This is a Doctor Strange In The Multiverse of Madness SPOILER post — if you haven’t seen the movie yet, you can check out our review here.
From the moment I heard Patrick Stewart’s voice in the trailer, I knew Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness was going to be full of surprises. Still, there was only one thing I cared about enough to ask Mike Redmond to spoil for me before I went to see the movie myself, so let’s start there shall we?
Does Wong Survive?
Yes! I don’t know why Wong has become my personal line in the sand as far as the MCU goes, but I need my sardonic sorcerer to thrive and he does! By the end of the movie, he’s still the Sorcerer Supreme, and even Doctor Strange bows to him. Guess I don’t need to quit this multi-billion dollar franchise just yet.
Wait, Go Back To That Patrick Stewart Thing…
Right, so Doctor Strange and America Chavez end up in an alternate reality where they are detained by the Illuminati — a secret cabal of superheroes who work together behind the scenes to protect their world. Patrick Stewart is, of course, playing Professor Charles Xavier, though he’s in the yellow floating wheelchair from the comics and his entrance is heralded by what sounded to me like the 90s cartoon theme. Basically, he’s an Xavier, but not necessarily the Xavier from the X-Men movies — and that’s the way we should read the other members of the Illuminati, as well. Chiwetel Ejiofor returns as Baron Mordo, though here he’s the Sorcerer Supreme because this universe’s Strange is dead. Anson Mount is back as the big-voiced king Black Bolt, last seen in the ABC series Inhumans — though I realize that “seen” is doing a lot of heavy lifting in that sentence. Lashana Lynch, who played Carol’s BFF Maria Rambeau in Captain Marvel, is THE Captain Marvel of this universe, and Hayley Atwell is rocking the shield as Captain Carter — a character introduced in the Disney + cartoon series What If…?
In fact, the only unfamiliar face of the lot belongs to John Krasinski as Reed Richards, a.k.a. Mr. Fantastic of the Fantastic Four, which is simultaneously the most basic-ass choice and also still better than bringing back Miles Teller. We know Marvel is going to introduce the Fantastic Four to the MCU, and this seems to confirm that Krasinski will be the star — though in a Multiverse it’s never too late to hire William Jackson Harper HINT HINT.
Before you get too attached to these cameos, I should probably let you know that the Scarlet Witch kills them all in hilariously brutal ways (sorry Black Bolt, but I laughed!) — but that doesn’t mean this was all just a throwaway bit of fan service. Rather, I think a very important piece of the MCU long game was introduced by the Illuminati…
WTF are “Incursions”?
Turns out that Doctor Strange didn’t just die in this alternate reality — he was killed by his fellow Illuminati members because he caused something called an incursion, which is when two alternate realities collide. There are only two possible outcomes of an incursion: Either both universes are destroyed, or one universe saves itself by destroying the other. This alterna-Strange destroyed the other invading reality to save his own, making him a hero — but also making him dangerous enough that the Illuminati turned on him. Incursions were central to a 2015 Marvel Comics event called “Secret Wars,” which is inspired by but wholly different from the same-named event from the 80s. Anyway, the Marvel multiverse collapsed in on itself through a series of incursions while the Marvel-616 (main reality) version of the Illuminati struggled over whether to destroy the colliding Earths or not. Long story short, a handful of characters from these different realities end up getting rescued from the destruction and land on a composite reality called Battleworld. Doctor Strange and Mr. Fantastic both have key roles to play in this storyline, which was notable for ending the Ultimate Marvel imprint (where Miles Morales originated) and spawning a new prime reality with versions of characters from across the multiverse.
Ever since Disney bought Fox and gained control of properties like the X-Men and the Fantastic Four, there’s been speculation as to how Marvel would integrate those characters into the MCU. Here, then, is the answer: The Marvel Cinematic Universe is building to its own Secret Wars-like event in order to remake its continuity and introduce those properties without having to be like “oh no, mutants have been here all along but just didn’t do anything!” They can make stand-alone movies introducing those characters — and those universes — and then have them collide with the MCU. The only question I have is whether Kang is going to be the instigating factor behind the incursions, or have another role to play in this multiverse.
What About The End Credits, Dammit?!
There are two of them! The first one features Doctor Strange walking down the street, minding his own business, until Charlize Theron steps out of a tear in the fabric of reality wearing a fabulous purple costume and accosts him. “You caused an incursion and we’re going to fix it,” she says, which isn’t the best pick-up line ever but it does the trick. She’s playing Clea, who in the comics was a long-time love interest of Doctor Strange from the Dark Dimension, who also happened to be the niece of Dormammu, the being he fought in the first Doctor Strange movie. What all these means for that cute alternate reality version of Christine Palmer and the very obvious vibes she had going on with Strange, only time will tell.
The final end credit scene is the continuation of the film’s requisite Bruce Campbell cameo! He plays a pizza-ball vendor that Strange enchants, causing the man to punch himself in the face for three weeks, as if his hand… has a mind … of its own…
ZOMBIE DOCTOR STRANGE
This one is half an Army of Darkness easter egg and half a What If…? call-back, but a major part of the film’s climax hinges on Doctor Strange puppeting his own corpse from across the multiverse to fight Wanda, making it … a Marvel Zombie! It’s great, 10/10 highly recommend, more zombie heroes, please.
Speaking of What If…?, Evil Doctor Strange makes an appearance too, though he’s not evil in quite the same way.
What Happened To Wanda?
Well, by the end of the film the hidden mountain citadel of Wundagore has collapsed on her, so she might be dead! But, let’s be real: She’s probably just fine. She’d better be. Wundagore, by the way, is a location that is deeply rooted in the Scarlet Witch’s origin in the comics. It’s the place where she was born, and where she was given her powers by the High Evolutionary (and/or the demon Chthon). Did you notice the cow-person in the Kamar-Taj battle scene? That’s a little visual nod to Bova, a member of the High Evolutionary’s “New Men” (humanoid animal creations) who acted as a midwife and nursemaid, helping raise Wanda.
As TK mentioned in his review, Wanda is the Big Bad of the movie, and it’s a real bittersweet thing. At face value, Elizabeth Olsen as the Scarlet Witch is one of the best villainous performances of the MCU — but that’s only if you can turn your head all the way off as to WHY SHE’S DOING ANY OF IT. Is this movie retreading her character arc from WandaVision, from grief to insanity to an attempt at repairing her mess? Kind of. Olsen spoke with Variety about the challenges of making sure her role in the film wouldn’t be repetitive:
You’ve said in the past that you did work to ensure that this movie honored what had happened in “WandaVision.” What specifically did you feel was needed for the movie to have that connection?
There were just beats that I felt like were almost too similar, as opposed to reflective. I just wanted everything to feel like some version of an advancement, even if the advancement is someone feeling a different reaction to the pain and loss. We also haven’t seen her have a reaction to what happened in Westview. Even if we watched her go through trauma and loss, we haven’t seen her go through the loss of the children. I think, for any parent — I would assume, because I’m not one — the loss of the child would always be much harder than the loss of anyone else important in your life. I just wanted to make sure it was a constant evolution forward and not repetitive. And so it was just slight adjustments. I couldn’t do any major changes because sets were being built and things like that. And schedules were being made, although in flux. But, yeah, I was trying to figure out how do we not be repetitive? How do we create an evolution? How do we make this different but still part of the woman that we know?
Part of the confusion likely lies in the nebulous relation the Disney+ shows have to the film side of the MCU, where watching one isn’t supposed to be necessary to keeping up with the other. I think that wall is being broken down more and more, but WandaVision was the first out of the gate and that put it in a really tough position. It is important for the audience to understand just how dark Wanda can go, and also see her come back from it — but if you missed seeing her do it with nuance in the show, here it is in block letters in the movie! So yeah, to buy her whole emotional journey you have to accept that she felt terrible about accidentally controlling the minds of an entire town in order to play make-believe with her dead husband, but then consciously decided to straight up murder people in order to kidnap her make-believe kids from herself. Do you accept that her dabbling with the Darkhold corrupted her, and that the loss of her kids was even more emotionally damaging that her grief over Vision? Perhaps. Grief isn’t a straight line, and there’s plenty of comic book precedent for the whole “Scarlet Witch is evil and good and evil again” thing. But I’ll reiterate that Wanda better come back, because if this is the final word for her character? That’d be a real shame.
By the way, even though the Darkhold was destroyed, it looks like it maybe-sorta corrupted Doctor Strange too!