Doctor Strange: The Madness of Love

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness talks constantly about happiness, but the film is actually concerned with something much deeper—love. Both Stephen Strange and Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch, fail to love as they should. Despite how the movie casts the characters, however, it may be Wanda who’s closer to realizing the meaning of love.

Spoiler warning: I’ll try to keep this to only what is shown in trailers. I won’t talk about any of the surprise cameos or post-credit scenes, but I will deal with plot details from the film. I will also discuss WandaVision, so be forewarned on both fronts. First, I’ll give my reflections on the film and at the bottom, I’ll drop some random observations.

Reflections on Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness:

Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness may be better understood as a sequel to WandaVision than 2016’s Doctor Strange, or at the very least a co-sequel. It may only be a happy coincidence the film has been abbreviated as Doctor Strange: MoM, but it seems purposeful. The all-consuming love of Wanda Maximoff for her two sons drives the story.

At one point, she explains her plan to use the multiverse to not only find her children, but also to protect them from any and all harms. She says if they get sick, they’ll be a cure in another universe. The multiverse is her means to avoid any risks in her motherly love. But ploy won’t work. That’s not love.

My mind immediately went to C.S. Lewis in The Four Loves.

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Wanda attempts to grasp love without vulnerability, but that inevitably brings our heart to the same place—in a dark, safe casket. She has endured a grief-stricken life filled with too many caskets. In WandaVision, Vision comforted Wanda by asking: “What is grief, if not love persevering?” But what is love if it does not persevere through grief? If grief twists and mangles love, instead of reshaping and refining it, that “love” may continue on, but not in a life-giving form. Love consumed by grief can become a storm consuming everything before it.

In WandaVision, Vision comforted Wanda by asking: "What is grief, if not love persevering?" But what is love if it does not persevere through grief? Click To Tweet

For the Christian, God is love (1 John 4:8), but love is not God. Our loves and passions are not always trustworthy. We are more than our emotions. In Mere Christianity, Lewis notes how we cannot simply allow one impulse, even one as seemingly wholesome as motherly love or patriotism, to reign over our hearts as a tyrant. “There are also occasions on which a mother’s love for her own children or a man’s love for his own country have to be suppressed or they will lead to unfairness toward other people’s children or countries.” Yes, even a mom’s love or the passion of a patriot can turn demonic.

For his part, Stephen Strange, plays the inverse to Wanda. His weakness is not risking too much for love, but rather avoiding all risks. He has not made his heart vulnerable because he occupies it with the task at hand, be that delicate surgery during his time as a medical doctor or world-saving adventures during his time as a superhero.

At one point, Strange admits that he thought all of the hero work would fill the hole inside, but he’s still missing something. He frames it as “happiness,” but really it’s love. Doctor Strange can use magical music notes to fight his multiversal doppelganger, but he can’t cast a spell to bring himself contentment and the love he wants.

Both Strange and Wanda fail to follow love to the proper end, but, as Wanda notes, Stephen is hailed as the hero, while she becomes the enemy. “That doesn’t seem fair.” In a very real way, she’s right.

Leading up to the release director Sam Rami and Marvel head Kevin Feige spoke about how this film forces Strange to confront his arrogance that has been on display since his introduction to the MCU. But I left Multiverse of Madness, still waiting for that to happen.

In his origin story, Strange is an arrogant doctor with supreme confidence in his ability to make the right call with little concern for the ramifications. In Avengers: Infinity War, Strange is an arrogant superhero with supreme confidence in his ability to make the right call with little concern for the ramifications. In Spider-Man: No Way Home, Strange is an arrogant sorcerer with supreme confidence in his ability to make the right call with little concern for the ramifications. And now in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Strange is an arrogant sorcerer with … you get the picture.

To his partial credit, Strange is able to avoid the allure of using others to gain more power for himself. However, he still flippantly uses dark power to accomplish his goals. As Steven Greydanus points out in his review of the film, this exacerbates a problem or at least fails to learn the lesson from the initial Doctor Strange. The Ancient One, Stephen’s sorcery mentor, draws energy from the Dark Dimension to gain extended mortality. Yet, she’s still pictured as the good guy, while Mordo, Stephen’s sorcery trainer, becomes a supposed villain after feeling betrayed by her hypocrisy in their battle against Dormammu, the ruler of the Dark Dimension.

In the sequel, Strange, following in the hypocritical footsteps of the Ancient One, taps into dark powers to win the battle. Later, he dismisses any notion his use of evil means to accomplish his ends brought any negative impact on himself. Meanwhile, Wanda is forced to confront her choices and attempt to make amends. Outside of minor internal reflections, will Strange ever have the same confrontation?

In speaking with the arrogant religious leaders of his day, Jesus challenged the moral advancement they claimed for themselves. “Truly I tell you,” Jesus said in Matthew 21:31, “tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.”

Maybe, despite all her sins, Wanda Maximoff is closer to the kingdom of God than Stephen Strange. Click To Tweet

Multiverse of Madness viewers are left wondering what’s next for Wanda and Strange, for that matter. It may be that she’s closer to the truth than he is. After all, “love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boastful, is not arrogant.” And love is willing to pay the cost. It “endures all things,” but that rarely comes without a price.

Maybe, despite all her sins, Wanda Maximoff is closer to the kingdom of God than Stephen Strange.

Random observations from Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness:

Pushing the PG-13 limits: After one fight sequence, I leaned over to my 16-year-old and noted the movie was going as far to the edge of PG-13 as you can possible go before garnering an R rating. There are moments of violence and gore that genuinely surprised me.

The film had a unique, genre-specific vibe that many MCU movies lack, but that also means it has definite horror elements that may be too scary for some kids who can watch the traditional Marvel fare. If you normally take your 10 year old to see MCU movies, maybe watch this yourself first to make an informed discussion. This may be one you watch at home so the visuals and emotions aren’t so intense for the younger viewers.

Tempering expectations: If you are going into this movie anticipating an Endgame-level culmination, you will be disappointed. If you are expecting a Thanos-level cameo or post-credit scene to set the course for the MCU for the next 10 years, you will be disappointed. If you walk into the theater wanting to see a wild spectacle, you’ll have fun.

There are some nice MCU and beyond cameos to enjoy, but the movie is centered around the main characters—not the cameos. Overall, this may not be a top tier Marvel movie, but it’s a fun ride provided you maintain the right expectations.

Required viewing: Look, I’m a nerd. I’ve seen every MCU thing there is to see. I watched every season of Agents of SHIELD. Unlike almost everyone else, judging by its ratings, I even managed to finish the only season of the Inhumans. But I know that’s not everyone. Marvel movies draw in many casual viewers who pop in for a movie or show that sounds interesting to them. I say all that to say, you probably need to watch WandaVision before you watch Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

Marvel is often trying to balance giving us dedicated nerds the fan service and connections we want while providing a fun movie that someone with no prior knowledge can enjoy. I don’t know if they succeeded in the second part of their goal with this movie. You will have a much deeper understanding of what’s happening in Doctor Strange if you’ve lived with Wanda in West View.

Musical beats: The MCU often uses music cues to signal character introductions and heighten the cinematic universe connections. Multiverse of Madness does this and cranks the nostalgia to 11. Also, music plays a key role in what may be the most creative mix of cinematic score and fight scene ever.

Post-credit scenes: There are two, but if your bladder is barely holding on, you can skip the final one. The mid-credit scene, introduces us to a new character and gives us an idea of what’s coming next. The second is a comedic payoff to a minor gag from the film that serves as a fourth wall meta comment. Other than a chuckle, you won’t miss anything if you leave before the last credit rolls.

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