This weekend, in anticipation of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, I returned to a favorite tradition of mine – marathoning old movies before I see the new one! The size of the Marvel Cinematic Universe means the last time I watched every movie was my marathon for Avengers: Endgame. Now, saner (and healthier!) parts have prevailed. Instead of ruining my life by trying to watch the twenty-eight different films and nineteen different TV series with thirty-six seasons between them that make up the MCU (at the time of this writing), I’ve just chosen to watch Doctor Strange (2015), Avengers: Infinity War (2018), WandaVision (2021), and Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021). Rewatching Doctor Strange a question struck me: whatever happened to Dr. Christine Palmer?
If you need a refresher (as this observation was greeted with a chorus of, “…….oooh yeah, Rachel McAdams was in that movie” at my local comics shop), Dr. Christine Palmer, played by Rachel McAdams, was a surgeon at Metro-General Hospital in Doctor Strange. She was Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch)’s partner before his arrogance led to a break-up. They remained friends and colleagues and, after the car accident which cost him the full use of his hands, it was Christine who stayed by Stephen’s side until his inability to deal with his trauma in a healthy way pushed her out of his life again. As Stephen comes to Karmar-Taj to begins his journey in the mystic arts, a journey of physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual healing begins as well. He writes Christine emails to apologize, emails she understandably never responds to, and the next time they see each other, Stephen appears in her E.R. in his Karmar-Taj robes with a stab wound from one of Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen)’s henchwizards. As they work to save the life of the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), Christine sees all that’s changed about Stephen – from astral projections and sling-ring portals to a new humility and earnestness. The movie ends with Doctor Strange taking up defense of the New York Sanctum alongside Wong (Benedict Wong) and preparing to protect the world from all the threats the multiverse holds.
Unsure if Dr. Christine Palmer had a comic book equivalent, I paused the movie to google. She does! The name points to a character known as “the Night Nurse,” a socialite who rejected her wealthy father’s pleas to come home and chose to stay working at a hospital in New York where she encountered Ororo Munroe/Storm and Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler (not to be confused with the Night Nurse/Linda Carter who runs a secret clinic where superheroes are treated without fear of their secret identity being compromised (a role similar to Rosario Dawson’s character Claire Temple within the Netflix Defenders shows (granted, Dr. Claire Temple has patched up many superheroes in the comics and had a relationship with Luke Cage but she never operated under the handle “Night Nurse” in the comics (like Christine Palmer, Linda Carter, and Georgia Jenkins have (whew!))))).
After playing a central role in Doctor Strange in 2015 the next time we see – or ever hear mention within the narrative of – Rachel McAdams’ Dr. Christine Palmer is in the first official (not even the teaser!) trailer for Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness.
As I watched that trailer for the first time and saw Christine in her wedding dress I had zero emotional reaction to it. All I could think was…am I supposed to care? Am I supposed to feel any sort of way that she (presumably) isn’t marrying Stephen? How could I? We’ve not heard or seen anything about her character in six years. This led me to reflect on how little development Christine’s had. They have such a fantastic actress in Rachel McAdams and they have a character with so much potential…and they do nothing with her. It didn’t surprise me the people in my local comic shop didn’t remember she was in the film. I forget she’s in the film myself. Unless you watch Doctor Strange often, Christine Palmer is a nonexistent entity in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
To me, this is a very real problem. I don’t think we should have characters who are supposed to be central to the plot lacking any sort of development for six years, at least not if Marvel wants me to continue investing emotionally in their universe. I can’t care about a character if I don’t know them or see them grow.
I grant Christine doesn’t have powers but look at Phase One of the MCU! Non-powered characters like Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård), Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings), Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), and Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) were all central characters who received development through their appearances and had concrete effects on the plot. Mindfulness of these non-powered characters was so important The Avengers (2012) made a point of including an expository line of dialogue to let Thor and Bruce Banner (and by extension the viewer) know Jane and Betty Ross were safe under S.H.I.E.L.D. watch…and Betty (plus pretty much all of The Incredible Hulk) was largely being ignored by the other MCU writers by this time! But their importance as characters was such that their absence needed to be addressed in Marvel’s first big team-up film.
These characters fleshed out the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They made it feel more real. They gave us, the “regular human” viewer, a vantage point from which to experience and engage with these superpowered beings who were popping up everywhere. They affected the superheroes’ growth and journey, kept them grounded, and helped the viewer remember “regular humans” exist in this increasingly superhero-filled universe in ways that matter more than just running from explosions or being saved when their car goes over a bridge or off a cliff.
This has not been the case with Christine Palmer, which is why I can forgive those, myself included, who forget Rachel McAdams is even in the MCU. Christine as a character has been treated within the MCU narrative as Stephen treated her in their relationship – she’s taken completely for granted and used when she’s convenient.
This realization led me to ponder the size and shape of the current Marvel Cinematic Universe. I think Marvel needs to be cautious in how they walk this line between giving us so many new stories, characters, and adventures and developing the ones they have. For context, at present the MCU Phases look like this:
MCU Phase One:
1) Iron Man (May 2008)
2) The Incredible Hulk (June 2008)
3) Iron Man 2 (May 2010)
4) Thor (May 2011)
5) Captain America: The First Avenger (July 2011)
6) The Avengers (May 2012)
MCU Phase Two:
1) Iron Man 3 (May 2013)
2) Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (September 2013-August 2020)
3) Thor: The Dark World (November 2013)
4) Captain America: The Winter Solider (April 2014)
5) Guardians of the Galaxy (August 2014)
6) Agent Carter (January 2015 – March 2016)
7) Avengers: Age of Ultron (May 2015)
8) Ant-Man (July 2015)
MCU Phase Three:
1) Captain America: Civil War (May 2016)
2) Doctor Strange (November 2016)
3) Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (May 2017)
4) Spider-Man: Homecoming (July 2017)
5) Inhumans (September-November 2017)
6) Thor: Ragnarök (November 2017)
7) Black Panther (February 2018)
8) Avengers: Infinity War (April 2018)
9) Ant-Man and the Wasp (July 2018)
10) Captain Marvel (March 2019)
11) Avengers: Endgame (April 2019)
12) Spider-Man: Far From Home (July 2019)
We are now in the midst of Phase Four and all the projects Marvel has released or is planning to release (at the time of this writing) looks like so:
1) WandaVision (January-March 2021)
2) The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (March-April 2021)
3) Loki (June-July 2021)
4) Black Widow (July 2021)
5) What If…? (August-October 2021)
6) Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (September 2021)
7) Eternals (November 2021)
8) Hawkeye (November-December 2021)
9) Spider-Man: No Way Home (December 2021)
10) Moon Knight (March-May 2022)
11) Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (May 2022)
12) Ms. Marvel (June-TBA 2022)
13) Thor: Love and Thunder (July 2022)
14) Untitled Halloween Special (TBA 2022)
15) Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (November 2022)
16) She-Hulk (TBA 2022)
17) The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special (December 2022)
18) Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (February 2023)
19) Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (May 2023)
20) The Marvels (July 2023)
Upcoming movies or shows without even a tentative release date include the films Fantastic Four, Blade, an untitled Captain America sequel, an untitled Deadpool sequel, an untitled Shang-Chi sequel, and an untitled mutants/X-Men film, as well as the TV shows Secret Invasion, Ironheart, Armor Wars, and an untitled Wakanda series.
In their first three phases, Marvel released twenty-six movies and shows across eleven years. In comparison, Marvel’s Phase Four has released seventeen movies and shows across two years. Seventeen! In two years! And there are another thirteen movies and shows lined up for release in the years to come. If they all meet their projected release dates (and no more are added), that would be thirty movies and TV shows in three-to-five years. In three-to-five years’ time they will eclipse the amount of content they released over the preceding eleven years.
It’s too much, too fast. I’m saying it – it’s too much, too fast.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m excited to be living in an era where the comic culture of my youth is so mainstream. Had you ever told Young Me I’d be seeing a movie about the Eternals starring, among others, Angelina Jolie and Salma Hayek I’d’ve thought you were insane. I appreciate seeing all these characters, even and especially the more obscure ones, I loved as a kid come to life!
But that’s also part of the problem. Marvel is now offering a glut of content arriving at such speed that it makes it impossible for viewers to sit with let alone truly digest and deconstruct any one work before the next one arrives. This speed also means the character development that characterized Phase One of the MCU – the very character development that made fans of so many non-comic readers and led all of us, comic reader or not alike, to emotionally invest in these stories and really care about these characters – is now nonexistent.
Due to the ever-increasing number of characters dancing across the ever-increasing number of plotlines unfolding in the MCU, someone like Christine Palmer – who had the potential to be the Pepper Potts to Doctor Strange’s Tony Stark – becomes “just a love interest,” a generic character completely forgotten until the trailer for the new movie reminds viewers she was in the last one. This leads to less development for characters all around. After all, who would Tony Stark be without Pepper and Happy? Or Thor without Jane, Erik, and Darcy? Or Steve Rogers without Peggy Carter?
This glut of content doesn’t just make the development of non-powered characters like Christine impossible. It also impairs the development of our main superhero characters. The space in between their appearances is filled with so much new content our emotional investment in their development and our lingering questions about their plot points are overshadowed by the dozens of new characters and dozens of new plot points we’ve endured since last we saw them.
After the emotionally gut-wrenching conclusion of WandaVision, when will Wanda and Vision see each other again? After the soul-stirring power of Sam taking up the mantle of Captain America in The Falcon and the Winter Solider, when will we next see him as Cap? Since Loki and Sylvie apparently broke the multiverse in Loki, shouldn’t they be the center of Multiverse of Madness instead of Doctor Strange? And why weren’t they or the ominous-for-their-season-now-all-but-forgotten Kang key players in Spider-Man: No Way Home? When will we see the Eternals or Shang-Chi or Kate Bishop or Moon Knight again? When do all these characters and their worlds get the sort of development Iron Man, Black Widow, Captain America, Thor, Hawkeye, and Hulk had – the sort of development that opened our hearts to these characters and stories?
Am I alone here? I don’t know. I certainly can’t speak for everyone. But for me it’s too much. I’m feeling Marvel fatigue.
Now, in all fairness, I have my tickets to see Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness on Thursday night and I am BEYOND ECSTATIC that I get to see Jane Foster pick up Mjölnir and become Thor on my actual birthday in Thor: Love and Thunder. I also can’t wait for Ms. Marvel and She-Hulk and I am really intrigued to see the Guardians’ story come to a close.
However, for me, these emotional experiences are two polarized parts of my system. I am so excited for all these stories ahead but I’m also so exhausted by the amount of content Marvel is producing at a speed which both dilutes my emotional investment and makes the stories seem sloppier (if you’d like to read how much the Loki season finale bugged me, click here (I’d add Doctor Strange clearly established the multiverse in a way that also contradicts everything in Loki back in 2016 (SIGH)). So what do I do with these conflicting parts of myself? Well, I’d like Marvel Studios to slow their production, choosing a half dozen characters and their worlds to focus on developing in each phase the way we saw it in Phase One and Phase Two. But that’s not happening. Marvel will continue their overwhelming onslaught of content which means I’ll just have to mindfully converse with these parts of myself to figure out how I consume it.
This is exactly why I haven’t watched What If…?. After how disappointed I was in Loki and how close on the heels of that show it came, I couldn’t care less about it. I still don’t, so my MCU experience goes on without What If…? and I’m ok with that.