Photo: Courtesy of Marvel Studios
After flirting with alternate realities on screens of all sizes, from Imax to Disney+, Marvel’s latest outing has finally sent its characters plummeting through the storied multiverse. How crazy things get Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness? Well, not as crazy as the title suggests, at least as far as scale goes; the studio is clearly biding its time until Avengers 5: we now have all the fictional characters. The film only explores one and a half new worlds at best. But one of them – designated Earth-838 – is filled with the kind of buzzy cameos only possible in an alternate reality, with one in particular marking a new avenue of fan service for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
(Spoilers follow for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.)
In an entry that is sure to be met with plenty of boos and howls in theaters this weekend, Office Star John Krasinski appears without warning as Reed Richards, aka Mr. Fantastic of the Fantastic Four. Does that mean Krasinski is the MCU’s version of Richards going forward? Not quite – or at least not yet.
Richards’ appearance is as a post-credits teaser transposed mid-film alongside five slightly altered versions of familiar superheroes collectively dubbed “the Illuminati” after the Marvel Comics supergroup which is essentially Mensa but for issues. of trolley. In the comics, Stephen Strange is a member, as is fan favorite Tony Stark. But in the alternate universe where the scene takes place, it’s a lookalike of Strange’s enemy brother, Baron Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who introduces the other members one by one. There’s Hayley Atwell as a live-action version of her animated movie What if? counterpart, Captain Carter; in this reality, she, instead of Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), was injected with the Allies’ steroid super-serum. She’s seated next to Captain Marvel, a nickname that doesn’t belong here to Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) but to her best friend Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch).
A few seats further on they are joined by Blackagar Boltagon (Anson Mount) – please call him Black Bolt, lest he whisper to you to death – the king of the mutant supergroup and living on the moon, the Inhumans, who starred in their own mercifully short-lived TV series on ABC. Then the apparent leader of the Illuminati arrives: Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), reprising his role as Fox’s x-men films with an improved wheel set. Finally, Marvel’s stretchiest hero, Richards, falls from a glowing blue portal. (After Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: No Coming Homemaybe portals are Marvel’s new visual language to elicit some Pavlovian applause.)
Collectively, this fan-service-oriented lineup works both to highlight the powers needed to stop an evil version of Strange and as fodder for a dazzling display of Wanda Maximoff’s (Elizabeth Olsen) abilities as she goes without each. of these heroes in a deliciously brutal way. . But Krasinski’s cameo stands out from the rest in that he’s the only one not rooted in a pre-existing on-screen version of the character. We already know Captain Carter from What if? Imagining Rambeau as Captain Marvel is pretty easy since she was nearby when Danvers received her powers. (She’s also a fitting nod to Danvers’ predecessor in the comics: Rambeau’s daughter, Monica, played by Teyonah Parris in Wanda Vision.) Mister Boltagon looks a lot like his ABC iteration, except with a more comic book-accurate outfit, including the campy little tuning fork that adorns his mask like a hood ornament. And Stewart’s Xavier doubles as a nod to the character’s animated appearance in the 1990s with his massive blocky wheelchair and hints of the cartoon’s opening theme.
However, Krasinski’s Richards – who comes in smart attire and exudes a slight trepidation – seems to be pulled from a version of the character that until now only existed in people’s minds. There have been rumors of Krasinski playing the role for several years, mostly generated by a theoretical fan cast that has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s not the first time a superhero movie has greeted its fans online, of course. No coming home has Willem Dafoe repeating his oft-remembered line “You know, I’m a scientist myself” from Sam Raimi Spider Man. And the years 2006 X-Men: The Last Stand quotes a parody video with the line “I’m the Juggernaut, bitch!” But Krasinski’s appearance as Richards here is more than just a passing internet reference – it’s a whole nobody cast by fans in an important (if not necessarily permanent) role.
The first tweets broadcasting from Krasinski fans as Richards appeared in 2016shortly after the failure of Fox’s Fant4stic and in the middle of the possibility of another reboot. Krasinski had been the favorite for a major role in Marvel six years before: Captain America (later played by Chris Evans, himself a The Fantastic Four alum). Meanwhile, his wife, Emily Blunt, turned down the role of Black Widow in 2009, which she was repeatedly asked by the press. The pair have never really escaped Marvel’s gravitational pull: Blunt is also a popular fan-cast for Richards’ wife, Sue, the Invisible Woman.
In 2018, amid promoting the couple’s on-screen collaboration in A silent place, movie blog ScreenRant may have become the arsonist that set fans on fire with the headline “Exclusive: John Krasinski Wants to Play Mr. Fantastic.” This exaggerates things a bit. A reporter had asked Krasinski if he would be interested in playing Richards, to which he diplomatically replied, “Oh, yeah, the Fantastic Four. I would like to! I mean, look, I’m still dealing with all this superhero stuff. I didn’t read comics when I was a kid. It didn’t matter. Fan art of Krasinski in blue spandex soon followed, movie blogs began reporting on said fan art, and change.org petitions began advocating for Krasinski to be cast. Once Marvel Studios announced plans to reboot the Fantastic Four in December 2020, online chatter became a flood.
The demand for Krasinski to play a superhero comes as no surprise given his almost Cap-like cast, the relentless presence of “Jim of the Officememes, and the actor’s admirable transformation from a lovable and charming goof into a top action hero in Michael Bay’s 13 hours and that of Amazon Jack Ryan. He’s a more than capable and undoubtedly charismatic performer in these roles – but is charisma what Reed Richards demands?
It depends on how the character is written in the future. Is he an ironic womanizer à la Iron Man or Star-Lord? So of course, why the hell not. But the Richards of the comics is an obsessive, antisocial stick in the mud and a far cry from the image Krasinski has carved out for himself in recent years. Audiences are rarely good at this stuff – whenever a new Lex Luthor is about to be cast, fans immediately start suggesting actors who are already bald, even if a previously bald actor has literally never Played the role. And while Richards may seem like a prototypical action hero from afar, in the comics he’s anything but.
Part of the difficulty pinning down the character may be that no on-screen version has ever stuck despite the efforts of Ioan Gruffudd in 2005 and Miles Teller in 2015. No one has a model from which to work. Even so, Krasinski’s appearance doesn’t inspire confidence for the long-term management of Marvel’s “first family.” His cameo seems designed purely to appease fan theorists, and while there’s nothing wrong with that in the short term, little about the way Krasinski behaves or delivers his dialogue hints to a version of Richards who is anything but a straightforward, outspoken action hero rather than an obsessive genius whose real superpower is thinking, rather than stretching, his enemies.
That said, Krasinski probably won’t appear in the MCU again with his now-spaghettified Richards and fellow Illuminati all imploded, halved, or dead. But making this a one-off wink wouldn’t be the worst thing given some other specifics of the MCU cast. Jonathan Majors will play Marvel’s next big Thanos-level villain, Kang the Conqueror, in the upcoming Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. As it happens, Kang is a distant, time-travelling descendant of Reed Richards in the comics, and ever since Majors was cast, fans have speculated that Marvel Studios may be reinventing Sue and Reed Richards as ‘African Americans. It’s still possible in the main timeline of the series since Krasinski appears in a different universe and it’s unclear if Doctor Strange recognizes his face or just the “4” on his chest when referring to the Fantastic Four. dropped in the 60s in his universe. (We’re, it seems, destined for another “timeless hero” story in the vein of Captains America and Marvel.) Loki and No coming home setting a precedent for different actors playing “variants” across the multiverse, so the possibilities are wide open.
For now, Krasinski’s cameo is a fun way for Marvel to have their cake and eat it, too. It would just be up to the studio to make sure the cake has the right flavor.