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Last night I watched Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022).
I got the Blu-Ray from my local public library so it didn’t cost me a cent. I was concerned because the film has mixed reviews and I didn’t necessarily want to waste my time on a turkey (like just about every Marvel TV show on Disney+ to which I thankfully do not subscribe).
It was…okay. Actually not bad at all, although somewhat flawed.
Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t seen the movie and you hate spoilers, stop reading now.
Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) has a strange (no pun intended) multi-dimensional dream (part and parcel for Dr. Strange in the 1960s and 70 comic books) where he is trying to reach some sort of goal with a young girl (America Chavez played by Xochitl Gomez). Some dark force is trying to take her powers and he becomes too injured to help her. Chavez comes nearer to the goal but is then stopped by the creature. Strange believes the only way to stop the creature from stealing her powers is to steal them himself. Then he wakes up. It was a dream.
Or was it?
He goes to a wedding wearing a broken wrist watch. It was the watch given to him by his lost love Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams). It was the watch he wore the day he got into a car accident that damaged his hands, making the once brilliant doctor useless as a surgeon. She’s getting married. If I was still pining for my lost love, I probably wouldn’t go to her wedding. Anyway.
At the wedding, she asks him if he’s happy. Apparently this is a recurring theme in the film. He lies and says yes. Why would he be happy?
Havoc on the streets. A monster is going after a teenage girl and tearing up everything in its path. Naturally, Stephen turns into his magical superhero persona and pursues. Magical stuff happens and eventually Wong (Benedict Wong) shows up (okay, he’s the “Sorcerer Supreme,” although he still plays second fiddle to Dr. Strange). They defeat the demon and prevent America from running off.
As an aside, Strange is a notorious smart ass, always coming off with the snarky comments. Someone comes along from another universe and says her first name is “America?” He doesn’t even blink and neither does Wong. Who the hell named this character and thought that “America Chavez” was the perfect name for a teenage girl literally from another universe? It’s dumb.
She reveals that Strange’s dream wasn’t a dream but an actual multiverse event. She proves it by producing the dead body of the other Dr. Strange from the “dream” on a rooftop. Stephen “buries” the body but America has revealed that an otherworldly force is trying to take her power to move through the multiverse. She doesn’t know how she does it. The event only occurs during times of stress. Strange and Wong take her to a magical city called Kamar-Taj to protect her.
Strange recognizes the runes on the demon and believes only the powerful Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) can help. He confronts her in an apple orchard apparently on her property. Then he discovers she’s the force trying to steal America’s powers using a book called the Darkhold. She believes if she can travel the multiverse, she can again become the mother to her fictional (literally fictional) sons Billy (Julian Hilliard) and Tommy (Jett Klyne). Of course, she’d have to kill the Wanda in that universe and take her place to become their Mom, but details, details.
Having never seen WandaVision and having no desire to view any of the Disney+ abominations, I don’t really have a lot of insight into the backstory, but I get that Wanda never got past Vision’s death. She created a fantasy world where she had Vision as her husband and two sons, but none of that was ever real. Even when Strange points out that they were created by magic, Wanda’s response was something like “that’s what every mother does.” Respectfully, that’s bullshit.
Wanda needs the superhero equivalent of a psychotherapist. Too bad that doesn’t exist because her mental health issues cause all of the problems that are coming.
As the Scarlet Witch, Wanda attacks Kamar-Taj and wipes out a lot of magic users to get to Chavez. Panicked, Chavez takes herself and Strange through a bunch of other “Earths” arriving at Earth-838 where apparently, Dr. Strange died a hero in defeating Thanos.
Another aside, Strange’s Earth is designated Earth 616. I wonder what it takes to be Earth 1?
Strange’s arch enemy Karl Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is the Sorceror Supreme in this universe and treats Strange like a brother (seemingly). He’s kind of different from the comic book Baron Mordo I grew up reading about in the 1960s. It’s also a little disconcerting that at the end of Doctor Strange (2016), Mordo was trying to steal magic from other users in the world saying there was “too much magic.” As far as I can tell, that entire story arc was abandoned.
Mordo drugs and captures Strange and Chavez. Apparently, the Dr. Strange of their universe used the Darkhold to “dreamwalk” in other dimensions to try to defeat Thanos. It didn’t work and he caused an incursion between their reality and another. He was executed for his crime. So much for due process and being judged by a jury of your peers.
Strange is brought before the Illuminati, a bunch of superpowered assholes superpowered beings who apparently have rule over this reality (why?). This includes (psychotically) Peggy Carter/Captain Britain (Hayley Atwell), Black Bolt of the Inhumans (Anson Mount hiding his “Johnny Bravo” hair under a hood), some version of Captain Marvel (Lashana Lynch), Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four and supposedly the most intelligent person on Earth (John Krasinski), and Professor X/Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart). They believe all versions of Dr. Strange are inherently dangerous and must be exterminated (talk about a star chamber).
I suppose I should say that simply having Wanda erase Black Bolt’s mouth a la Agent Smith and Neo in “The Matrix” (1999) might eliminate his primary power, but in the comic books, he’s far stronger than just his voice.
They had both Strange and Chavez locked up in see-through cages wearing bracelets that rendered them powerless. The person running the zoo was Christine, an expert in multidimensional incursions on this Earth.
Strange tries to convince these clowns that Wanda is the real threat but they’re not hearing it because…you know, arrogant.
Meanwhile, Wanda uses the Darkhold to find a universe where another Wanda is living the suburbian happy life with her two sons. She plans to kill the other Wanda and move in, but although she’s rendered Wong helpless (so much for the Sorceror Supreme), another minor magician who survived Wanda’s attack manages to destroy the Darkhold, severing Wanda’s link to the other universe (of course the hero is destroyed).
Wanda, wanting to know the secret of the Darkhold, threatens to kill all of the surviving magicians if Wong won’t reveal it. Stupidly, he does. He says its a copy of runes in some magical place called Mount Wundagore which he agrees to take her.
Really. With the entire multiverse at risk due to a crazy, ultra-powerful mutant/magician, he decides to risk the lives of untold trillions for five or six magic people? I guess it was to advance the plot. Whatever.
As for Wanda, she’s the worst Mom ever. First of all, her kids were entirely fictional, a manifestation of her grief over losing the Vision. Second, no Mom I know would kill another Mom and steal her kids (yes, there are a few crazy people out there). How could she be a moral guide to two little boys if she had to be their Mom under such vicious circumstances? Plus, she is being 100% selfish. She doesn’t care about those kids. If she did, she’d leave them with their actual Mom. She only cares about her own feels, her own self. The perfect picture of most modern entertainment creators lately relative to their audiences.
Wanda dreamwalks into the Wanda of Earth 838 and kills most of the Illuminati without breaking a sweat. Even Captain Marvel, who is supposed to be the most powerful character ever in the MCU (at least in her white, blond Brie Larson persona) gets wiped out. Xavier tries to get into Wanda’s head but he should have taken notes when in the other universe, Dark Phoenix killed him doing the same thing.
Only Mordo survives but is defeated in hand-to-hand combat with Strange who then manages to get out of his bracelets.
Realizing what’s happening, Christine tries to free Chavez before Wanda arrives (if she’s the keeper of this prison, why doesn’t she have the keys?). Strange arrives and the three of them flee Wanda. She’s not quite as powerful in possessing her other self, but she’s still formidable.
They think they’re free of her, but Wanda arrives and captures America.
They were trying to reach the Book of the Vishanti (we first saw it in Strange’s dream) which has the power to give a magician any power they wish. Wanda destroys it crushing their hopes so the Darkhold is all they have left.
Oh, I should say at this point, Chavez and Strange have seen each other’s memories. Strange involuntarily revealed his pining for his lost love, while Chavez shows Strange the day a threat caused her to open her first portal and sacrifice her two mothers to another universe.
In the official history, Chavez really has two Moms and no Dad at all, completely bypassing how reproductive biology works. Strange also makes no snarky remarks about her not having a Dad. I don’t know if “magic” is also responsible for two women reproducing (kind of like Wanda making babies out of nothing at all) or if some other extraordinary means were used, but everyone passes this off as if it were nothing. Oh, well.
Oh, relative to “wokeisms,” besides the “two Moms” thing, look at the pin Chavez is wearing on her jacket in the image above. Also the placement of an obviously Muslim woman at the wedding (second image from the top). At one point in the film, Chavez says in most universes food is free (it wasn’t when she took some “pizza balls”). She wonders why anyone should have to pay for food. I wonder why Bill Gates owns nearly 270,000 acres of American farmland. Anyway.
Strange and Christine find their way to another rather broken universe to enlist the help of another Dr. Strange in getting home.
Meanwhile, having achieved her goal, Wanda tosses Wong over a cliff, binds Chavez to an altar as if she were a pagan human sacrifice, and prepares to steal her powers which will kill her. Wong, having survived because he landed on a ledge, uses a Wonder Woman-style glowing rope to climb back up.
Strange sees the other Strange is using the Darkhold and in a fight literally using music, he manages to grab it and defeat his adversary. With Christine as his mystic anchor in that universe, he uses the Darkhold to “dreamwalk” into the corpse of the other Dr. Strange in his universe and goes to Wundergore.
Lots of battling and Wong and corpse-Strange are going to lose. Strange encourages Chavez to take possession of her powers and use them willingly when before she had no control. Of course, heroically, she does (because the story required it). She pushes Wanda into the other universe and shows the Mom-Wanda and her boys the true Scarlett Witch. Mom-Wanda is subdued and the boys throw things at the Witch trying to get rid of her. The Witch realizes finally how dumb her plan was and how unfit she was to be a Mom and leaves.
As another aside, Wanda only finds one universe (out of supposedly an endless number) where she is a Mom to those two boys so statistically speaking, this is just another confirmation about her being a Mom is incredibly rare or unlikely.
Back at Wundergore, Chavez takes Strange and Wong away while Wanda seemingly sacrifices her life to destroy all versions of the Darkhold including Mount Wundergore.
In the other, broken universe, Strange and Christine say good-bye and he professes that he’s never been happy since they broke up. He resists the temptation to stay with her for the sake of love, which makes him a better person than Wanda ever was.
Back in the “real” world, Chavez joins Wong’s magic school and Strange goes home.
At home, Strange fixes the watch, giving it a new crystal and puts it on, a symbol of his new life. He goes outside for a walk in normal clothes but collapses on the pavement, exhibiting a new, third eye, a “gift” from using the Darkhold.
In the mid-credits scene, the other-dimensional woman Clea (Charlize Theron who I think is totally miscast in the role), in the comic books, Strange’s one true love (do we ever hear about Victoria Bentley in the movies?), appears telling him that he has caused an incursion and must help her repair it. He goes on another dimension-hopping adventure willingly.
I liked Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mordo but thought the Illuminati were over the top. It’s one thing to have an animated “Captain Britain” and another thing entirely to see Hayley Atwell in the costume and wielding the shield. To be fair, it’s hard to pull off a character like Black Bolt, and seeing as he’s a King of his people, he probably wouldn’t be taking time out to rule the world on a council (and I don’t care if it’s comic book canon). Whatever made Richards think stretching would be an effective weapon over a witch who can destroy worlds?
Apparently there is a black, female Captain Marvel. She appeared as a child (played by Akira Akbar) in the movie Captain Marvel (2019), appeared in WandaVision (2021), and will appear in The Marvels (2023). Looks nothing like the comic book version.
How far can you take the “multiverse?” The CW TV show The Flash is based on it which then saturated the entire “Arrowverse.” Both Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse (2018) which I loved, and Spider-Man No Way Home (2021) which was another Dr. Strange adventure, involve multiple universes and meeting your other selves. This theme has quickly gone from novelty to boringly overused.
Good grief, if Strange has to follow Clea into yet another universe…
It was entertaining and enjoyable, in spite of its flaws. Wanda sucked and I hope we never see her again, even as a supremely evil creature. The part about Wanda that I hate the most is that both Olsen and director Sam Raimi actually believe she isn’t evil. Here’s a quote from the trivia section for the movie at IMDb:
“She’s not a villain,” said Sam Raimi, “she’s suffering.” He added that Elizabeth Olsen is a genius in her portrayal here as “she knows she’s not playing a bad girl, just someone who loves too deeply.”
If that’s someone’s version of (co-dep) love, then for that person, love is deeply flawed to the point of being at least homicidal if not genocidal.
Wong, as the Sorcerer Supreme, still seems like a sidekick. Strange needs to let old girlfriends go. Bruce Campbell as Pizza Poppa was a lot of fun.