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Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

In my first new release full film review, I am looking at the latest Marvel film, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

Having just watched this film, it’s pretty fresh in my head. My initial response is that it was a great experience and one I would highly recommend!

Since this film literally just came out, I will advise that there will be spoilers in this review so if you have yet to see the film, STOP READING THIS NOW AND GO WATCH IT.

Also, as a word of advice to any newcomers going into this film, I would strongly recommend watching the first Doctor Strange, Wandavision, and What If beforehand so you can get the full experience and enjoy the film to its best potential.

Let’s dive into the madness that is this film and see how it holds up!

The Hero’s Journey:
Stephen Strange’s story arc in this film is about living with the choices that he’s made and questioning his happiness. The film opens with Strange having an apparent nightmare involving himself and a young girl. He wakes up brushing it off as a nightmare and leaves to attend the wedding of his former lover, Christine Palmer. He is clearly still in love with her and lies to her when she asks him a question that gets asked often throughout the film, “are you happy?” Strange does his best to lie and avoid the truth that he is, in fact, unhappy. One of the interesting aspects of superhero stories is how the choices they make for the greater good affect their happiness. We’ve seen it touched upon in Spider-Man and in Captain America. Strange clearly still loves Christine and seeing her get married is a tough pill for him to swallow.

However, before Strange can contemplate more he is whisked into action when a giant monster appears in the city chasing after the young girl from his dream, America Chavez. After an assist from Wong, Strange discovers that the girl has the ability to travel across the Multiverse and that someone is after her. He decides to seek out Wanda Maximoff for help. However, he discovers her mind has been corrupted by the Darkhold and that she is the one who is after Chavez hoping to harness her power, take over the Multiverse and reunite with her two sons. Wanda threatens Strange to either bring Chavez to her or she’ll come to get her herself. The confrontation between the two leads to Strange and Chavez being sent across the Multiverse to an alternate reality.

Strange and America have a moment in Earth-838 where they see their past happy memories. Stephen’s memory is of the moment that Christine gave him his watch. He is questioned again about his happiness and while he tries to deny his feelings, he is still very much in love with Christine. America tells him that the other Doctor Stranges that she has met had the same fate of messing things up with Christine. After he and America are captured by the Illuminati, Strange tries to appeal to Earth-838’s version of Christine with no success. When Wanda arrives, kills the members of the Illuminati, and leaves with America, Stephen and 838 Christine are left together. Their time together reminds Stephen of what he once had and right before they part, he finally admits his feelings to her and admits that he is too scared to have a real relationship. The alternate Christine tells him to face his fears.

Stephen encounters an alternate version of himself that turned to the Darkhold to find a universe where he could be happy, just like Wanda wished to do, and instead brought destruction and desolation to his world. Cumberbatch’s performance as this version of Strange is well done as he captures both a man who is unhappy and has become corrupted after stewing in his self-pity. Stephen defeats him and takes control of the Darkhold so he can get in contact with his universe. He makes the clever decision to dream-walk in the body of a deceased alternate version of himself. This gives us Zombie Strange which is a cool idea and has Sam Raimi’s fingerprints all over it.

In the final confrontation, Strange is forced to make a choice. In the opening scene, the alternate version of Stephen chose to take America’s powers as means to save the universe. That left America fearful and distrustful of Stephen when they first meet. Wong tells Stephen that he must take her powers as it is the only way to stop Wanda. Stephen chooses not to do so and instead encourages America to use her powers and tells her that she can do it. She uses her powers and snaps Wanda out of the Darkhold’s power. In the end, Wanda sacrifices herself to destroy all versions of the Darkhold.

The film ends with Stephen and America part as friends both being grateful for having met and Stephen leaves to tackle the world with a more positive outlook. However, as he walks down the street, he suddenly grows a third eye because of using the Darkhold and dream-walking into a corpse.

The Villain:
Wanda Maximoff is a character who has endured the most loss and anguish throughout the MCU. Wandavision revealed the loss of her parents at a young age leaving only her and her brother, Pietro. Then she was dealt another loss when Pietro was killed during the battle against Ultron. After the loss of her brother, she bonded and found love with Vision. However, she was dealt another blow when she was forced to kill the man whom she loved in the battle to stop Thanos only for Thanos to reverse time and kill Vision himself. The loss led to the events in Wandavision (which I will go into greater detail about when I review that show later) where she created her own reality to escape her grief and, in the process, created two sons, Tommy and Billy. After the events of Wandavision, Wanda was forced to give up the fake reality she created, including her two sons, and now lives in exile learning her new abilities as the Scarlet Witch from the Darkhold, which has slowly corrupted her mind.

Wanda’s goal is to harness America Chavez’s powers and travel to an alternate universe so she can reunite with her sons Tommy and Billy. Having witnessed the amount of loss she has endured; you can understand her motives. However, what makes her the villain is the fact that she is willing to go to great lengths to get what she wants and does not care about the consequences that it will have for the rest of the universe, so long as she gets what she wants. When Strange tells her that her actions are breaking the rules of Natural Law, she calls him on his hypocrisy as he broke the rules of Natural Law in the first film. She hits him with a great line, “You break the rules, you become a hero. I do it, I become the enemy.” The power of the Darkhold and the Scarlet Witch has taken over Wanda’s mind and she will stop at nothing to get what she wants.

The Film’s Pros:
Elizabeth Olson

While every actor put in a great performance in this film, the best performance by far was from Elizabeth Olson. Olson portrays Wanda as a character who is sympathetic due to the loss she has endured, ruthless having been corrupted by the Darkhold to the point that she is even psychotic at points. Olson’s facial expressions get across her emotions so well that you feel her pain and anguish. One of the craziest and scariest moments is when Wanda goes on a rampage in Earth-838 and mercilessly slays every member of the Illuminati. When she’s walking around with blood on her face and a crazed look in her eyes, you know she means business and has fallen greatly.

Another great moment is the first time she dream-walks and reunites with her sons, she is so overcome by her happiness in seeing her children again that she forgets her reason for being there initially. Her performance culminates in the final act when America Chavez sends her back to Earth-838 where she attacks her variant in front of her kids. She tries to comfort them, but they reject her of fear which causes her to break down in tears. Her variant comforts her and she is broken out of the Darkhold’s control. The look on Olson’s face at this moment truly shows how incredible of an actress she has become and how her time as Wanda helped her grow as an actress. Having realized all the destruction, she has caused; Wanda makes the ultimate sacrifice to ensure the Darkhold cannot harm anyone ever again. She is redeemed in the final moments having seen that she allowed the Darkhold to turn her into the monster that she promised that she wasn’t. After having endured so much loss and pain, Wanda’s final act is a tragic end to one of Marvel’s most tragic characters, and one of their best.

Sam Raimi’s Influence
Sam Raimi’s style is all over this film. From the creative camera shots to the use of horror techniques, to the PG13-yet-still-gruesome-violence. He directs Wanda like a classic horror villain with her merciless brutality. When she kills the members of the Illuminati, they are the most violent and gruesome deaths in any MCU film. Logan still holds the title of most violent Marvel film as it was Rated R and showed blood, but Raimi’s direction of Wanda in this film was not far behind. The death of Black Bolt was especially brutal and felt like something out of Evil Dead.

Other aspects of Raimi’s style include the use of Doctor Strange possessing a dead alternate version of himself and conjuring up a Zombie Strange. If that doesn’t show the clear fingerprints of the man who directed Evil Dead then maybe the inclusion of a Bruce Campbell cameo will do it for you.

Raimi’s style makes this film stand out from other Marvel films. Some more recent Marvel films have felt like “Typical MCU Films” but this film is not a typical MCU film. It has a great balance of comedy, horror, action, and adventure that entertained me greatly and make me want to see Sam Raimi do more Marvel films in the future.

The Visuals
The one and the only prediction that I got right from my previous piece was that the visuals in this film would be better and by God are they better. The visuals in this film were breathtaking and fit the title of Multiverse of Madness as they convey madness. The scene where Strange and America are flung across the Multiverse is a visual Marvel as they pass through different universes including an animated one and one that was all painted. The concept of the Multiverse brings the potential for newer and more creative worlds to enter the fold.

Since the first Iron Man film, the MCU has been mostly grounded in reality with exceptions like Thor Ragnarok and Guardians of the Galaxy, and the worlds have mostly been grounded in reality. Multiverse of Madness takes the MCU out of that grounded reality and brings it into the more imaginative world of comic books.

The impressive visuals have always been a defining factor that has set Doctor Strange films apart from other Marvel films and Multiverse of Madness delivers and exceeds expectations in bringing incredible visuals to make for the most visually stunning Marvel film to date.

Before I make this next point, I will give a major SPOILER WARNING!! Click away while you still have time. Okay? Give them a few seconds….

Introducing More Marvel Heroes
I was hoping that this film would serve to introduce other Marvel franchises into the MCU, and we got it. While on Earth-838, Doctor Strange encounters the Illuminati, a secret society of superheroes, consisting of Captain Carter (shown in the Disney Plus show What If?), Captain Marvel (this version being Maria Rambeau, Carol Danver’s best friend), Mordo, Reed Richards from Fantastic Four, (played by John Krasinski) and Charles Xavier of X-Men fame (played by Patrick Stewart).

As someone who has been a longtime X-Men fan and has loved Patrick Stewart as Charles Xavier, this was amazing to see. I also got a kick out of seeing John Krasinski revealed as Mr. Fantastic, as he had been heavily rumored to be taking on the role. Although he was killed in this film, I am hoping that Krasinski will return to the role in the upcoming Fantastic Four film Marvel has planned. Seeing Xavier gets me more excited at the possibility of the X-Men joining the MCU. While I do not think that Stewart would nor should return to the role if that ever happens, it was nice to see him as Charles Xavier for possibly one last time.

The reveal of these heroes is an indication that Marvel is using the Multiverse concept to bring the MCU further into the realm of a comic book world where rules and restrictions are becoming looser. It also opens the door for more Marvel franchises to be introduced in creative and unique ways. Some may get Disney Plus shows and others may get their own films. Who knows? There are so many possibilities that it is mind-boggling at times and I am so excited to see what Marvel has in store next.

The Film’s Cons:
Will Confuse Newcomers

The key factor that can affect one’s enjoyment of any Marvel film is not knowing what’s going on. The MCU is so vast having been built up in 14 years that it can be intimidating to newcomers. When I introduced my girlfriend to the MCU, I made sure to cover all ground before we got to Infinity War and Endgame because if I had not, she would have been very confused and not have enjoyed the films as much as she did. The same can be said for Multiverse of Madness as there are other properties that need to be watched to avoid being totally confused. Going into this film, I had friends and family ask if there was anything they needed to watch beforehand, and I mentioned the Disney Plus shows Wandavision and What If? To which they groaned. I went to see the movie with my girlfriend and my friends and family, and I noticed at times they were getting confused and overwhelmed by everything going on. There are a lot of plot points that make sense if you had watched Wandavision or What If, but if you did not watch either, newcomers will most likely leave confused.

The inclusion of the Illuminati while awesome for comic fans was confusing to them as well. While I and most Marvel comics fans will love their inclusion, one of my friends saw it as more Marvel heroes that they did not know and were confused as to what their importance was. With so many shows and films to watch to keep up with everything, I can understand how that can be intimidating and off-putting for newcomers. However, my girlfriend, while confused at some points of the film, still enjoyed the film a great deal. While the number of plots can be enjoyable for some, there is the risk that they can ruin one’s enjoyment of the film and leave some moviegoers with more questions than answers. As I stated in the introduction, I would strongly recommend watching the first Doctor Strange, Wandavision, and What If to ensure that you will enjoy the film to its fullest.

America Chavez’s Role
When America Chavez is first introduced, you would think she is going to play a major role in the film. At first, she does as her ability to teleport between the Multiverse is the call to action and the apple to Wanda’s eye. We even get some backstory on her about her power separating her from her parents and her goal of getting her powers under control to see them again. However, her development stops after she and Strange get captured by Mordo and she doesn’t play much of a role in the final act aside from the climax.

It’s a shame because I did enjoy her as a character and think she has the potential to be a big player in the MCU. It would have been nice to see some more interaction between her and Wanda. Maybe a moment near the end when she’s captured where she tries to appeal to the good in Wanda. Maybe she could have come close or figured out a weakness to use against Wanda later? Her method that breaking Wanda of her corruption was well done and it would have been cool to see how she came to the idea.

Sadly, we don’t get much from her before the final confrontation with Wanda. Strange gets her to control her power by encouragement. And even that motivation was a little flat. Despite this, she is a strong character and welcome addition to the MCU. The ending shows her practicing the mystic arts so it is safe to say she will be in future films. Hopefully, the next Doctor Strange film will give her more time to develop.

Final Thoughts:
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a great experience from beginning to end. The film takes the MCU into the more imaginative realm of comic books. After being mostly grounded in reality since its inception, the MCU has taken a big step in moving towards bringing the more chaotic and creative world of Marvel comic books to life. The show-stealing performance of Elizabeth Olson brings the emotional and tragic story of Wanda to a climactic apex. If this is her final performance, she went out on the highest of notes. Benedict Cumberbatch’s Stephen Strange steps up as a leading force to guide the MCU through the next phase of storytelling.

Multiverse of Madness takes the visuals to a new level and establishes itself as the most unique and distinguishable Marvel to come in recent years. Sam Raimi’s direction takes influence from the Evil Dead and Spider-Man films and makes a new and fresh experience that Marvel fans will enjoy. While not all aspects of its storytelling are perfect, they are not glaring enough to hurt the experience as the visuals, and the appearances of other Marvel heroes give fans an experience that they won’t forget. It is the first Marvel film of the year and a great one that will get you excited for what Marvel has in store next.