In Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, we explore hidden worlds, title allusions and the detectable power of Scarlet Witch as she joins the practitioner of mystic arts.
“He’ll be facing unexpected things. I think he’ll be in a position rather like the audience of not knowing what’s coming at him.”
— Benedict Cumberbatch about Stephen Strange
San Diego Comic-Con 2019 announced one of the most enthralling films to come out of Marvel’s Phase 4 lineup: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. This long-awaited sequel is expected to take place after the life-altering events of Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame and connect fittingly with the newer, larger story arc of Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Not just a sequel to Doctor Strange, this movie will reconnect the powers of Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) with Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) for an epic journey through worlds outside of time and space as they fight to stay afloat in the ever expanding madness.
Let’s dive deeper into the interpretation behind the title Multiverse of Madness, and what it implies about MCU’s Multiverse.
Multiverse of Madness
The first thing that comes to mind on hearing Multiverse of Madness is, well…exactly what it says a multiverse that is just full of utter chaos. Here’s the thing: “multiverse” can mean more than parallel universes that are similar, something different than multiple Earths. The trope of parallel Earths has been used so much in comics and been described as “multiverse” that the broader concept has been conflated with the more specific concept of “multiple Earths” even though the word is one step more meta.
With the Multiverse being explored briefly in the first Doctor Strange, we see alternate universes that have different rules and contents than our own. The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) – mentor to Strange – has said, “Who are you in this vast Multiverse?”, which confirms multiple dimensions, not one with multiple Earths.
Both Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and Spider-Man: Far From Home gave us the concept of multiple Earths. Although, Mysterio initially led us to believe there are multiple Earths in Far From Home, it turned out to be a hoax. Mysterio may have been lying, but that doesn’t mean that an MCU Multiverse doesn’t exist.
While it might be inevitable that Marvel explores multiple Earths in the MCU, at this point we have no “confirmation” of this in the MCU, and Doctor Strange would be the ideal character to explore it. Phase 4 could mark a new direction for the MCU, especially as the new Doctor Strange film will tie into WandaVision (more on Disney+ in a moment), and have potential to cross over with the rest of Phase 4. The only surety in all of this is that the possibilities are as infinite as reality itself when it comes to the Multiverse.
Mountains of Madness
Another thing that dawns on many MCU/horror fans is that the title seems intended as a reference to the work of horror writer H.P. Lovecraft and one of his most famous Lovecraft novellas, At the Mountains of Madness. Marvel’s Multiverse does have its own dimension inspired by Lovecraft’s stories. Will we be seeing some Lovecraft influence in this film?
“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.”
— H.P. Lovecraft
At the Mountains of Madness deals with the protagonists becoming exposed to the understanding of the universe and being driven mad as a result—kind of like the existential angst one suffers when trying to comprehend the size of our universe, how we are so small in comparison that we verge on the point of meaningless; some 5th dimensional experience beyond normal human understanding.
Lovecraft wrote a world where there are things, that, no matter the strength of your mind or your body, you cannot even gaze upon these creatures without insanity. He believed in a different kind of horror, not gore, but, the belief that you, me, him—that we are all equally worthless in the grand spectrum of the universe. That fear, that idea that there are some things in this universe you will never understand? Could this be what the writers are trying to interpret into the world of Doctor Strange?
Connection to Wandavision’s Scarlet Witch
It has been Confirmed at Marvel’s Comic-Con panel that Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) will be co-starring in Multiverse of Madness, directly connecting to her upcoming Disney+ series, WandaVision. What are we to expect with the added power of Scarlet Witch? How will she be integrated within the world of Doctor Strange?
In my estimation I’ll be going off of her abilities from the comics and what I’ve seen of her in the MCU. I would assume that she will be incorporated into Doctor Strange, by wanting to find a way to truly bond and trust with her powers. Wanda has the potential to affect time on a level that Strange can only dream about. Strange has to use the time stone to do this which he doesn’t have anymore, Wanda would only need her mind and her will.
“Scarlet Witch has never had any training. She’s figuring it out. Arguably you could say that’s why her powers are much more chaotic, much more loose in the way that we showcase those light effects. In [Doctor Strange], it’s much tighter; it’s all about focus, it’s about pulling energies from other dimensions in an organized and purposeful fashion which is why they can do a lot more than she can. At least in a much more precise way.”
Wanda is considered one of the most powerful heroes in the comics; however, not very well defined considering her story gets envisioned so much. In the MCU she is really much weaker than the comics – where her powers are tied to the Mind Stone – her powers in the MCU are from all of the Infinity Stones. She has been undefined within the MCU. Her powers are mostly instinctual, which means she doesn’t truly understand the “rules” of magic or how to fully control her abilities.
Although Wanda in the MCU is much weaker than what we’ve read in the comics, you can see her potential in Infinity War, when she held off Thanos while destroying the Mind Stone at the same time. Again when she confronted him in Endgame, she was starting to take Thanos apart, until he got scared and ordered the rain fire strike. To note, in both of these fights Wanda was very emotionally compromised. This could be a way to tap into her full potential without the emotion being a motivating factor. When she was fighting Proxima Midnight and Glaive in Infinity War it shouldn’t have been so draining on her, yet her emotions take the forefront – which in this case hindered her – whereas the previous two mentioned strengthen her.
Wanda could very well lose control of her abilities in the MCU while grappling with the death of Vision and alter reality, breaking the universe – mostly likely within WandaVision.
Stephen: What have you learned?
Charles: That some of us hold onto guilt and shame far too long. There’s a strange security in misery, it’s almost comfortable. Taking the risk of moving on, that’s terrifying. Applies to Erik, applies to me. For Erik, it’s always been about family. Building a home – a world – where he can be safe, where he need never again feel afraid. It always gets twisted because the child in him can’t escape those nightmares and wants revenge.
Stephen: You could just as easily be describing Wanda.
— Excalibur Vol. 3 #14 by Chris Claremont & Aaron Lopresti
Doctor Strange then catches sense of this disturbance and agrees to train her – something that has been done in the comics. Under the guidance of Strange, Wanda would have the opportunity to harness her powers and begin mirroring the force of nature she is in the source material. Exploring Wanda in general will be interesting. I think she’s such a fascinating character that Marvel’s barely scratched the surface with.
Doctor Strange: Unfathomed horrors
“The unfathomed—the thing that is hidden and the detectable thing that lurks beyond—the process of delving into the black abyss.”
— H.P. Lovecraft
Doctor Strange will unquestionably be a changed man after his involvement in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. Benedict Cumberbatch has said at Comic-Con that his character will no longer be in a place of authority, and the film will aim to try and destroy him, but it’s not clearly expressed what that means for his character. With the allusion to H.P. Lovecraft’s, At the Mountains of Madness, this film could psychoanalyze the mind of Strange, and the direct consequences of Infinity War and Endgame, on a personal, psychosomatic level.
Doctor Strange experienced the defeat of the heroes and the annihilation of everything 14,000,605 times. This happened off-screen in Infinity War, but Strange did see the complete enumeration of over 14 million futures where he experienced death, destruction, and the loss of half the universe.
“You know the rules of sorcery, Dr. Strange! Those who enter a hostile dimension must be prepared to pay for it — with their lives.”
— Nightmare in Strange Tales #110, “Dr. Strange, Master of Black Magic”
For us, it was ephemeral, lasting a few seconds on-screen, but for him, it was an immense number of years. I can’t possibly imagine the toll that takes on Strange – even for someone as powerful as him.
This is no different from the events of Endgame, and the devastating loss of our great heroes, Natasha Romanoff, Steve Rogers, Tony Stark…okay I’ll admit, this is getting depressing, let’s get back to the point. This psychological effect could also take into account the presence of Scarlet Witch too. While Scarlet Witch shares a link to the mystical side of the Marvel Universe with Strange, she could come into this movie for another reason such as treatment.
Wanda: Yeah, actually. I have one more question.. Where the hell is Doctor Strange in all of this?!
Stephen: Can you please stop yelling? You’ll scare my patients. And as for your very insulting question… Doctor Strange is right here in front of you.
Wanda: You know what I meant, Stephen.
Stephen: I do, and I don’t appreciate the idea that I’m somehow made less-than because I’m retired. m Wanda: You didn’t retire! You got beat! Get over it and get your head back in the game! You may not be the Sorcerer Supreme anymore, but you can’t just give—
Stephen: Wanda, how many times are we going to have this argument? I didn’t ask to become what I was. I didn’t learn magic to join the Avengers I did it to fix my hands so l could help people. And now… I am. I really am helping people. In my own way.
— Doctor Strange #381 by Donny Cates & Gabriel Hernandez Walta
Will we see a psychological parallel between Strange and Scarlet Witch explored in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness? Comment your thoughts!