Six years after its release, Scott Derrickson’s Doctor Strange remains one of the best Marvel movies, and certainly one of the only cinematically interesting installments. In a franchise replete with visually dull, generic action sequences, Derrickson and company crafted a unique, kaleidoscopic visual vocabulary to express the reality-bending power of sorcery. They also gave the Marvel Cinematic Universe its best redemption-arc origin story since the original Iron Man — and, in a plot fraught with genuinely ambiguous moral and spiritual themes, set the stage for possibly the most thoughtful and interesting villain in MCU history.
There’s a scene in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness in which Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) hastily explains about Karl Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), his former ally turned mortal enemy, to a young newcomer named America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez). The catch is, they’re in another dimension of the multiverse, and the Mordo before them is not our Mordo. Our Mordo — the Mordo who said “I will follow this path no longer” and, in an ominous post-credits sequence, ambushed a paraplegic and stole the magic he used to walk, declaring that there were “too many sorcerers” in the world — isn’t in this film. So far as I know, he hasn’t been seen since that post-credits sequence.
So far as I know! I’m pretty sure I’ve kept up with all the MCU movies, but I guess it’s possible that I missed Mordo’s return in some small-screen Disney+ series. I know I didn’t see the WandaVision series, which is definitely prerequisite viewing for Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness. Seriously: The whole plot of Multiverse of Madness flows directly from WandaVision, which, for me, made watching Multiverse of Madness feel not entirely unlike watching Avengers: Endgame without seeing Infinity War, know what I mean? If you’ve seen these movies, I’m pretty sure you get my drift; if you haven’t seen them, I’m positive you get my drift.
This storyline seems to have no relationship to the groundwork laid by Derrickson and his writing partners, which may explain the “creative differences” behind Derrickson’s departure from the sequel (he takes an executive producer credit). Multiverse of Madness is written by Michael Waldron (who wrote another Disney+ series, Loki) and directed by Sam Raimi, an apt choice to replace Derrickson. Not only does Raimi have solid superhero cred via the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man trilogy, his horror background (the Evil Dead trilogy; Drag Me to Hell), like Derrickson’s (The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Deliver Us From Evil), is in principle well-suited to the potentially bizarre, grotesque trappings of Doctor Strange’s sorcerous milieu.
In each of their latest films, the battle against a threatening power raises questions about which principles the protagonist should or shouldn’t compromise in order to protect his world — questions that aren’t necessarily clearly answered by the end of the film.
The paradox of contemporary Hollywood blockbusters is that in our time virtually anything conceivable, no matter how wild and out there, can be put on the screen, but it almost never is.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.