In the film’s most crowd-pleasing sequence, the title character meets a ruling counsel in another universe that includes Reed Richards (played by John Krasinski), the leader of the Fantastic Four; and Professor Charles Xavier, with Patrick Stewart reprising that role from the “X-Men” franchise.
The cosmic-ray-altered quartet’s popularity paved the way for Lee’s epic creative output with Kirby — which included Thor, the Hulk, X-Men, the Avengers, Ant-Man, and reviving Captain America — and Ditko, his collaborator on Spider-Man and Doctor Strange.
Yet on screen, Fantastic Four has been a tale of frustration, including a misguided low-budget Roger Corman-produced movie in the 1990s that was never formally released; and an animated series that for contractual reasons replaced the Human Torch, whose TV rights had been optioned away, with a wisecracking robot.
Still, the wheels of movie development turn slowly, which is why seeing Mr. Fantastic and Professor X in “Doctor Strange” feels like a significant appetizer for the feast to come.
Looking ahead, Marvel faces major expectations from fans eager to see X-Men restored to its early glory and Fantastic Four elevated to a cinematic stature worthy of its exalted place in comic-book history. But the rewards could be equally huge.
Having established its formula of interlocking movies and now TV shows, Marvel has exhibited a knack for assembling complex puzzles. While the tease in “Doctor Strange” nicely illustrates the multiverse as a realm of infinite possibilities, the enthusiasm about bringing X-Men and Fantastic Four into the mix could easily be transformed into disappointment if they somehow get those pieces wrong.