*stares directly into camera*

The Biggest Cameo in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness Is a Bit of a Stretch

Photo: Courtesy of Marvel Studios

After flirting with alternate realities on screens of every size from Imax to Disney+, Marvel’s latest outing has finally sent its characters tumbling through the fabled multiverse. Just how mad do things get in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness? Well, not as mad as its title would indicate, at least when it comes to scale; the studio is clearly biding its time until Avengers 5: We Own Every Fictional Character Now. The film really explores only 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 entrance sure to be greeted with much hooting and hollering in theaters this weekend, The Office star John Krasinski shows up without warning as Reed Richards, a.k.a. Mr. Fantastic of the Fantastic Four. Does this mean Krasinski is the MCU’s version of Richards going forward? Not quite — or at least not yet.

Richards’s appearance is like a post-credit teaser transposed to the film’s midpoint alongside five slightly modified versions of familiar superheroes collectively dubbed “the Illuminati” after the Marvel Comics super-group that’s essentially Mensa but for trolley problems. 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 doppelgänger of Strange’s frenemy Baron Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who introduces the other members one by one. There’s Hayley Atwell as the live-action version of her animated What If? counterpart, Captain Carter; in this reality, she, instead of Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), was injected with the Allies’ steroid super-serum. She sits beside Captain Marvel, a moniker that here belongs not to Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) but to her best friend Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch).

A few seats away, they’re joined by Blackagar Boltagon (Anson Mount) — please call him Black Bolt, lest he whisper you to death — king of the mutantlike, moon-dwelling supergroup the Inhumans, who starred in their own mercifully short-lived TV series on ABC. Then the Illuminati’s apparent leader rolls up: Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), reprising his role from Fox’s X-Men films with an upgraded set of wheels. Finally, Marvel’s stretchiest hero, Richards, drops out of a glowing blue portal. (After Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: No Way Home, perhaps portals are Marvel’s new visual parlance for triggering 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 dispenses with each of these heroes in delightfully brutal fashion. But Krasinski’s cameo sticks out from the rest in that it’s the only one not rooted in some preexisting onscreen version of the character. We already know Captain Carter from What If? Imagining Rambeau as Captain Marvel is easy enough since she was in the vicinity when Danvers received her powers. (She’s also a fitting nod to Danvers’s predecessor in the comics: Rambeau’s daughter, Monica, played by Teyonah Parris in WandaVision.) Monsieur Boltagon looks a lot like his ABC iteration except with a more comics-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 enormous, blocky wheelchair and the hints of the cartoon’s opening theme.

However, Krasinski’s Richards — who shows up in a sleek outfit and radiates mild concern — seems to be drawn from a version of the character that has, until now, existed only in people’s minds. There have been rumors of Krasinski playing the part for several years, mostly generated from theoretical fan-casting that has become self-fulfilling prophecy. It isn’t the first time a superhero movie has nodded to its online fans, of course. No Way Home has Willem Dafoe repeat his oft-memed line “You know, I’m something of a scientist myself” from Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man. And 2006’s 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 reference to the internet — it’s a whole person cast by fans in a significant (if not necessarily permanent) role.

The first tweets fan-casting Krasinski as Richards popped up in 2016, shortly after the failure of Fox’s Fant4stic and amid the possibility of yet another reboot. Krasinski had been the front-runner for a major Marvel role six years prior: Captain America (eventually played by Chris Evans, himself a Fantastic Four alum). His wife, Emily Blunt, meanwhile, turned down the role of Black Widow in 2009, something she’s been asked about time and time again by the press. The couple has never really escaped Marvel’s gravitational pull: Blunt is also a popular fan-cast for Richards’s wife, Sue, the Invisible Woman.

In 2018, amid promotion for the couple’s onscreen collaboration in A Quiet Place, the movie blog ScreenRant may have become the arsonist that set fandom ablaze with the headline “Exclusive: John Krasinski Wants to Play Mr. Fantastic.” That overstated things a bit. A reporter had asked Krasinski if he would be interested in playing Richards, to which he responded diplomatically, “Oh, yeah, the Fantastic Four. I would love that! I mean, listen, I’m still getting into the whole superhero thing. I didn’t read comics as 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 started to plead for Krasinski to be cast. Once Marvel Studios announced its plans to reboot the Fantastic Four in December 2020, the online chatter became a deluge.

The clamoring for Krasinski to play a superhero is no surprise considering his almost casting as Cap, the ceaseless presence of “Jim from The Office” memes, and the actor’s own admirable transformation from lovable, charming goof into a leading action hero in Michael Bay’s 13 Hours and Amazon’s Jack Ryan. He’s a more than capable performer and undoubtedly charismatic in these roles — but is charisma what Reed Richards requires?

It depends on how the character is written in the future. Is he a quippy womanizer à la Iron Man or Star-Lord? Then sure, 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 crafted in recent years. Audiences are rarely good at this sort of thing — whenever a new Lex Luthor is about to be cast, fans immediately begin suggesting actors who are already bald, even though a previously bald actor has literally never played the part. And while Richards may seem like a prototypical action hero from afar, in the comics, he is anything but.

Part of the difficulty in pinning the character down may be that no onscreen version has ever stuck despite the efforts of Ioan Gruffudd in 2005 and Miles Teller in 2015. No one has a template from which to work. Even so, Krasinski’s appearance doesn’t inspire confidence for long-term stewarding of Marvel’s “First Family.” His cameo feels designed only to appease fan theorizers, and while there’s nothing wrong with that in the short term, little in the way Krasinski behaves or delivers his dialogue hints at a version of Richards that’s anything but a plain, straight-talking action hero rather than an obsessive genius whose real superpower is out-thinking, rather than out-stretching, his foes.

That said, Krasinski likely won’t appear in the MCU again with his Richards now spaghettified and his Illuminati comrades all imploded, bisected, or dead. But making this a one-and-done wink wouldn’t be the worst thing given some other MCU casting specifics. Jonathan Majors will play Marvel’s next Thanos-level big bad, Kang the Conqueror, in the upcoming Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. As it happens, Kang is a distant, time-traveling descendant of Reed Richards in the comics, and ever since Majors was cast, fans have theorized that Marvel Studios could reimagine Sue and Reed Richards as African American. This is still possible in the series’ main timeline since Krasinski appears in a different universe and it’s unclear whether Doctor Strange recognizes his face or merely the “4” on his chest when he references the Fantastic Four jettisoning in the ’60s in his universe. (We are, it seems, destined for another “heroes out of time” story in the vein of Captains America and Marvel.) Loki and No Way Home set the 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 its cake and eat it too. It would just behoove the studio to ensure that cake is the right flavor.

More on Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

See All
The Biggest Cameo in Doctor Strange 2 Is a Bit of a Stretch