It was already challenging enough to keep up with the 27 films and half-dozen Disney+ TV shows in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But now, in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” out Friday, you also have to keep track of multiple versions of Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), also known as the Scarlet Witch. And who knows who else — it is the multiverse, after all, so there are multiple versions of, well, everyone.
The trailers for “Multiverse of Madness” have made it out to be a crossover event that’s maybe not “Avengers: Endgame”-level, but certainly close. Eagle-eyed fans will have spotted connections to “WandaVision,” “Loki” and even zombie versions of a few characters, apparently from Episode 5 of the lesser-known Disney+ animated series “What If … ?,” as well as the M.C.U. debut of Patrick Stewart’s Professor X, the founder of the X-Men.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with more than three days’ worth of M.C.U. content, and there is, of course, the bare minimum option of watching the first “Doctor Strange” film and calling it a day. But those who didn’t watch “WandaVision” may be left going “Westview what?” after the new movie.
Here’s a guide to the five films and series you might want to brush up on before heading to the theater.
‘Doctor Strange’ (2016)
‘Avengers: Infinity War’ (2018)
In Dr. Strange’s “Avengers” debut, he is kidnapped by Ebony Maw, who is after the Time Stone. Tony Stark and Peter Parker eventually rescue him, and it becomes evident how much more powerful he has become since “Doctor Strange,” as he holds his own against Thanos, the Eternal-Deviant warlord, despite possessing only a single Infinity Stone compared with Thanos’s four. Strange also breaks the rules and looks forward in time to see all the possible scenarios in which the Avengers win.
When we last saw Wanda, in the finale’s post-credits scene, she’d just lost the versions of Vision and her twin sons she’d magically created, which led her to embrace her identity as the Scarlet Witch and begin exploring the Darkhold, a book of spells that could allow her to reunite with her now-nonexistent family.
In “Multiverse of Madness,” a distraught Wanda is still struggling to process the original Vision’s death in “Avengers: Infinity War,” as well as her attempt to escape it in the fantasy she created in “WandaVision.” In one of the trailers, she is greeted by her sons in their Westview home, though Wanda’s voice-over identifies the apparently joyful reunion only as a recurring dream.
‘What If … ?’ (2021)
While it initially seemed, from his trailer appearance, as though the Strange Supreme variant would be a main antagonist of “Multiverse of Madness,” Cumberbatch said in a recent interview that the character was not, in fact, Strange Supreme but an even more menacing version: Sinister Strange.
Still there are other “What If … ?” variants who seem to appear in “Multiverse of Madness,” including a live-action version of Captain Carter (voiced by Hayley Atwell in “What If … ?”), a Peggy Carter variant who received the super-soldier serum instead of Steve Rogers and appeared in a trailer fighting a variant of the Scarlet Witch. Also returning: the terrifying Zombie Wanda and Zombie Dr. Strange from Episode 5 (“What If … Zombies?!”), which probably explains why “Multiverse of Madness” is being billed as the M.C.U.’s first horror film. Episodes 8 and 9 also show Ultron discovering multiple realities and seeking to conquer them.
‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ (2021)
Bonus: ‘Loki’ (2021)
Will we see the hopelessly bureaucratic Time Variance Authority, an organization that polices time travel to prevent branching timelines, show up to bust some time travelers in “Multiverse of Madness”? The stand-alone “Loki” series, which takes place in an alternate M.C.U. timeline, also explains the idea of variants from different timelines (among them: Richard E. Grant’s Classic Loki and Alligator Loki).