The Fantastic Four have finally arrived in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Type of. It happens in a variant universe where the hero population suddenly decreases drastically Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. John Krasinski’s appearance as Reed Richards was one of the film’s more pleasant surprises, and the first real on-screen sign that Marvel’s First Family is actually headed for the MCU.
And yet Multiverse of Madness is still one Doctor Strange film, and director Sam Raimi draws attention to this in large and small ways. This includes some subtle dialogue about The Fantastic Four, not as a harbinger of things to come, but as a reflection of Strange’s personality. First off, he’s a music lover with an encyclopedic knowledge of pop hits. It’s a sign of his casual arrogance at first Doctor Strange when he holds court in his operating room. The multiverse of madness uses it as a quiet joke to draw attention back to the film’s hero from Mister Fantastic’s arrival.
Strange is a genius, which accounts for both his surgical brilliance and his rapid mastery of the mystical arts. He’s not above bragging about it, either, as he did in the opening scenes of Doctor Strange. His assistant plays music for him while he performs delicate brain surgery, presumably to relieve stress. They made a game where he tries to outrun Strange with every song choice, only for Strange to name the song, the composer, and the year it was released. He proves it by citing the credits of an obscure 1977 hit by Chuck Mangione, and of course he’s characteristically arrogant about it.
The film soon humiliates him and he eventually matures into Sorcerer Supreme. But his arrogance never left him, nor did his encyclopedic knowledge of pop music. When the Illuminati, including Mister Fantastic, are introduced Multiverse of Madness, the script knows exactly what to do. Of course, the team doesn’t exist in the MCU yet, so Strange has no previous connection to superheroes with the name.
So he turns to what he knows, in this case a ’60s soul band. The Fantastic Four were a Detroit-based quartet formed in 1965. They had just one hit single – “The Whole World Is a Stage,” which reached #6 on the Billboard R&B music chart in 1967 – before they quit in 1970. They’re not particularly well known outside of music circles now, but Strange goes straight for them whenever the name Reed Richards is mentioned, prompting a bit of laughter before the scene moves into more attention-grabbing territory.
That makes the gag easy to miss, but given the timing, it speaks to more than just Strange’s love of music trivia. The Fantastic Four has long been considered the crowning moment of Phase Four, with Krasinski often cited as a strong casting choice for Reed Richards. His appearance here is just one variant. And as a member of the Illuminati, his ultimate goal is to be fed into the buzz saw Wanda Maximoff. Strange – his self-esteem as high as ever – uses the musical innuendo to downplay the Illuminati’s complacency in a bid to get them to see the magnitude of the threat before it’s too late.
It also fits in as a reference to the Fantastic Four’s comic book debut in the 1960s, and is part of a larger ongoing joke in the MCU. Tony Stark called the Avengers “a super secret boy band”. iron man 2while Peter Parkers of Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield asked if they were a band Spider-Man: No Way Home. Bruce Banner even compared them to the Beatles when he heard they were “breaking up”. Avengers: Infinity War. In the case of Strange, the concept is more personal, but the MCU still knows a good reference when it sees one. The Fantastic Four riff has the benefit of giving Strange his moment in a movie with his name on the cover while also tailoring Reed’s look to the needs of the moment.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is currently in theaters.
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