The Marvel Cinematic Universe is back on track with theatrical releases with the latest premiere of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. The highly anticipated second main outing of the sorcerer turned accidental multi-versal interloper promised a lot of thrills and implied cameos but did it deliver? Let’s find out.
PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS REVIEW WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS FOR DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS. CONSIDER THIS YOUR WARNING.
Like all MCU films post Endgame, the characters are still dealing with the effects of The Blip; Strange has no regrets about his choice to give up the Time Stone and allow Thanos to snap half of all beings out of existence while others are found to be without family members or loved ones during the five-year blank period. The action kicks off right away by showing a Strange variant protecting a young woman from a demon set to destroy her and absorb her power to travel the multiverse. This young woman, America Chavez, lands in the world of the MCU’s Strange and after a tense battle with a gigantic octopus monster, Chavez reveals that her power is desired by someone powerful which leads Strange to meet with Wanda Maximoff aka The Scarlet Witch.
Wanda appears to be living a quiet life after her experience in Westview and the events of WandaVision but reveals she has been experimenting with dark magic in order to reunite with her imaginary children. Wanda offers Strange and the sorcerers at Kamar-Taj one chance to give her what she wants before she destroys everyone. Wanda’s transition to the Scarlet Witch marked a turning point for the character and the emergence of one of the most powerful heroes, or villains, in the entire MCU; Someone who can bend reality to their will, conjure destructive energy with merely a look and change the entire trajectory of any universe.
Following the escape of Strange and Chavez, they wind up in a similar yet different universe that features the Illuminati rather than the Avengers with Black Bolt, Captain Carter, Captain Marvel/Rambeau, Reed Richards and Charles Xavier as the mightiest heroes of this universe. This scene has been teased for much of the film’s marketing period and was no surprise to see John Krasinski as Reed Richards as rumors have persisted to his appearance and it was a welcome addition of having Patrick Stewart return to play Professor X (fans of the 90’s X-Men cartoon will recognize several notes of the show’s original theme song). The Scarlet Witch finds a way to enter this universe using her variant as a conduit to brutally murder the Illuminati and try one more time to capture Chavez. Wanda’s pursuit of Strange and Chavez feels like a subtle nod to slasher villains like Freddie Kruger and Michael Myers as she relentlessly pursues her prey.
It is during this introduction to the Illuminati and their interrogation of Strange that they reveal that their Strange caused the destruction of another universe thanks to his meddling and curiosity into dark magic and navigating the multiverse. Strange must reconcile this curiosity and must convince this group that he is not a threat and merely wants to defeat Wanda and keep America safe. During this interrogation and battle, Chavez is finally captured and nearly sacrificed just so Wanda can find her pretend children. Thanks to some clever manipulation of a Strange variant corpse, Strange is able to save Chavez and provide some insight to Wanda. America is able to open a portal to a universe with Wanda’s children to show her the brutal reality she would have to face by getting her children back; that she would have to destroy her variant and try to be a mother for children who are afraid of her. Wanda ultimately decides to sacrifice herself in order to prevent the dark magic from falling into the wrong hands. It is a disappointing end for a character who has become beloved among the fans and represent immeasurable story potential for the future of the MCU. The film ends with Strange lamenting the loss of Wanda and being content with his choices to protect humanity but has not quite come to grips with the effects dark magic will have on him.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness does not exactly up the ante for the MCU. While it certainly expands the multiverse and the dangers that come with it, the movie feels like it under-delivered on the cameos that were implied in the trailers and persistent rumors. Based on the marketing, it would have been appreciated to see characters like Deadpool, an Iron Man variant featuring Tom Cruise, The Watcher, Vision or even Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man but these did not happen. Sam Raimi was the perfect director to take over following the departure of original director Scott Derrickson and really pushed the boundaries on violence in the MCU and grappling with death. What holds back this film from greatness is the sheer volume of prep work necessary to understand it; Doctor Strange, Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame as well as Spider-Man: No Way Home, WandaVision and several episodes of What If seem to be required viewing for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. At this point in the MCU, it may becoming too exhausting to even be a casual fan.