You Don't Really Need To See WandaVision Before Doctor Strange 2, But Is That A Good Thing?

Although Sam Raimi's "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" continues directly from the events of the Disney+ series "WandaVision," the feature film is carefully constructed to work as an independent story — sort of. 

Even as the Marvel Cinematic Universe becomes increasingly complex, with each movie being intertextually bound to those that came before (and those it is setting up), there are efforts made to ensure that each title works as a standalone entry. Still, with the "Doctor Strange" sequel being the 28th entry in the film franchise (not to mention the six preceding Disney+ series) there's a lot of existing history in this universe for the stories to deal with. No matter how much exposition is offered to help the audience keep up, the experience is dependent on one's knowledge of not just the Marvel Comics, but the MCU itself. Those who are all-in will just simply get more out of the movie.

"Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" is ostensibly a sequel to 2016's "Doctor Strange" — but let's be honest, it's really a sequel to everything in the MCU that culminated with "Avengers: Endgame." Within the first act, a character references The Blip and Thanos. What's surprising though, is how much this MCU movie is set up by "WandaVision," despite that being a Disney+ series rather than an MCU film. 

From this point forward, there are massive SPOILERS for "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness." Proceed with caution.

Does WandaVision even matter?

The MCU's willingness to make "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" work as its own story without viewers having seen "WandaVision" or even "Spider-Man: No Way Home" is, in a way, commendable; however, some real narrative issues arise as a result of this, especially regarding character development. This also obviously raises the question: if you don't need to have seen "WandaVision" to enjoy its conclusion in "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness," does the Disney+ show even matter? What about the rest of the Disney+ Marvel offerings — will they have any real consequence on the movie universe?

Putting aside the intertextual game of connecting various MCU plot threads and character appearances, "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" does actually present a real narrative problem. Even though you don't need to have seen "WandaVision" to understand and appreciate the MCU movie, the movie's story is fundamentally the conclusion to the Disney+ show. In "WandaVision," Wanda gives birth to two twin boys; she essentially creates a new reality where she can live the suburban, nuclear family dream with her lover — who was killed by Thanos — Vision (hence the show's name). Tragically, none of it is "real," and the show ends with her righting the reality of Westview; however, the "WandaVision" post-credits scene shows her learning from a book called the Darkhold, and discovering her boys do exist — somewhere. 

"Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" is constructed in such a way that you can understand the plot without any of this background information; however, the story is obviously richer for those who have seen "WandaVision." Everything that's happened to Wanda Maximoff since her last movie appearance — becoming the Scarlet Witch, getting her hands on the Darkhold, discovering her two boys — happens in "WandaVision." In order to compensate for that, "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" makes her motivation overt and simple; unfortunately, it does so at the cost of her character arc. The Scarlet Witch is a pure villain in this movie, committing unimaginably cruel and selfish acts that contradict not only her growth in the "Avengers" movies, but also her sacrifice at the end of "WandaVision." The series ended with her giving up what she so desperately wanted because she knew it was the right thing to do; here, she's doing the complete opposite with no explanation given. She's become a completely different character.

The Marvel TV shows have limited impact on the greater MCU

A lot had to happen offscreen for Wanda to get to the point where she not only has mastered the Darkhold, but is ethically so corrupt that she would send demons after a defenseless teenage girl with the intent of murdering her for her powers — let alone kill her former ally Stephen Strange, and heroes from other universes. And Wanda is steadfast in her plan — at no point does she seem hesitant to deliver the fatal blow or question if what's she's doing is right. While it was fun to see figures like "Captain Carter" — who was actually set up by "What If..." — getting to fight, Scarlet Witch tore through them pretty easily. Sure, the multiverse means viewers get to see the heroes die horribly without it affecting the MCU's future (although I'm not super sure why that's something people would WANT to see), and it's nice to see Scarlet Witch really embracing her powers; however, it doesn't quite feel earned, partially because of how "WandaVision" ends. This violence is visceral and up-close and horrific. Arguably, this movie completely undoes the TV show.

This creates a contradiction within the MCU: previously, having seen the entirety of Marvel Studios' offerings meant a better viewing experience, since there was more reward to be had by recognizing Easter eggs, cameos, and potential set-ups. In the case of "WandaVision," however, having seen it actually makes "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" feel out of sync. Yes, it provides context for what the Darkhold is and why Wanda suddenly wants children so bad, but the character ends in such a different place from where she is at the start of this movie that it feels abrupt and unsettling. Why spend so much time building up a redeemed character only to have her step into a purely antagonistic role in the franchise?

The way that Wanda's story is handled in "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" heavily implies that the TV shows won't have much of an impact on the movie world. Clearly, the emphasis is still on the MCU's main storylines, which may be supplemented by the TV shows — but not in the ways that count. It's a shame that Wanda experienced so much personal growth during her time in Westview, only to devolve into a corrupt, completely irredeemable monster in "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness." Hopefully, the character journeys in the other Disney+ shows like "Loki" and "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier" will have more relevance in the MCU.