By David T. Valentin
WARNING: THIS REVIEW WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness premiered last Thursday, May 6th, releasing what is Marvel’s first dip into a horror twist on the superhero genre. While the fan response has certainly been divisive on the internet, the film blew my socks off on all sorts of different levels.
To start off, Multiverse of Madness was very different from previous MCU films tonally, deviating from the comedic, lighthearted feel that most MCU films have. There were, of course, quick humorous quips between characters that lightened the mood when they could, but from the minute the movie starts, the action picks up and doesn’t slow down. With Wanda, now corrupted by the Dark Hold and utilizing the full powers of The Scarlet Witch, pursuing Dr. Strange and America Chavez, there was barely any room to breathe thus keeping viewers on their toes.
While many previous MCU films were mostly grounded in scope with the original Avengers such as Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Hulk and Black Widow, relegating the cast to mostly ordinary humans with cool gadgets or just super strength, the fighting in Multiverse of Madness was packed with magic, energy beams and interdimensional travel. The film certainly removed viewers from the grounded Earth narratives we’ve seen in the past and takes viewers on a ride very similar to what you’d get out of a Doctor Strange comic book, or any comic book packed with an abundance of magic users that didn’t sacrifice character development in the process.
This tone, getting the viewer to feel the grandness and what’s at stake, is a tone we didn’t get to feel until the introduction of The Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor: Ragnorak. But such a tone has been present in every phase four film and series, from WandaVision, to Spiderman No Way Home all the way to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse in Madness. It got me thinking of why I didn’t particularly get sucked into the MCU until later films and now I realize it’s largely because I never wanted realistic and grounded narratives like The Dark Knight or Logan. That’s not saying these films aren’t great, but I personally love the high stakes, character-driven narratives of comic books and I really felt like we’ve gotten it with this film.
Not only that, but it was also the first time I really felt not only the weight of how powerful these superheroes are, but how scary it can really be if they turned villains without always having in the back of my mind that there will be a happily ever after and that the stakes aren’t as high as they seem. With Wanda pursuing Dr. Strange and American Chavez through the multiverse while killing some of the strongest people in this universe, I was on the edge of my seat wondering how such a conflict was going to be solved, reminding me of comic book stories such as The House of M and Avengers Disassembled, comics where The Scarlet Witch is a terrifying force to be reckoned with.
While the emotional weight of the film lies in Elizabeth Olsen’s Wanda Maximoff as she tries to deal with the loss of her children in her universe and pursues them through the multiverse to be reunited with them once again, I still felt we really got to know Dr. Strange more as he deals with the reality that he can’t be with the woman he loves. While many fans early in Dr. Strange’s tenure in the MCU complained he was nothing more than an egotistical wizard version of Tony Stark, I feel between his first film, Infinity War, Spiderman No Way Home, and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, we get to see character growth and a tenderness to his character I didn’t think we’d see so soon.
That being said, Elizabeth Olsen was the obvious star of the movie, even if Dr. Strange is the titular character. Many people have discussed on the internet how Wanda wasn’t very likeable in this movie because of the atrocities she committed, but I, and many other Wanda Maximoff fans, would argue, her character couldn’t be more likeable and relatable. Sure, it was hard to justify her actions in the movie and she was the obvious villain, but what’s not relatable to see a mother who has lost everything and is willing to do whatever she can to have her kids back in her life? It’s no secret Wanda Maximoff is a villain in this film, but the way Elizabeth Olsen is able to combine anger, fear, sadness, grief, jealousy and, eventually, acceptance, in a matter of seconds and consistently doing it not just in one scene but throughout the entire movie? I mean, come on, give this actor an Oscar.
It can be argued The Scarlet Witch is one of the first main superheroines in the Avengers in the comics, and quite possibly one of the most important in Avengers’ history. Up until now, Wanda’s character has been diminished to the powerful angry woman loses her mind trope. But in Multiverse of Madness, Wanda has the most autonomy she’s ever had in her entire comic book history, so to see The Scarlet Witch get the complexity of her character fleshed out and the screen time to do so has made so many fans, including myself, so happy.
It’s something that should certainly be celebrated, but I can’t help but feeling a slight sadness about it. Could you imagine if they had treated Black Widow as equally well in the MCU as they’ve been doing with their new superheroines? Could you imagine the impact it would have had for little girls to see Black Widow being so much more than eye candy or a love interest to the Avengers?
We can only hope Marvel continues to give their characters such complex stories. And while many fans are complaining the MCU seems to be spiraling with no clear end goal, the almost episodic, comic book feel of phase four has been much more interesting to watch than, perhaps, an entire decade’s worth of MCU projects.