MANILA, PHILIPPINES — The concept of a multiverse has been in mainstream comics for the better part of 60+ years. Comic writers have tossed around numerous ideas where superheroes end up either collaborating with or fighting against their equivalents from other universes. As the saying goes, the possibilities are endless.
Thus, when Marvel Studios announced that the sequel to 2016’s Doctor Strange starring Benedict Cumberbatch would be called Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, many comic and movie fans were curious about what Stephen Strange analogues our sorcerer would encounter.
While searching for the mythical Book of Vishanti, a version of Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) and young America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) are chased by a demon to the space between universes. Still unable to control her newfound power to travel between universes, America accidentally transports herself and the murdered Strange to the mainstream Marvel Universe we’ve seen in film.
With the help of the Sorcerer Supreme, Wong (Benedict Wong), Doctor Strange and America defeat an octopus demon hunting her. This happens in the middle of the wedding reception for Strange’s ex-girlfriend Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams). Recognizing the demon’s witchcraft runes, Strange approaches Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) for assistance in protecting America.
To his dismay, Strange learns that it is actually Wanda behind the attack on America. Her acquisition of the cursed Darkhold in 2020’s WandaVision has corrupted her mind while turning her into the all-powerful Scarlet Witch. Wanda believes that controlling America will allow her to reunite with the false children she created in the town of Westview.
Strange refuses to hand America to the Scarlet Witch and she chases after them to the land of Kamar-Taj. The Master of the Mystic Arts’ attempts to protect America frustrate Wanda, and she’s willing to go to extremes to secure the young girl’s abilities.
Last seen helping Peter Parker out in Spider-Man: No Way Home, the film finds Stephen Strange in a bit of a crossroads in his life. Wong has replaced him as Sorcerer Supreme, Christine has moved on from their relationship, and he keeps trying to convince himself that he’s happy. When America Chavez drops in from another universe with the corpse of a version of himself in tow, Strange is forced to reassess decisions he has made in the past.
He begins to question if sacrificing his relationship with Christine, joining the Avengers’ battle against Thanos, and studying sorcery all led him to achieve happiness or not. It’s a mid-life crisis explored by director Sam Raimi in his triumphant return to Marvel and comic book movies after 15 years.
Raimi, of course, directed the first three Spider-Man films with Tobey Maguire as the wallcrawler. Prior to that, he made a name for himself as director, writer, and sometimes producer for the Evil Dead horror franchise. Therefore, when an undead version of Strange, and several other horror elements are introduced in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, it’s a return to Raimi’s horror roots.
This 28th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe finally gives the audience a horror movie with suspense, dead (and undead) elements, and over-the-top action. Add to that the many surprising cameos that appear and you have a film that really rewards fans of all Marvel properties.
By embracing the multiverse concept, Raimi and Marvel get to tap other media where certain characters have appeared, not just in the Marvel movies of the past decade or so. Thus, Anson Mount as Black Bolt of the Inhumans, Hayley Atwell as Captain Carter from the What If…? animated series, and Patrick Stewart in his hovering yellow chair from the X-Men animated series from 1997 all make shocking appearances.
Yet perhaps the biggest shocker and bodes well for the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is John Krasinski in the familiar blue and white threads of Mister Fantastic of the Fantastic Four. He has long been rumored to be the fans’ choice for the role of the smartest man in the universe so to actually see a version of him stretching all around should get fans’ hearts pumping.
Perhaps no recent Marvel film requires more viewing of other media to get the bigger picture and understand all the subplots than Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. This is particularly true to understand Wanda’s motivation and turn toward evil as well as to identify Captain Carter and the corrupted Strange Supreme.
Although Wanda’s motivation seems noble (she wants to return to being a mother), the means by which she is willing to go to achieve that are reprehensible and immoral. Her fall from hero and Avenger to a bringer of death that her own children fear tests Olsen’s acting abilities. And seeing a dark reflection of himself, someone who sacrificed his entire world to try and be with the one he loves, allows Stephen Strange some valuable insight that he did not previously have.
All of these factors, as well as the sheer joy that is evident in Raimi’s direction off a script by Michael Waldron, make Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness an absolute joy to watch. A return to top form for Marvel Studios and for Sam Raimi even as what has been labeled as Marvel’s Phase Four moves forward.
Watch the trailer for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness here.