TL;DR – Less to do with Dr Strange and more to do with Wanda Maximoff (aka the Scarlet Witch)
Review (warning: spoilers)
For those who have not seen WandaVision, I would recommend watching that TV series first before diving into Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
Devastated after losing Vision to Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War, Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) uses her chaos magic to alter the reality of a small town and control all its denizens to create the idyllic life she dreamed of with Vision which included having a family with twin boys. WandaVision unveils the slow spiral Wanda descends into and the mental breakdown that ensues.
The end of that TV series, Wanda also obtains the Darkhold (aka the Book of the Damned), a magical grimoire, that contains powerful magic but corrupts the user. The Darkhold reveals to Wanda the presence of the multiverse where alternate versions of her actually have twin boys that she is the mother of.
Now, to the movie, where we are thrown into an opening scene involving Steven Strange aka Dr Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) helping a young girl named America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) escape from a demon chasing them between alternate universes. The pair are trying to find the Book of Vishanti, the anti-thesis to the Darkhold. They manage to find the book but have to face off against the demon. The demon kills Strange but Chavez escapes through a magical portal that she creates.
It’d be a short film if Strange dies in the first ten minutes, and sure enough we discover that the Strange that got killed was one from an alternate universe. We then see the version of Dr Strange that we know awaken from the nightmarish vision of his alternate self being killed. Chavez has now entered our universe and is chased by another demon before being rescued by our Dr Strange and Sorcerer Supreme Wong (Benedict Wong).
Steven then makes the mistake of seeking Wanda for help. If you’ve watched WandaVision then what follows won’t be a twist, but for those who haven’t, they might be surprised to see Wanda turn to the dark side. Turns out she’s the one who has been sending demons to hunt down Chavez, and she wants to acquire Chavez’s portal making ability to traverse the multiverse so she can take over one of the alternate versions, so she can have her family and live happily ever after with her twins.
What possibly is wrong with that? Obviously a lot. Dr Strange, his unrequited love interest Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), Chavez and Wong all work together to try and stop the Scarlet Witch.
The Dr Strange films do not have the benefit of reboots or remakes. So while Spider-man: No Way Home had previous Spider-man flicks starring Tobey Macguire and Andrew Garfield and an assortment of other villains that were able to cross over into Tom Holland’s Spidey world, the only alternate universe that Dr Strange draws from is one where he sacrificed his life to defeat Thanos rather than Tony Stark’s Iron Man, or an alternate universe where he ends up married to Christine.
For Marvel fans, it was a joy, however short-lived, to see that in the alternate universe where Dr Strange sacrificed his life, the Illuminati oversee the protection of that universe’s Earth. The Illuminati is led by five heroes:
- Karl Mordo (Chiwetel Ejifor) – who is the Sorcerer Supreme in this alternate universe.
- Captain Carter (Hayley Atwell) – who was Steve Rogers’s love interest in our universe but in this alternate one, she is the one injected with the super soldier serum.
- Charles Xavier aka Professor X (Patrick Stewart) – leader of the X-men and the first indication in the MCU that the world of mutants is crossing over into the world of the Avengers.
- Captain Marvel (Lashana Lynch) – an alternate version of Captain Marvel to the one we know played by Brie Larson.
- Black Bolt (Anson Mount) – one of the leaders of the Inhumans who if he speaks (even a whisper) can cause soundwaves that can destroy buildings. Seeing the Inhumans introduced into the MCU was a delight. I was hoping Black Bolt’s love interest, Medusa, would make an appearance but alas she did not.
- Reed Richards (John Krasinski) – leader of the Fantastic Four.
Watching them judge Dr Strange for travelling the multiverse while he pleads to them to set up defences against the Scarlet Witch’s arrival is one of the best bits in the film. The fact that Wanda comes in and decimates the Illuminati leadership (except Mordo) demonstrates she is uber powerful. And while an exciting sequence of action, I don’t think Marvel comic book fans will be satisfied that Wanda could dispose of Carter, Xavier, Captain Marvel, Black Bolt and Richards so easily.
In the end, this movie was much less about Dr Strange and much more about Wanda, and her anguish and subsequent corruption by the Darkhold. We get glimpses into Dr Strange’s own complex character (e.g. witnessing alternate universes with Christine, confronting an alternate universe that has become broken containing a damaged Dr Strange, and our own Steven’s sacrifice by using Darkhold magic to take control of one of the dead versions of himself to confront the Scarlet Witch).
But it never quite feels like the focus is on him. Rather, the most moving moments are taken by Wanda, and the eventual realisation that her wants are destroying many universes not just her own. Chavez is left as a supporting character. She’s like one of Professor X’s young mutants learning to use her powers rather than being controlled by them. Her eventual confidence to control her power simply by Steven telling her she can do it is a bit weak in the story telling department and frankly quite lazy.
Still, there’s enough going on for Marvel fans of both the cinematic universe and the comic books to digest and wonder what will be next for Steven Strange.
8 out of 10