Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness continued a storytelling technique that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been utilizing for over a decade. Just as the opening scene of Hawkeye added a new layer to 2012's The Avengers or how the time heist in Avengers: Endgame reshaped both Thor: The Dark World and Guardians of the Galaxy, Benedict Cumberbatch's second solo film is filled with lines of dialogue that amend preceding MCU installments.
Warning - The rest of this article contains spoilers from Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
The same way that Loki introduced fans to key vocabulary words like "Variant" and "Sacred Timeline," Doctor Strange 2 added "incursion" and "dreamwalking" into the MCU's growing lexicon. The latter involves a character taking control of their Variant body from another universe, puppeteering them to their liking. As evident by the name, this is achieved through dreams, which are revealed to be glimpses into other universes.
Strange himself gets a peak at this in Multiverse of Madness's opening scene. What the MCU's Strange thinks is just a dream is actually another universe where Defender Strange aids America Chavez in her pursuit of the Book of Vishanti. This technique is repeated in Wanda Maximoff's reintroduction, as Elizabeth Olsen's fan-favorite character is rudely awakened from a peek into a world where her children are real.
Those examples aside, this is far from the first time Marvel Studios has had their characters dream. In fact, there's a bleak recurring nightmare that the MCU's former anchor used to have, which fans now know is actually the fate of another universe.
Iron Man's Fears Come True
"Honey, I can't sleep."
The events of The Avengers haunted Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark from Iron Man 3 all the way up to Avengers: Endgame, a canonical decade within the MCU. Stark had nightmares about the closing Battle of New York moments, visions of his slain mighty teammates, and recollections of Thanos living rent-free in his head "for six years."
While those dreams were thought to be bleak potential futures of Earth-616, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness actually confirms those are the dark fates of other universes.
Iron Man 3's Battle of New York Nightmare
The early moments of 2013's Iron Man 3 bring viewers back to the Battle of New York but through the lens of a hero struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder. An autograph-seeking fan questions how Tony "got out of the wormhole," triggering a dark memory that's carried throughout the rest of the film.
This leads Tony to burying himself in his work, as his inability to get good sleep leads him to turn to work as a distraction. Once Gwenyth Paltrow's Pepper Potts convinces him to join her in bed once again, Tony experiences a nightmare so severe that he subconsciously calls for an automated Iron Man suit for help.
Fans only see flashes from the Battle of New York in Tony's first restless tosses, but the subsequent turns are unaccompanied by what the hero is seeing. These fleeting moments are visions from a world where the Battle of New York doesn't go swimmingly. Iron Man 3 omits what that looks like, but Stark's next appearance expands upon a similar alternate reality.
Age of Ultron's Wanda-Vision
In her first stint as an antagonist, Wanda Maximoff spends the majority of Avengers: Age of Ultron sending horrifying visions into each of the Earth's Mightiest Heroes. This all kicks off with Tony Stark, as the genius billionaire playboy philanthropist has his recurring nightmare triggered by the Scarlet Witch's hex magic.
This vision brings Tony to a battlefield in space, scattered with the bodies of his defeated teammates. Lying next to his broken shield is Captain America, who remarks that Tony "could have saved us" in his final breaths. Above his head fly numerous Leviathans, making a beeline for Earth through a massive wormhole.
Thanos doesn't reappear until Age of Ultron's post-credits scene, but this invasion likely comes from a universe where the Mad Titan himself leads the charge onto Earth following Loki's failure. Earth-616 was only subject to Thanos's terror once he evolved into his crusader mindset. Before that, the Infinity Gauntlet's wielder was a bloodthirsty conqueror, carrying out genocides from planet to planet.
This nightmare is a glimpse into a world where Thanos was less patient and one where Earth was higher on his list of targeted planets. Rather than waiting six years before testing the waters again, this universe saw Thanos send another army shortly after the Battle of New York. While he'd be able to make it out of this invasion with the Mind and Time Stones, Thanos would likely pillage Earth's inhabitants the same way he decimated Gamora's home world of Zen-Whoberi.
Perhaps most intriguing is what this means for this universe's Infinity War. Thanos's ultimate goal was still to wield all of the stones, meaning Asgard and Vormir would be in his sights next. With Earth's Mightiest Heroes out for the count, this would leave the Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain Marvel, and Loki left to defend the cosmos.
Infinity War's Parental Premotion
Not every Tony Stark dream is a nightmare.
In his first scene in Avengers: Infinity War, Tony remarks to Pepper that he dreamt of the two having a kid, named "after [Pepper's] eccentric uncle." This dream ultimately comes to fruition in Avengers: Endgame, as a young Morgan Stark is introduced to the MCU.
While the Infinity War dream prompted Tony to pursue parenthood, it in and of itself was a glimpse into another universe where he was already a father. In that universe, Tony's child is a boy.
"I had a dream about it! It was so real!"
Tony Stark is not known to have children in the comics, but one run does look at an alternate future where the man in a can has a son. Invincible Iron Man #500 presents a vision of Tony and son Howard Stark III sacrificing themselves together to bring an end to the Mandarin's rule over the Earth. If the MCU alternate universe with Tony's son follows the page, perhaps the Starks snapped their fingers together to defeat Thanos.
The concept of dreams being gateways extends beyond Iron Man. Did Tom Holland's Peter Parker see the events of Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy and the Andrew Garfield-led Amazing Spider-Man films in his dreams? When Steve Rogers was on the ice, did he binge-watch 70 years of alternate Captain America stories? Is Aaron Taylor-Johnson's Pietro Maximoff a fan of "Sweet Dreams" by Eurythmics?
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is in theaters now.
MCU Writer, Editor, Podcaster