While walking out of Mass this weekend, I complimented our pastor on the use of the words “cat’s meow” and “anthropomorphic” during his homily. We had a nice chuckle, and then I asked if he wanted to go see Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness. He said he wanted to watch it, but politely declined citing not wanting to deal with the crowds he thought would be thronging the cinema to see it. While there were many people in the theater, it was not the full house I expected. Anyway, I need to get to a movie with this guy in order to erase the memory of the last one we saw in the theaters together, Noah (2014). Hopefully, something as random as slipping in the above-mentioned phrases into a sermon would be enough to change the tenor of our arguments over rock people. In the meantime, I will have to wait and see what he thought about Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. You do not have to wait to know what I thought of it, just keep reading.
Somewhere, at some time and place, Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), is helping a young lady named America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) escape from a terrifying monster as Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madnessbegins. America has the power to move between universes, but she does not know how to control it. It is clear to both of them that the being that is after her wants to take her power, and Doctor Strange’s first thought is to kill America before it can complete its goal. Fortunately for America, Doctor Strange is wounded, and eventually killed, allowing her to get away. This is when Doctor Strange awakens from his nightmare. Confused? Well, hang tight, because you are in for a journey through multiple dimensions in this film. Doctor Strange gets out of bed, dresses, and it is off to the wedding of his longtime colleague and friend Dr. Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams). The reception is interrupted by a disturbance on the New York streets below, and suddenly Doctor Strange has his bad dreams spilling into his reality as a giant octopus being with a single, human-looking eye wreaks havoc. Amidst the growing chaos, he sees a young girl running for her life, which is, of course, America. With the timely intervention of the new Sorcerer’s Supreme, Wong (Benedict Wong), they are able to defeat the monster and save America. After filling in this universe’s version of Doctor Strange about what has been happening to her for some time, Wong offers her sanctuary at the Nepalian home of the Sorcerer Supreme, a place called Kamar-Taj. As for Doctor Strange, he senses there is dark magic involved in what is happening to America, and decides to consult former Avenger Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olson) for help. In explaining the situation to Wanda, he tells her that the girl is being protected at Kamar-Taj, and she suggests that America be brought to her. Saying her name when Doctor Strange had not uttered it tells the sorcerer that it is Wanda behind the attacks. She is doing so because (and it helps if you watched WandaVision (2021) on Disney+) she believes her children that she had while stuck in a reality of her own making can be contacted in another dimension and made hers. She will stop at nothing to get to her children, and this means taking America’s powers, which would kill the young lady. She is also willing to murder any and all of Kamar-Taj’s defenders that attempt to stop her. Wanda is well on her way to doing just that when Doctor Strange intervenes, pushing America and himself through several universes until they finally end up in one not too dissimilar from the one they had just left. Thinking their best route now is to contact the version of Doctor Strange in this dimension, they go to the headquarters of the New York realm to find its keeper to be somebody Doctor Strange sees to be his enemy, Baron Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Initially, they embrace as brothers, but a spiked tea leads to Doctor Strange and America’s capture by a mysterious group called The Illuminati. They include a number of other characters that everyone in the theater cheered at seeing, but the important part here is that none of them trust Doctor Strange. Nonetheless, he pleads his case before them because he knows that it is only a matter of time before Wanda finds them. And she can do that because she uses magic from an evil text known as the Darkhold. Though she is momentarily thwarted by one of the remaining Kamar-Taj defenders, who destroys the book, she then forces Wong to tell her of the location of a second copy of its incantations, which is at the top of a snowy mountain. This allows Wanda to inhabit the mind of a different version of herself, and of course it is the one in the universe Doctor Strange and America are in currently. There, she continues her murderous quest to capture America, this time succeeding despite some help from that dimension’s Dr. Palmer and a number of other familiar superheroes. Doctor Strange and Dr. Palmer are banished to yet another universe, one where that Doctor Strange is responsible for reality collapsing in on itself because he had used the Darkhold to do the same thing Wanda is doing, but in pursuit of a relationship with Dr. Palmer. After defeating this embittered Doctor Strange, the one we have been following the entire time uses the Darkhold himself to inhabit the corpse of the Doctor Strange we saw at the beginning. He gets to Wanda in time to free America, but it is the girl who defeats Wanda by showing the Scarlett Witch what her children in another dimension would think of her if she harmed their mother. Grief stricken, she collapses the mountain on herself, and everyone goes back to their respective universes. The last shot of the movie is a content Doctor Strange getting a third eye in the middle of his forehead, which is apparently a byproduct of using the Darkhold.
From a Catholic perspective, there is a lot that is problematic about Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. This includes Wanda basically committing suicide at the end. The use of magic by itself, be it for good or evil, has always been frowned upon by the Church. You can label this opinion as sanctimonious mumbo-jumbo if you like, but there is a reason for the disapprobation. The film speaks to some of the reasons why the Church is against witchcraft and sorcery. In doing so, people meddle with powers they do not understand, except for God. Wong says as much to Wanda in appealing to whatever humanity she has left in her mad quest to be reunited with her children, telling her that she cannot control everything. She believes otherwise, and it is because of her use of the clearly evil book, the Darkhold, that is feeding her these lies. If the book’s name does not say enough, just look at what she does throughout the film. She kills several people in her desire to reunite with kids that only appeared in her fantasy world that she made for herself in WandaVision. Doctor Strange is not above reproach in this manner, either. In using the Darkhold to defeat her, he is just as guilty in dabbling in the forbidden. The ends do not justify the means. It is bad enough when he changes water into wine. I have seen worse moments of sacrilege, though it still brings a sigh as to the awful world we live in that countenances such moments.
Speaking of expediency, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness says through the mouth of Count Mordo that there are always consequences for doing a little evil to achieve a greater good. It is for this reason that the two fight in the chamber of The Illuminati. Luckily for us, whether you want to believe it or not, there is a reckoning from God’s judgement seat for all our actions. That is our reality. What God wants of us is to be focuses on him, and from that stems true happiness. Why do I bring up such a word? Because that is one of the central questions of movie. Wanda does what she does because she is unhappy without her children. It takes seeing their frightened faces, and the other Wanda assuring her that they will be loved, for her to see the error of her ways. For Doctor Strange, it means letting go of Dr. Palmer. They each have a higher calling to attend to, and while they love each other they know there are some things that are more important. Happiness is not selfishly motivated. The Bible jives with this idea, even if it would not approve of the sorcery.
Movies like Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness will always be a tough sell for a practicing Catholic because of the subject matter therein. Such powers have been sought after by men since the beginning of time. The Bible is pretty clear that there is only one God. Yet, you do not need to take such a dogmatic view of these ideas. Doctor Strange is happy at the end, despite now having an eye in the middle of his forehead, because he seems to have an understanding that there are things beyond his control. Only God can see the infinite possibilities that are a hallmark of a theoretical multiverse. That is enough for me, and despite the mistakes made in getting there, it is enough for Doctor Strange.