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‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness:’ A Mother’s Day Movie with Hypocrisy as the Villain

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Editor’s Note: This review contains spoilers for “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.” 

Marvel’s latest masterpiece, “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” directed by Sam Raimi, is jam-packed with cameos, horror and moral dilemmas.

The second feature film for Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), whose multiversal plot was set in motion by Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino) killing “He Who Remains” in the Disney+ series “Loki,” paints Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), now officially known as the Scarlet Witch, as the villain as she enacts her grief-stricken revenge on the universe for taking her children, who she created during the series “WandaVision,” away from her. 

Released on May 6, “Multiverse of Madness” is the first Marvel movie to hint at the importance of Disney+ series’, like “Loki” and “WandaVision,” as major events in the film directly tie in with those plotlines. In order to understand the context of the madness and set the stage for this film, audiences would be inclined to know that the multiversal crises of this film was kick-started by the ending of  “Loki”, which could have impacted Strange’s spell going wrong in “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” Wanda’s story in “WandaVision” is also extremely important for grasping the complexity of the Scarlet Witch in this film. 

Wanda’s grief drove her to the Darkhold, a book of corruption and evil, in hopes of getting back the children she lost at the end of “WandaVision.” Vision’s death, the hex of Westview and Billy (Julian Hilliard) and Tommy’s (Jett Klyne) disappearance sent Wanda into a spiral, as she went from not being able to control her power, to becoming the feared Scarlet Witch, with powers greater than that of the Sorcerer Supreme. 

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Her anger at the world for taking away her happiness is key to her role as the villain. Every moment of her life leads her to mistrust the world until she is forced to take matters into her own hands with her overwhelming power. 

Obsessed with the idea of protecting the “greater good,” Strange criticizes Wanda for the lives she took, her use of dark magic and putting the hex on Westfield. Wanda aptly counters that his perception of her is hypocritical as Strange is constantly breaking the rules and bending morality without much reason. Wanda points out that Strange gave up the Time Stone, which allowed Thanos to win, and he faced no consequences, while Wanda lost the love of her life. 

“You break the rules and become a hero. I do it, I become the enemy,” Wanda says to Strange in a magic-conjured apple orchard. 

This double standard has been present in many other careless Marvel heroes, like the arrogant Tony Stark / Iron Man and the reckless Bruce Banner / Hulk, but now that Wanda has made a mistake, she is villainized. 

Wanda’s traumatic past allows more than enough reason to react violently, but Strange’s reasons for acting in moral grayness cannot compare to Wanda’s, and turning to the Darkhold allowed her to have hope again. As a woman, Wanda is not taken seriously, and she is villainized immediately, rather than deemed a savior like the other male heroes.

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Sam Raimi’s directorial style evokes a gory horror theme in “Multiverse of Madness” that is unlike other Marvel content. Many of his shots are claustrophobic and disorienting, with audiences feeling the uncomfort and emotion of the characters within the film. 

Raimi directed the original Sony Spider-Man trilogy starring Tobey Maguire and, while this is his first Marvel film, audiences can see the visual similarities of the camera movement and shot choices between those movies and the “Multiverse of Madness.” 

Mirroring many famous horror films, such as “Carrie,” Raimi paints Wanda as an apathetic, paranormal contortionist, disfigured by the blood or oil of her victims. She is a much darker figure in this film than she has ever been before, fueled by heartbreak and revenge. 

In a very short, yet gruesome death sequence on Earth-838, an alternate reality to the Earth-616 universe that audiences are familiar with in the MCU, Wanda eliminates the members of the Illuminati with shocking ease, including Captain Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), Captain Marvel / Maria Rambeau (Teyonah Parris), Blackagar Boltagon / Black Bolt (Anson Mount), Dr. Reed Richards / Mister Fantastic (John Krasinski) and Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) sparing their universe’s Sorcerer Supreme, Karl Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor). These particular deaths were unexpected and particularly macabre, as each defenders’ power was used against them in an almost mocking manner. 

Even the Scarlet Witch’s uniform becomes much darker in “Multiverse of Madness” than it was in “WandaVision,” with deeper reds, fuller coverage and a small Mind Stone-shaped hole in the fabric by her throat. As she sinks further into the clutches of the Darkhold’s magic, her fingers turn black and Wanda becomes trapped deeper into the mind of the Scarlet Witch, who in essence, is controlled by the book. 

Xochitl Gomez debuted her role as America Chavez in the film. Now officially the first Latina and LGBTQ+ superhero in the MCU, America reveals herself to be the key character in the film, with her multiversal hopping powers being the anecdote to the Scarlet Witch’s dark magic. Maximoff’s goal is to siphon America’s powers for herself, so she can find her sons in other universes. 

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Her connection to Strange is similar to his relationship with Peter Parker / Spider-Man (Tom Holland) before the events of “No Way Home,” painting Strange as a loose father figure who believes in and protects promising young heroes. Strange’s faith in America enables her to understand that her powers have led her to the right place every time, and she has more control over her actions than she feels she does. 

America ultimately shows Wanda what she wants to see, and when Billy and Tommy are frightened by her true nature, she is appalled with her own behavior. Even after being used as a dream walking puppet of death, the 838 Wanda forgives the Scarlet Witch, understanding that her immense grief and perpetual pain have led her down this path, promising that her children will be loved. She finally realizes that her actions were dangerous, and she collapses the temple of the Darkhold on Mount Wundagore, seemingly sacrificing herself and destroying the book in every universe. 

The living version of Wanda in Earth-838 serves as a glimmer of hope that the character will return for future Marvel films as it is unlikely that such a major playing, all-powerful character would be killed off by some heavy rocks without any fuss. 

Released on Mother’s Day weekend, this movie is truly a story of a mother’s will and determination when it comes to her family. Wanda’s love for her children alone justifies her actions in a way that none of the other superheroes in the franchise can understand or relate to. Her character is the most complex, morally ambiguous Marvel villain to date, which made her cause so convincing and realistic. 

Even while the Darkhold has been destroyed, Strange still used it long enough to be attacked and punished by the Souls of the Damned. Right before the movie cuts to credits, his third eye reveals itself, hinting that the dark magic could be corrupting yet another Marvel hero. The Sorcerer Supreme of the Dark Dimension in the Marvel Comics, Clea (Charlize Theron), appears in the mid-credits scene to demand Strange’s help with an incursion he seemingly caused. With the Darkhold’s lingering impacts, Strange shows no sense of fear and jumps right into a new fight, potentially setting up another film or series regarding multiversal topics as the chaos continues. 

Lillian Dunn is an Entertainment Staff Writer for the spring 2022 quarter. She can be reached at lbdunn@uci.edu.