Watch: Trailer for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
Note: This article is packed to the brim with spoilers for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, so if you're from a universe in which you haven't seen it yet, look away now.
The time has come for. Five months after Spider-Man: No Way Home rode a wave of nostalgia, fan service and multiversal cameos all the way to $1.9bn (£1.5bn) at the global box office, Marvel is leaning even further into that ethos with Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
As the film begins, Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) finds himself and Wong (Benedict Wong) fighting to save teenager American Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) from a selection of multiversal demons. It turns out America has an unpredictable ability to travel the multiverse, and this power is coveted by someone evil — who, as it happens, is Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) determined to travel to a universe where her children are still alive.
The movie then follows Strange as he attempts to thwart the increasingly powerful Wanda while she endeavours to track Chavez down and exploit her power. But Wanda's heel turn isn't the only surprise in store in director Sam Raimi's movie — written by Loki creator Michael Waldron — which overflows with easter eggs and surprise cameos...
Let's start with the biggie. As has been heavily teased in the trailers for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, the movie makes a journey at one point to another universe in which a variant of Doctor Strange helped to introduce the Illuminati in order to vote on tough decisions. And one of those tough decisions was the choice to eliminate that universe's Stephen Strange when he became corrupted by the Darkhold.
Read more: What is the multiverse?
But it's the make-up of the Illuminati panel that will have tongues wagging. We're introduced to the group by Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who is the Sorcerer Supreme in this universe and imprisons Strange and Chavez when they arrive. Bizarrely, given Mordo's villain origin arc at the conclusion of the first Doctor Strange movie, we don't get any hint of continuation for that in this film. It's a totally different Mordo.
He leads Strange to the Illuminati chamber, flanked by Ultron guards, and then tells us who's on the panel — without a Simon Cowell or a golden buzzer in sight.
Mordo's colleagues in the Iluminati include Captain Carter, played by Hayley Atwell in a reprisal of the alternative universe hero role she played in animated series What If...? last year. There's also the shockwave-voiced Black Bolt, portrayed again by Anson Mount five years after he led short-lived TV series Inhumans as the character. They're joined by a Captain Marvel variant in which Lashana Lynch's Maria Rambeau has become the hero.
Then comes confirmation of a long-standing casting rumour as John Krasinski shows up as the super-stretchy Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four. Krasinski said in 2020 that he'd be delighted to play the role and was just waiting for a call from Marvel. It seems the call came.
Finally, Patrick Stewart is revealed as Professor X, as just about everybody worked out when his distinctive vocal timbre showed up in the film's trailer. He's the same as we remember from the X-Men movie franchise, but for the fact he has traded in his wheelchair for the yellow hoverchair seen in X-Men: The Animated Series. It's him who trusts Strange and sends him to find the Book of the Vishanti in order to combat Wanda.
Unfortunately, despite their eye-catching presence, the Illuminati members don't last very long. Thankfully, Carter gets a fist-pump "I can do this all day" moment before she is dispatched.
It might not be quite as much of a talking point as the Illuminati, but it was certainly nice to see Michael Stuhlbarg appear early in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. The star reprises the role of Dr Nicodemus West — a rival surgeon to Stephen — in a scene set at Christine Palmer's (Rachel McAdams) wedding.
West explains that he lost his brother and several pet cats during the five years of The Blip and asks Strange to confirm that the route they took to defeat Thanos was indeed the only way they could've achieved it.
In the world of the Marvel comic books, Earth-616 is understood to be the primary universe in which most of the action takes place, with the term first officially used in the 1980s and credited to Alan Moore and Alan Davis. The number has occasionally popped up in the MCU, including as the storage area where Ant-Man's van was being held at the beginning of Avengers: Endgame.
When Spider-Man: Far From Home toyed with the multiverse via the charlatan character Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), he made reference to the MCU's main reality being Earth-616. Multiverse of Madness confirms this, with the incarnation of Christine Palmer in the Illuminati universe stating that she lives on Earth-838, while Strange's reality was classed as 616.
Palmer also makes reference to the Baxter Foundation, which is usually the government-funded institute which serves as the base for the Fantastic Four. Given the appearance of Reed Richards, as mentioned earlier, there's definitely some sort of thread to be pulled there. Perhaps the eventual Fantastic Four movie — which will now not be directed by Jon Watts — will take place in this universe?
An early scene in Multiverse of Madness requires all of the world's most talented sorcerers to unite in an attempt to defend Kamar Taj against Wanda. Among those to join the assembled forces is a bizarre, bull-headed creature glimpsed in the trailer. The character is Rintrah, who is an extra-terrestrial from a world whose residents resemble green-skinned Minotaurs.
In the comics, Rintrah befriends Doctor Strange and becomes an apprentice of his, learning sorcery at Kamar Taj and even living with Strange. There isn't much of him in the movie, but it's a nice nod for fans of the comics.
Trailers for Multiverse of Madness teased a three-eyed variant of Cumberbatch's character, referred to as Sinister Strange. That character ultimately fights with the Earth-616 version of Strange in the movie and is defeated. In the final scene of the movie, though, Strange appears to sprout a third eye of his own and scream in pain. When Strange returns in the post-credits scene, though, he seems to have learned to control the eye.
The eye has a history in the comics. It's often a manifestation of the Eye of Agamotto, which Strange has always worn in a pendant around his neck and previously housed the Time Stone. It appears that the events of Multiverse of Madness — in which our version of Strange battled the three-eyed sinister variant — have allowed him to unlock the Eye, which has had various powers including showing truth, replaying recent events, seeing through disguises (including the shape-shifting Skrulls, which could prove to be useful in future) and probing minds.
Given the involvement of Sam Raimi, many fans hoped that Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness would send the MCU into the world of horror. There's certainly a heightened sense of violence in the movie and some seriously gruesome sequences, as well as an overt nod to The Ring in a scene in which Wanda emerges from a reflection.
The most obvious elements of Raimi, though, come through in the scenes in which Strange puppeteers a zombie variant of himself, who Chavez had brought into the 616 universe to prove her multiverse abilities. Rumours of a connection to the zombie-themed episode of What If..? were mostly unfounded.
These scenes feature plenty of grotesque zombie effects, as well as some of Raimi's trademark zany, racing camera shots and some Deadite-like floating demons. You can take the director out of the zombie film, it seems, but you can't take the zombie films out of Sam Raimi.
If you're watching a Sam Raimi film, you can be pretty certain that Bruce Campbell will show up eventually. The star of the Evil Dead franchise popped up in Raimi's Spider-Man films in the noughties and he gets his moment to shine during Multiverse of Madness as well. Amid Strange and Chavez's universe-hopping exploits, they cross paths with Campbell as a pizza vendor in a world where fast food is served in balls.
An altercation occurs, which results in Campbell's character being covered in mustard and bewitched to punch himself repeatedly in the face — another nod back to Evil Dead II, in which Campbell's Ash scuffled with his own hand.
Campbell appears once again in the final post-credits sequence of the film, just minutes after the first credits scene unleashes another major cameo.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is in UK cinemas now.
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