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Do Life History or Moral Choices Matter in a Multiverse?

In this third part of my extended review of Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, I look at how characters suddenly alter with no accounting

Last week we covered the first scene of Multiverse of Madness (2022). This week, we’ll try to move a little faster.

After a travesty of an opening scene, Doctor Strange wakes up from his dream about the multiverse just in time for his former girlfriend Christine’s wedding. Strange tries to be happy for her but it’s clear he’s not in a good humor. However, he doesn’t get to brood for long because a sudden attack from a random monster occurs in the city, and he flies off to save the day.

During this fight, he discovers America Chavez. With some help from Wong, they manage to slay the monster and lead her to safety at a local restaurant… because, apparently, ever since the alien invasion of New York in the first Avenger’s movie, monster attacks are just another Tuesday inside the city, and it’s still business as usual.

Before moving on, I need to point out a general problem with the script that we first encounter with this initial fight. In the Marvel Comics Universe, one of Doctor Strange’s main powers is the ability to use portals. He relies heavily on them in Infinity War (2018) and he also depends on the Mirror Dimension, a realm where reality can be manipulated by the sorcerers at will:

Neither of these abilities are used against the monster in this fight. It’s odd because Strange has used them in previous films. But this time when the portals are shown — which is rare — they are only used as a means of transportation. As for the Mirror Dimension, it’s only used once, and it’s drastically weaker than when used in the past.

The reason for this becomes apparent as the film progresses. The writers intend to endow Wanda, the Scarlet Witch, with more power, using the Darkhold book of spells as the plot device. But, rather than give her inventive solutions so as to get around Doctor Strange’s established powers, the writers decided to weaken his abilities and conveniently ignore his most obvious defenses.

Thus, when a giant monster is attacking a city and the hero can conveniently teleport anything into the Mirror Dimension, the solution to the problem should be obvious—teleport the monster to where it can’t harm anybody. And if he didn’t want to keep the giant one-eyed octopus around indefinitely, he could transport it to a desert where it would shrivel up and die. Instead, the writers have Dr. Strange and Wong use their powers like lasers to slash and burn the thing into oblivion.

The fight looks nice enough, but the attackers’ strategy makes no sense and needlessly prolongs the fight. This problem persists throughout the film. The writers continue to ignore the preexisting rules and powers in hopes that the viewer will ignore them and enjoy the spectacle.

Moving on: While eating with Doctor Strange and Wong at the diner, America explains that someone has been summoning these demons in order to kidnap her and drain her powers. How she knows that is not explained. I believe the viewer is left to assume that Defender Strange had discovered it before being killed. Speaking of which, she shows that she is frm another universe by showing them Defender Strange’s corpse.

Seeing the body, Doctor Strange is surprised to learn that in another universe he has a ponytail. The three discuss the problem and it comes out that the monster had runes etched throughout its body. That leads Doctor Strange to conclude that they are not dealing with sorcery, but rather, witchcraft. But the apparently critical distinction between sorcery and witchcraft is not explained.

It is this revelation that leads Doctor Strange to ask Wanda Maximoff for help. The conversation starts out simply enough but I should point out that one of the most complained-about lines in the film is spoken at this point. Wanda mentions that she’d been waiting for Strange to confront her about the events which took place in the Disney Plus show WandaVision, where Wanda possessed an entire town so that she could live out the fantasy of raising a family with Vision. Doctor Strange tells her that she has made things right, so that was never in question.

Many people find the notion that, because she let the town go in the end, she never faced any repercussions for her actions hard to believe. But this was something that never really bothered me. I mean, how does one go about incarcerating a witch? If she decided that she was on a bad path and wanted to spend the rest of her life alone, I think most people would be inclined to say goodbye and leave her be. Perhaps, the heroes would want to speak with her or hold her accountable for her actions, but if they decided it wasn’t worth the trouble, and settled on keeping an eye on her, while that may not be right, it is believable.

But the movie lost me shortly after this moment. Strange eventually realizes that she’s lying and that Wanda is, in fact, the one hunting for America. This moment was a real let down for me because WandaVision left her fate somewhat open-ended when it came to the question of how she was going to use the Darkhold. In Multiverse of Madness, Wanda just suddenly turns evil, and this was a real disappointment. I would’ve preferred to see her make the decision. I wanted to see some kind of transition for her character. Even in WandaVision, Wanda is portrayed as a good person. She doesn’t fully realize what she’s doing, and so in this sense, she is something of a tragic character. Here in Multiverse she is a straightforward villain, at least, from the viewer’s perspective. But the writers’ perspective is absolutely bizarre, and we’ll cover it next time.

Here are all the portions of my my extended review of Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness:

Can the multiverse really work as a plot device? That’s a question Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness begs us to ask though but the screenwriters’ answer might be disturbing. Just bringing back characters who died “in another universe” for the sake of a sequel, for example, insults the viewer’s emotional intelligence.

Multiverse of Madness features infinite problems. The extensive edits to Sam Rami’s work as a director have left it riddled with plot holes and inconsistencies. If I could describe the problems in one word, that word would be “laziness.” The multiverse provides an excuse for all kinds of incoherent nonsense.

Do life history or moral choices matter in a multiverse? In this third part of my extended review of Multiverse of Madness, I look at how characters suddenly alter with no accounting. The cinematography is fine but what has happened to Doctor Strange’s earlier powers? And why has Wanda morphed from a complex figure into an arch-villainess?

The only mad people in Dr. Strange’s multiverse are the writers. We don’t know why Wanda has morphed into a villain or why good and evil have become morally equivalent. I don’t know who gave the Mouse its moral compass, but it seriously needs to re-evaluate the ethics that underlie story developments covered here.

Marvel Universe: Being all powerful, it turns out, is very boring The Mirror Dimension in Multiverse of Madness dispenses with sharp intellectual conflict, opting for unexplained power plays instead. In the siege of Kamar-Taj, the superheroes break the rule that they have only SPECIFIC superpowers and weaknesses. That rule is what creates story excitement.

Dr. Strange finds a universe almost like the one he left… But, like Schrödinger’s famous Cat, he is alive in one universe and dead in another. Wanda Maximoff will stop at nothing to capture America Chavez and her powers — but having several universes to dominate does complicate things.

Multiverse of Madness skirts the edges of story collapse. Oh well, it IS a multiverse, so maybe, in this reality, all the heroes stink. The final conflict between Wanda and Professor X enraged fans because… it was zilch. At least now we don’t need to look up “anticlimax” in a dictionary.

It’s the end of the Multiverse — and yet no one is in a hurry? Until close to the end, everyone continues to behave as if previous events and circumstances have no consequences and vital information is optional. Close to the end we come across a very sad scene that is so well acted that one almost forgets all the nonsense it took to get the viewer to this point.


Multiverse of Madness?: It’s a letdown for the Marvel Universe. I can’t really recommend it because spectacle trumps any sense of the story hanging together and we can infer nothing from past events. Whether the high level of incoherence is inevitable in a multiverse setting or a result of the Mouse’s control — I prefer to remember past classics fondly.

You may also wish to see my review of Transcendence (2014): here and here.

Also, my series on Firefly, the TV series and the film: Firefly: Can science fiction reimagined as the Wild West work? I strongly recommend the original 2002–2003 series for its careful development of the culture that grows up around world-building (terraforming). Firefly is an impressive blend of the future and the past and, if Disney+ carries through with its threat of a remake, be sure to see the original. All parts linked at here.

Gary Varner

Gary Varner is the Assistant to the Managing and Associate Directors at the Center for Science & Culture in Seattle, Washington. He is a Science Fiction and Fantasy enthusiast with a bachelor’s degree in Theater Arts, and he spends his time working with his fellows at Discovery Institute and raising his daughter who he suspects will one day be president of the United States. For more reviews as well as serial novels, go to www.garypaulvarner.com to read more.

Do Life History or Moral Choices Matter in a Multiverse?