Just In Time For Mother’s Day, Multiverse of Madness Gives Birth To a Strange and Wonderful New Marvel Adventure
I’m not sure what fell sorcery led to Sam Raimi directing a Doctor Strange movie. Especially when said movie inexplicably echoes his iconic Evil Dead series. But I’m exceptionally glad it happened, and feel it made this spectacular sequel even better than I could have hoped. It led to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness being one of the best Marvel movies I’ve seen in quite some time, alongside the likes of Spider-Man: No Way Home and the Avengers: Endgame.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness begins with a vision of another Doctor Strange running with a young girl from a horrifying monster. The girl is named America Chavez, and the monster wants to absorb her powers. We don’t initially know what those powers are (or at least, I didn’t), but it’s clear that they would cause a cataclysmic shift in the power balance of the universe.
The good Doctor does his best, but then the creature intercepts them, and badly wounds him. When it seems their quest will fail, a desperate Strange tries to take her powers so the creature can’t get them, much to the horror of his young ward. Somehow America gets to her goal – the Book of Vishanti, but then the horror apprehends her. Strange fights it, gets gravely wounded and just when all hope seems lost, something ‘strange’ happens. A gigantic star-shaped portal opens behind young Ms. Chavez, and she gets whisked away.
We then see our Doctor Strange wake from a dream, and one might assume he just imagined the encounter. He mulls it over briefly before going to an especially awkward wedding between his once lady love, Christine, and her new paramour. Much as she might have wanted to make it work, saving the universe strained their relationship, and she couldn’t wait any longer. Still, she appreciates Strange showing up, even if she has doubts about his emotional state. Thankfully, before she can interrogate him further, a monster arrives, and he’s saved by the proverbial bell.
If you’ve seen any of the trailers for Multiverse of Madness, you know by now that Strange fights against a gigantic Beholder-looking monstrosity that tries to swat him with a bus. That happens here, and lo and behold, inside the bus is none other than the girl from his dream, America Chavez. For some reason, the creature is after her. Wong arrives, and between the men they manage to barely defeat the creature, impaling its cyclopean eyeball in the process.
Now, normally I’d try my hardest to avoid any sort of spoilers in my coverage. But given the particular quirks of the plot of Multiverse of Madness, I’m gonna issue a quick warning. If you don’t want ANY spoilers, big or small, then this is where we part ways. If you’re eager to hear my unfiltered thoughts, keep on reading. I’ll do my best to avoid the biggest spoilers, though some will be unavoidable.
Okay, all the people off the bus that wanted to avoid spoilers? Cause here we go. From the trailers, I assumed the primary villain of Multiverse of Madness was an evil Doctor Strange. I was even convinced at one point that the first alternate Strange we see would somehow become infected by his wounds and transformed into said villain. But both those assumptions were completely turned on their heads when it was revealed that the actual villain was none other than Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch.
Without all the details, lets just say Wanda didn’t spend the time since WandaVision healing her mental anguish. What she has done is vastly enhance her already terrifying powers with the sinister tome, the Darkhold. She can now summon monsters to do her bidding, and both of the creatures we’ve seen were her minions. Worse yet, she’s convinced that America’s power has the ability to give her what she truly desires – her children.
We discover that America is able to travel through the multiverse using star-shaped portals she creates, but she’s still untrained and uncertain how to control her powers. After Strange tries to convince Wanda to help them protect her (before he realizes she’s the one after the girl), Wanda unleashes war upon Wong’s mystical stronghold, Kamar-Taj. And despite being one woman against an army of sorcerers, Wanda cuts through them like a knife through butter. It takes a moment to happen, but she’s an implacable force of nature.
Which brings me to one of my favorite aspects of Multiverse of Madness – the battles. Every single fight in the movie is another epic sequence. Honestly, these are some of the best action scenes from Marvel’s storied roster, and that’s really saying something. One of my favorites involves Wanda versus another universe’s Illuminati, which includes Captain Carter, Black Bolt, John Krasinski as Reed Richards (yes really), and a black Captain Marvel. Another really amazing fight has the good Doctor fighting a twisted doppelganger, using musical notes to deadly effect.
I also have to spend some time talking the visual effects and artistry in the movie. I’m sure many will look at the sheer volume of visual effects and say it makes the film less grounded or something worse. But the thing to keep in mind is someone (likely multiple someones) had to storyboard all those amazing sights before they were brought to life. Not only that, but they had to film it all in a way that made sense. And what sights and sounds you’ll see! M.C. Escher would be proud of one sequence where Strange and Chavez are falling through multiple universes. There’s odd little moments like a literal tempest in a teacup. And there’s moments full of horror and dread, with Wanda’s red eyes glowing in the darkness. Multiverse of Madness is dripping in style, and I’m blown away by all the amazing ideas on display in one movie.
Now, if you’re a big fan of Sam Raimi, you probably suspect another feature of this movie – the horror. As someone that recently did a deep dive into all things Evil Dead, I pretty much expected creepiness after I saw Raimi was directing. While I was very happy with Raimi’s occasionally unsettling style, it might be too much for some viewers. Wanda is downright terrifying once she gets going. I realized she’s like a magical Hulk, and her emotions amplify her already stunning supernatural abilities. As the movie progresses, she gets more and more furious and goes to horrifying extremes to get what she wants. She even manages to hurl her consciousness across dimensions when she’s momentarily thwarted by our heroes.
Perhaps the best part of the movie, despite Wanda becoming a villain, is that she is still nuanced and very easy to sympathize with. Sure, she’s taking her quest to ‘save her boys’ too far, but she also suffered unimaginable loss. It’s also implied early on that her new source of power, the Darkhold, may be corrupting her spirit. And because Raimi is here, I instantly started to have visions of the Book of the Dead’s effect on those who read it.
The sense of moral muddiness also applies to our good Doctor. It’s shown other iterations of him have been tempted into darkness or driven to dangerous acts, and some characters start wondering aloud if he’s any different. I started to realize that a key theme of Multiverse of Madness is that sometimes doing the right thing will still have horrible consequences. Not quite ‘the ends justify the means’, but damned close.
Fret not, it’s not all doom and gloom. Like any good Marvel movie, there are lighthearted moments and Cumberbatch practically winks at the audience on a couple of occasions. An early interaction between him and Wong involves the new Sorcerer Supreme reminding Strange that typically people bow in his regal presence. America Chavez is also whip-smart and clever, and adds a lot to the fabric of the movie. Even though I wasn’t really familiar with her before watching the movie, I’m now eager to see this character in others.
In the end, Doctor Strange and his allies succeed not through brute force, but by finding a human connection with Wanda Maximoff. By the end, America Chavez is training with Wong at Kamar-Taj, and the Doctor has a new lease on life. Which of course means that it ends with a bit more unexpected madness, and a hint of future chaos to come. Overall a fantastic Marvel adventure, with equal parts humor, horror, and epic action.