“And I know he’s here…”
I had a realisation when I heard that line. In the eighth episode of Wandavision, “Previously On”, Wanda Maximoff enters SWORD Headquarters to try and retrieve the body of her lover, the Vision. And something about how Elizabeth Olsen delivers that line. Some mixture of ragged sorrow, aggrieved entitlement and barely contained rage…like a soul that’s been crushed into diamond-hardness by life’s cruelties. It’s absolutely terrifying. And that’s when I realised that Elizabeth Olsen is the best actor in the MCU.
Now, a while back I said that I would be reviewing all of the Disney Plus Marvel shows as part of this series, but, in my defence, that was before I had seen most of them. In fact it was right around the time that Wandavision had me convinced that it was one of the most exciting, radical genre TV shows I’d seen in years. That’s…not how it turned out. The Wandavision finale wasn’t terrible, by any means, but for something that was shaping up to be the MCU’s answer to Twin Peaks to end in just another CGI blob fight in the sky…
Well, I wasn’t angry. But I was disappointed. And it turned out that Wandavision was the highpoint, so let’s just breeze quickly through the rest.
Not bad, really liked the John Walker arc, the Isiah Bradley stuff was cool but the villain was just nails-on-a-chalkboard and the two leads were the least compelling part. C+
Didn’t see it. I mean, I watched it but the whole thing was so underlit I don’t even know what happened. Picked up a bit towards the end with the Kang reveal but the writing needed to be a lot sharper for a show about the MCU’s wittiest character. C-
Damn, Marvel just does NOT like Star Lord, huh? This one’s hard to judge, any anthology show is going to have ups and downs. Overall, I think it balances out to be a B-.
Quit after episode 3. Automatic F.
Okay, a Hawkeye series is a tough lift. Fair enough. But how do you fuck up Moon Knight? I quit this twice. I tried to power through because I love the character but life is too damn short. Two Fs.
And I haven’t seen Ms Marvel or She Hulk yet.
So that’s us all caught up.
Multiverse of Madness is basically a thrown gauntlet to the audience. Prior to this, the TV corner of the MCU (whether that was on ABC, Netflix, Hulu or Disney +) was completely vestigial to the films. In fact, prior to Charlie Cox showing up as Matt Murdock in No Way Home, I can’t think of a single instance when the TV properties were even acknowledged in a main series movie (prove me wrong in the comments, folks). MoM though? If you are not at least fully caught up on Wandavision, Loki and What If?
The movie begins with a demon chasing two people through an interdimensional vortex. The two are Doctor Stephen Strange, now sporting a hideous ponytail, and America Chavez, Marvel’s attempt to make fetch happen from a few years back. They’re looking for the Book of Vishanti, a magic tome that grants incredible power. Of course, the correct name is actually the Book of THE Vishanti, a slip up that I’m sure cost Marvel at least 50 million or so at the boxoffice.
They get captured by the demon and Strange, rather than let America fall into its clutches, tries to kill her but is killed himself. In desperation, America opens a portal (her power is opening portals) and she and Strange’s corpse are transported to Earth 616…
No, you know what, I’ve put up with this bullshit long enough and we need to address this. Alright, the whole “616” thing. Why does this number keep showing up in connection with Marvel?
Well actually, yes. In a roundabout way. Maybe. Truth is, the origin of the term is a little muddled. So in 1983 in a Captain Britain story, Captain Britain meets the Captain Britain Corps, a team composed of Captain Britains from across the multiverse.
Captain Britain learns that his Earth is designated “616”, and that’s been the name of the main Marvel continuity ever since. Why “616”? According to writer Dave Thorpe, he originally intended 616 to be the designation for an eeeevil parallel universe and thought “666” was too on the nose and so he subtracted 50. (Of course, if you know your biblical history you know that the earliest versions of Revelations actually gives the Number of the Beast as “616”, which to me just proves that Saint John was a massive DC fanboy). But then Alan Moore took over the title and used 616 to refer to Braddock’s home universe without understanding the significance. (Or, quite possibly, he completely understood the significance and did it as a covert “FU” to Marvel). Anyway, doesn’t matter. From then on, the main “home” universe where the vast majority of Marvel stories are set takes place in Earth 616. Here’s the problem. The movies have started referring to the MCU as “616”, since all the way back in The Dark World, before the multiverse even existed. Which is just hideously confusing because, no, the MCU is NOT Earth 616. It’s Earth 199999! This is Earth 616:
So please. Say no to misnumbering fictional universes. This bullshit is hard enough to keep track of as it is.
Anyway, Stephen Strange 61…our Stephen Strange is attending the wedding of Christine Palmer, the one that got away. They reminisce about old times after the service and she asks him if he’s happy because it’s her wedding day and you have to let your exe know that he’s losing. He tells her that of course he’s happy. Massive spoilers: he is not in fact happy.
Anyway, they hear screams and they look out to see a massive monster tearing through New York city. Strange battles the creature with an assist from Wong and after they kill it they discover that it was trying to kill America Chavez, who Stephen recognises from a dream where he tried to kill her and she explains that that was real, and that dreams are just you experiencing the lives of your alternate selves whose live took a different path.
Are the rest of you having perfectly normal dreams where you got into your preferred college or married a different person? Because my alternate selves are going buck fucking wild. I really want to know what choice I made that prevented me from growing lizards out of my vagina because that was a bullet I’ll definitely want to dodge again if it comes up. Secondly, was no one in this universe dreaming before Loki started up the multiverse? Because that would drive you crazy. That would make you run around in your underwear randomly punching people…ahhhhhhhh okay.
Wong and Stephen realise that this monster had witch stank all over it so Stephen decides to pay a visit to Wanda Maximoff, still hiding out in the countryside after her sitcom got cancelled. Wanda is at first perfectly pleasant and helpful and tells Stephen to bring America to her, before realising that he never actually told her America’s name. Her ruse rumbled, Wanda reveals her true form, much witchier and more scarlet than usual.
So, honest question, was anyone surprised by this? I’m not saying it’s a bad twist from a storytelling perspective but it’s certainly not unexpected. If you walked away from Wandavision with the impression that it was anything other than a supervillain origin I don’t know what to tell you.
So Wanda has been driven insane by the loss of her children in Wandavision and the corrupting influence of the Darkhold so she’s going to steal America’s reality hopping power and go to a universe where her sons are still alive.
Now, this raised not one, but two questions for me. First, Billy and Tommy Vision-Maximoff were never actually real. Wanda just conjured them out of nothing. So, since she’s now even more powerful than she was during the events of Wandavision, why can’t she just do that again? Secondly, where the hell is Vision in all of these alternate realities?
But it clicked for me when I realised that the Billy and Tommy we see in this movie aren’t magical creations like the ones in Wandavision. They’re just normal flesh and blood boys who Wanda had with some dude who, presumably, wasn’t an android (begin speculating now please).
Actually, scratch that. If these kids aged naturally then Wanda had these kids when she was still a teenager. I don’t want any of the Avengers to be the Dad.
Anyway, our Wanda kept getting dreams of these kids which is where she got the idea to create them in Wandavision. Which kinda puts her actions in a very different light. Now she’s less a grieving mother trying to get her kids back, and more an inter-dimensional monster trying to steal away children who she’s never even met but thinks she’s entitled to because she dreamed she was their mother.
Realising that he’s screwed the pooch, Stephen retreats to Kamar-Taj where he and Wong summon all the magic users they can to help defend America from Wanda. Wanda was crazily OP even before she had the Darkhold, of course so she just tears through the city’s defences and America has no choice but to blast into another universe with Stephen tagging along for the ride.
They end up in Earth 838, a solar-punk utopia where the air is clean and food is free as long as you don’t get caught. Unfortunately, America does get caught stealing pizza balls from Pizza Poppa, a street vendor played by Bruce Campbell because Sam Raimi looks after his friends. When Pizza Poppa gets a little aggressive, Steven casts a spell on him forcing him to punch himself which, he tells America, will last for three weeks.
Strange reasons that their only way to stop Wanda is with the Book of the Vishanti but he doesn’t know how to find it. So, the pair decide to find this universe’s Stephen Strange to see if he knows where it is. On the way, they find Memory Lane, a business that scans your mind and plays holograms of intimate memories that anyone on the street can watch (and you thought the tech industry had a problem with respecting privacy in our universe). Stephen sees a memory of Christine gifting him a watch which, I learned in the course of this review, costs $27,000 in real life. That is too much for a watch. I guess it’s a status symbol, in that “idiocy” is technically a status. Anyway, this watch is now broken from Strange’s crash so it doesn’t even work.
We also learn some more about America here. When she was a child she accidentally activated her powers which caused her mothers to be sucked into a vortex. America’s been looking for them in the multiverse ever since. Also, incredibly minor nitpick but I hate the way Strange asks her who they are and America answers “my moms. Mis madres.”
Bilingual people don’t actually do that. If you speak English but don’t speak Irish, I’m not going to say “I’m Mouse, is mise Mouse” unless I’m showing off that I can speak Irish and that I know you can’t.
You know. Like an asshole.
Anyway, they discover that doctor Strange is dead in this universe, having apparently given his life fighting Thanos. At the Sanctum Sanctorum they meet the new Sorceror Supreme, Karl Mordo.
Strang is wary because Mordo apparently went insane and tried to kill him. Offscreen. Sounds like it might have been interesting to see but whatever. This Mordo seems pretty chill though, and invites them in for tea. Mordo tells them that Darkhold has a spell that will allow Wanda to possess her counterpart in this universe and come after them herself. Stephen asks for Mordo’s help in getting the book of Vishanti and Mordo’s all “sorry, do you take one lump of sleeping drug in your tea or two?”
They wake up in the Baxter Foundation under the supervision of Christine Palmer 838 who tells them that they’re being quarantined until she can make sure they’re not crawling with Multiversal Covid. Mordo then arrives and takes Stephen to meet the Illuminati, a group of superheroes who chose to name themselves after a legendary sinister cabal bent on world domination (did no one run that by PR?)
Anyway, the Illuminati are Mordo, Captain Carter, Reed Richards, Maria Rambeau as Captain Marvel, Charles Xavier and Black Bolt because dammit, Anson Mount is awesome and deserved a chance to do it right. The Illuminati tell Stephen that Stephen 838 used the Darkhold to defeat Thanos but was corrupted by it and went mad with power and the Illuminati had to put him down like magical Old Yeller. Before they can decide whether or not to just extra-judicially murder Stephen (what noble heroes), Wanda attacks while possessing the body of her 838 counterpart.
Wanda’s attack on Illuminati Headquarters is pretty damn great. It’s a great gut punch to introduce all these cool bits of fan-service (Mister Fantastic! Professor X!) and then force us to watch as they are brutally murdered. There’s one scene where Christine is trying desperately to break America out of her cell while in the background a bloodstained Wanda is just ambling up the corridor and I actually muttered “oh shit” in the cinema. She is terrifying. Plus, how better to establish that your villain is an irredeemable monster than by having her break Patrick Stewart’s neck?
Also, I just realised that Patrick Stewart has portrayed the death of the same character onscreen four times now, that’s gotta be a record, right?
Anyway, Christine, Stephen and America flee from Wanda and find the Book of the Vishanti that the Illuminati were guarding. But, Wanda catches them, destroys the book and uses America to banish them to another universe before returning America to the MCU.
Christine and Stephen find themselves in a universe where there’s been an incursion (that’s where two universes crash together) and decide to find this universe’s Stephen Strange to help them get home. Unfortunately, this universe’s Strange has gone a little banana-pants.
Sinister Strange used the Darkhold to try and find a universe where he and Christine were together but apparently, even the infinite possibility of the multiverse can’t make that ship happen. I mean, what would you even call it? Stralmer? Parange? Garbage.
Anyway, they fight and Sinister Strange dies the only appropriate way a wizard can die. Falling from a great height and being impaled on something. Also, I hate to be buzzkill, but our Stephen started that fight and he’d have a damn hard time avoiding a murder charge.
Anyway, Stephen has no choice but to use the Darkhold to possess an alternate version of himself to rescue America. But where could such a thing be found? Well, as Stephen points out, the alternate doesn’t have to be alive and there is a perfectly good Stephen corpse just lying around. So now we get ZOMBIE STRANGE.
It’s a cool twist but I can’t help but find this hilarious. See, around a decade ago The Onion had a running joke of Republican voters gravitating to ever more bizarre candidates like a 19th century prospector, a ball of pure flaming rage or the reanimated corpse of Ronald Reagan. And damn, if Zombie Strange isn’t a dead (ha) ringer for Zombie Reagan.
Anyway, Zombie Reagan flies to Mount Wundagore where Wanda is preparing to sacrifice America and take her power. With Wong’s help, Strange is able to free America and tells her that the power was in her the whole yada yada yada. America fights Wanda but realises that far more power was in Wanda the whole time than and that she can’t beat her. So, she defeats her through the power of guilt. She opens up a portal to Billy and Tommy’s home in Earth 838 where they are fucking terrified out of their little minds by Wanda. Realising that she’s become a monster, Wanda brings the temple crashing down around herself and destroys all copies of the Darkhold throughout the multiverse.
Back in the wrecked universe, Stephen tells Christine that he loves her and that he wants to take her back to see his universe. She declines, because obviously, but says that it would have been “one hell of an incursion”.
The movie ends with America being trained as a sorceror in Kamar-Taj and Stephen repairing his ridiculously overpriced watch, symbolising that he’s ready to put his past behind him and begin a new chapter of his life.
And then he suddenly grows a third eye.
Better than Doctor Strange in just about every way but I was damn cold on that movie so that’s not saying much. Multiverse of Madness is about as good as Phase 4 movies get but, well, that’s kinda the problem right? I don’t know, after 28 films maybe I’m just getting tired.
The story is a bit bloated. The fan-service of the Utopian Earth is nice and all but most of this multiverse isn’t really that mad.
Our Heroic Heroes: 17/25
Strange is pretty sidelined for much of the movie and I’m actually okay with that. I’ve always thought the character works better as a supporting part anyway. That said, I find this Stephen Strange more interesting than the Tony Stark knock off on the first one. This is a more contemplative, introspective Strange, trying to remain detached and cool while doubts over the path his life has taken cloud his mind.
Our Nefarious Villains: 25/25
There have been cool Marvel villains, tragic Marvel villains, compelling Marvel villains.
Scarlet Witch is the first one I consider genuinely scary. Olsen just blows everyone out of the water here.
Our Plucky Sidekicks: 15/25
Okay, fine, when Patrick Stewart rolled in to the theme of the 90s X-Men cartoon I made sounds that got me banned from the cinema. But the supporting cast is pretty flat overall.
Oh, Strange is apparently fine now. He goes about his day when suddenly he’s approached by a blonde woman who opens a portal in the middle of the street and tells him he needs to help her fix an incursion unless he’s chicken. And he just goes with her.
And the audience went…
So let me get this straight, Marvel. Blade gets introduced with one line of dialogue offscreen.
You get Charlize Frickin’ Theron to play a character and give her a big onscreen introduction and she’s not playing, I dunno, Emma Frost? Sue Storm?
She’s playing Cleo? FUCKING CLEO?!
The second stinger
Pizza Poppa, his faced bruised after weeks of self inflicted violence, is finally freed from his curse.
And the audience went
Are there X-Men yet?
We have X-Men in the MCU! I mean, in one of the infinite parallel dimensions that make up the MCU. But still, progress!
FINAL SCORE: 73%
NEXT UPDATE: 15 September 2022
NEXT TIME: With the X-Men series finished, it’s time to tackle a new series of movies, one very close to my heart.
We’re going to review all the Batman movies in order, starting with the first.