Much to my surprise Doctor Strange 2 is proving to be one of the more divisive entries in the MCU. While it’s earned a solid 87% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes (opens in new tab), take a quick glance at social media and you'll find plenty of viewers significantly less enthused.
In fact, our own streaming editor felt the film was ruined by three big recurring Marvel problems. He even went as far as to give Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness the same rating on Letterboxd as he did Morbius, which is definitely a take I’d label as spicy.
Surprisingly, I’m very much in the opposite camp. I loved the film, and rank it among my favorite MCU films of the last five years. This was definitely an opinion I didn’t expect, as I’ve had a pretty difficult relationship with Marvel over the past few years.
Since the release of Avengers: Endgame, the MCU just hasn’t connected with me in the way it used to. Sure, I loved Spider-Man: Far From Home and Spider-Man: No Way Home, and I enjoyed WandaVision and Shang-Chi, but the likes of Black Widow, Eternals, Hawkeye, Falcon and Winter Solider and most recently Moon Knight had me wondering if the MCU just wasn’t for anymore.
Thankfully, Doctor Strange 2 has once again got me excited to see where the interconnected comic book universe goes next and it’s all thanks to one bold choice that I definitely didn’t see coming.
Before I go any further consider this your warning, this article features full spoilers for the entirety of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. If you’ve not seen the film yourself, you don’t want what I’m about to discuss ruined for you. Trust me.
Doctor Strange 2 is the boldest Marvel movie yet
Let’s face it Marvel movies have become increasingly formulaic over the past decade. Last year's Black Widow is the perfect example. It was a functional blockbuster, but it felt practically indistinguishable from the dozens of MCU flicks that came before it (heroes don't get along, then learn to get along and then win). Even the Marvel movies that appear on the surface slightly more ambitious, such as Eternals, still feel cookie-cutter in execution.
Doctor Strange 2 doesn’t feel quite so safe. I can't deny that it has plenty of the usual MCU trappings from a quip-stuffed script to an over-reliance on CGI backgrounds (would it kill Marvel to shoot something on location?) but the arc of one character radically changes the film. I'm of course talking about Wanda Maximoff.
The decision to make Wanda the full-on antagonist with a capital A is a stroke of pure genius. When it's revealed around 20 minutes in that she’s responsible for the interdimensional creatures hunting down teenager America Chavez I audibly gasped, and then a massive grin spread across my face.
Taking a character who had become something of a fan favorite in recent years, and making her a straight villain is a bold decision. It's certainly one I’d never have backed Marvel to make. In fact, I almost didn’t believe it at first. I kept waiting for some ridiculous twist where it was revealed this wasn’t the real Wanda but that never came.
Instead as the movie progresses Wanda falls further and further to the dark side. The scene where she brutally murders the entire Illuminati, including literally ripping Professor X’s head in two, is one of the darkest, and in my opinion best, sequences in the whole MCU. I genuinely applaud Kevin Fiege and the execs at Marvel for allowing director Sam Raimi and screenwriter Michael Waldron to go so far.
Of course, Doctor Strange 2 is not the first time that Marvel has played with the line between hero and villain. However, previous efforts like 2015’s Captain America: Civil War have always worked hard to endure the heroes in the wrong never stray too far from the light. That’s not the case with Wanda, she’s a straight-up terrifying villain for practically the whole movie.
What's next for Wanda?
I wasn’t particularly surprised when the third act attempts to redeem Wanda by having her destroy all copies of the Darkhold across the multiverse, before “sacrificing” herself. However, even this heroic act likely won’t be enough to excuse her actions in the eyes of many audience members, and I wonder if the Avengers will be happy to have her on the team after everything she’s done?
Wanda’s future in the MCU definitely seems quite murky at this point. I wouldn’t be shocked if she gets a fast-tracked redemption arc, but either way, Doctor Strange 2 proves that Marvel is still capable of taking big risks. And that alone has me very intrigued to see how where the juggernaut superhero franchise goes next.