When fans walk into a Marvel Cinematic Universe movie, they mostly know what they are getting into. These are superhero movies, where a super-powered good guy battles villains who threaten the city, world, or universe. The hero and villain battle in a war that gradually builds in intensity until that final fight where only one can win in the end. It is every hero’s journey, with flight, laser blasts, and super strength.
However, Marvel has changed things up in recent years and it seems that it is shell-shocking to some fans.
With the start of the Disney+ streaming shows, the MCU had become something strange. WandaVision created a world straight out of classic television sitcoms, yet still managed to end with the same climactic battle that MCU fans almost expect. Loki then took everything and threw it off the tracks when it introduced the multiverse.
From those two streaming series comes Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. There is a complaint among some moviegoers that you have to watch every single Marvel movie to enjoy the new ones. That is not true at all, because Marvel does a good job of making each story self-contained and anything you need to know about past movies is cliff-noted in the new movie. It might not be super clear if you go in completely clueless about WandaVision or Spider-Man: No Way Home, but you don’t need to know everything to enjoy this newest Marvel movie.
Minor spoilers follow about the plot of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is not a sequel to the first Doctor Strange movie. The Master of the Mystic Arts has done a lot since that first movie, which was his origin story. He battled Thanos with the Avengers and he helped both Thor (in Thor: Ragnarok) and Spider-Man (in No Way Home). There was even a line in this movie that he had battled Baron Mordo, who turned evil in the post-credit of the first movie, more than once. None of that matters here. All you need to know is that Doctor Strange is a superhero and he is very powerful and the world knows who he is.
This movie is also not a sequel to Spider-Man: No Way Home, no matter what the trailers make you believe. All you need to know from that movie is that Doctor Strange knows what the multiverse is and has dealt with it before and this movie tells you that in dialogue. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a sequel to WandaVision.
In that Disney+ series, Wanda Maximoff suffered a breakdown after the death of her husband, Vision, and she created an idealistic world in Westview, enslaving the minds of every resident there. She created her husband, bringing a version back from the dead, and then used her magic to end up pregnant with their children, Tommy and Billy. In the end. Wanda had to face what she did and undo everything, including wiping her kids out of existence. In the post-credit scene, she was using a magical book called the Darkhold to try to find a way to bring her kids back. That is what you need to know heading into Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
The movie starts with an alternate universe Doctor Strange (remember from No Way Home that there were three Spider-Man heroes from different worlds working together? There are countless versions in different universes). This version of Strange is running from demons with a young teenage girl who has superpowers but has no idea how to control them. They are trying to get to a book that will help them beat the demons, but when this Strange realizes they can’t, he decides he has to take the young girl’s powers, killing her, so he can stop the demons. He fails and dies and the girl then punches a star-shaped hole in reality and sweeps them through – and into the MCU’s Earth.
Comic book fans know who this is. This is Marvel’s newest young character (joining Kate Bishop from Hawkeye, Echo from Hawkeye, Yelena Belova from Black Widow, and the upcoming Ms. Marvel, Kamala Khan). She is America Chavez, and in her original origin story, she was from the Utopian Parallel and could punch a hole into the universe and travel to any world in the multiverse. That is kept intact in her MCU storyline. When a giant one-eyed demon creature based on Shuma-Gorath attacks her on our Earth, Doctor Strange and Wong show up to save her. She clearly doesn’t trust Strange since the last one she trusted tried to kill her, but she had no choice.
This is when Doctor Strange realized this wasn’t a magical creature but was a demon, so he went to the only other Avenger he knew who was a powerful magic-user – Wanda Maxomoff. However, what he didn’t expect was that she was now the Scarlet Witch and she wanted her kids back and would kill anyone or any universe to achieve this goal. The Scarlet Witch is the villain, and she is more powerful than any villain in MCU history, including Thanos. As a matter of fact, this version of Wanda could have destroyed Thanos without much trouble.
That is shown when one of the biggest fan-friendly moments of the movie occurred. Audience members in my screening cheered loudly when three different characters were introduced — two making their return to the MCU and one a dream casting come true. Then Wanda showed up and those cheers turned to horrified gasps.
That brings me to the director of this movie – Sam Raimi.
The first Doctor Strange movie had a horror director at the helm in Scott Derrickson (who has a horror movie coming out this summer called Black Phone). He left due to creative differences, and Raimi was the perfect person to take his place. Raimi is an old-school comic book fan, and he is also one of the most popular genre filmmakers from his era, the man who created The Evil Dead franchise. He always wanted to make a comic book movie and when Marvel and DC said no, he made Darkman, which had its fair share of horror moments. He finally got his chance with Marvel with the first Spider-Man trilogy, the second movie remaining one of the best comic book movies out there. Now, he is back with Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and he mixed his love of comics with his love of horror for the scariest and most violent movie in MCU history.
There are a lot of deaths in this movie – some gruesome. There are also scary demons and a scene where Doctor Strange creates a cloak out of them in truly horrific imagry. However, Raimi is also at his most playful. What fans of Doctor Strange comics know is that they are bizarre and crazy and bring some of the goofiest villains and magical devices to the printed page. Raimi does that here, as evident by what can only be described as a musical battle between Doctor Strange and an evil version of himself. This movie is pure Raimi and his fans will love every second of it (including a great Bruce Campbell cameo).
However, it is also a story of redemption, a love story, and a tragedy where a person realizes they went too far and there is no way back. It has fan-friendly moments, emotional beats, and some great horror action battles. It is like nothing Marvel has made before and that is a good thing.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a movie that brings in the man who was supposed to be the MCU’s most powerful sorcerer and puts him up against someone he has no chance of beating. It also brings in a new character that should become a massive fan favorite in American Chavez, someone who is sure to play a big role in the future of both the movies and Disney+ shows. Finally, it gave fans the Scarlet Witch that everyone wanted to see from the start.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness was a huge success. People still complain about the mythical “superhero fatigue” that doesn’t actually exist outside of people’s imaginations. There are those who feel they need to know everything from past movies and shows going in, even though each movie spells out what you need to know in that specific movie. It also did what people asked for, bringing something new and fresh to a superhero movie, even though those same people who wanted that complained when they got it. This is all to say that Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness has already made $479 million worldwide after just one week, crushing those misconceptions. It deserved its success.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness has brought people something very different from the MCU and as long as Marvel keeps letting its directors deliver their visions while keeping things organized behind the scenes when it comes to the overall universe, MCU movies aren’t going anywhere and will keep getting better and better.
Spider-Man: No Way Home seemed like a hard movie to follow. However, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness was just different enough to do just that and prove that superhero movies are still some of the best overall experiences in theaters today.