Sometimes you’ll see Marvel’s blockbusters during a quiet matinee, and what we’re about to discuss won’t be an issue. However, under the right conditions — conditions that Marvel has popularized and even romanticized — you might find yourself struggling with an odd problem: Trying to hear important plot information over gasps, cheers, and yells.
Warning: Spoilers ahead.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, the newest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is a movie premised on the multiverse, which means the movie comes with surprise cameos that, until Disney’s acquisition of Fox, were legally forbidden and thought impossible. When you know who appear on screen, minds melt like the opening scene of Terminator 2.
This kind of communal joy has been part of Marvel’s appeal for a while now. 10 years ago audiences cheered at The Avengers when the heroes assembled, in what’s still one of the most memorable shots in popcorn cinema. Remember that? That was fun. Maybe we all thought it was nice to be part of something.
But now it’s the norm. Loud cheers driven by shock and excitement are expected when you buy a ticket to a Marvel movie, and those in-theater reactions are now a whole subgenre on YouTube and fertile ground for TikTok parodies. The funny thing is that when it was just starting to get annoying, it was taken away. Amid lockdown two years ago, I watched videos of Endgame reactions because I found myself yearning for the in-person theater experience again. Maybe I actually liked cheering at these movies. Maybe I just wanted to go to a noisy bar.
Now that most of us are back in theaters, I’ve come to learn I wished on a monkey’s paw. I first noticed it in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, when the gasping at cameos from Brie Larson and Mark Ruffalo made their characters’ dialogue — which teased details that will surely be important in the future — hard to hear.
Then came Spider-Man: No Way Home, when the returns of both Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire generated prolonged cheers that muffled the actors’ first words. It wasn’t anything crucial, but it would have been nice to have heard Maguire and Garfield as they played characters I never imagined seeing them play again.
With Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, the problem has become large enough to threaten the plot. During the reveals of Reed Richards (played by John Krasinski), and Charles Xavier (reprised by Patrick Stewart) the movie dumps crucial information about a new problem in the MCU, “incursions.”
Incursions are when two universes collapse into one another, but you wouldn’t know that if you were trying to hear Reed’s explanation over people cheering the fact that John Krasinski happened to be in the movie. Incursions are also brought up during the mid-credits by Charlize Theron’s Clea, who tries to explain a new problem amid drowning cheers. It would have been nice to know why I was supposed to be afraid of incursions again, but oh well.
I don’t mind audiences getting swept up in the fun of big, silly movies. Good movies inspire emotion, and when audiences are willing to express their feelings it can make for a great time. But it sure is annoying trying to piece together information relevant to a movie’s stakes just because the audiences couldn’t simmer down for a second.
I don’t know what the alternative is here. Maybe we’ll just have to content ourselves with enjoying a more coherent second viewing in our living rooms once Marvel movies hit streaming platforms.
But Marvel emphasizes the in-person theatrical experience more than any studio or franchise today. Whenever a new Marvel movie opens its social media accounts post “No spoilers” PSAs as if spoiling a movie is a crime worth being prosecuted by the Hague. When Black Widow opened in theaters last summer, Marvel even used bootleg videos of audience reactions to Endgame to celebrate the in-person experience. Marvel didn’t build the cineplex, but it is one of its biggest, loudest occupants. I don’t mind the party, but I am asking if they can turn the volume down a little.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is now playing in theaters.