Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been a consistently fantastic franchise, with truly complex storytelling in a shared universe across multiple movies and even franchises within these movies. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is the 28th film in the MCU, and another impressive addition to the narrative of the larger universe. While most of the movies can be watched on their own, this one has some stronger ties to past projects. In my opinion, essential viewing before this one is WandaVision, with Spider-Man: No Way Home and the first Doctor Strange movie very helpful to understanding many of the references. I will do my best to keep this review spoiler free, although a lot of the big surprises are already out there, especially on Twitter and Facebook.

Dr. Strange’s first movie was in 2016, and this story brings back several of the characters from the movie, introducing several more. It also follows on the heels of Spider-Man: No Way Home, which Dr. Strange and Wong were both in. The story begins, however, with the much anticipated debut of America Chavez, a popular character from the comics who finally comes to live action. She introduces one of the central concepts of the movie in her own initial action sequence, along with a surprising companion. Strange himself has a busy day, attending a very bittersweet event. One of the most interesting things in this scene is that the general public, or at least some people who have no real direct connection to the Avengers and their allies, seem to have a lot of knowledge about what happened during Infinity War. Between this and some hints in Rogers: The Musical, which we saw bits of in the Hawkeye series, I really wonder just how much is generally known of the Avengers’ major battles.

As often happens to superheroes, a crisis interrupts their personal life, dragging Strange from a place he arguably didn’t want to be anyway, and eventually uniting him, Wong, and America against an ugly foe. Their opponent is never named, but certainly bears a strong resemblance to a demonic Marvel character called Shuma-Gorath. The heroes later talk over pizza, evoking the famed shawarma scene at the end of Avengers. Eventually, a plan of action is decided on, and Strange goes to find some help in the form of Wanda Maximoff, former Avenger and last seen in the Disney+ WandaVision series.

A lot of twists and turns come into play, and we gradually learn who the big villain behind the scenes is. I admit, I was surprised. There are a lot of battles with some really high stakes, and a minor character from the Dr. Strange’s comics gets a few appearances. I was hoping they’d do more with this one, but it’s a minor role, for now at least. Heavily outgunned, our heroes flee, and skip between several realities. They spend the most time on an Earth designated 838. This is a very peculiar mashup Earth, with a surprising variety of characters on it. They manage to, among other things, give an entertaining cameo, encounter a doppleganger of someone important to Strange, and see a truly inspiring assemblage of heroes that range from pretty much prefect translations of the comic book characters to popular variants from recent Disney+ series to a new version of a familiar character and a live action translation of someone from the cartoons. Sadly, arrogance isn’t a flaw delegated to Strange alone, and they don’t heed his warnings. There’s a major, bloody battle with a high body count. I will say that one particular character that is supposed to be one of the most brilliant minds on Earth does something amazingly stupid.

Strange and his allies flee once again, and that should give you an idea of the stakes here. Dr. Strange is immensely powerful, and he ends up running away several times in the movie. Eventually, there’s a climactic showdown at a spot that’s very important to the comic book history of one of the main characters of the movie. After a lot of high-powered fighting, the heroes pull out a victory of a kind, although not the way you might expect. Finally, we see those that survive moving on with their lives, putting some of their past traumas behind them. There are, of course, two end scenes. One suggests what Strange’s next adventure will be. The other is a callback to something that happened earlier in the movie, and arguably to a classic 80’s movie.

What I liked: They did some amazing things in this movie. The new characters they introduced and spent some time with really impressed me. Some of the rumors I’d heard about this movie were true, and arguably even better than I’d heard. They do some important things with background music if you’re paying attention, and at least once the music becomes impossible to miss. I applaud Disney for sticking by the script as written, even though that apparently cost them opening in two countries. There were a lot of twists I didn’t see coming, and I consider myself an expert on superheroes. I liked this depiction of America Chavez. I’m very excited by who showed up in the end scene, and the actor playing that role. They did some very clever things with Wong’s magic that worked well with what we know of his background.

What I didn’t: One character seemed ridiculously overpowered. As I mentioned, a genius did something breathtakingly stupid. While it was a great adventure, it was the second MCU movie in a row to end on a downbeat for the main character. I’d really like to see some earlier adventures of some of the characters we don’t get enough time with.

I really liked this movie, although I wouldn’t put it at among the best of the MCU. Then again, that’s a very high bar at this point. I’ll give this a very high 3.5 out of 5, not quite hitting 4 due to some admittedly personal bias, as well as what I mentioned above.

Doctor Strange, we are told, will return.

They are certainly laying the groundwork for a group that America is a member of in the pages of Marvel Comics, so I expect we’ll see more of her, too.

The next story in the MCU is Ms. Marvel, the first episode of which debuts on Disney+ on June 8th, less than a month from now at this writing.

The next MCU movie will be Thor: Love and Thunder, the first smaller franchise to get a fourth installment. Thor will return to the theaters on July 8th, one month after Ms. Marvel starts.

It will be very interesting to see what happens next for Dr. Strange and the others that survived this movie.