Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (Christian Movie Review)
Final Verdict: A unique horror vibe and some innovative visuals are not enough to elevate it above the lowest tier of the crowded MCU.
About The Film
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a lot. Director Sam Raimi seems to pull ideas from all across the comic book multiverse and squeeze them into his movie. At times, it really works. Often it does not. But at all times, it gives viewers a lot to take in and process.
Despite frequent promises to the contrary, every MCU entry has essentially felt like the same movie with the thinnest coat of “genre” paint to distinguish them. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is the first one that legitimately feels wholly unique. It’s still weighed down by the burden of tying into (or setting up) a half dozen other movies or Disney+ shows, but it has a clear and fresh identity. In fact, only those necessary connections to the larger MCU keep it from becoming a full fledge horror film. I wouldn’t be surprised if it lands somewhere in Star Wars: The Last Jedi territory, with some fans lavishly praising it for its bold and unique choices, and others disliking it for feeling out of place in the established series.
Tonally, this movie is intense and probably not suitable for all young viewers. My 7-year-old boys have seen many of the Marvel films but won’t be watching this one just yet. This is the closest to an R-rated Marvel movie there is, with a dark, creepy, and violent aesthetic and tone (see “Content to Consider” below). It is continually interesting, but not always very “fun.” The patented Marvel quips and humor is largely absent, particularly after the first act. There is some darker, macabre humor that is amusing due to the grotesque nature of the situations, but far from the laugh out loud humor found in a Thor or Guardians of the Galaxy movie.
Christian audiences should also be aware that the film is filled with magic and witchcraft. Doctor Strange is a sorcerer, and Scarlet Witch is obviously a witch. The mystical elements should be unsurprising to anyone who watched Doctor Strange (2016) or any other MCU film featuring the title character, but this film ramps it up to eleven. For example, in one scene the souls of the damned come from hell to attack a sorcerer engaged in a ritual that takes place in a creepy room filled with lit candles, as he tries to take possession of a reanimated corpse to fight a witch who is conducting spells on an altar covered with pentagram-like symbols and runes. It’s a lot. I don’t want to go into a discussion of magic and witchcraft here. Personally, I am generally comfortable with such material in fantastical stories (for reasons I’ve described elsewhere), but I also know that many Christians will find the material alarming. If that is you, then this might be a good MCU to sit out. For the most part, the witchcraft is treated as an evil, although that line gets blurred in the third act.
The multiverse as a concept is a mixed bag. It results in some of the film’s best moments, but is also responsible for many of its biggest problems. In one delightful scene, the characters fall through a sequence of increasingly bizarre universes, which is a captivating and immersive visual.
On the other hand, the multiverse also removes most of the movie’s stakes or emotional connections. This is most evident with the introduction of The Illuminati, a super-group filled with surprising twists on familiar characters and glorious cameos from recognizable actors/actresses. Comic book fans might rejoice at the “visual candy” and lore. After the initial sugar rush wore off, however, I quickly realized that I simply didn’t care about these characters. Not only because they were undeveloped and largely irrelevant to the plot, but also because they weren’t from our universe. A lengthy fight scene featuring the group is thus reduced to empty CGI spectacle, devoid of any emotional weight. The more the movie gets carried away by the theoretical “what if” thought experiments of the multiverse, and pulled away from the development of its main characters, the more inconsequential it becomes.
In the end, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a complicated and likely divisive film. It’s not a disastrous movie, but it is a largely hollow one and a lower tier MCU movie. I appreciate that it took some bold swings to shake up the tired Marvel template but was disappointed with where some of those choices led. Like the characters falling through the many multiverse universes, there are some really good moments and scenes, but they just don’t add up into a cohesive or meaningful story.
Profanity: A handful of minor profanities (a—, sh—, G— D—, etc.).
Sexuality: A main character is shown to have two moms. The same-sex parents are referenced several other times throughout the film.
Violence: This is easily the most violent MCU movie yet. Sometimes shockingly so. One character has his brains blown out (he is wearing a head covering so you don’t see actual brains). Another character is cut in half (more implied than shown), Characters are burnt alive. The villain ends up covered in blood after a battle.
Engage the Film
Happiness & Contentment
“Are you happy?” This simple but probing question bookends the movie. While the multiverse concept has some significant shortcomings on a narrative level, it works well on a thematic level. In the film, dreams are windows into our alternative lives in the multiverse. The multiverse is potent metaphor for imagining other possible lives with a less painful past and more joyful future.
Doctor Strange begins the film by wrestling with the difficult decisions he has made (ala Avengers: Infinity War), and relationships lost along the way due to his choices or character flaws. Similarly, the villain is driven by and consumed by grief. A repeated visual motif symbolizes her fractured self, such as blood running diagonally across her face, or seeing her broken reflection in a shattered mirror. The movie is about overcoming these longings or regrets and embracing the life they have before them. As one character says, “Just because someone stumbles and loses their way doesn’t mean they are lost forever.”
The movie brought to mind 1 Timothy 6:6-12: “But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.”
Only pain and suffering—for us and for others—comes from fixating on “what ifs” and a hypothetical life. Happiness comes from contentment in the life we have been given. The message is best summarized in a speech at the end of the film, where a character admits to wondering whether other versions of himself in the multiverse are happier than he is, but that he has learned to be content with the life he has been given, tribulations and all.