Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness is an exhilarating ride into the possibilities of reality, dreams and nightmares. A narrative driven by love and deconstructed by madness. What the film does is leverage the lore established over the prior films and series within the universe looking to expand how much broader the relevance of what came before is. In that sense though, Multiverse of Madness is both elevated and weighed down by the details of the MCU. But within that setting it manages to tell an intimate story of how ruin and salvation lie unrecognisable within the state of overwhelming love.
To summarise the story of this film, one first needs to understand the path Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch, traversed. Reconciling the darkness within herself sourced from the countless tragedies encompassing her past and the suffering she dispensed onto others, Wanda wrestles between the characterisations within herself on whether she is a hero or a villain. Ultimately, what happens at the conclusion of Wandavision (the prequel series to Mutiverse of Madness), is the introduction of an element that silences one side of the conflict. The path Wanda chooses at the end of Wandavision involves her dream of being with her family but what this film conveys are the nightmares that come from such a pursuit. The following videos provide an amazing summary on Wanda’s journey prior to this film: Grief | Memory (embedded below).
The other side of the story and the main player, is Doctor Strange. To comprehend Strange’s role and the embodiment of his motivations, the first Doctor Strange film is necessary. While it isn’t required for one to view the rest of the content Stephen Strange was a part of, doing so will provide context to the decisions Strange makes within Multiverse of Madness such as Avengers: Infinity War and Spider-Man: No Way Home. The actions of Strange within those films sets-ups the characterisation for Strange in Multiverse of Madness. This in turn allows this version of Strange to be differentiated from the Stephen Strange in other universes. The manner in which Strange grew thanks to his encounter with Peter Parker (Spider-Man) definitely established a varied perspective in Strange compared to his other counterparts featured within Multiverse of Madness.
Another major element within the film defining its identity that needs to be mentioned is the Multiverse. This reality of multiple universes serves as the setting in which the events transpiring within Multiverse of Madness takes place. It is also the medium in which one of the core characters in this film exercises their power. In order to have context behind how events in the film came to be, prior content in the MCU is necessary. In particular the Spider-Man: No Way Home, Loki (series) and What If…? (series). Loki establishes why the Multiverse has become a problem now (no one left to overseer the flow of time). No Way Home provides Strange with the frame of reference for how dangerous and potentially cataclysmic the Multiverse can be handled irresponsibly. And What If…? establishes what alternative universes and Doctor Stranges’ are like. Episode 1 and 4 are particularly relevant to the events in Multiverse of Madness. Even Avengers: Endgame helps to substantiate the mechanics of the multiverse. Having background to the Multiverse allows the structure and content within Multiverse of Madness to integrate more harmoniously together where you are left with more room to appreciate what is happening opposed to understanding what has happened after the moment.
One of the major strengths of the MCU is being able to build on top of lore established in prior films and series characterising it as an expansive and immersive world with compelling and fantastical characters which the audience can submerge themselves into when looking to loosen the stress of worry, boredom and responsibility within each individual’s particular reality. Objectively though, that strength also encapsulates one of the weaknesses of the MCU. Each subsequent work relies on prior content that each audience member may not have experienced. And as the focus of the MCU broadens both vertically and horizontally in terms of the quantity of content and the mediums on which it tells its story, it becomes increasing harder to keep up with everything. It is understandable that every Disney+ series isn’t required to enjoy the movies but what those series adds are context to the overall MCU narrative which in turn likely adds to the overall enjoyment of the film.
In Multiverse of Madness, the burden of prior knowledge is felt heavily. One particular scene in the film requires a bit of additional filtering through the lore previously established in Wandavision, Loki and What If. In that sense, those Disney+ series are required viewing to add context to the happenings within this film. Wandavision in particular is important as elements for certain aspects are heavily drawn from there to quickly establish parts of the Multiverse of Madness narrative. As a stand-alone film, I can see why it would appear disjointed and why some negative reviews are justified in their critique. The film does attempt to push forward a story with stakes and convey a journey the characters go through over the course of the runtime but the context is defined in material outside of Multiverse of Madness. There is also a moment in the climax that doesn’t naturally flow without you adding context after the fact through overlapping lore outside the film onto the events transpiring in that scene.
Ultimately though, I did find the film both bold and subtle in the sense of the threads it looks to connect and weave into the ever-growing tapestry of the MCU. There is a certain through-line that you become aware of while viewing the film but don’t necessary appreciate until one particular moment takes place. It serves as the foundation for the plot within the film beyond the construction of the antagonist. Recognising this through-line makes you cognizant of the differentiation between main focus and main story as what is primarily in the forefront isn’t necessarily the core narrative. The subtlety comes into play when the dual threads characterizing this film intertwine, separate and merge again. Of the journey presented, the core content is contained in the state where the two threads exist separate from the other before merging once again into a metamorphosed form of their former selves. A reflection of contrast and shadow in relation to alternate realities begins to define how the two main characters see a path forward.
As for memorable moments in the film, there is a scene in the film where the whole theater cheered, I won’t spoil what that moment is as you will know it when you see it. Additionally, the climatic fights the two main characters receive (different fights) are some of the most spectacular fights I have witnessed in the MCU. In particular the battle that incorporates dynamism on the visual, auditory and symbolic scale. It was an experience novel in its presentation.
When you envision a story involving the multiverse and attempting to substantiate and clarify the mechanics behind it, there are countless ways the complexities involved can overwhelm the audience but one of the major successes of Multiverse of Madness is how it presents the film in an easy to follow structure. There are elements that those unfamiliar with the lore will be lost in but despite Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness being burdened by the massive narrative across the MCU, it tells a story of two characters consumed in their love and influenced by the madness sourced from it. My expectations for this film before viewing it were intentionally subdued as I intentionally limited myself to just the first two trailers. I tried to keep as much of the film unknown in order to avoid having the actual experience ruined. Overall, I loved Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and found myself extremely entertained. The mid-credit scene caught me off guard but once I realised who that character was, I immediately reacted with fervor and anticipation (that character is important).
Enjoyment Level: 8/10