The buildup to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness: A litter of Loki variants. The promise of Kang variants. Zombie Avengers. A gender-and-country swapped Captain. The head of Ant-Man. T’Challa as Star-Lord. Not one, not two, but three Spider-Men. Disco Thor.
The Multiverse we got: Like, some trippy special effects for Between-Space, 16 blink-and-you-miss-them universes, and screen time for three, two of which were relatively free of madness, and one that looks like Wednesday Addams. ‘dream realm.
What the he-doublehockeystix? Where’s the insanity?
We meet up with our Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) on our Earth, Earth-616. While it would be safe to assume our Earth to be the maddest, unless the Kardashians have omnipotent powers on another one, we were promised a trip through Crazytown and, darn it, that’s what we want. So when we meet multiverse hopper America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), we know she’s our ticket, and when Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) goes full cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs to get her, America takes herself and Doc to another Earth.
Which one? We go through a few. They first enter the world of The Living Tribunal, a cosmic being who watches them go by. Little weird. Then they pass through a world made of crystals, which isn’t a real Marvel world, so its presence seems to be someone’s CGI homework. A world of giant bugs, probably Bug World, Earth-22312, then on to Waterworld, Earth-Costner, maybe Namor’s crib. Our heroes continue to drop through universes, with the next highway exit filled with battling dinosaurs, most likely a nod to Savage Land, a prominent location from The X-Men history. Now they’re cubes, someone else’s CGI homework assignment. A few more, including what appears to maybe be Earth-67, home of the 1967 Spider-Man, and a paint universe where they are blobs of paint, which they just brush by. Any one of these could have been the next stop and legitimized “madness.”
Finally, we end up in the New York of Earth-838, home of the Illuminati. Surely the maddest of the multiverses. Look, everything is covered in flowers! Well we know that’s certainly weird, since New York has absolutely no greenery apart from Central Park. And watch your step, Doctor – red means go and … wait for it … green means stop, which obviously means yellow is do the Hokey Pokey. As the two travelers walk down the street, America picks up some pizza balls from a street vendor, assuming them to be free. That’s all sorts of madness there. Pizza in ball form AND free? Nope, not free. It’s nice to see some things haven’t changed in this New York (and nice to see that Pizza Poppa Bruce Campbell is just as awesome here as he’s ever been). Then there’s the memory machines, broadcasting your recollections publicly. Great for character exposition, not so great if your recollections include a ménage à trois with two of the four Golden Girls.
We meet the Illuminati, Scarlet Witch takes control of Earth-838 Wanda, turns Reed Richards (John Krasinski) into spaghetti and separates Captain from Carter (Hayley Atwell), tracks down Chavez, Doctor Strange and 838 Christine (Rachel McAdams), takes Chavez and sends Strange and Christine to Sinister Strange’s Incursion Universe. It’s like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride at Disneyland, but gray, barren, lifeless, and has a really crappy host.
So if you’re counting, the Multiverse of Madness largely consists of: our world; a bunch of cool worlds we blow by; a world that’s pretty much exactly the same but has flowers, questionable street food and traffic lights; and a Goth playground. Where’s the madness in that? If Marvel wanted to keep the alliteration, maybe “Multiverse of More-or-less-the-same” or “Multiverse of Mild-Discrepancies” would have been more appropriate.
What is truly disappointing is what could have been. The Multiverse is new to the MCU, but has been a part of Marvel Comics since 1971. Just think how any one or more of the following existing Marvel comic universes would have redefined madness for the MCU:
Earth-90214, the Noir universe. Doctor Strange could have sided with the coppers, see? Stop that scarlet dame with a tommy gun at the speakeasy.
The Pocket universe, with the stark realization (no pun intended) of being in Franklin Richards’ pocket. Literally, a child’s pocket. Where they may have to fight off a vile-lint attack, with their backs against the wallet.
Earth-311, where it’s the 1600s all the time! Doc and Christine could party down with some Claudio Monteverdi tunes on the ol ‘jukebox, unless it’s baroque. And if it’s not baroque, don’t fix it.
Earth-982, where it’s 2099 all the time! Take on Wanda with the help of Spider-Man 2099, Hulk 2099, Ghost Rider 2099, or The Punisher 2099, all while rocking out to The Rolling Stones 2099. You know, maybe they made the right call by not going here. Earth-982 seems to be lacking in any originality to speak of.
Earth-982 2099, by the way, is not to be confused with Earth-982 MC2, which is only 15 years in the future. Because apparently there’s a highly limited set of numbers that can be used for the multiverse (what happens if a multiverse number gets retired?). The likes of Peter and Mary-Jane Parker’s daughter Spider-Girl, the Fantastic Five (maybe they could team up with Spinal Tap and go up to the Fantastic Eleven), and Wild Thing, daughter of Wolverine and Elektra, could have helped out.
Or… hear this out… Earth 8311, the Larval universe. You want TRUE madness? Have Chavez and Doctor Strange team up with Spider-Ham, Mooster Fantastic, or Captain Americat, and wrestle with Kangaroo the Conqueror and Ducktor Doom for control of the Darkhold (Duckhold?). Maybe the 8311 Doctor Strange – Croctor Strange – could drop an anvil on Wanda’s head. Now THAT has promise! Maybe instead of pizza balls, there’s like a pizza trough, which is maintained by Pizza Porpoise! And they meet the InLemonati!
Before we get too silly, although that line is way back in the rearview mirror at this point, the fact of the matter is that Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, regardless of its Rotten Tomatoes score, its IMDb ratings, its thumbs up and / or down, or whatever Frances Hannigan from Albuquerque says about it on her YouTube channel “Frances’ Feelings on Film,” simply did not live up to its title or on its promise of something more. Hopefully the final film in the trilogy, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of More Money for Marvelcan deliver the goods we were robbed of this time around.