Spoilers ahead for this review of Doctor Strange In The Multiverse of Madness. This film is a profound, moving exploration of a mother’s love for her children and how far one will go to be with them. Furthermore, it’s a story about loss, regret, and the mysteries of the multiverse to be unlocked. We’ll begin with the concept of the multiverse. Following the chaos from Spider-Man: No Way Home, the Doctor Strange sequel is surprisingly straightforward with its approach to introducing the multiverse.
America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), is a teenager with the ability to travel the multiverse. In the film’s opening moments, she, along with an alternate version of Stephen Strange, is hunted by a demon in their pursuit of the Book of Vishanti – a powerful source of magic and counterpart to the Darkhold. After Strange is killed, Chavez escapes to Earth-616. Otherwise known as our Earth – where Chavez meets Strange following a fight with a giant octopus monster in downtown New York, Gargantos.
Strange and Wong make connections to witchcraft and consult Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) for help. The problem is that Wanda was responsible for sending the demons after Chavez. Wanda acquired the Darkhold during the events of Wandavision, thus transforming into the Scarlet Witch. She intends to harness Chavez’s power to control the multiverse and reunite with Billy and Tommy – her children she’d created with magic in Westview.
Despite the insanity to come from Olsen’s character – her motivations feel pure and heartbreaking. Olsen’s performance and the evolution of the Scarlet Witch are two of the film’s key highlights – as she goes to war against the sorcerers of Kamar-Taj, and fights the Illuminati, a group of multiverse heroes to reach Chavez on Earth 838. Following the assault on Kamar-Taj, Chavez inadvertently sends herself and Strange to Earth-838 and finds themselves arrested by this world’s version of Karl Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor).
After meeting Earth-838’s counterpart of Christine Palmer – an Illuminati scientist – Strange is bought before the Illuminati – a group of multiverse heroes including Captain Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), Captain Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch’s version of Captain Marvel), King Black Bolt (Anson Mount), Doctor Reed Richards (John Krasinski), and Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart).
Let’s take a moment to let this all sink in. Jim Halpert is Mister Fantastic. Now, back to the plot. In this world – it’s established that Strange caused an “incursion” with the Darkhold that almost wiped out the entire universe. The Illuminati kill their Strange – solidifying their belief that the new Strange is equally dangerous.
Before the Illuminati can pass judgement on Strange – the Scarlet Witch attacks the facility. The Scarlet Witch “dream-walks” into the body of the Earth-838 counterpart of Wanda – who lives with her sons. Dream-walking allows the Scarlet Witch to orchestrate an attack on the facility without physically being present.
The Scarlet Witch, bloodied and red-eyed, kills the multiverse heroes save for Mordo. She shreds Krasinski’s Mister Fantastic into rubber shreds, crushes Maria Rambeau beneath a statue, kills Captain Carter with her shield, and removes Black Bolt’s mouth – using his hypersonic scream to kill him. Stewart’s Xavier attempts to save Earth 838’s Wanda from the Scarlet Witch’s control – only to have his neck snapped.
The dark, twisted tone of the film is arguably Sam Raimi at his best. While it was disappointing to see the Illuminati fizzle out so quickly – there’s an entire multiverse of potential out there – meaning it might not be the last we’ve seen of John Krasinski’s stretchy superhero – or the wonderful Patrick Stewart. After escaping from Earth 838, Strange, Chavez, and Christine Palmer are separated across the multiverse.
With Strange and Christine trapped in a world devastated by self-collapse, the Scarlet Witch prepares to harvest Chavez’s powers on Earth 616 – (our Earth, remember?). Strange meets a three-eyed variant of himself – Sinister Strange – a version influenced by the Darkhold and eerily similar to What If…?’s Strange Supreme. 616’s version of Strange attempts to negotiate for the Darkhold, with Sinister Strange agreeing to meet his request in exchange for Christine Palmer. In one of the most unique fight sequences from an MCU movie, the two versions of Strange fight with musical notes conjured to life by magic from piano sheet music.
With Sinister Strange defeated, 616’s variant of Strange uses the Darkhold to dream-walk into the corpse of the first Strange we’d met at the beginning of the film – currently buried in New York. We’ll call this new variant – Zombie Strange.
Everything culminates in a fight at the top of Wundagore Mountain – a temple for the Scarlet Witch. Unable to defeat Wanda, Chavez sends the Scarlet Witch to Earth 838 – and meets her children. Afraid for their mother, Earth 838’s Wanda, and realising how far she’s gone, the Scarlet Witch destroys the mountain, sacrificing herself and destroying all traces of the Darkhold throughout every conceivable universe. Whether this is the end of Wanda – remains to be seen.
As the film prepares to wrap up – Chavez trains to become a sorceress as they rebuild Kamar-Taj. Strange professes his love for his version of Palmer before later developing a third eye – in some way connected to meddling with the Darkhold. In the film’s first post-credit scene, Charlize Theron makes a cameo appearance as Clea. She warns Strange that his actions have created an incursion – before the two walk into the Dark Dimension.
In conclusion, as someone who has never read a Marvel comic book, it’s hard to criticise this film – like any Marvel film – based on those experiences. Instead, this review focuses on whether it makes a good Marvel film. While the film’s third act, particularly with pacing, feels awkward and clunky, and Charlize Theron’s cameo was a bit anti-climactic, Doctor Strange In The Multiverse of Madness capitalises on the promise of the multiverse with style and surprise.
Loki set up the potential of the multiverse a year ago, and it concluded an altogether solid series. The Doctor Strange sequel takes the concept and throws everything at it, including a universe where Strange and Chavez become cartoons.
The Doctor Strange sequel delivers on every other front. The humour, particularly between Wong and Strange, and the customs associated with being a Sorcerer Supreme. The action sequences are fun and engaging, including a fight with a giant octopus and Wanda’s gruelling showdown with the Illuminati heroes. This brings me to Raimi’s signature dark tone. Multiverse of Madness is the darkest, most grim chapter in the MCU to date, and it’s all the better for a bit of the old Raimi magic.
Wanda Maximoff’s evolution as the Scarlet Witch to her desperate plight to reunite with her lost children is honest and perfectly balanced within this oppressively dark sequel. Then there’s Strange’s character development toward being a more empathic superhero, and once again, it’s perfectly executed amongst all the magic and hand-swirly battle stuff. Plus, let’s not forget the cameos – the Illuminati heroes and Bruce Campbell, a pizza vendor unable to stop punching himself.
For more Marvel content, then make sure to take a look at Holly’s review for Spider-Man: No Way Home.