A Review of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

Lily WangDecember 5, 2022Dreams and DesiresMedia
A Review of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

Is our ability to dream a blessing or a curse? It is on this perfectly rational and sensible question that Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is built.

The film depicts an insane adventure befitting its title. The movie's premise is not entirely original — our once-again hero, Dr. Stephen Strange, must once again save the world from being destroyed… once again — but this tried-and-true format has rendered numerous entertaining pictures, and this is one of them. The conflict of the movie centers around a teen named America Chavez, who possesses the ability to travel between parallel worlds (the multiverse). The unlikely antagonist, Wanda Maximoff, who also goes under the pseudonym Scarlet Witch, has the Darkhold, which enables her to find her lost family in another universe. She seeks to harness America’s powers and, thus, kill her in hopes of journeying across the multiverse to reunite with her family. Stephen Strange must save the girl and protect the world from Wanda's abuse of power.

So begins the witty dialogue, the air of arrogance, and the fighting of giant monocular octopuses, all appropriate continuations of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The film is laced with Marvel jargon that only diehard fans can fully appreciate. In fact, the expansion of the franchise, now with TV shows on Disney+, has become one of the main points of criticism. Too much preparation is required to catch up with the ever-expanding universe. To understand this movie, you might want to re-watch the 2016 Doctor Strange and stream WandaVision, the TV series that sets the backdrop of Wanda's character development. Throw in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, two atypically long movies, for good measure, and you're good to go — that is, if you want to be in on the many Easter eggs and inside jokes. As a Marvel enthusiast who cannot afford Disney+, I find that you do not need to be a dedicated fan to appreciate the film's overall themes.

Ultimately, the movie revolves around the notion of dreams. Through dreams, we can reach different worlds, much like travelling through the multiverse. Strange is haunted by his dreams. Before encountering America, he experiences a nightmare in which an evil version of himself gratuitously sacrifices her in battle. Little does he know this alternative villain-Strange exists beyond his imagination and is lurking in a corner of the multiverse like all other versions of him. As he travels across each reality, he finds that every Strange is destined for the same bleak end. Despite not being spell-casting sorcerers, the audience can understand this sense of hopelessness. As a highschooler, I share his reproach for determinism. I am constantly told I have the power to change the course of my future, that my decisions make a difference, that I am not confined to a single path. I think this holds true for everyone. We move through life by making decisions that branch off into different possibilities. We believe that we have the ability to create a better, brighter future. How cruel would it be to find out they all lead to the same place?

Wanda, however, faces an entirely opposite set of challenges. To her, dreams offer escape from reality. She is so consumed by her loss that she attempts to fabricate a new life for herself and, in doing so, becomes malevolent. “Every night, the same dream, and every morning the same nightmare,” she says as she gazes into portals displaying her sons from other universes. Many scenes unabashedly reveal the extent of her grief, the most memorable being an apple orchard, which withers into an expanse of decaying trees, illuminated by the red gloom of the sky. I believe Wanda is one of the most dimensional villains in cinema. Rather than greed, Wanda is an antagonist driven by grief. As the Scarlet Witch, Elizabeth Olsen does the impossible. Simultaneously unfeeling and despairing, repressed and rampant, we can look past her villainous façade and see a woman destroyed by the loss. “I'm not a monster. I'm a mother,” she tells us and, perhaps, assures herself. In this character lies a cautionary tale: we may lose ourselves if we dwell too much in our dreams.

The extent of Wanda’s suffering justifies the gore and barbarity of MCU’s first ever horror film. It compliments the rather “horrifying” prospect of losing everything that you love. Or maybe I’m reading too much into it. Dappling in this new genre certainly raises the level of excitement, or trepidation, depending on how much you enjoy exploding heads and shredded limbs. A purposeful artistic choice or an excuse to experiment with fresh elements, I commend director Sam Raimi for introducing us to this darker side of Marvel. The horror, and indeed the film, would flatline without the spectacular and breathtaking visuals by the editing team. So much detail is put into every realm the characters enter that their world, so brilliantly fantastical, becomes almost tangible. With each multiverse, as cities dissipate into ash, faces fragment, and planets shatter, I am convinced that the convulsing, imploding universe is going mad.

Madness can be caused by dreaming. Without dreams, Strange may never accept his fate. Without dreams, Wanda may never become evil. Each dreamlike experience has the potential to turn nightmarish and vice versa. The film leaves us to ponder the consequences of dreams long after the credits roll. Overall, the film can be enjoyed by teens and adults alike. Young children beware (remember, exploding heads and shredded limbs). I thoroughly enjoyed its stunning visuals, evocative characters, and entertaining storyline. However, I think the movie could have provided greater focus on Doctor Strange’s character development, and the plot could have been tweaked to rely less on previous films. Though far from perfection, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a fantastic addition to the MCU, which is why I give it four out of five stars.

Lily Wang is a 16-year-old living in Melbourne, Australia. Her passions lie in literature, politics, and philosophy. She can often be found in the realms of a novel, immersed in an article, or in deep discussion with friends on a topic that knows no bounds. Lily is also guilty of watching and re-watching sitcoms while working on her latest knitting project.