Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is the first MCU movie to hit theaters in 2022. And while I’m one of the least likely people to see just about any movie on opening day, there I was in the theater with my popcorn and Red Vines, excited about an evening without cleaning dinner off the floor and urging toddlers to keep the water inside the tub during bath time.
Now, I’m ready to talk about the movie.
By no means am I attempting to write a critical review that will share deep insights into the Marvel Cinematic Universe of characters and intersecting storylines. I’ve been told that there are a lot of exciting connections between this movie and other movies and Disney+ series.
So if you’re into all of those exciting details, I’m sorry, I will most certainly disappoint you.
Another disclaimer: if you haven’t seen the movie yet and don’t want me to spoil anything for you, I suggest you stop reading now. But, please, come back after you watch the movie!
Plot and Major Themes of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
The movie opens with a version of Doctor Strange in a dream sequence fighting a demon in order to prevent it from taking America Chavez’s multiversal traveling powers. Things get out of hand, and Doctor Strange is clearly losing. So he attempts to take America’s powers, because it seems to be the only way to keep them from falling into the hands of the demon. Doing so will certainly kill her.
But before this can happen, America inadvertently opens a portal into a different universe to save herself. This version of Doctor Strange dies.
Strange wakes up from what we think is just a bad dream. He then gets dressed to attend the wedding of his former love interest, Christine Palmer. What follows is the first introduction to a theme that will appear throughout this movie. At the wedding, Christine asks Strange if he’s happy. Of course he says, yes.
But you get the sense that his answer isn’t honest.
Then a giant, one-eyed octopus-type creature begins wreaking havoc in the city, so Strange leaps away to save the day.
Again, America Chavez is being attacked. During the fight sequence, Strange realizes his dream from earlier wasn’t a dream. America Chavez has the ability to travel through multiple universes and she’s being targeted for this power. Once Strange realizes this, he goes to the one person he can think of to help him: Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch.
It turns out she’s actually the one behind all the attacks on America.
For the rest of the film, Doctor Strange attempts to protect America’s powers from getting into Wanda’s hands, moving through different universes in an attempt to elude and thwart the powerful witch.
All the while, he’s encountering alternate realities of himself. He gets to see first hand who he became based on the different decisions he made in that universe. Essentially, Scarlet Witch encounters the same, as she sees the life she’s always wanted in her various alternate realities.
A key element of the movie is Scarlet Witch’s motivation for taking America’s powers. Wanda longs to be with her lost children. (The existence of her children is a story in itself, based on the Disney+ series WandaVision.) In her current reality, she doesn’t get to be a mother to her two boys. Her fictionalized family had become the one thing in life to bring her happiness. So she’s willing to destroy the lives of others and even entire universes in order to care for her children. Talk about the heart of a mother.
In the case of both Doctor Strange and Scarlet Witch, they are longing for life to be different. This is seen through the many versions of Strange as he travels through the multiverse and encounters stories of himself—stories about a man who was never quite content with the power he had already amassed. It’s also seen in the actions of Scarlet Witch, as she will stop at nothing to mother her children. Neither of them were truly happy with the reality they were living in.
Wrapped in the strange elements of horror, sorcery, and mysticism, there is a very real aspect of this movie we can all empathize with: the longing for our lives to look differently.
Accepting Your Reality and Being Faithful In It
The concept of happiness is often thought of as childish or trivial. But I don’t think that’s how God intended it to be.
In the very beginning of Genesis, God describes creation as good and people as very good. Life wasn’t designed to be something we didn’t enjoy. Of course, Christians look forward to the day when all of creation and life will be redeemed. But if we’re honest with ourselves, it’s hard to always hold the promises to come to the forefront of our hearts when what we are seeing before us is less than spectacular.
When the Scarlet Witch tried to force the reality she so longed for, the result was pain and death. Throughout the film, she kept reiterating that she wasn’t a bad person: she’s a mother. In the process, Wanda became a person she didn’t want to be.
I understand for all of the Marvel fans out there that this is how it had to go for the tragic character. But Wanda is a dramatic representation of what we can see happen in our own lives. If we begin to force the reality we always foresaw, then we can become a person we never intended to become. There are very real and personal consequences for this, and we can hurt others in the process.
When King Saul heard he would no longer be king, he became a completely different person. The reality he wanted was the one where he was king of Israel. That wasn’t how it worked out, and he began to hurt everyone around him in an attempt to hold on to the reality he wanted. 1 Samuel 18-26 depicts the unraveling of Saul and how he began to make decisions that literally killed others, while also killing the person he once was.
So what do we do with the parts of life where expectations aren’t just unmet, but are truly areas of lack that bring deep pain? How do we deal with the weight of present realities that seemingly suck the life right out of us?
Doctor Strange had the advantage of seeing alternate versions of himself, which gave him insight into how to be happy with his present reality. Of course, we don’t have that opportunity. But I do think Scripture points us to something similar.
Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.
(Philippians 4:8-9, MSG)
This paraphrased version of Philippians 4:8-9 gets to the heart of what Paul is stating. It’s not a promise that positive thinking will bring positive things your way. The bible doesn’t support any notion of manifesting good into your life.
Life will not be the way you want it to be, no matter how many good thoughts you think or good vibes you send out. The reality is that we live in a world filled with pain, hurt, devastation, and disappointment. Yet, while we are waiting for the fullness of Jesus’ redemption, there is still good we can hold onto now.
You may want your reality to be different. But forcing that to happen won’t bring the happiness you’re longing for. It’s okay to wrestle with where your life is or to want things to be different. But staying in that place won’t do you any good.
Allow yourself to see the beauty around you, and let those things point you back to the good Creator who is making all things right again.