The MCU is back on the big screen, and so is Sam Raimi. The Spider-Man director returned to superhero filmmaking this past weekend with Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, an interdimensional romp that expanded Marvel’s Phase 4 into more, well, madness. And after watching Wanda Maximoff turn full villain and seeing Doctor Strange sport both a ponytail and decaying skin, there is much to discuss …
1. What is your tweet-length review of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness?
Ben Lindbergh: Doctor Strange? Present. The multiverse? Accounted for. Madness? So much madness. Sam Raimi’s chaos-magical Marvel movie does what it says on the tin, in refreshingly Raimi-esque fashion. It’s absurd, spooky, spectacular, and also sort of a mess. I’m a mostly satisfied customer.
Miles Surrey: With the understanding that this is like choosing a favorite fast food joint: This is the best MCU movie to date.
Neil Francisco: An incursion on the Marvel Studios blueprint, but still a top 10 MCU film; 7.5 out of 10.
Multiverse of Madness is the rare MCU movie that retains the personality of its director. It's also a movie that pretty obviously had its release date shuffled around.— Andrew Gruttadaro (@andrewgrutt) May 3, 2022
Arjuna Ramgopal: A middle-of-the-road MCU movie propped up by spectacle, cameos, and enough moments to ignore some of the glaring cracks in the foundation.
Aric Jenkins: A perfect film to highlight the beauty of motherhood.
2. What was the best moment of the film?
Ramgopal: The killing of the Illuminati, when the MCU finally went a little dark (for at least a moment). While they largely existed for exposition, their annihilation at the hands of Wanda showed how far she had fallen.
Jenkins: It was a delightful surprise to see Mister Fantastic and Professor X show up, and even more thrilling to see Wanda Maximoff ruthlessly slaughter them.
Lindbergh: The Marvel-meets-The Boys moment. Not only did the Scarlet Witch waste captains Pike and Picard in the same scene—which debuted a day after the Strange New Worlds series premiere and Picard season finale, no less—but Raimi got to go full-on body horror in what may have been the bloodiest and most disturbing superhero heel turn since Invincible Episode 1. Black Bolt dying in such a Disney-defying way almost rehabilitated Inhumans.
Surrey: I can’t remember the last time a Marvel movie had a sequence as chaotic and fun as Wanda’s brutal alt-universe slasher rampage. You can always rely on Sam Raimi when he’s in his bag.
Francisco: After the Scarlet Witch decimates the Kamar-Taj defense and Doctor Strange traps her in the mirror dimension, Wanda basically turns into Samara from The Ring. I am not sure this homage was intentional, but it sure as hell looked cool and was the first moment I was absolutely terrified of Elizabeth Olsen’s character.
3. What was your least favorite part of the movie?
Surrey: The first 20 minutes of Multiverse of Madness is an absolute slog and only really gets going when Wanda reveals herself as the Scarlet Witch. Thankfully, the movie doesn’t let its foot off the gas after that.
Jenkins: Waiting for those decidedly average end-credit scenes. Please end this antiquated practice, Marvel.
Francisco: Reed Richards is supposed to be the smartest man in all of Marvel, yet he takes the threat of the Scarlet Witch so nonchalantly. Captain Carter drops the famous, “I can do this all day,” and then we soon find out that she cannot, in fact, do this all day. The great Professor X is reduced to a brutal death with only minimal screen time. And apparently, Mordo can’t escape a tiny moat in the hollow architecture of Illuminati headquarters? The Illuminati, Earth-838’s mightiest and brightest individuals, get cooked within a matter of seconds.
Lindbergh: The fact that Wanda reverted from the acceptance stage she reached at the end of WandaVision to the denial and anger stages that caused her to take over Westview in the first place. I get that grief can make people do unpredictable, drastic things, that Wanda wasn’t able to book a session with Bucky Barnes’s therapist, and that the Darkhold isn’t exactly light reading, but her rapid pivot back to terrorizing innocents gave me whiplash. It’s not that a maximum Maximoff meltdown didn’t make sense, but I thought I’d already seen that show. Did Sparky the dog die in vain?
Ramgopal: While I liked the choice to make Wanda the villain of the movie, it felt disconnected from where she ended in WandaVision. At times, it felt like the movie wanted you to believe the Darkhold was controlling her, but it never definitively made that connection. A more extracted descent into villainy in the first act would’ve been effective.
Gruttadaro: There is nothing I care about less than Stephen Strange’s love life.
4. Can you tell Sam Raimi made this movie? How so?
Francisco: Absolutely. Black Bolt accidentally blows his own brain out, Reed Richards becomes shredded cheese, and Captain Carter gets split in half. We get to explore darker universes, and even get a zombie Doctor Strange. This movie is eerie and campy, and definitely outside the typical MCU film. Couple that with the incredible score from Danny Elfman and you get a prime Sam Raimi film.
Surrey: Where to begin? A climax that features Doctor Strange possessing his own zombified corpse while summoning a bunch of ghouls to terrorize Wanda; the frenetic camera movements and kooky POV shots; the general sense that this entire project could fall apart at any moment but somehow it ends up working. It’s so good to have Raimi back in our lives.
Jenkins: It was clear when Doctor Strange skewered a giant octopus demon through its eyeball, but the image of Wanda soaked in blood after completing her Illuminati rampage really hammered it home.
Gruttadaro: Evil Dead Doctor Strange was out here handing out inspiration quotes. Also, a man made his own head explode.
Ramgopal: The horror elements had me jumping out of my seat! And while different from Spider-Man, the first-act battle in New York City felt like a throwback to one of the Tobey Maguire movies.
Lindbergh: Forget all of the tonal, visual, and Campbell hallmarks of Raimi movies: When Wanda’s boys on Earth-838 are arguing about baseball, one of them says, “You know who’s the best? The 2003 Tigers.” That’s the real giveaway, a line that could only have come from the Michigan native who brought Billy Chapel to the big screen. You thought the universes where everybody becomes a cube or blob of paint were weird? They’ve got nothing on the universe where one of the worst MLB teams of all time was one of the best. I haven’t heard something so unrealistic about a fictional Tigers team since Chapel posted a mathematically impossible 3.55 ERA in 211 innings pitched prior to his perfect game. But I’ve got good news for Cincinnati Reds fans: There may be a universe where your team started this season 22-3 instead of a 2003 Tigers-esque 3-22.
5. Where does Zombie Doctor Strange rank in pop culture’s history of zombie characters?
Lindbergh: First—Cumberbatch beat Boris Karloff at his own game. Your move, Solomon Grundy.
Ramgopal: Pretty high up! Benedict was fully committed to the bit and seemed to relish doing the voice and movements.
Francisco: I was not a huge fan, despite how essential he is to America Chavez learning to harness her power. A bit too campy for me.
Surrey: There are many better zombies—and zombie movies, for that matter—but I’d pay good money to see Zombie Strange square off against Zombie Mutant Iain Glen from Resident Evil: Extinction.
Jenkins: He’s right above Ed’s from Shaun of the Dead. I still think he would get merked by the 28 Days Later zombies, though.
Gruttadaro: I never expected a 2022 Marvel film to remind me of Hocus Pocus’s Billy Butcherson, but here we are. In terms of a ranking, I don’t know: Zombie Strange is somewhere between Sophia from The Walking Dead and Zombie Bill Murray in Zombieland.
6. Finish the sentence: “In Multiverse of Madness, Wanda Maximoff was …”
Lindbergh: … OP.
Surrey: … absolutely terrifying, and yet I still wanted to slip her my number?
Francisco: … a scene-stealer. I know the movie’s main character is Doctor Strange, but this film showcased how much of a menace Wanda Maximoff can be and showed the lengths someone will go to for love. It was great to see how ruthless she could be in this film—although, her redemption arc in the movie’s final act is so short-lived that I’m sure many people missed it.
Ramgopal: … underutilized! The villain problem is real in the MCU, and Wanda should have been a much more layered villain than she ultimately was. Her arc felt too quick and her realization at the end felt rushed.
Jenkins: … RIGHT. Oh wait, sorry, wrong MCU movie. Nah, she was really destroying multiple universes for some imaginary kids?
Gruttadaro: … done pretty dirty? She ended WandaVision as one the MCU’s most compelling characters, a deeply troubled, nuanced superhero who understood that she had made mistakes. By the time we meet her again in this movie, though, she’s apparently ditched all of that hard-earned self-awareness and turned back into an archvillain who’s willing to literally kill billions of people. Maybe this was Kevin Feige’s payback for Elizabeth Olsen thinking MCU movies are bad.
7. Wanda wanted to traverse the multiverse to be with her children. What would you travel across universes to do?
Lindbergh: Escape most social engagements.
Jenkins: Same thing as always when traveling across time and space: Grab a sports almanac and bet on the Cubs to win the World Series.
Gruttadaro: I can’t believe I’m even bringing this up, but: Please transport me to the universe where Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills survived those 13 seconds against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Surrey: Surely there’s a universe out there where the Washington Wizards are a successful and well-run organization?
Ramgopal: I’m a simple man. I’d probably find a universe where you can eat ice cream all day without any consequences.
Francisco: Nothing. If there’s anything I have learned from watching the MCU’s Phase 4, it’s that I do NOT want the TVA, the Illuminati, Clea, and Doctor Strange, or any other authority figure coming after me.
8. After this movie, is the MCU closer to or further away from integrating X-Men and the Fantastic Four?
Jenkins: I’m sure a Disney executive is seeing the reaction to their appearance and salivating.
Ramgopal: Closer. Unfortunately, I think Patrick Stewart might be a little too old to keep up as Professor Xavier anymore.
Gruttadaro: Bringing in Reed Richards and Professor X—and then brutally killing them—felt like a clever way to give superfans a lil’ taste while also saying, “Cool your jets, dudes, it ain’t happening.” Obviously it will happen at some point, Disney likes money, etc. But after Wanda’s Illuminati killing spree I feel confident saying it won’t happen until Phase 5.
Surrey: I wouldn’t be surprised if Marvel was using Multiverse of Madness as a kind of soft launch for casting choices that could always be waved away as “part of the multiverse” were the studio to go in another direction. But considering how my screening reacted to John Krasinski showing up as Mister Fantastic, this probably won’t be the last time we see him.
Lindbergh: Time moves in only one direction for those of us who don’t wield the Eye of Agamotto, so every second brings the inevitable crossovers closer. And although the Illuminati Charles Xavier and Reed Richards of Multiverse of Madness weren’t the ones we’ve known in earlier live-action looks at Earth-616—and Patrick Stewart and John Krasinski may not play the versions we will know—those cameos were signs of things to come, whether via X-Men ’97 or subsequent projects. MoM even hinted how it could happen: Some kind of incursion, coming to theaters near you.
9. What is the biggest lingering question you have about the MCU’s multiverse?
Ramgopal: How does it actually work? What are the rules? Why do people look the same in some universes but different in others? Why can everyone suddenly travel across the multiverse and know about it?
Jenkins: Does anything actually matter now? Nah, like, really. Think about it.
Surrey: Are the multiverse (No Way Home, Multiverse of Madness) and the timelines with variants (Loki) interchangeable, or are they different things altogether? I’ll say this about the MCU: It’s really embracing the madness.
Gruttadaro: Many things in the disparate universes seem too similar? Like, one Strange proves to another Strange that they’re the same person by recapping his (their?) sister’s death, and apparently in every universe Strange is in love with Christine. But, like … isn’t the whole point of a multiverse that tiny discrepancies have led to widely different realities?
Francisco: Seriously, who purchased the old Avengers tower? It has been about seven cinematic years since we found out Tony Stark was moving out. Who bought that big piece of New York real estate?
Lindbergh: How will Feige resist the temptation that took down Wanda? That scene where Wanda is using the Darkhold to scope out the many multiversal versions of Billy and Tommy she could kidnap was what Feige must have looked like at a recent retreat devoted to planning the next decade of Marvel movies. Once the introduction of the multiverse makes it possible to fulfill any fan-casting wish or bring back any old favorite—even if it means sidetracking the main narrative—will any Marvel movie that doesn’t include a long list of cameos be considered disappointing? How will Marvel make character deaths meaningful if a living version of the fallen hero can always be bused in from Earth-TK? And what will make 616 seem so special if it’s just one of an infinite number of realities? These are storytelling questions the comics have been reckoning with for decades; now it’s the MCU’s turn.