Back in the summer, my wife and I started to watch our way through the Phase Four stuff of the MCU, but we didn’t get too far before deciding to re-watch everything from the beginning, in timeline order this time. However, after Captain America and both seasons of Agent Carter, I think we burnt out a little, and started watching other stuff. At any rate, now that Phase Four has come to an end with the second Black Panther movie, which we saw on a recent date night and thought was really great, we’re once more trying to watch the stuff from Phase Four that we haven’t yet seen.
For those of you who might be wondering what I’m on about, Marvel’s Phase Four kicks off the three-part Multiverse Saga, much like the first three phases were all about Thanos and the Infinity Stones. It’s not super clear yet who the big bad of this phase is going to be, as the stories have been a bit all over the place, with a lot of criticism of the way the TV shows on Disney+ has been spewing out. That said, of course, it now appears that the main villain of the piece is going to be Kang, but for now we’ve had quite a lot of content that has served more as a postlude to the Infinity Saga than anything else.
Doctor Strange 2 is one of seven movies in this phase, and seems to work a lot off the WandaVision TV series. The multiverse idea is first introduced in Loki, and I believe the third Spider-Man film, No Way Home, further expands on this, though I haven’t yet seen that movie to comment. I have a lot of catching up to do!
Following a dream in which Strange and a mysterious girl are being pursued by a demon, Strange ends up rescuing the same girl from another demon in New York. Introducing herself as America Chavez, she explains that she has the power to travel the multiverse, and the demons want that power from her. Strange recognises the runes on the demon as witchcraft, and visits Wanda Maximoff for help but realises that she has sent the demons after Chavez. Since she gained the Darkhold grimoire, and became the Scarlet Witch, Wanda has learnt of the multiverse and has discovered a universe where she lives with her two boys for real.
Wanda attacks Kamar-Taj to get to Chavez, but Chavez manages to flee with Strange to an alternative version of Earth (Earth-838). Wanda uses the Darkhold to “dreamwalk”, taking possession of the version of herself from that universe, to continue her pursuit of Chavez. However, one of the sorcerers from Kamar-Taj destroys the Darkhold, breaking the spell, so Wanda forces Wong, the Sorcerer Supreme, to take her to Mount Wundagore, the original source of the Darkhold’s power, where she can continue her dreamwalk.
Strange and Chavez are apprehended on Earth-838 by Karl Mordo, who in this universe is the Sorcerer Supreme, and who takes them before the Illuminati, a group dedicated to preventing multiverse incursions. The group consists of Peggy Carter, Black Bolt, Mr Fantastic, Maria Rambeau, and Professor X. The Illuminati initially distrust Strange, as their universe’s Strange had used the Darkhold to defeat Thanos, but was executed for taking his power too far. Before they can pass judgment, Wanda arrives, and is able to defeat the Illuminati while Strange and Chavez escape, with the help of Dr Palmer who in this universe is working with the Illuminati to study multiverse incursions. The three attempt to find the Book of Vishanti, which can nullify the power of the Darkhold, and Strange finds himself in his dream from the start of the movie – however, Wanda follows them and destroys the book, taking over Chavez’ mind and sending Strange and Palmer to another universe.
Strange finds his counterpart, who has been corrupted by the power of the Darkhold, but is able to defeat his alter-ego. He then uses the power of this universe’s Darkhold to dreamwalk into the corpse of the Dr Strange Chavez originally arrived with in Earth-616, where he is able to confront Wanda on Mount Wundagore. Corpse-Strange tells Chavez she needs to trust herself, so Chavez opens a portal to Earth-838, where Wanda’s children recoil in horror from their “mother”, prompting Wanda to realise the error of her ways. She uses her power to destroy all copies of the Darkhold across the multiverse, and bring down Mount Wundagore – apparently giving her own life to do so, and Chavez restores Strange and Palmer to their respective versions of Earth.
Due to his dreamwalk into a corpse, Strange develops a third eye in his forehead, and in the mid-credits scene he is accosted by Clea, a sorceress who demands his help to fix an incursion he has caused. Together, they head off into the Dark Dimension.
There is a hell of a lot going on in this movie, but by keeping such a tight focus on essentially just two characters, Wanda and Strange, it is able to fit in all of this without feeling like it is cluttered or too busy. Which is such a good thing when you consider that the movie is dealing with something as potentially confusing as the multiverse. Indeed, the story manages to get across its idea of there being multiple universes really quite well, although I have heard that some of the criticism of this is the fact that every version of a person from across the multiverse has the same background, which is a bone of contention for some. I’m not a big Doctor Strange fan in terms of the original comics, and I’m not hugely familiar with the multiverse in the source material, so it didn’t bother me – indeed, it actually made things easier to follow.
There is a distinct horror feel to the film, which is possibly down to director Sam Raimi, but it is interesting to see Wanda become a villain in this story. Now, I loved WandaVision, and rewatching it over the summer, that was really reinforced. During the course of the series, Wanda realises the havoc that she has caused by taking over peoples’ lives in order to make herself happy, and many critics have mentioned how the story arc essentially repeats itself here. I think I would argue that actually, the book explains the corrupting power of the Darkhold, and it becomes easy to see how Wanda, who is grieving for the loss of Vision, plus the loss of the life she had made for herself, who is likely fixated on the idea of a normal family life, then having this dark magical artefact whispering to her that she can get back to that life. I can see how she would fall once again into that role – it’s not quite a villain, although she’s clearly an antagonist for the story. I suppose my one criticism here is that there is no time for any kind of resolution for her in the same way that we saw in the show. Wanda realises what she was doing was wrong, so makes it right by sacrificing herself, and then it’s done. I hope we haven’t seen the last of her, so I had hoped that perhaps there would have been more to round her story out.
The Illuminati was a huge highlight for me, which made it all the more awful when they were just dispensed with in short order. Peggy Carter as Captain Britain probably gave the best outing, so it’s great to see Marvel still use her even if it is only in bit-parts like this. I don’t think Jemma really appreciated how huge my reaction was (I nearly dropped my cuppa!) when we had not only John Krasinski’s Mr Fantastic appear, but then Patrick Stewart reprising his role as Professor X! No matter how bad those films got, I still love Bryan Singer’s X-Men films, and it gives me nothing but joy to see this happen in the MCU. Whether we’ll ever get the X-Men, and whether they will ever live up to the “originals” if they recast, who can say. But the fact that we have now had a glimpse of them is just wonderful. It just makes me sad that the Illuminati only had like 10-15 minutes of screen time, most of which was them dying off.
The original Illuminati included the likes of Mr Fantastic, Black Panther, Namor, and Iron Man (as well as Strange himself), so whether their presence here could herald a new group that might come about when the Fantastic Four have been more formally introduced, who knows. The fact that Namor has now entered the MCU is a good sign, though, and hopefully we’re headed more for the sort of cosmic stuff with Fantastic Four that we could get a really interesting team here.
At any rate, the film was pretty good, and seems to set up a lot for the future, as well as tying up a lot, making it a firm centrepiece film for the MCU. I like that, it really feels like we could get more of these ensemble movies in the future, along the lines of Civil War being ostensibly a Captain America film, but actually there’s a lot more to it than that. With no Doctor Strange 3 on the roster so far, it does make me wonder what the mid-credits scene with Clea is all about. Surely you don’t get Charlize Theron starring as Doctor Strange’s eventual wife, talking about incursions and the Dark Dimension, without a plan for a follow-up! I’m not that familiar with the comics, as I mentioned, but Baron Mordo seems to have been desperately under-used, so maybe we’ll get a third film that gives a star-studded, mind-blowing pay-off for all of that?