Doctor Strange’s Deep Dive Into The Multiverse

*Note: The following will contain MAJOR SPOILERS for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

For anyone who has seen Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, the latest entry from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), the film raised many questions and fueled intense speculation for what lies ahead with the MCU and its version of the multiverse or alternate realities.

The MCU has toyed with the concept of the multiverse for some time and further explored it in recent Disney+ TV shows, and even Avengers: Endgame, but the sequel to Doctor Strange is the first MCU film to fully dive into the concept. During the film, the sorcerer Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) encounters a young woman called America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), who has the ability to travel between universes or the multiverse. She is being hunted by Wanda Maximoff aka the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), who wants to steal her power (and killing her to do so) in order to travel to another reality where her fictional children that she conjured in WandaVision are actually alive. During a confrontation between Strange and the Scarlet Witch, Strange and Chavez wind up traveling through several bizarre universes before arriving in a universe numbered 838. The MCU we know of is designated 616, even though that designation belongs to the regular Marvel Comics universe, which itself designated the MCU 199,999.

Despite the weird worlds Strange and Chavez traveled through, like an animated universe or one where they turned into paint colors, the 838 quickly stood out in the way that society embraced living more harmoniously with nature and with its heroes. Strange met the superhuman team called the Illuminati who deal with the deadliest threats to reality and included alternate MCU heroes and new ones, as well. The most interesting Illuminati members were Captain Carter (Hayley Atwell), a What If…? character perfectly realized in live action, Reed Richards, leader of the Fantastic Four (played by John Krasinski, a fan-casting dream come true), a comics-accurate version of Black Bolt (reprised by Anson Mount who originated the role in the Inhumans TV show), and Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who was a new version of the Professor X seen in the Fox X-Men films.

As great as it was to see these heroes, some fans were disappointed that the film did not feature more appearances by alternate characters such as a rumored Iron Man played by Tom Cruise, Tobey Maguire returning as Spider-Man or Chris Evans as the Human Torch (a role he played in the first official Fantastic Four films). Sure, it would have been terrific to see more cameos but to do so threatened to take away from the main story of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, which had to focus on Strange and his foe. The appearances we got were to merely whet our appetite for things to come, which were clearly outlined in the film. So fear not, this is just the beginning. Before long we’ll have a deep dive into the multiverse.

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Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness Is A Wild & Scary Summer Ride

Kicking off the yearly cinematic entries of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) for 2022 is Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, the long-awaited sequel to 2016’s Doctor Strange. While the first film introduced the supernatural and trippy side of the MCU, the sequel runs wild and amps up the horror elements of the MCU and introduces fantastic new characters and concepts. As with Spider-Man: No Way Home, this film deals with the mind-bending nature of the multiverse and fleshes it out more.

The sequel to Doctor Strange is directed by horror auteur, Sam Raimi, who returns to the world of film adaptations of Marvel Comics superheroes while embracing his horror film background. He replaced the original director and it turned out Marvel Studios made an inspired choice with Raimi, who has the skills and the superhero and horror background to create a splendid fusion of both genres for the MCU.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness brings back the sorcerer, Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), after the events of Spider-Man: No Way Home. He is attending the wedding of his former lover, Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) when a nearby attack in the streets of New York City attracts his attention. A giant, cyclopean cephalopod is after a teenage girl named America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) and after Strange and fellow sorcerer Wong (Benedict Wong) rescue her, she reveals she is from another universe. America Chavez has the uncontrollable ability to travel through different universes and is on the run from someone who wants to kill her and take her power. The film also features Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), who is in grieving after the events of WandaVision. Soon enough her and Strange’s paths cross as he embarks on a mission to protect Chavez. This leads him through the multiverse itself as he struggles to find a way to defeat Gomez’s pursuer and confront his own flaws.

This film works on so many levels that cannot be appreciated immediately by some. It relies heavily on the history of the MCU and has references to Marvel Comics that will delight fans and alienate some non-fans. It walks a fine line between servicing fans with many references and Easter eggs while not going overboard. Despite what the title implies or what over-speculation has led some to believe, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness manages to restrain itself while being an effective and fast-paced thriller with many blood-curdling moments. Sam Raimi revels in his horror roots and delivers his best film in years. Unlike some MCU films that lack identity, Raimi is able to inject his own distinctive and bombastic directorial vision in the film. What he presents may alarm some expecting a family-friendly ride, but it is so well done. A lot of the imagery is downright squeamish and disturbing, but Raimi does not go too over the top. Needless to say the special effects are excellent and many of the images look like dreams which came to cinematic life.

A criticism with The Batman was that it was a bit too indulgent and went on too long. With Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, it is the opposite. Its main problem is that it could have used a few extra minutes to allow it to breath and let many emotional moments sink in. It’s very fast paced, but tetters on the brink of losing control as the film jumps from one plot point to another. Raimi has said that his original cut of the film was about a half hour longer but Marvel Studios made him cut the film to fit a two-hour run time. Hopefully this footage will turn up later on to let us judge them. But the film still holds itself together thanks to the terrifc talent both behind and in front of the camera.

Benedict Cumberbatch once again turns in a fine performance as a self-deluding, arrogant hero who has to admit some hard truths about himself in order to succeed. The other actors have ample amount of screen time to leave an impression, including Xochitl Gomez. As the newest superhero of the MCU, Gomez’s America Chavez is full of heart and spunk, but is never obnoxious or overbearing. Plus, she has an engaging sub plot as she struggles to deal with her past and grow.

Elizabeth Olsen delivers an excellent performance as Wanda as we feel her pain and can certainly empathize with her situation over having lost her children during WandaVision. Then there many new characters who have small but significant appearances in the film. As mentioned earlier, beware of over speculating about who appears and dampen expectations. In the end, this works for the film and keeps it from having the same failed fate of Iron Man 2 or Avengers: Age of Ultron where those films tried to cram in too much to set up other films. Even though Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness has many characters and moving parts, the core of the film is still on Strange. More importantly, the film does not hesitate to shine a light on his character flaws, which are not admirable.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is another strong win for the MCU and Marvel Studios, which leaves one begging for a followup. Thankfully, the end title card promises that Doctor Strange will return. Let’s hope it does not take six more years for a third Doctor Strange film.

José Soto

The Superhero Multiversal Crossover Events Are Among Us

The biggest and latest thing now with live-action superhero films and TV shows are the crossover events that feature previous versions of superheroes and supervillains showing up to lend a hand or imperil the current heroes. The most recent and one of the best examples was seen in Spider-Man: No Way Home where the Spider-Man (Tom Holland) of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) met two older versions of Spider-Man (both played by Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield) that appeared in their own films.

Of course, fans will be in for a treat this week as Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness debuts and promises to deliver a the mother of all crossover events as the worlds of the MCU, previous Marvel films and more will interact. But that’s not all, next year The Flash will be about its own crossover event as the title hero’s (Ezra Miller) time travel antics will create alternate timelines and have him meet previous film versions of DC’s superheroes; notably Batman, reprised by Michael Keaton.

There have been other examples of multiverses in superhero films and TV shows. The TV series Loki, heavily dealt with this theme as the title villain (Tom Hiddleston) was a Loki from an alternate timeline that ultimately did not die as he escaped the events that led to his death in Avengers: Infinity War. This Loki grappled with knowledge about his potential fate, time travel and bizarre variants of his being, which included an alligator version of Loki (!). The events of the TV show probably led to the multiversal crisis befalling the MCU.

The Disney+ animated series What If…? exclusively explores other versions of the MCU, such as one where T’Challa never became Black Panther but instead became Star-Lord, or a world where zombies have overrun the MCU. More importantly at least two characters introduced in the What If…? series will appear in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. They are a dark version of Doctor Strange and a Peggy Carter who recieved the super-soldier serum instead of Steve Rogers. In one segment when a superpowered Ultron and the Watcher fought, their battle raged across different universes, including what may be the Star Wars universe. This series is inspired by the Marvel Comics title What If…? which explored different outcomes and events of the Marvel Universe, only the animated series focused on the MCU and for the most part the series was fun to watch.

Another terrific animated presentation from Marvel was the masterpiece Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which took place in an alternate world where a blond Peter Parker died as Spider-Man and Miles Morales took his place as a new Spider-Man. In his adventures he met alternate versions of Spider-Man including an older, jaded version of Peter Parker, Peter’s old girlfriend, Gwen Stacy and a cartoon pig. The film won the Oscar for best animated film and two sequels will be coming out starting next year.

Marvel is not the only one dealing with animated alternate worlds. DC has released several animated films based on their Elseworlds imprint, which is their own take of alternate universes. We’ve witnessed adaptations of popular Elseworld tales such as Superman: Red Son, Gotham Under Gaslight, and The Dark Knight Returns. These films were excellent adaptations of the source material or were inspired by the original premise.

DC has already had its live-action forays into alternate worlds. Crisis on Infinite Earths was a television crossover event that took place across DC’s Arrowverse TV shows. The event was a very loose adaptation of the classic comic book mini-series about multiple timelines and universes in DC being combined into one. The highlight of that event was, of course, the cameos, Easter eggs and appearances of DC heroes and villains from various live DC films and TV shows that were not part of the Arrowverse. For instance, we got to see Burt Ward reprise his role as Dick Grayson from the 1960s Batman TV show, we revisited the world of Smallville, and Brandon Routh appeared as Superman in a combination sequel to Superman Returns and loose adaptation of the classic comic book mini-series Kingdom Come. But the biggest surprise was that the TV version of the Flash (Grant Gustin) briefly met the film version played by Ezra Miller.

As to the rest of the crossover event, it was acceptable. Being these were Arrowverse shows with limited budgets, the result was what one would expect. Still, it was often entertaining and seeing the concept of a multiverse realized was fun, especially the end of the event which gave us tanatlizing glimpses into other worlds and stories.

These stories about multiverses and alternate characters and situations seemed unheard of fairly recently. Aside from the logistical hurdles of clearing rights and enticing actors to return to roles, the film and TV executives also feared that such stories would be too confusing. Sure, comic book readers and fans would understand the concept of alternate timelines and situations but the average person might not. Fortunately, as we have seen lately, these live-action presentations have been very successful, especially Spider-Man: No Way Home, which became one of the highest grossing films of all time. Still, the writers and showrunners have to be able to thread the needle carefully and tell a compelling and clear story. Otherwise, the result will be a confusing and unsatisfying film or TV show. The important thing to remember is that these are fun and fascinating explorations of our favorite characters. So for now, let’s enjoy and celebrate. these crossovers and multiverses for what they are.

Big Changes Coming For DC & The DCEU

This past week Discovery officially took over Warner Bros. and its properties including DC Comics and DC Entertainment. After doing so, the company (rebranded as WB Discovery) announced they were radically overhauling DC Entertainment and its superheroes, specifically their films and TV shows including those of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU). Even though there have been very successful DCEU efforts like Aquaman and Peacemaker, other releases did not exactly hit the high bar when it came to box office sales or critical/fan reception (Wonder Woman 1984). The goal of the restructuring is to make the DCEU genuinely competitive with the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

This would mean that a head honcho would be hired to oversee the production of DCEU films and TV shows in the same manner that Marvel Studios president, Kevin Feige, does with the MCU. This also implies that the DC films and TV shows will be more coherent and less disjointed, while some once-prominent properties will get more attention. In fact, WB Discovery stated that Warner Bros. allowed top tier properties like Superman “languish” to the detriment of the DCEU and DC.

The Snyderverse and Stalled Efforts

Frankly, the coming changes are a much needed shot in the arm for DC and the DCEU, which has lacked a strong visionary leader. Previous leaders like Walter Hamada, Geoff Johns and Zack Snyder proved to be unable to present a clear direction for their films. Only Snyder came the closest to presenting a vision that was coherent. Unfortunately, Snyder is also a film director and when his Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice did not impress critics and fans, and Justice League failed to reach the success of The Avengers, he was ushered out of the door by Warner Bros. and the DCEU that he helped create basically fell apart. Part of the problem with Zack Snyder being in charge with the DCEU (or the Snyderverse as some fans called the early films) is that although Snyder is a gifted director, what was needed to oversee the films was a producer in the mold of Kevin Feige. A producer is tasked with the production of films or TV shows and brings a guided vision to entire productions. Directors are focused on individual films first and bring their own stamp to what they film. It is not possible given a director’s schedule to expect him or her to oversee the vision of several films at once.

Even before Snyder’s exit, projects were stalled after big announcements, while conflict occured with many actors and filmmakers. Directors and writers joined and left projects. Then there were the casting headaches Warner Bros. faced from the fact that Henry Cavill, cast as Superman in the Snyderverse, was for all purposes, dismissed to the outlandish and criminal behavior of Ezra Miller, whose film The Flash has not even come out yet. Then there is the fact that The Flash was in perpetual development hell for the longest time as directors and writers exited the film left and right. Now, there are rumors that Miller will be fired from his role and in his situation it would be easy. Since The Flash deals with the title hero time traveling and alternate universes, just reshoot the ending to replace Miller with a new actor. Even Grant Gustin from the TV version of The Flash would be a better choice, although that casting may be too confusing for some.

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Morbius: When Trailers Deceive Us

By now, most of us have heard about Morbius and how it wildly differed from what the trailers promised. Namely, solid connections with Spider-Man or even the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). But what we got was downright deceptive.

For some time now, there have been grumblings by filmgoers and fans about how what was shown in trailers never showed up in the final films. Some recent examples include the famous charge of the heroes in the first trailer for Avengers: Infinity War, which prominently showed a very large and angry Hulk charging along with the other Avengers and allies. But as we saw in the film, the Hulk only appeared briefly in the film’s opening moments and the scene of the charging Avengers was nowhere to be found.

Another example was in the recent Spider-Man: No Way Home which digitally removed the other Spider-Men taking part in battling the many foes or alternate scenes with Doctor Strange that did not make it to the final film.

A big reason for these deceptions is because of spoilers. A decision was made for Spider-Man: No Way Home to keep the revelations about the other Spider-Men a surprise, even though this was the worst kept secret in Hollywood. In another case, for a trailer for Thor: Ragnarok, the God of Thunder was shown in channeling electricity with two eyes flaring with energy. However, when this happened in the film, Thor by this point, lost an eye while battling Hela.

Another reason for the deception is not that the films were intentionally deceiving viewers but rather the clips in the trailers failed to make the final cut of the films. This points to what probably happened with Morbius.

In the trailers for Morbius there were several scenes establishing the existence of Spider-Man in the world of Morbius. A great example is that clip of Morbius walking past a poster of Spider-Man with the word “Murderer” sprayed over the poster. This led to wild speculation if this film took place in the MCU given Spider-Man’s predicament or in the non-MCU Spider-Man films where the character underwent a dark chapter that we have not seen.

There were also a couple of scenes showing Adrian Toomes/Vulture (played by Michael Keaton) interacting with Morbius, which led to more speculation. But alas, none of this happened or was seen in the final film, which had zero Spider-Man connections until the post-credits scenes. Without going into spoilers, these scenes did not make any sense.

Obviously, eager Spider-Man fans were sorely disappointed by the final cut of Morbius. The question remains is how long will film studios and their marketing departments continue to deceive filmgoers? Yes, the audiences have to consider that usually when a trailer is released the film has not been completed, so they cannot expect to see every shot in a trailer to show up in a film. They also have to consider that studios want to leave some surprises for fans. But to outright tease connections to the world of Spider-Man and the MCU and deliver nonsenscal post-credit scenes is an insult to fans. What will happen is that fans will eventually tune out trailers and the enthusiasm for these films will diminish, and this could ultimately impact the box office. Being that this is the thing that matters most to film studios, they have to take heed about how they burn fans with deceptive trailers.