The Book of Vishanti

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is the closest thing to a horror movie in the MCU. As the twenty-eighth installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness explored the multiverse even further. Doctor Strange eased audiences into the magical realm of the Sorcerer Supreme. Which is why Multiverse of Madness is a no holds barred display of witchcraft and wizardry. Unlike most MCU superheroes, Benedict Cumberbatch made 4 separate appearances before finally getting a direct sequel 5 years later. Doctor Strange helped Thor and Loki find Odin in Thor: Ragnarok, helped Iron Man, Spider-Man, and the Guardians of the Galaxy fight Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War, helped the Avengers save the universe in Avengers: Endgame, and recently helped Spider-Man with his secret identity in Spider-Man: No Way Home.

Strange has a history of helping his fellow heroes in Marvel comics, but we rarely remember his own adventures. Original director Scott Derrickson wanted to make the first scary MCU film. Producer Kevin Feige supported the idea as long as it was still PG-13. Even the title Multiverse of Madness feels like Lovecraftian horror. Alas, Derrickson became yet another MCU director to leave sighting creative differences. He left to make the more conventional horror movie The Black Phone. Without a director, Multiverse of Madness marked the surprise return of original Spider-Man trilogy director Sam Raimi. Though he kept himself busy producing independent horror movies, Raimi hasn’t directed a film since Oz the Great and Powerful in 2013. His horror roots and experience with Marvel superheroes made him the perfect choice to direct Multiverse of Madness. Making the Doctor Strange reference in Spider-Man 2 even more ironic…

59. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

Doctor Strange, Wong, and America Chavez hideout in Kamar-Taj

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a better Doctor Strange sequel than a multiverse movie. After the immense billion dollar success of No Way Home, Marvel fans were desperate for more of the multiverse. What we got in the meantime was the underwhelming Moon Knight on Disney+. It’s possible fan expectations were too high. After bringing so many past Spider-Man characters into the MCU, we all assumed Doctor Strange would travel through every single Marvel movie from the early 2000’s. The idea became a lot less realistic as soon as we found out the runtime was a mere 2 hours & 6 minutes. After the excessive length of Eternals, I’m glad a shorter MCU movie is the one where I desperately needed to use the bathroom. No Way Home was long, but it used its time wisely. I can’t help but feel a little disappointed with the rushed pace of Multiverse of Madness. After a Marvel Studios logo that mostly consists of Doctor Strange clips, we’re thrown directly into the action. Since Doctor Strange’s comic accurate design is already perfect, Benedict Cumberbatch gets a chance to play several unique variants.

Defender Strange is based on his appearance in The Defenders 2011 comic book run. This variant has a cool dark blue & red tunic with no cloak, light blue Mandalas, and a ponytail. He can also speak Spanish since this Sorcerer Supreme is protecting America Chavez. As I’ve said before, I have little to no love for the Marvel characters who were created in the last decade. America made her debut in the 2011 Vengeance #1. I never liked her because she felt so much like a forced PC character. Chavez is a Hispanic, lesbian, woman of color who happens to be named America. As stated in my No Way Home review, America’s MCU debut was delayed until Multiverse of Madness. I expected the worst, but the 14 year old Xochitl Gomez is actually tolerable in the part. Her sexuality isn’t depicted since there’s no reason for it. America has a comic accurate blue denim jacket with stars and stripes, but no short shorts. Her power to open star shaped portals into other dimensions is actually pretty interesting.

Defender Strange tries to protect America’s power, but a monstrous demon chases them through a space between spaces. The Gap Junction is an imaginative location with a purple hue and mosaic patterns. Though it does feel like something you’d encounter in a video game. The visual effects match the psychedelic nature of Doctor Strange, but the glossy CGI monsters are passable at best. The demon manages to give Defender Strange a nasty leg wound. Multiverse of Madness is surprisingly violent, but it never quite reaches R rated territory. Sam Raimi actually hasn’t directed an R rated film since the year 2000. Even Drag Me to Hell somehow got away with a PG-13 rating. You can immediately tell you’re watching a Raimi film based on his disorienting camera techniques and artistic visual style. In order to stop the beast, Strange takes America’s power using the same justification about the grand calculus of the multiverse he used for Peter Parker in the current universe. Exploring the multiverse doesn’t feel quite as special after everything that was accomplished in No Way Home. Probably because Multiverse of Madness was meant to come out first.

The original Phase Four slate was suppose to be Black Widow, Eternals, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and Spider-Man: No Way Home. Unfortunately, the Pandemic screwed everything up. So Multiverse of Madness went from May 2021 all the way to May 2022. A few rewrites were needed in order to change Strange’s experience with the multiverse. Spider-Man is mentioned in a humorous way, but they don’t dwell on the movie’s repercussions. As an emotionally distressed America gets sucked into her own portal, MCU Stephen Strange wakes from a nightmare. Though he’s far from the arrogant neurosurgeon he once was, the sequel finally addresses the past Strange left behind to become a Master of the Mystic Arts. Of course he still uses magic even to tie a tie for a wedding. Michael Stuhlbarg returns as rival colleague Dr. Nicodemus West who criticizes Strange for his role in the Blip. Rachel McAdams gets a lot more attention as former love interest Dr. Christine Palmer. She’s the one getting married since Stephen never made the relationship work.

Though Christine claims her husband is a big fan of Doctor Strange, he doesn’t play much of a role in their doomed love story. Christine talks to Stephen after he conjures up a glass of wine for her. Strange already learned the lesson to put others before himself, and although he re-learns the lesson, Christine makes him question whether or not he’s happy. That’s about all the character development we get, since Doctor Strange immediately springs into action the moment duty calls. Pulling the Cloak of Levitation out of thin air while spinning around and jumping off a building is honestly one of the most badass suiting up sequences in the MCU. Frequent Raimi collaborator Danny Elfman performs a heroic theme along with several other creepy orchestrations. Doctor Strange encounters an invisible threat pursuing the girl of his dreams. He lifts the veil only to find a massive one eyed tentacle creature that resembles Shuma-Gorath from the comics. Its name was changed to Gargantos since Marvel apparently didn’t have the rights to the name.

Strange uses several new spells like disassembling a bus and conjuring up a giant saw blade. Though his Cloak does a lot of the work when Strange gets knocked out. He’s joined in battle by the Sorcerer Supreme. No Way Home was also the first place we discovered Wong was now the Sorcerer Supreme. I’m still conflicted by the decision, because Doctor Strange should be the Sorcerer Supreme in his own movie. At least Benedict Wong is still likable in all of his appearances. Wong fights back using a magical throwing dagger. When Strange wakes up, they discuss the custom of bowing to the Sorcerer Supreme. Gargantos is only defeated when Strange uses enlarged magic hands to pluck out its eye with a light post. It’s a gruesome image that I didn’t expect to see in a Marvel movie. Strange and Wong have a word with America who tells them about the comic accurate Book of Vishanti that her and Defender Strange were looking for. The spellbook is capable of giving a sorcerer whatever power they require to vanquish a threat. She also shows them the corpse of Defender Strange who made it to their universe.

Though the multiverse has been discussed several times, it turns out dreams are simply other universes that a person sees in their sleep. It’s a bizarre detail that makes it seem like Nightmare was supposed to be the villain of the movie. Doctor Strange doesn’t have too many familiar antagonists, but that feels like a missed opportunity. Instead the movie’s villain is a very familiar witch. Wanda Maximoff returns 1 year after forcing an entire town to live out her sitcom fantasy. WandaVision is the first Disney+ series to directly tie into an MCU film. Despite the chaos that Wanda brought to Westview, Doctor Strange didn’t show up for some ridiculous reason. Instead he finds Wanda in a orchard where he shrugs off the events of WandaVision. Strange mentions Hawkeye and several bug themes crimefighters as alternatives to seeking Wanda’s help with America. When Wanda was revealed to be part of Multiverse of Madness, I assumed Strange would be a mentor teaching her to control her magic. Instead the Scarlet Witch drops the act by revealing her orchard to be a decaying hellscape where she’s been corrupted by the Darkhold.

The Book of the Damned has made several unofficial appearances in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Runaways before officially belonging to Agatha Harkness in WandaVision. When Wanda finally became the Scarlet Witch, she received a more comic accurate red costume with a pointy tiara. The only minor change was giving her sleeves and blackened fingertips. Wanda uses the Darkhold to find her boys Billy and Tommy in another universe using America’s power. Julian Hilliard and Jett Klyne return as the future Wiccan and Speed respectively. WandaVision made Billy and Tommy feel like real children, but their movie portrayal is very one dimensional. They live with a variant of Wanda and do things like sing cringy songs about ice cream and watch Disney approved movies like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Vision is nowhere to be seen since Wanda is more concerned with being a mother. It’s kind of ironic that the abbreviation of Multiverse of Madness is MoM. Though it’s jarring to see Scarlet Witch in another much more villainous role, Elizabeth Olsen manages to find her humanity. Tom Hiddleston was rumored to return as Loki, but all of his multiverse breaking shenanigans will have to be answered in his own show.

Strange accidentally tells Wanda that America is being protected in Kamar-Taj. They’re joined by a battle ready Wong and sorcerers from the Hong Kong and London Sanctums. I love that a talking green minotaur sorcerer is given zero explanation. Rintrah is in the comics, but even the most hardcore Marvel fans probably didn’t know that. Ancient One decoy Master Hamir returns along with new sorcerers like Sheila Atim as Master Sara. Sorcerers have their Mandalas and heavy magic cannons to defend Kamar-Taj. Scarlet Witch arrives in a cloud of smoke to have words with Doctor Strange. She calls him a hypocrite for regularly breaking the rules. The attack on Kamar-Taj shows Wanda once again use her power of persuasion to lower a protective shield. Scarlet Witch kills many sorcerers, but Strange holds her off with the Mirror Dimension. Unlike previous appearances, Multiverse of Madness is a lot less reliant on the visually impressive kaleidoscopic realm. Wanda manages to escape using reflections that contort her body like some kind of monster. America is unable to control her powers, but Wanda manages to unlock them.

In order to protect her, Strange and America end up traveling through the multiverse. In the process, the Cloak of Levitation is damaged. In about 30 seconds we’re teased with a countless number of universes. We see Living Tribunal heads, crystals, giant bees, an underwater world, futuristic technology, skeletons, dinosaurs, an animated world, a cubic world, and even a paint world. That’s about the extent of multiversal madness, since Strange and America stick with one universe for most of the movie. Despite visiting well over 70 universes, America is somehow unable to get them back. Doctor Strange is stuck helping a young superhero for the second time in a row. They explore a universe that’s more like the distant future with red stop lights and a New York city teaming with plant life. America manages to find tasty looking pizza balls at a Pizza Poppa stand. The perfect opportunity for an over-the-top Bruce Campbell cameo. Just like Evil Dead II, Strange casts a particularly harsh spell that makes Pizza Poppa continually punch himself. The after-credits scene is just Campbell telling the audience the movie is over after his possessed hand wares off.

Though it’s ridiculously convenient, Strange and America watch their own important flashbacks on a futuristic device called Memory Lane. Strange sees his younger beardless self on a date with Christine where she gave him the now broken watch. America sees her own mostly comic accurate origin story. The only LGBT reference in the movie is the fact that America has two mommies. America Chavez is from the Utopian Parallel where she was raised by her moms. In the movie, being scared by a bee manages to send her moms somewhere in the multiverse never to be seen again. Strange and America manage to find this universe’s Sanctum Sanctorum with a monument to a fallen Doctor Strange credited with defeating Thanos. Without Strange, the Sanctum is guarded by Baron Karl Mordo. Although Doctor Strange turned Mordo into an ally, an after-credits scene made him more villainous like the comics. Chiwetel Ejiofor certainly has a better look with a more comic accurate green tunic, bread, and dreadlocks. He just isn’t the Mordo we knew from the first movie. That version doesn’t appear at all, so we’ll have to wait even longer to know what evil scheme he’s up to.

This Mordo considers Strange to be a brother and invites him into the Sanctum. They discuss Wanda’s plan over a cup of tea. Back in Kamar-Taj, Scarlet Witch uses the Darkhold to establish a “dreamwalk” that will allow her to possess the body of her alternate universe self. Now it really feels like a horror movie with Wanda being haunted by disturbing visions before ultimately being taken over. The dreamwalk is broken when Master Sara burns the book. Wong is forced to reveal the location of the original Darkhold text on Mount Wundagore. The forbidden ruins are located in the snowy mountains and guarded by demons that serve the Scarlet Witch. Mordo is not so good after all when he drugs Strange and America. They wake up in a containment cell with power dapping cuffs. Strange is greeted by a scientist who turns out to be a variant of Christine. Although Mysterio made up the name Earth-616, Christine also happens to give the MCU the comic accurate moniker. The universe they’re on now is called Earth-838. 838 Christine was a lover of the deceased Strange, but they too were unable to make their relationship work.

SPOILER ALERT! I gasped with joy the moment Christine mentioned the Baxter Foundation, but the surprises just keep coming. Mordo is joined by Ultron Sentries who take him to see the Illuminati. Marvel’s Illuminati are a secret society of superheroes who were first established in the 2005 New Avengers #7. The team is mostly composed of leaders from important teams in the Marvel Universe. Iron Man represents the Avengers, Black Panther represents Wakanda, Namor represents Atlantis, Professor X represents the X-Men, Mister Fantastic represents the Fantastic Four, Black Bolt represents the Inhumans, and Doctor Strange is the Sorcerer Supreme. In the movie, Baron Mordo is the Sorcerer Supreme who replaced Doctor Strange. I didn’t expect to see a live action Captain Carter so soon after her debut in What If…? Hayley Atwell reprises the role in person with an exact recreation of her costume and Union Jack shield. I was pleasantly surprised to see a faithful adaptation of Black Bolt on the big screen. More surprising is the fact that Anson Mount gets to redeem himself after the awful Inhumans ABC series. Though it’s somehow more disappointing to know what might have been.

Blackagar Boltagon has a far better comic accurate black costume with a cowl, tuning fork, and wingsuit. Like the comics, Black Bolt’s voice is so powerful that he only communicates through sign language. After her confirmed death in WandaVision, I thought I’d never see Maria Rambeau again, but Lashana Lynch plays a version of Captain Marvel with the same cosmic powers and a silver costume. I didn’t know how far Marvel Studios was willing to go, but I cheered the moment Reed Richards transported on screen played by fan favorite actor John Krasinski. Ioan Gruffudd (not Miles Teller!) would’ve been a good choice too, but the casting of Krasinski gave me hope for the long overdue MCU reboot of Fantastic Four. His performance is a little awkward, but I think I just need to see him in his own ensemble movie. Mister Fantastic has the grey temples and beard of later incarnations along with an MCU inspired black & blue costume complete with prominent “4” symbol. The final member is dramatically revealed with the iconic X-Men: The Animated Series theme.

Despite trailers ruining the surprise, I was overjoyed to see Patrick Stewart return as the most comic accurate Professor Charles Xavier he’s ever played. It only took 7 X-Men and/or Wolverine movies since the year 2000. Xavier has the comic accurate telepathic hand gestures and a mostly cartoon inspired green suit and bright yellow hover chair. Multiverse of Madness is the first Marvel movie to mention Spider-Man, the X-Men, and the Fantastic Four. I’m sure Stan Lee would be proud of finally being able to reach that point. Though I’m proud of Marvel Studios for staying true to the Illuminati, I am disappointed that they felt the need to include Captain Carter and Captain Marvel. Fans were disappointed to know a Superior Iron Man wasn’t on the team. Tom Cruise playing the part would’ve been a clever nod to him almost playing Tony Stark in the MCU. Namor was also considered (more on him later). Apparently the continually absent Balder the Brave was even on the team played by Daniel Craig, but he was replaced at the last minute. Black Bolt and Mister Fantastic were so last minute that their costumes had to be done with CGI and not everyone was on set at the same time.

The Illuminati judge 616 Doctor Strange based on the actions of his 838 counterpart. Reed talks about an “incursion” that causes the destruction of an entire universe. 838 Strange recklessly used the Darkhold in order to defeat Thanos. The image of an impaled Thanos on Titan is not something I expected to see after Endgame. 838 Strange has no beard and a classic blue Cloak of Levitation that Reed holds. The Illuminati sentence Strange to death using one whisper from Black Bolt. Wanda reestablishes her dreamwalk in order to find America and stop anyone who gets in her way. Although most of the Illuminati have their doubts about Strange, Professor X encourages him using the same exact words he told his younger self in X-Men: Days of Future Past. I’m starting to sense a pattern with these callback lines. Scarlet Witch destroys several Ultron Sentries before coming face to face with a flying Captain Marvel, Captain Carter using a jetpack, Black Bolt using his wingsuit, and Mister Fantastic stretching into action. Reed tries to reason with Wanda by bringing up his own children Franklin and Valeria Richards. Their mother Sue Storm is mentioned as someone left to raise them.

Despite being dubbed “the smartest man alive,” Reed makes the dumbest decision by telling Wanda Black Bolt can destroy her with one whisper from his mouth. The line “What mouth?” is not as shocking as seeing a mouthless Black Bolt blow his own brains out with his voice. I was even more stunned to see Wanda turn Mister Fantastic into spaghetti before making a proper MCU debut. Wanda not immediately killing Captain Carter or Captain Marvel is a nonsensical excuse for an all-girl fight scene. Captain Carter shouldn’t be a threat, but she does get to say “I could do this all day.” Her death is especially brutal with Wanda using her shield to cut her in half. Captain Marvel lasts the longest, but she’s ultimately killed when a column lands on her. Xavier temporarily subdues Wanda by entering her mind in a very comic accurate mindscape sequence. He finds 838 Wanda trapped under rubble, but the Scarlet Witch appears in a cloud of red smoke to break Xavier’s neck. This will be the third time Charles Xavier died after being disintegrated in X-Men: The Last Stand and stabbed in Logan.

After less than 20 minutes of screen time, the entire Illuminati is slaughtered by the Scarlet Witch. I’d be mortified if they weren’t variants of characters who will likely appear again in the future. Mordo isn’t killed, but Strange goads him into a one on one confrontation. The fight is a bit underwhelming since it gets to a point where neither sorcerer can use their magic. Christine gives the Cloak a blue patch and decides to trust Strange and America. Before he died, Xavier told them to find the Book of Vishanti. Strange floods a hallway in order to stall Wanda. Christine’s watch becomes important when Strange uses it as a key to enter the mind bending Gap Junction. They find the glowing Book of Vishanti, but Wanda catches up to them and destroys it. America is kidnapped and her power is used to banish Strange and Christine to a universe destroyed by an incursion. Wanda mostly wants America’s universe traveling power to ensure her children are always with her. Strange and Christine have time to talk about their failed relationship on the way to another Sanctum Sanctorum. This Sanctum is more like a haunted house guarded by a Doctor Strange who was corrupted by the Darkhold.

Though he acts like Strange Supreme from What If…?, this evil Strange isn’t the same. 616 Strange reasons with him using a story about his deceased sister Donna Strange that is faithful to the comics. The sinister Strange will only hand over the Darkhold in exchange for Christine. His actions reveal a third eye that I never thought I’d see in live action. The Strange vs. Strange fight is one of the most creative fights in the MCU. When 616 Strange enchants a musical note, it turns into a literal musical battle with both Stranges building to an explosive crucindo. Danny Elfman really outdid himself with his “Lethal Symphonies.” The sinister Strange being impaled on a gate doesn’t shock me at this point. With America and Wong in trouble in the other universe, Strange makes the controversial decision to dreamwalk using the Darkhold in a candlelit ceremony. The only body he can dreamwalk in happens to be the corpse of Defender Strange. Possessing a dead body is enough to bring out the Souls of the Damned who nearly envelop Strange. Christine saves him using the Brazier of Bom’Galiath that Strange didn’t know how to use in the first movie. Turns out a candle turns it into a flamethrower.

Strange regains control and uses the demons to his advantage. Zombie Strange using Souls of the Damned as a cloak is something only Sam Raimi could pull off. Wong is unfazed by the revelation as they both attempt to stop Wanda. America accepts losing her powers, but zombie Strange gives her a last minute lesson about believing in herself. America nearly knocks Wanda into several hellish universes before giving her what she wants. Billy and Tommy break her heart by seeing her as a monster. 838 Wanda comforts her, but the damage is done. I’m sure we’ll see Wanda again, but for now the Scarlet Witch is defeated when she allows Mount Wundagore to be destroyed. Before America comes to find them, Stephen proclaims his love to Christine and tells her fear is the reason they never worked out. Strange accepts Wong as Sorcerer Supreme back in Kamar-Taj where America is an apprentice. I’m not sure where they’re going with that since that’s the role she would’ve had in No Way Home. Strange lets go of Christine by finally repairing his broken watch. All seems well, but like the Evil Dead franchise, a shocking twist reveals Strange to have grown a third eye.

It only takes a quick rorschach inspired credits sequence to show Strange perfectly fine in a mid-credits scene. As a dedicated Marvel fan who knows just enough about Doctor Strange, I was happy to see his longtime love interest Clea finally make an MCU appearance. Charlize Theron is an unexpected, but welcomed addition to the MCU. She has the wonderfully ridiculous purple costume and white hair from the comics. In the comics, Clea is the niece of Dormammu who once ruled the Dark Dimension. She talks about an incursion caused by Strange that he has to fix. Doctor Strange accepting his third eye and embarking on an adventure with Clea feels like the sequel we were suppose to be getting, but I’m not sure when we’ll see them again. That’s what happens when a sequel is used to continue the arc of a prominent character like Scarlet Witch and the multiverse overshadows everything else. Multiverse of Madness was a success, but it only managed to make $900 million. Everything Everywhere All at Once became the bigger critical success since the movie arguably took more advantage of the multiverse concept. I know I expected more, but Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness casts a good enough spell for me.

60. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

The Scarlet Witch prepares to Dreamwalk

Preceded by: Doctor Strange

2 thoughts on “The Book of Vishanti

  1. My folks, my Dad especially, loved the first Doctor Strange film. They were already fans of Benedict Cumberbatch after he played Sherlock Holmes for PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery, so they were curious about other roles of his. A superhero film with Horror elements sounds pretty cool I have to say. They did something similar in Italy in 1961 with the film Hercules in the Center of the Earth which I thought was very good and well crafted.

    Liked by 1 person

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