[Warning: This story contains spoilers for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.]
What bothers you, Stephen?
No, it’s not a line of words Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, although it most likely is. It was the title of a 1997 Eisner Award-winning Marvel shot by Marc Andreyko and P. Craig Russell, which saw Doctor Strange travel across dimensions to save Wong. Additionally, Strange is confronted by a heartbroken, power-hungry witch who is seeking his power, before she finally pulls her castle down.
The Sam Raimi sequel is not an adaptation of this story at all, although the similarities between the two works are notable. The most attractive thing is Madness’s Multiverse also begins Stephen (Benedict Cumberbatch)’s journey with a question, one that also poses the dilemma of what has been bothering him. “Are you happy?” Dr. Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) asks him during her wedding to another man. Strange smiles and lies, “It’s me.” For all the trips through alternate dimensions and guests to greater ambition in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Madness’s Multiverse is a surprisingly simple and focused story that forces its characters to consider the cost of their happiness and when and where such an important emotion can be exploited.
As much suspense as seeing Raimi imbibe Madness’s Multiverse with the horror (all while seeing the MCU setting up a future appearance of the Fantastic Four) and letting the story introduce “infiltrations,” the biggest strength of the Doctor Strange sequel is that it makes looking forward to the future of the Multiverse an important part of the seminal narrative. So far, with the MCU’s Phase 4, built around characters finding their role and purpose in a world that’s been irrevocably altered by Thanos, it feels appropriate. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness finds the protagonist and its central villain caught at a crossroads about what they will become and what roles are available to them.
Although there are some viewers who expect the sequel to create a larger playing field on its own, combining Loki (In 2021), Spider-Man: There’s no way home (2021), Fox’s X-Men, Deadpool, and a host of pre-MCU character adaptations, Madness’s Multiverse instead rely on strings set up in Sorcerer Supreme (2016), WandaVision (2021) and What if…? (20) Dead Devil appeared in many of Raimi’s films, from Crime wave (1985) to A simple plan (1998) to Drag me to hell (2009). While Raimi’s aesthetic is an obvious highlight of Madness’s MultiverseThe themes he has invested heavily in his movies are also very current and quite in line with the ideas that the MCU has established before.
In the Marvel Studios animated series, What if…? there is an episode titled, “What if… Doctor Strange lost his heart instead of his hand?” Not only is this the best episode of the series, but it’s also the perfect lead on how Madness’s Multiverse watch Stephen Strange and Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) on their quest for happiness. In that episode, Christine Palmer dies, and despite using the time stone to try to save her, and failing again and again, her death is an absolute hit.
Strange then traveled back in time, searched for the lost books of the wizard Cagliostro, and began using dark magic to consume dimensional demons instead, taking their powers to break the rules rules of reality. Both processes turned him into a monster and caused the collapse of his universe. In Madness’s Multiverse, we see other variations of Stephen Strange, who, even if they’re not grieving, can’t let go, doing as Christine told Strange at her wedding, and letting someone else take the knife.
Strange later admitted that his refusal to let others take the lead, making difficult choices was because of his fear, fear of loss, failure, not being able to save a life and prevent tragedy. This fear, stemming from his sister’s death, manifests itself in Sorcerer Supreme, directed by Scott Derrickson. In that film, Strange refuses to accept the patient cases he knows he can’t succeed in. He mentioned not wanting to break his record, and his careless ego made him seem like a glorious hound, but it was fear that drove him.
And it is that fear that explains his cold relationship with Wong (Benedict Wong) and the beginning of Madness’s Multiverse, and the callous treatment of his own deceased Horsetail Variant’s body. He is afraid of loss. He is afraid of being left without a solution. And he is afraid of being powerless. These fears are only exacerbated by nerve damage in his hands, even as he emerges from Kamar-Taj a less self-centered person.
Wanda is driven by a similar fear of helplessness, a fear rooted in her childhood, and her inability to save her parents from a bomb in Sokovia. So she entrusted herself to an order that would give her strength. HYDRA is definitely not Kamar-Taj, but it has provided her with the tools to combat her fear and create fear in others. However, even with that power, she cannot save her brother Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), and she cannot save her husband, Vision (Paul Bettany).
And even after she harnesses the means to revive them, along with creating two children, Billy (Julian Hilliard) and Tommy (Jett Klyne), she still can’t keep them. She has not found happiness yet. Wanda’s mind is shattered, as evidenced by her reflection in the film, in the same way that Strange’s hand was smashed to pieces, and both are set on a quest for answers through ghosts. art and the multiverse.
Doctor Strange and Wanda in this movie both offer pretty serious looks at individuals who have saved the world, but still haven’t been granted extra time for the people they need most in their lives. Raimi explores this on a smaller scale in Spiderman film, in which Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), despite having saved New York City countless times, is asked to “give up the things we most want, even our dreams”. However Parker is not magical, and he doesn’t realize that those dreams could be his for Dreamwalking to choose thanks to the infinite possibilities of the Multiverse.
There will certainly be a lot of discussion in the coming years about Wanda’s turn as Scarlet Witch in Madness’s Multiverseand how the movie uses her as a villain after claiming that she set things up in the immediate aftermath of WandaVision. But I think it’s fair to challenge her to see how well she arranges them. That’s right, Wanda had let dozens of Westviews, whom she had enslaved her mind, set free. But she also strips Agatha Harkness (Kathryn Hahn) of her ability to use magic and then enslaves her mind in the nosy neighbor character “Agnes,” which somehow feels crueler than killing her.
And instead of surrendering to the crimes she committed, she flew away. Not only did she imprison a woman and evade justice, but she also carried a black magic book, The Darkhold, with a plan to find her children.
While Wanda reveals is the big bad thing in Madness’s Multiverse may arrive earlier than expected, WandaVision clearly defining that’s where she’s headed, her moral flaws are only exacerbated when she uses dark magic. Although there is a certain therapeutic message in Vision’s line, “what is grieving but preserved love?” there’s also a terror to it, asking how long it must hold on before it becomes something that can’t let go of the past and that love becomes spoiled?
In every universe, Stephen hears of or meets versions of himself who have become corrupted for love, for wanting things to be right. Wanda, on the other hand, only sees versions of herself who have kept what she’s lost, her children, and the pure expression of the love they share. “I am not a monster, I am a mother,” Wanda says at one point in the film, evoking empathy despite the fact that she is no longer a mother, and even when she’s the mother, that’s only for her kids. created through magic.
The one-time Avenger had no role to play, something Strange was also up against. He’s not a surgeon, he’s not the Sorcerer Supreme, he’s not the love of Christine’s life, and he’s not even an Avenger because a new team was never made. create. He is the Master of the Sanctum Santorum in New York, but as his Darkhold addiction variant tells him, it is simply a state of being trapped in a haunted house. Strange is surrounded by objects of the past, like Wanda and her memories. This is what confused both of them.
Strange was able to move beyond the past by letting someone else wield the knife, trusting his body to a Variant version of Christine Palmer, while Dreamwalking in his deceased Variant, and allowing America Chavez (Xochtil Gomez) is the one who breaks Wanda from her illusion that her children will understand what she has become. In America, Strange sees hope in the future, in new heroes and in his mentorship. Love can manifest in many different ways.
However, Wanda, who has been through so many tragedies, cannot see a future without her children, and now, feared by her former allies, has no way out for love. She brought down Mount Wundagore on herself, destroying every instance of the Darkhold in the process, and seemingly approaching her end. Of course, Wanda’s departure is not a good thing, and true to what the comics have achieved, there may be a chance for redemption in her future. But in the immediate future, her happiness is unattainable, and it’s a pretty bold and risky note to be a superhero. It speaks to an emotion, even heightened, that comes from seeing these larger-than-life characters as real people, a quality that embodies the narrative goals of both Raimi and Marvel.