Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness Explained: Ending & Themes Analyzed
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is now in theaters, featuring numerous Easter eggs and references in its reality-hopping multi-universe adventure. The film follows Benedict Cumberbatch’s titular sorcerer who seeks to protect a young new hero with the power to destroy every universe in existence; Stephen Strange is quite literally flung across the multiverse in the 28th epic chapter of the MCU. Along his journey, Doctor Strange encounters Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch as they travel through dark and Gothic elements.
Directed by Sam Raimi and written by Michael Waldron, the film hints at multiple future installments such as Doctor Strange 3 and even a future Avengers-level crossover; the new Marvel film exists as an anchor point for what’s ahead as it delves into the rich avenue of possibilities the dimensions provided.
There are plenty of references for eagle-eyed readers of the comics and the long-term MCU fans to pick up on. Let’s take a detailed look at the movie, including its all Easter Eggs and deeper underlying themes.
The first Stephen Strange we see as the film begins is also the one America Chavez teams up with in Doctor Strange 2. He’s a variant wearing his Defenders costume from the comics as he speaks Spanish. America is a teenage superhero originally introduced in the pages of Marvel’s 2011’s “Vengeance” No. 1.
Before Defender Strange’s death, he attempts to kill America Chavez and take her power to travel the multiverse. Claiming that it would be for the ‘greater good,’ Strange uses the exact quote and logic as primary Strange in “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” Soon, the version of Strange we’ve come to know wakes up in his bed from this mind-bending dream.
Soon, we get our first action sequence in the film as Strange is interrupted midway as we see him at Christine Palmer’s (Rachel McAdams) wedding; they have a conversation with Strange trying to cover up his feelings and longing for her, in a poignant moment that brings back memories the two made in the events of the 2016 film.
Easter Eggs And Directorial Nods
The Gargantos fight sequence that follows remains deeply reminiscent of the one in “Spider-Man 2” following the bank robbery; we get the classic Raimi camera tilts, and visual cues as we see Doctor Strange and the current Sorcerer Supreme Wong have comic counterparts such as the Demons of Denak (the giant disembodied monster hands). The Chains of Krakkan are used to shackle the creature as Strange cuts off one of his tentacles.
After this action sequence introduces us to the inciting incident and the character of America Chavez, Strange carries the corpse of the Defenders Doctor Strange from the first scene of the film, as he asks America to prove that she comes from a different universe. Eventually, he believes her due to the apparent stakes of the situation, asking Wong to take her to the Kamar-Taj as he buries the corpse beneath the bricks. Strange then heads off to see one of the Avengers he “thinks” might help him crack the secrets of the multiverse – Wanda.
Wanda and Strange have a heated exchange soon after the latter learns of Wanda’s mysterious intentions as her utopia comes crumbling down. Wanda reveals to Strange how her children exist- Billy and Tommy- in every other Universe and why she would want America’s power so she can be in a universe where she can finally attain her longing desire.
What Is The Book Of Vishanti?
A book of magical power with the ability to grant a sorcerer whatever they require to achieve victory, the Book of Vishanti was created by the first Sorcerer Supreme Agamotto and the God-like entities known as the Vishanti. Held in a space between universes, the book is sought after by multiple Stranges in Doctor Strange 2 in an attempt to fight against the powers of Scarlet Witch. The movie sets up this premise exceptionally well through its stop-motion scary imagery and mystical elements that always form the background for any event unfolding.
What Is The Darkhold?
The antithesis of the Book of the Vishanti, the Darkhold is a tome known as the Book of the Damned. Taken from Agatha Harkness by Wanda Maximoff at the end of WandaVision, the corruptive power of the book darkens Wanda’s soul, making her desperate to be reunited with her children no matter the dark cost. In the DarqueHold- chamber among the caverns inside the mountain- Chthon wrote the Darkhold, his book of black magic.
After confronting Strange and revealing her true utopia to him, Wanda finally arrives at Kamar-Taj in her black storm cloud. At first, Wong along with his disciples and the army, seem to hold off Wanda’s magic spell by creating an intact shield. Soon, the Scarlet Witch uses her mystic powers and gets into the minds of the very people holding her off. After some cleverly directed moments that seem to be picked straight up from a horror movie- Wanda finally breaks the mirror dimension set up by Strange and enters the temple from a reflection in a gong, her body twisting and contorting as she comes out of it headfirst, a nod to Samara’s spine-chilling entries in “The Ring.”
During the Scarlet Witch’s dream-walking attempts where she puppets the 838 Wanda, the Maximoffs home is the same home Wanda created in WandaVision. When we finally see the alternate Billy and Tommy first on Earth-838, there’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” playing on the television, coinciding with their Scarlet Witch encounter, potentially hinting at themes of good and evil and the importance of mirrors- both to Scarlet Witch’s travel earlier in Doctor Strange 2 and to the mirror dimension.
Traveling The Multiverse
Escaping through the multiverse using America’s volatile powers, Strange and Chavez are flung across several different universes in a visually jaw-dropping scene. However, the first one they jump through appears to be the home of the Living Tribunal- a massive cosmic entity tasked with safeguarding the multiverse. This also ties back to Mordo in the first Doctor Strange, whose chief weapon was the Staff of the Living Tribunal.
Arriving at Earth-838, Doctor Strange and America begin exploring their new surroundings when they have an altercation with a vendor known as “The Pizza Poppa,” played by Bruce Campbell (a Campbell cameo is a tradition for movies directed by Sam Raimi). We get pizza balls in this universe where the city is covered in deep foliage.
After coming across a giant statue of this universe’s Doctor Strange, Strange expects a fight with Karl Mordo as he arrives at the gate of the Sanctum; this alternate 838 version of Mordo saw Strange as a welcomed friend as he invites him in for tea. Soon, things appear blurry and disoriented as we watch events unfold from Chavez and Strange’s point of views; Mordo poisons them, explaining how they both are the real threats against keeping the integrity of the multiverse.
The Big Reveal
Midway through the movie, we see Strange and America handcuffed into a cell leading to Strange and 838’s Christine Palmer’s conversation. Here, we learn that Strange and America have indeed been brought under study at the Baxter Foundation- a research group tasked with cataloging and studying the known multiverse. The hardcore X-Men and Fantastic Four fans did not need further clues to reinforce their long-lasting online fan theories.
In the comics, the Baxter Building is the home of the Fantastic Four with the Foundation being run chiefly by Reed Richards. Serving as the Illuminati’s security force, one of the drones confirms that they’re versions of Ultron after being decapitated by the Scarlet Witch. The drone is also voiced by Ross Marquand who voiced Ultron in Marvel’s “What If…?”. After this little confrontation, we are finally led to the film’s biggest reveal- along with other characters; we meet the 838 version of Reed (Redd, in this universe) Richard, played by John Krasinki as a member of this universe’s Illuminati in this version of smart stunt casting. We are introduced to the entire Illuminati in a staggered fashion, giving the film auditoriums ample room for those cheers and applause to build up.
We then see the yellow wheelchair appear from the side of the frame as we hear the familiar voice of what remains one of the best casting choices ever in a comic-book film. The debut of the X-Men’s Professor Xavier as the Illuminati’s final member featured him in his classic green suit and yellow hover-chair from the 1997 “X-Men” animated series. Composer Danny Elfman even incorporates the theme from the series as well.
The Illuminati’s focus on preventing incursions in the multiverse teases both the original and the 2015 Marvel Comics events known as “Secret Wars.” Both stories saw worlds and realities collide with devastating results- something that could very well be the perfect foundation for an upcoming Avengers-level crossover in the MCU.
Black Bolt remains one of the Illuminati’s heaviest hitters with his ability to create shockwaves using his powerful voice, a reason behind why he doesn’t speak. In a shockingly gory scene, Scarlet Witch- after earlier going through an intense confrontation with Wong, which almost led to the latter’s death as he’s thrown off a cliff- arrives at the Baxter Foundation complex and simply removes Black Bolt’s mouth, which leads in the shockwave bursting his head open. She splits open Richards as well, eventually slicing his body off.
While fighting Wanda, Peggy Carter’s Captain Britain repeats the classic “I can do this all day” Captain America line. The 2011 Captain America theme is sampled in the score as well as a cue. Wanda eventually diabolically dismantles the entire Illuminati through her dark spells and powers.
Confronting 838’s Mordo, Strange reveals that his version of Mordo has already tried to kill him in the past. Using his usual quirk and smart whips, Strange deliberately instigates Mordo, leading to him successfully escaping the shackles he had been under ever since he was captured.
Strange Vs Strange
The duel of Stranges in this incursion universe sees the two sorcerers turning music notes and melodies into projectiles and shields. Raimi’s visual storytelling and aesthetics take a full swing during this visually stimulating exchange. The ebbs and flows that Raimi and Danny Elfman create together create a visual overload of sensory cues in one of the best sequences in the entirety of the MCU.
During this battle, pieces from Bach and Wagner are heard throughout Elfman’s musical score. The piano that helps to commence this duel is also a great callback to the piano Stephen used to play prior to the accident that damaged his hands before turning to sorcery.
Strange’s Character Arc
Strange eventually awakens the dead Defenders’ Strange from earlier in the film, and through dream walking, he confronts Wanda at the Wundagore. He uses his concentration and spells to stop Wanda and free America (Wong – who hasn’t died – climbs up the mountain to help). He knows he can’t defeat Scarlet Witch with his zombified body, so Strange, in a moment of realization, tells America she can control her power to defeat Wanda and make her see the right path again.
Through multiple exchanges throughout the screenplay- from the one at the beginning of the movie with his old colleague-Nicodemus West (Michael Stuhlbarg) and the one with America in the climax, the movie asks some important moral and ethical questions of who decides what rules apply to the game? When can there be any exceptions, if any? For the first time in the MCU, we see Strange go through this moral dilemma as the cracks in his witt and know-it-all personality become blatantly evident.
Multiple moments in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” put focus on the idea of there being no other way to save the multiverse, just like there was no other way to beat Thanos in “Avengers: Infinity War” than for several heroes to lose, as Doctor Strange had foreseen using the Time Stone. However, the culmination of Strange choosing another way this time around to save the multiverse by putting trust in America contradicts that idea suggesting that Infinity War was the exception and not the rule.
Is Wanda Dead?
In the film’s final big exchange, America realizes she can’t beat Scarlet Witch in a fight, so she cleverly punches her through the portal bringing her face-to-face to Wanda-838, who she had dream walked into. Naturally, Wanda-838’s sons freak out at this version of their mother, who touchingly tells the Scarlet Witch that she should take heart that the boys are loved. This is what forms the emotional core of the film, leading to an immensely emotional cathartic moment for Wanda. She sees the horrible nature of her ways and brings Mount Wundagore- the mountain located in the Transian Mountain Range- down on top of her, destroying every universe’s copy of the Darkhold at the same time. It’s not clear whether this kills Wanda, and we never see her body after the mountain is destroyed, leaving room for enough future appearances of the character.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness Ending Explained
Back at Kamar-Taj, we watch America train under Wong’s supervision. We even see how her training is reminiscent of Strange’s very own back from the 2016 film, as Wong even references that in a breezy moment. In the end, the 616 version of Strange develops his own third eye as we see him strolling around the street, just like the one Sinister Strange had. In the comics, this was the true Eye of Agamotto, which helped Stephen resist and fight back against the Dark Arts. However, it’s possible that his dabbling in necromancy via the Darkhold has resulted in a much darker version of his third eye.
The first post-credits scene for Doctor Strange 2 introduces Clea, played by Charlize Theron- her first appearance in the MCU. Clea is the wife of Strange in the comics and is the current Sorcerer Supreme in the Marvel Universe. Hailing from the Dark Dimension as one of the Faltine, Dormammu is Clea’s uncle.