SPOILERS for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Doctor Strange, and What If…?.
Yes, I know I still need to react to the finale of Moon Knight, but I need to talk about Multiverse of Madness first. While it’s not exactly a bad film, it’s not Character First (a phrase that Kevin Feige has said before) like MCU films usually are. Instead, the concept and the images came first, so this film felt extremely shallow compared to other recent MCU efforts. My sister said MoM is basically the Cars 2 of the MCU. And she’s right.
See, when I heard that Sam Raimi was directing this film, I was hoping we’d get Spider-Man Sam Raimi. He created the model for the 21st century superhero film. But instead, we got Evil Dead and Army of Darkness Sam Raimi, who prefers to have shallow character development that supports his pulpy horror story and images. We also got Spider-Man 3 Sam Raimi, who wants to do as many things as possible in one film and ends up barely scratching the surface of the concepts he’s trying to tackle.
The thing about Multiverse of Madness that I’m most disappointed in, of course, is what it does to Wanda Maximoff’s character arc. Instead of building on the nuanced portrayal of her that we got in WandaVision, MoM turns her into a one-dimensional horror movie villain that’s obsessed with getting the children she created in the WestView anomaly, Billy and Tommy, back. So all that complexity is gone because Sam Raimi (and screenwriter Michael Waldron*) wanted her to be a crazy lady who just wanted kids.
*I don’t blame Michael Waldron as much because he gave us Loki, which includes powerful female characters who are not obsessed with motherhood at all. He can create female characters with other motivations, but I wonder if he’s only as good as the director or showrunner he’s working with. Or if he’s just better at writing TV episodes than feature films. (There’s nothing wrong with that, but that would explain some things about this story.)
This was a huge step backward for Wanda’s character and for how women’s psychological issues are portrayed onscreen. According to Sam Raimi (who is in his early 60s and 2-3 years younger than my parents), we ladies go crazy if we can’t have kids. Also, we either need to get married (like Christine Palmer) or get a man to guide us (like America Chavez). At a time when women in the U.S. are fighting for our rights to bodily autonomy (AGAIN!!!), these are harmful messages to send. But I’m not surprised, because the representation of women in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films was always limited, too. If a male hero is around, we’re love interests, elderly aunts, or cunning villainesses. Or teenage girls who need help, apparently.
And the portrayals of women in the film aren’t the only character problems. Sam Raimi introduces an alternate version of Mordo, Chiwetel Ejiofor’s character. This film says that Mordo was the first person to let Doctor Strange into Kamar-Taj, but then he snapped and started trying to kill Doctor Strange. But that’s a massive oversimplification of what happened to Mordo. At the end of Doctor Strange and in its second stinger, Mordo loses faith in the Ancient One because she used dark, forbidden magic to prolong her own life, which she thought she was doing for the greater good. He wanders off, and then he begins taking magic from sorcerers because he believes there are too many of them. And we haven’t seen him since then.
Mordo’s campaign isn’t a direct vendetta against Doctor Strange. It’s a quest to reduce the number of sorcerers because he thinks that’s what makes the world dangerous. And judging from the trailers, I thought we were going to get a continuation of Mordo’s character arc in that direction. Instead, we got this alternate Mordo so that Sam Raimi didn’t have to worry about continuing an existing character arc.
And that’s the main problem with Multiverse of Madness. The advertisements made it look like it was going to be connected to so many other MCU works, including the first Doctor Strange film, WandaVision, Spider-Man: No Way Home, What If…?, and maybe even Loki (since Sylvie unleashed the multiverse on the MCU). Instead, it wasn’t connected to any of these things. It was just this weird standalone thing that threw setpieces and exposition at us without truly developing any one character or idea fully.
What should this film have been about? Well, it should have been about Doctor Strange mentoring America Chavez. They work really well together, and it should have been about them figuring out how to control her power (without the “you’ve been controlling it all along” copout). Mordo should have been the one to try to take her power, since he’s on a quest to reduce the number of sorcerers, and he could have expanded his quest to include the multiverse, not just the main universe. They should have had more time to explore all the universes they visited. And the Illuminati could have been helpful allies and not just cannon fodder for Wanda.
If you want a good multiverse story involving Doctor Strange, watch the What If…? episode “What If…Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?” It’s ten thousand times more emotionally involving than this movie. It’s dark and Strange and upsetting, and that’s why it’s beautiful.
Overall, I’m just so disappointed in this movie. It could have been a really emotionally involving story that connected a few different parts of the MCU. Instead, it was Sam Raimi’s weird MCU fanfic. Luckily, people love both the MCU and Wanda Maximoff no matter what happens.