The latest offering from the Marvel Cinematic Universe is very aptly named. Madness, craziness, bonkers, whacked out, berserk—whatever adjective you choose along these lines—fits the film. That's not necessarily a bad thing as the thrills come at you with lightning speed but it's also the closest the MCU has come to the zombie apocalypse while dipping its toe in horror film territory.
Fans and devoted followers of the MCU will understand and enjoy the film but if you haven't been keeping up with all the various MCU offshoots (such as Disney+'s WandaVision), this movie will make no sense whatsoever.
Take me, for example. I've seen all the films but not many of the television shows. So, imagine my surprise when I discover Avenger Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), a.k.a. Scarlet Witch, has turned to the dark side on TV. It's disappointing but I like the depiction of superheroes as less than perfect people (like the rest of us) who experience very human struggles. But I digress. This is, after all, a Doctor Strange film.
Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff in "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness." © 2022 Disney/Marvel. All Rights Reserved.
Benedict Cumberbatch returns as the titular surgeon-turned-sorcerer. While attending the wedding of his unrequited love, Christine (Rachel McAdams), Strange meets America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), whom he (together with Supreme Sorcerer Wong (Benedict Wong)) saves from being carried away by a huge octopus-like creature wreaking havoc on New York City (think King Kong). She has a special power: the ability to move in and out of the multiverse at will. When Strange seeks out Wanda for help in keeping America safe, he discovers she's the one trying to swipe America's powers for her own purposes.
Benedict Cumberbatch and Xochitl Gomez in "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness." © 2022 Disney/Marvel. All Rights Reserved.
Thus ensues a dark battle for not only America's soul but Wanda's as well. Since I don't want to give any spoilers, I'll just say that the film's strength is it's visual components. One trip through the multiverse has Strange and America going from being paint (yes, you read that right: paint) to cartoons to all kinds of other weird stuff which is visually stunning. But the MCU seems to be getting darker and more sinister, as evidenced by the last Spider Man film, Spider-Man: No Way Home and now this film. There is some gory (but not bloody) violence. There are demons, which look like the dementors from Harry Potter, who have their freaky moment right alongside the zombie. Disappointingly, there is also what is becoming an ever-increasing normalization of homosexual relationships in film when one of America's memories reveals that she has two moms.
Zombie Dr. Strange in "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness." © 2022 Disney/Marvel. All Rights Reserved.
Amidst all the visual effects and multitude of Marvel character cameos, a central question fuels the narrative: are you happy? Christine asks Strange if he's happy as they chat at her wedding. He asks Wong if he's happy. But it's Wanda who knows very well that she's not happy and tries to remedy that by going to horrifying extremes in her desperate search for happiness and life fulfillment.
Once you've caught your breath after seeing Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness or if you just have a moment of quiet to yourself, it's a great question to ask: Am I happy? If not, why and what am I going to do about it? If I am happy, what or who gives me that happiness? How can I cultivate greater joy and happiness in my life and the lives of others?