matters that Loki and Sylvie’s disruption of the TVA allows for the multiverse to bloom at a maddening rate.
We get our first good look at those multiverses in the animated anthology series What If…? In each episode, an interdimensional being called the Watcher tasked to only observe and never interfere shows viewers how small decisions create new realities. For example, in one episode, the Ravagers kidnap T’Challa from Wakanda instead of Peter Quill from Missouri, creating a new set of Guardians of the Galaxy, which include the reformed Mad Titan Thanos. In another, the super-soldier serum gets applied to Agent Peggy Carter instead of soldier Steve Rogers, resulting in the creation of Captain Carter.
Save for the last two entries, each episode of What If…? tells a stand-alone story, with no connection to a larger narrative. But Multiverse of Madness does owe a debt to episode four, “What If… Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?” In this reality, the car crash that destroys Strange’s hands instead kills Dr. Christine Palmer, the love of his life. The loss drives Strange to Kamar-Taj, where he becomes the Master of the Mystic Arts. But when the Ancient One’s teachings cannot bring back Christine, Strange goes to the Dark Dimension, searching out increasingly destructive power. The episode ends with evil Strange having consumed everything in his universe, alone in the darkness.
While these recaps will prepare you for the big plot points in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, they are by no means exhaustive. To be ready for everything, even little easter eggs, you might consider revisiting the original Doctor Strange and the last two Avengers movies, Infinity War and Endgame. Revisiting Captain Marvel and even the lesser-known television miniseries Inhumans is not essential to enjoy the movie but doing so will ensure that a few references land. That’s also true of some non-MCU properties, which get a little bit of attention as the heroes cross the multiverse. In particular, the X-Men movies starring Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart get a nod, as does the 1990s X-Men: The Animated Series.