The Multiverse. Even though the concept of it has been thought out for a while now, I haven’t really put much thought into it. Ever since watching the Disney+ shows Loki (2021) and What if. . . ? (2021), and the more recent film Everything Everywhere All at Once, however, that idea started circling in my head and had me questioning the concept. Are there multiple versions of me? If so, have they found a successful partner and/or are they also a practicing Catholic? The reason I bring up the idea of the multiverse is because that’s the core element in the newest Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) film Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness.
Much like Spider-Man: No Way Home, Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness was another MCU film that I was looking forward to even though I had some reservations. In my review of Doctor Strange (2016), I stated that I was a bit disappointed that the director, Scott Derrickson, and co-writer, C. Robert Cargill, were not returning for this film. Yet, the director that stepped up did regain my interest, which is horror auteur Sam Raimi. If you’re not familiar with this director, he’s done some horror classics such as The Evil Dead (1981), Evil Dead 2 (1987), Army of Darkness (1992), and the original Spider-Man trilogy. That last trilogy is not horror, but do feature horror elements that I was hoping he would bring into this film.
So, I should mention that as of this review, I have now officially seen Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness three times in the theater. Granted, the third time was unintentional as I got invited to see it with some friends whom I haven’t seen in months and I wanted to catch up with them in person. Because I’ve now seen this multiple times, I was able to take in some of the themes presented in this film with a better understanding, unlike most films that I see during their theatrical run. Was this worth a trifecta of trips to the cinema? As usual let’s find out and unlike most films I’ve reviewed in the past, this will be a spoiler filled review.
In Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, we follow our Marvel Sorcerer Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) waking up from a nightmare, which involves him getting killed while protecting a kid named America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) from a demon monster. He then starts to get ready for a wedding which is for an old colleague and lover Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams). During the reception, the same monster from his dream appears just a few blocks from the venue and with no hesitation, Strange puts on his cloak and battles it with his friend Wong (Benedict Wong) who arrives moments after the fight begins. With the monster defeated, Strange and Wong question the kid about who she is and why the monster was attacking her. She explains that she’s from a different universe where she has the ability to jump from universe to universe, but unfortunately can’t quite control that power yet. She also says that dreams are basically visions into another universe, which is why Strange dreamt of America. She also mentions later in the film that she’s the only America Chavez in the entire multiverse because she doesn’t dream, which puts her at a greater risk. Hoping to recruit some help, Strange goes to Wanda Maximoff/Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) for help because he believes that she can help him protect America. Unfortunately, the Sorcerer discovers that Wanda was the one responsible for sending the monster to attack America after she becomes the Scarlett Witch and acquires the Darkhold, also known as the Book of the Damned. She then claims that she needs America’s jumping universes power to see her kids (the same ones from WandaVision (2021)) which is in a different universe. Strange refuses to hand over the kid because she believes the book has corrupted her, and allowing her to go from one universe to another would cause havoc. She then issues him an ultimatum, giving Strange enough time to warn Wong what the Scarlett Witch wants with America. From there, Strange, Wong, America, and the sorcerers at Kamar-Taj, (the place where Doctor Strange became a Sorcerer) start prepping for battle against the Scarlett Witch who will stop at nothing to see her boys. After a failed negotiation, Wanda starts attacking the sanctuary and while the sorcerers put up a good defense, the Scarlett Witch breaks through and starts taking out sorcerers left and right until she’s up against Strange, Wong, and America. Wanda then gets ahold of America to use her powers and while struggling to break free, America unintentionally creates a portal to go to another universe. Strange quickly grabs America and jumps through several universes until they land in alternate version of New York City. From there, Strange and America must venture into a universe they haven’t been in before and not only find a way home, but also discover a way to defeat the Scarlett Witch.
After watching Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness three times, you’re probably thinking that I loved this movie and found no complaints. Sadly, that’s not the case. I wish I could say that, but there are some minor problems that I had throughout the film. That said, however, aside from the parts I deeply enjoyed (which I’ll geek out later in this review), what I really what to focus on in this review is some of the themes that I noticed, the two most noticeable ones being temptation and happiness. Both of these elements played an integral in the overall narrative, especially with Strange and Wanda.
One question that Strange gets a good number of times in Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness is “are you happy?” When he is first queried, he says yes with a positive attitude. Yet, as the film progresses, he starts to really process that question. On the surface, Strange’s life seems to be going his way. He may not be the Sorcerer Supreme anymore because he was turned to dust for five years thanks to Thanos, but he’s still a powerful sorcerer with the important position of watching over the Sanctum Santorum in New York City. What keeps him from truly being happy is not being with Christine, whom he still has feeling for and wonders if there was ever a reality that they are together. Then there’s Wanda. She constantly dreams of her two boys that she had during the events of WandaVision, which puts her in a moment of bliss until she wakes up and realizes that her boys are in a different reality away from her.
After I watched Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness the second time (or third, I can’t recall), I realized that both Strange and Wanda are basically two sides of the same coin. All they want in life is to be with the people that they love. This is where temptation comes into play. As much as Strange wants to be with Christine, he realizes that he can’t due to her now having a husband, and that seeking a different version of her in another reality would tamper with the fabric of existence. Wanda, however, doesn’t care about the repercussions. All she wants is to be with the boys she dreams about who are in a different universe, to which she will do anything to be with them even if it costs the lives of others.
In the Christian context, temptation plays an infamous role with faith. I strongly believe in the importance of being aware of these feelings since “The Lord’s Prayer” mentions with the words “but deliver us from evil” after the word temptation in the prayer. Strange knows the consequences of what would happen if he is ever tempted to find his true happiness in the multiverse. Wanda, however, doesn’t as her judgement is blinded by the Darkhold that not only kills innocent people, but corrupts her soul in the process. Oddly enough though, I did appreciate that the filmmakers did portray Wanda as a straight up villain throughout the film and didn’t make her the hero again by the end of the film. It’s something I see in a good number of films and while I would like to see characters have moments of redemption, the acts of violence that she did wouldn’t have justified her actions. Any redeeming qualities that she does earn is near the end of the film, however, when she realizes the error of her ways and destroys any traces of the Darkhold, killing her in the process. While I may not agree with Wanda’s actions, I can imagine why she did what she did because she was tempted. It is an ongoing battle I deal with. That said, I acknowledge how temptation can lead to sin and try to remember how the devil tried to tempt Jesus in the desert. I try to remind myself of that as I, too, don’t want to give into satan’s hold.
One other aspect of Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness that I want to mention that I often see in superhero films is the sacrifice one must make to prevail over evil in the end. I almost didn’t want to bring it up because it’s such a cliché topic. Still, whenever we at The Legionnaire review superhero films, it’s almost unavoidable. Here, it is the type of sacrifice Strange makes that intrigued me. In the third act of the film, Strange must fight fire with fire by using a Darkhold in another universe in order to save America from Wanda. In doing so, he understands the repercussions that he may endure when using the unholy material, but he carries on in order to stop Wanda from gaining America’s powers. Fortunately, he survives the effects, though grows a third eye right before the movie ends, which left me questioning whether or not Strange has a permanent mark from using the Darkhold. Probably the sequel will give us a better answer.
I mentioned earlier that I didn’t find Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness to be a perfect film, even though I saw it three times. The first time I watched it, I wasn’t fully aware of the flaws that were in it as I was geeking out over the cameos (i.e., John Krasinski as Reed Richards and Patrick Stewart as Professor X) and the horror elements brought by director Sam Raimi. After watching it the second and third time, however, the flaws became more transparent. One that stuck out to me was the dialogue given to Elizabeth Olsen’s character of Wanda. It wasn’t terrible, but there were moments where it was a bit over the top and less subtle compared to some villains previously established in the MCU. Another issue I had with it is the amount of baggage that is attached the film. While I already knew the events leading up to the film, there are some that can be easily lost because they haven’t seen Avengers: Infinity War (2018), Avengers: Endgame (2019), and WandaVision, with a friend of mine being one of them. I felt that the script could’ve been developed a little bit tighter to where almost anyone can see this film without having to so a bunch of homework. Then again, as much as I love the MCU, it’s gotten to the point now because they developed a universe that makes it hard for something stand alone where you can view it without any previous knowledge. The closest movie we got recently that felt standalone was Eternals (2021), but that didn’t hold my interest as I wanted. Hopefully, the Disney+ shows coming out this year will fill the gap.
If I had to compare Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness to the other multiverse films released this year like Everything Everywhere All at Once, I would say that the latter is better on an academic level due to how original it is and how totally surreal it got. That said, I still really enjoyed this film and I would watch it again when it eventually makes it to Disney +. I don’t think it’s as great as Doctor Strange, though in retrospect, it’s hard to top a film when its predecessor was well developed and felt standalone compared to other MCU films. I do hope, however, that Sam Raimi is brought back for the sequel because he brought a unique sense of horror in certain scenes that I did enjoy, and seeing him trying to outdo what he did here would be a blast to watch. Fingers crossed!