Talking Movies [Multiverse Madness]: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness


In September 1961, DC Comics published “Flash of Two Worlds” (Fox, et al), a landmark story that brought together two generations of the Flash: the Golden Age Jay Garrick and the Silver Age Barry Allen thanks to the concept of the multiverse, an infinite number of parallel universes that allowed any and all stories and characters to co-exist and interact. Marvel Comics would also adopt this concept and, to celebrate the release of this very film, I’ve been both celebrating the Master of the Mystic Arts and exploring the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MCU) equivalent of the multiverse every Sunday of May.


Released: 6 May 2022
Director: Sam Raimi
Distributor:
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Budget: $200 million
Stars:
Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Xochitl Gomez, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, and Chiwetel Ejiofor,

The Plot:
Following a number of reality-altered events, Doctor Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) is unexpectedly thrown into a fight not just for his life, but for the fate of the entire multiverse when a girl with the power to traverse alternate dimensions is threatened by a corrupted force seeking to take her power for her own.

The Background:
Steve Ditko and Stan Lee’s bizarre creation, Dr. Strange, has undoubtedly become one of Marvel’s most pivotal figureheads since his unimpressive debut and has had a storied history with adaptation. After an ill-fated lie-action film in the seventies, a number of animated ventures, and a long period of Development Hell, Marvel’s Master of the Mystic Arts finally made his big-screen debut as part of the MCU to both universal praise and incredible financial success. Development of a sequel began in 2016, with director Scott Derrickson eager to incorporate the villain Nightmare and really delve into Dr. Strange’s weirder aspects. MCU producer and figurehead Kevin Feige saw Dr. Strange as the linchpin on the MCU’s fourth phase, which would expand upon the multiversal aspects of their successful franchise, while Derrickson initially aimed to introduce more horror elements to the sequel. This caused some creative differences between the two parties, and led to Derrickson stepping down and Sam Raimi being brought in as the director and injecting his own blend of horror to the script after delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic. After attempting to introduce the character in previous MCU projects, Feige finally found an avenue to bring in America Chavez, and the script was rewritten to both play to Raimi’s strengths as a director and to further expand on Wanda Maximoff’s (Olsen) character growth from WandaVision (Shakman, 2021). Seeking to infuse a horror vibe to the MCU and explore the consequences of dabbling in black magic and the multiverse, the film also ended up including a number of cameo appearances from iconic actors and fan casted characters to tease towards even bigger things for the MCU. Despite the film not seeing a release in LGTBQ+-intolerant countries, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness has currently amassed a worldwide gross of nearly $510 million and has been met by widely positive reviews; critics praised its harrowing tale of grief and desperation, the unique horror slant, and the visual spectacle on offer, though some found it to be a bit formulaic and bloated at times.

The Review:
Right off the bat I have to say that I’m not actually the biggest fan of comic book movies delving into the multiverse concept. It’s a strange opinion to have given I regularly celebrate the trope and have enjoyed a lot of multiversal stories in comics, but I’m having a lot of difficulty reconciling that audiences aren’t more confused by it all. I’m a lifetime comic book fan and even I struggle with it a bit and, as much as I enjoyed Spider-Man: No Way Home (Webb, 2021) and Alfred Molina’s portrayal of Doctor Otto Octavius/Doctor Octopus, I can’t help but wonder if bringing that version of that villain back cost us seeing a new actor’s take on the character. I give Marvel a lot of leeway, though; after ten-plus years of building up their cinematic universe, exploring science, the cosmos, time and space, I think they’re in a far better position to start exploring beyond the confines of their singular reality. It’s not like, say, the DC Extended Universe, which jumped into alternate versions, timelines, and multiverse shenanigans just a few years after their first movie, to the point where they’re already having to rejig their timeline to try and make sense of it all. I feel Marvel’s execution so far has been very respectful and very exciting for us die-hard fans of the comics and movies, and also suspect that this phase of bringing back popular actors in their iconic superhero roles may soon pass as we head towards whatever the culmination of Phase Four really is.

With the world still reeling from the Blip, Dr. Strange is thrust into the chaotic multiverse.

Still, if you’re going to explore the multiverse, what better character than the Master of the Mystic Arts himself? When the movie begins, Dr. Strange is still guarding the Sanctum Sanctorum in New York City but, thanks to being dusted during the Blip, is also still no longer the Sorcerer Supreme, with those duties now being fulfilled by Wong (Wong). Their relationship isn’t one of master and servant, but more one of bickering peers; there’s a recurring gag that Dr. Strange refuses to bow to Wong since he’s still a bit annoyed at having lost his lofty position but, despite this, he remains a dedicated and powerful spellcaster since Wong’s duties are more focused on training sorcerers at Kamar-Taj. Dr. Strange is, however, facing a bit of a personal crisis; his dedication to his newfound lifestyle, and having been gone for five years, means that he’s missed out on the girl. Doctor Christine Palmer (McAdams) has not only met someone else, but is getting married to him, and he’s plagued by doubts concerning his decision to surrender the Time Stone to the Mad Titan, Thanos (Josh Brolin), which saved the lives of billions but also disrupted the lives of countless others, including his former colleague, Doctor Nicodemus West (Michael Stuhlbarg), who questions Dr. Strange’s actions. Strange remains justified, however, as he acted out of the greater good, having viewed millions of potential timelines, but these doubts over his character and motivation continue to surface throughout the film when he learns from America Chavez (Gomez) that his alternative selves have been so focused on the big picture that they’ve been driven to unspeakable acts, such as attempting to take America’s power for his own and even being corrupted by the forbidden magical tome, the Darkhold. Since she’s being pursued by forces far beyond her power, and is unable to control her dimension-hopping abilities, America has little choice but to trust Dr. Strange to protect her, but both her and the alternate versions of Christine have reservations about Strange’s character after seeing the lengths his other selves have gone to to keep the vast multiverse safe.

Devastated at losing her kids, Wanda covets America’s power and wages all-out war as the Scarlet Witch.

America is quite the anomaly; in an infinite number of alternate realities, it appears as though there’s only one of her, since she hasn’t encountered a counterpart in all of her random travels throughout the multiverse and she doesn’t dream (the film posits that dreams are a window into the lives of our alternate selves, which is an intriguing concept). Desperate, afraid, and alone, America is carrying a great deal of guilt after her chaotic powers accidentally sucked her mothers to an unknown fate when she was a child. America’s ability to conjure a massive, star-shaped portal to anywhere in the multiverse is triggered by fear and panic, meaning she has little control over her abilities but they offer a wealth of possibilities to more powerful and experienced forces who could absorb her power for their own ends. Dr. Strange first meets America when she’s being pursued by an unspeakable eldritch abomination, which he and Wong recognise to be a creature of witchcraft rather than sorcery, so he seeks out console from Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch, hoping to recruit the former Avenger to help protect America. However, Wanda has been so consumed with grief after losing her magically-conjured sons, Billy (Julian Hilliard) and Tommy (Jett Klyne) from the conclusion of WandaVision that she’s turned to the Darkhold to find ways of being reunited with them in an alternate reality. The Darkhold’s dark magic, coupled with the destructive potential of the Scarlet Witch, have driven Wanda into a maniacal obsession with obtaining America’s powers and, when Dr. Strange refuses to hand the girl over peacefully and condemn her to death at the Scarlet Witch’s hands, Wanda launches a brutal all-out assault against Kamar-Taj and, after they’re stranded in the multiverse, to force Wong to take her to the forbidden land of Mount Wundagore, where the Darkhold was transcribed, to both locate them and find the power to “dream walk” into the body of her alternate self to relentlessly pursue them, slaughtering anyone and everyone who gets in her way.

The alternate Mordo brings Dr. Strange before the Illuminati, but Wanda mercilessly slaughters them all.

Since America can’t control or direct her powers, Dr. Strange immediately out his alternative self for help, only to find that he heroically died saving the universe from Thanos and that his former mentor, Baron Karl Mordo (Ejiofor), has taken his place as the Sorcerer Supreme. For those who were hoping for a resolution to Mordo’s vow to hunt down and eliminate sorcerers at the end of Doctor Strange (Derrickson, 2016), you’ll be disappointed to learn that “prime” Mordo (i.e. the one from what the MCU calls “Earth-616”) isn’t actually in this film and his counterpart is a far less antagonistic character…or so it seems. Initially, Mordo is welcoming and courteous but, all too soon, Dr. Strange and America find themselves drugged, fitted with power-dampening restraints, and placed in holding cells under the observation of the alternative Christine to determine whether 6161-Strange is as much of a threat as his counterpart. This leads to Mordo bringing Dr. Strange before the judgement of the “Illuminati”, a panel of superpowered beings who stood against Thanos and executed their version of Dr. Strange after he became corrupted by the Darkhold. Comprised of Mordo, Captain Peggy Carter/Captain Carter (Hayley Atwell), Captain Maria Rambeau/Captain Marvel (Lashana Lynch), Blackagar Boltagon/Black Bolt (Anson Mount), Professor Charles Xavier (Sir Patrick Stewart), and Doctor Reed Richards/Mister Fantastic (John Krasinski), the Illuminati underestimate Wanda’s devastating power in favour of focusing on Strange’s potential threat, which ultimately results in all of them being mercilessly slaughtered by the raging Scarlet Witch when she puppets her alternative self right into their chamber. Wanda easily negates Black Bolt’s destructive voice, turning it back on himself so he blows a hole in his head, slices Captain Carter in two with her own shield, crushes Captain Marvel to death, reduces Mr. Fantastic to spaghetti, and snaps Xavier’s neck in a harrowing sequence that’s just one of many allusions to director Sam Raimi’s past as a horror director. Thought assisted by Christine and led towards the Book of Vishanti, which promises the power to oppose Wanda’s black magic, this tome is destroyed, America is captured, and Dr. Strange is forced to turn to another corrupted version of himself, and ultimately the Darkhold, to find the means to keep Wanda from killing America, regardless of the toll such dark magic threatens to extract on his soul.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Loneliness, grief, and desperation are core themes in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness; Dr. Strange maintains that he’s perfectly happy being the Master of the Mystic Arts and with his newfound purpose in life, but it’s clear that he still has feelings for Christine and regrets losing his chance to be with her. All throughout the film, he’s disturbed (but not surprised) to learn that his alternate selves all fumbled their chance at happiness, though the ramifications of this were far more destructive for his counterparts; similar to Strange Supreme from What If…? (Andrews, 2021), Strange’s corrupted doppelgänger was turned towards dark magic after losing Christine and his focus on trying to scour the multiverse for a world where they could be happy directly led to his universe being torn asunder by an “incursion” event, the very thing the Illuminati feared both their Dr. Strange and 616-Strange would cause if he wasn’t put down ahead of time. America’s fear of her powers and of trusting others is directly tied to that traumatic incident in her childhood where she literally swept her parents away in an accidental outburst, and her reluctance to trust Dr. Strange is based entirely on his alternative self turning on her to keep her powers out of Wanda’s hands, so her character arc isn’t just about learning that the ability to control her powers has been within her all along but also about finding a place to belong in the infinite worlds of the multiverse. Finally, Wanda is so desperate to be reunited with her children that she not only allows the Darkhold to corrupt her vast powers but also attacks friend and foe alike, embracing her destiny as the destructive Scarlet Witch and fully prepared to sacrifice America’s life (and the life of her doppelgänger) to be with her children once more.

The multiverse and all its monstrous potential is vividly brought to life in this visual spectacle.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness takes the rules of magic and the snippet of the multiverse we saw in Doctor Strange and Spider-Man: No Way Home and absolutely runs with it; in the years since his debut movie, Dr. Strange’s power and command over magic has vastly increased, meaning he’s able to do far more than just conjure protective shields or glowing whips. Now, he can summon magical buzz saws, demonic hands, animated musical notes and use them as projectiles, and perform all manner of miraculous and visually entertaining feats. Naturally, this makes him an incredibly over-powered character, but the film goes to great lengths to put him in jeopardy by placing even greater, often more monstrous, threats in his path; when Gargantos attacks America, it takes both Dr. Strange and Wong to put it down, which is a feat in and of itself, but even they and their magical cohorts of Kamar-Taj are no match for the full fury of the Scarlet Witch, who leaves an untold number of charred corpses and ashen remains in her wake as she pursues America. When America transports herself and Dr. Strange through the multiverse, the film really starts to come alive; they are blasted through an animated universe, the Quantum realm, the Dark Dimension, a universe where they’re turned into paint, and one where they’re literally pulled apart into tiny pieces. Eventually dumped in the M. C. Escher-esque void between universes and a desolate universe where a devastating incursion has caused reality and physics to fold in on itself, Dr. Strange’s brief and violent tour of the multiverse sees him travelling to strange worlds where society and history are slightly different, characters are noticeably changed, and even possessing the lifeless body of one of his counterparts in order to oppose Wanda. I can certainly see why Wanda’s turn to the dark side probably rattled a few people; I definitely didn’t expect that to happen (or, at least, I thought maybe the reveal that she was behind it all would happen mid-way through or near the end) and I was doubled surprised by just how many references were made to WandaVision since the MCU has notoriously ignored its TV projects in the past. WandaVision was a startling examination of the destructive power of grief, and I think the idea that someone can just get past the sort of trauma Wanda has been through without lasting repercussions is a bit unlikely, and the film definitely paints her as someone in a great deal of pain and corrupted by the Darkhold’s influence. While seeing her match Dr. Strange blow for blow was a great way to showcase her power, having her tear through the Illuminati was an even greater example of her potential threat to the multiverse.

Dr. Strange is forced to use dark magic to keep Wanda from stealing America’s powers and threatening the multiverse.

While it’s clear that many of the Illuminati’s actors weren’t all on set at the same time, it was fun seeing Patrick Stewart back in his iconic role (and accompanied by the nineties cartoon theme, no less) one last time, and to see long-time fan casting John Krasinski portray Mr. fantastic, but it was Anson Mount returning as Black Bolt which really surprised me as I never thought we’d see the Inhumans referenced or included after their disastrous show. Again, you could argue that these characters were “wasted” but I saw them as fun little bits of fan service for long-time fans; I said up top that I get annoyed at other actors not having a crack in these roles, though, so I am still holding out hope that we see a new actor portray Xavier if and when the X-Men are properly introduced to the MCU. Dr. Strange doesn’t come to this decision lightly; all throughout the film, his goal has been to claim the Book of Vishanti to acquire the power to stop the Scarlet Witch but, when it’s destroyed, he’s left with no choice but to turn to the Darkhold possessed by his corrupt alternate self. Transformed into a three-eyed, monstrous version of himself, this alternate Strange has become as consumed by the Darkhold as Wanda and, after his defeat, the lingering question of how the book will affect 616-Strange hangs in the air for the finale. Thankfully, the alternate Christine is on hand to act as his moral compass, encouraging him to utilise the power of the dark spirits seeking to punish him for desecrating his other self’s body, which is enough for him to save Wong from Wanda’s rock monsters and free America before her power (and life) can be consumed. Finally harnessing her incredible powers, America first lashes out at Wanda and then, when she realises she’s no match for the Scarlet Witch, grants the corrupted Avenger her wish and transports her to her boys, who are naturally terrified of this malevolent version of their loving mother. Devastated at seeing them cower in fear of her, Wanda abandons her crusade and, to atone for her heinous actions, willingly brings Mount Wundagore down around her, presumably killing herself in the process (but we never see a body, so I wouldn’t be surprised if she doesn’t pop up again in some way, shape, or form). in the aftermath, Wong beings repairing Kamar-Taj and training his students (with America among their number, the implications of which could make her one of the MCU’s most powerful characters ever) and Dr. Strange finds a peace with himself after finally admitting to the alternate Christine that he loves her. However, his jovial mood is immediately shattered when he’s crippled by whispering voices and the emergence of a third eye on his forehead like his corrupted counterpart as a result of the Darkhold’s influence, but even this is instantly swept under the rug when, in a mid-credits sequence, a mysterious woman (apparently Clea (Charlize Theron)) demand she help her repair an incursion in the Dark Dimension…

The Summary:
After seeing Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, I have to commend Marvel for their marketing strategy; while the trailers hinted at Wanda’s turn to the dark side, nothing was made explicit and even the official blurb was little more than a vague statement about the film, so I was very surprised to see her transform into this malevolent, vindictive witch of incredible power. Wanda’s pain and grief are very real and believable, and I was also surprised that the film didn’t shy away from assuming the audience was familiar with WandaVision as a part of her character arc, and seeing her become this malicious force of darkness definitely raises the stakes for the MCU and means that anything can happen to these characters, no matter how heroic they may be. Dr. Strange also had an intriguing arc in the film; torn between his regrets and his duties, he fully commits to protecting America at all costs, no matter the sacrifice and the lingering question over whether he will also succumb to the darkness helps add a fascinating edge to the character as his concerns must be on a far wider scale at all times, necessitating tough choices and questionable actions. The exploration of the multiverse was great; I definitely think the film has established a short-hand for the concept and that future iterations of it will simply be taken for granted going forward, and I did enjoy seeing some new and old faces appear in cameo roles as the Illuminati, which again hints towards some exciting things in the MCU’s future. The film does suffer a little from some pacing and repetitive issues, however; obviously it can’t be all action all the time, but it does slow down to explain its concepts one time too many, and I found the framing of Dr. Strange’s meeting with the Illuminti jarring as it just highlighted that many of the actors weren’t actually there. Leaving Mordo’s vendetta unresolved was also a bit of a disappointment for me, as was the mid- and post-credits sequences, but I’m interested to see these plot threads resolved in a future film and had a blast with the film’s bizarre visuals and bat-shit-crazy moments. Bolstered by some great horror-themed shots and full of fan service and surreal imagery, the film, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness was an entertaining thrill-ride and absolutely galvanised Dr. Strange as one of the cornerstones of the MCU and, I hope, has opened the door for new versions of some of Marvel’s most popular characters to join this ever-expanding cinematic universe.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What did you think to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness? Are you a fan of the muliverse concept or do you find it a bit too complex? What did you think to Dr. Strange’s character arc and the potential of him turning bad? Were you a fan of America Chavez or do you think she’s a bit too overpowered? What did you think to Wanda’s turn to the dark side and were you disappointed that Mordo was pushed to the side? Which member of the Illuminati surprised you the most and what did you think to their inclusion? Were you a fan of the film’s horror elements? Whatever your thoughts on Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, sign up to leave your thoughts below or leave a comment on my social media, and thanks for sticking around for Multiverse Madness!

Screen Time [Multiverse Madness]: What If…? (Season One)


In September 1961, DC Comics published “Flash of Two Worlds” (Fox, et al), a landmark story that brought together two generations of the Flash: the Golden Age Jay Garrick and the Silver Age Barry Allen thanks to the concept of the multiverse, an infinite number of parallel universes that allowed any and all stories and characters to co-exist and interact. Marvel Comics would also adopt this concept and, to celebrate the release of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (Raimi, 2022) this month, I’ve been both celebrating the Master of the Mystic Arts and exploring the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MCU) equivalent of the multiverse every Sunday of May.


Air Date: 11 August 2021 to 6 October 2021
Network: Disney+
Stars: Hayley Atwell, Chadwick Boseman, Samuel L. Jackson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Ruffalo, Michael B. Jordan, Chris Hemsworth, Ross Marquand, and Jeffrey Wright

The Background:
As a big comic book fan, it’s been absolutely amazing seeing the MCU become a multimedia juggernaut and some of Marvel Comics’ most beloved characters and concepts come to life on screen. Although Marvel Studios dabbled in television ventures with the likes of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013 to 2020) and their Netflix shows, they really doubled down on TV productions for the MCU’s fourth phase to produce content for their parent company’s streaming service, Disney+. With MCU head honcho Kevin Feige behind them, the Disney+ shows aimed to maintain and expand the ongoing continuity of the MCU, but I don’t think anyone could have predicted that Marvel Studios would delve so deeply into the multiverse that we’d seen an adaptation of What If…? What If…? began life as a semi-consistent series of hypothetical, often light-hearted (or downright dark), stories that presented Marvel heroes and storylines with subtle (or major) changes. The Disney+ show followed this format and recontextualised the premise as an animated anthology series that would explore what the MCU would be like if characters or events had unfolded differently. The show’s animation was headed by Stephan Franck and sported a cel-shaded design that emphasised hyper-realism; as the MCU was officially exploring the concept of the multiverse, episodes could be part of the franchise’s overall canon and many recognisable faces, names, and voices returned to put a new spin on their iconic roles; however, although voice recording was able to continue remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, this production sadly marked the final performance of the late Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa/Black Panther. What If…? was received extremely well and the series was praised as a love-letter to the fans; despite some reservations about the format and presentation, reviews were primarily positive and spin-offs were quickly announced as either being in production or on the cards. Crucially, the multiversal scope of the series would be revisited in the live-action MCU films and characters and concepts from the show even seem set to cross over into the main MCU canon going forward.

The Plot:
From beyond the multiverse, the cosmic being known as Uatu the Watcher (Wright) observes as the events of the MCU unfold differently, resulting in Peggy Carter (Atwell) becoming Captain Carter, Doctor Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) becoming a force for evil, a zombie infection running rampant, and T’Challa (Boseman) becoming Star-Lord. However, when a version of Ultron (Marquand) acquires the Infinity Stones and threatens the entire multiverse, the Watcher must break his oath of non-interference to assemble a heroic force capable of fending off this threat.

The Review:
Because of the nature of the series, I think it’d be much better to look at each individual episode, what they do and how they work by themselves, and then talk about some overall themes and give my opinion on the entire concept down in the summary. The first season of What If…? is a nine-episode series of animated adventures that examine familiar characters and events in the MCU but change things about in subtle, or major, ways to create entirely new stories as part of the MCU multiverse. These alternate realities are observed by the enigmatic Watcher, a cosmic being bound only to observe and never directly interfere, and who acts as the narrator of the show. The Watcher’s opening narration explains the basics of the multiverse; as we were told in Avengers: Endgame (Russo and Russo, 2019), time and reality in the MCU is not a single, linear, fixed path. Instead, multiple timelines and alternate universes exist, with the deviations occurring from different decisions being made at key moments in time, however big or small. In this regard, time is less like a line and more like a river, with an infinite number of paths trailing off all over the place, and the Watcher acts as our impassive guide to this vast multiverse. The Watcher also serves as our narrator, quickly catching us up on the events preceding the episode and explaining when, where, and how each divergent timeline was created; however, he has taken a solemn vow to never interfere in the events he witnesses, no matter how gruesome or extreme they are.

Peggy takes Steve’s place and is forced to make the ultimate sacrifice to stop Hydra’s interdimensional beast.

The series kicks off with “What If…Captain Carter Were the First Avenger?” (Andrews, 2021), essentially a retelling of Captain America: The First Avenger (Johnston, 2011). Unlike in the original timeline, Strategic Scientific Reserve (SSR) Agent Peggy Carter chooses to stay and watch on the ground as skinny, ill-bodied Private Steve Rogers (Josh Keaton) prepares to become a super soldier. However, when the Nazi sleeper agent attacks the experiment this time around, Peggy manages to keep him from escaping with a sample of the serum but Steve is wounded, so Peggy ignores the orders of her commanding officer, John Flynn (Bradley Whitford), and voluntarily becomes enhanced to the peak of human physical conditioning before the experiment is lost forever. Promoted to head of the SSR, Flynn is outraged at the result; disgusted that the super soldier serum was wasted on a woman, he refuses to allow Peggy to actively participate in the war, much less on the front line, out of sheer prejudice, much to her chagrin and fury. As before, Hydra figurehead Johann Schmidt/The Red Skull (Marquand) seeks to usurp Adolf Hitler and claim victory for himself with the mysterious and all-powerful Tesseract. Flynn, however, is unimpressed by the threat and unwilling to risk even one man, let alone an entire platoon, on recovering the cube; luckily, inventor Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) believes so strongly in the Tesseract’s threat that he furnishes Peggy with a striking Union Jack-style costume and a familiar Vibranium shield so that she can single-handedly recover the Tesseract from Schmidt’s Hydra colleague, Doctor Arnim Zola (Toby Jones), decimating an entire convoy of Hydra’s soldiers with efficiency and glee and earning herself an official promotion to “Captain Carter”. Although he lost his best shot at fighting alongside his friend, Sergeant James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes (Sebastian Stan), Steve is fully supportive of Peggy’s newfound strength and abilities and only too glad to pilot Stark’s Tesseract-powered “Hydra Stomper” armour. However, following an action-packed montage, Steve is apparently lost during a familiar assault on an armoured train; though grief-stricken, Peggy forces information out of Zola and leads an all-out assault against the Red Skull’s fortress, where they find Steve alive but are too late to stop the Red Skull from opening a dimensional rift with the Tesseract. The tentacles of a gigantic, interdimensional, Lovecraftian creature breach the portal, killing Schmidt and threatening all life on Earth; Peggy and Steve fend off the beast as Stark tries to shut down the portal, but Captain Carter is forced to sacrifice herself to the unknown by physically forcing the creature through the rift. The story then skips ahead to find the Tesseract being reactivated, spitting Peggy and the remains of the beast’s tentacles out into a Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division (S.H.I.E.L.D.) facility where she meets Director Nick Fury (Jackson) and Agent Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and learns the bittersweet news that the Allied Forces won the war but she is now seventy years in the future, and thus forever cut off from her friends and loved ones.

T’Challa is a galaxy-renowned force for good who has a positive influence on even the Mad Titan himself!

While the first episode arguably played things a little safe, we really see the potential of a What If…? series with the second episode, “What If…T’Challa Became a Star-Lord?” (Andrews, 2021), which wildly deviates from the story of Guardians of the Galaxy (Gunn, 2014). Young T’Challa (Maddix Robinson) longed to explore beyond Wakanda but was shielded from the chaotic outside world by his beloved and overprotective father, T’Chaka (John Kani), only to be abducted due to a mistake by Yondu Udonta’s (Michael Rooker) subordinates. Surprisingly, he was excited at embarking on adventures throughout the cosmos with the Ravagers and, while T’Challa doesn’t possess the Black Panther’s near-superhuman abilities, he sports all of Peter Quill’s (Brian T. Delaney) gadgets in addition to his Wakandan fighting prowess. His greatest assets, however, are his charisma, diplomacy, and reputation as a Robin Hood-type figure. Indeed, T’Challa is far more competent, notorious, and respected than his mainstream MCU counterpart; not only does Korath the Pursuer (Djimon Hounsou) know who he is, he views sparring with Star-Lord as the greatest honour and willingly joins his crew. T’Challa’s positive influence means the Ravagers put their skills towards helping others rather than for personal reward, thus sparing Drax the Destroyer’s (Fred Tatasciore) family and even convincing Thanos (Josh Brolin) that his destructive aspirations weren’t the answer to the galaxy’s problems! Touched by T’Challa’s mission to save others after the presumed destruction of Wakanda, Nebula (Karen Gillan), now a far less violent and far more beautiful woman, proposes a heist to steal the Embers of Genesis, a cosmic dust capable of ending galactic hunger, from Taneleer Tivan/The Collector (Benicio del Toro). While sneaking around the Collector’s museum, T’Challa finds a Wakandan spacecraft and is angered to find that Yondu lied to him about Wakanda in order to help him realise his true calling as an adventurer. The two reconcile in the best way possible: by teaming up to fight with this much more formidable version of the Collector, who is enhanced by weapons, technology, and items retrieved from some of the MCU’s most powerful and prominent individuals and races. Thanks to their teamwork, the Collector is disarmed and left at the mercy of his captives, and T’Challa forgives Yondu’s deception before reuniting with T’Chaka and his people in Wakanda, bringing his two families together in celebration over their mutual friend. Across the world, however, a greater threat awaits when Ego (Kurt Russell) comes looking for his son, here a mere Dairy Queen employee.

Pym is revealed as the culprit but, after taking him into custody, Loki usurps his threat and conquers the world!

“What If…the World Lost Its Mightiest Heroes?” (Andrews, 2021) takes us back to the middle of Iron Man 2 (Favreau, 2010) and Nick Fury and Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow’s (Lake Bell) latest effort to recruit Tony Stark/Iron Man (Mick Wingert) to the Avengers Initiative. Fury is horrified when his attempt to stave off Stark’s palladium poisoning apparently has the unexpected side effect of killing the would-be Avenger; this tragedy is quickly followed by Thor Odinson (Hemsworth) being accidentally killed by Hawkeye’s errant arrow and the archer later being found dead while locked in an impenetrable S.H.I.E.L.D. cell. Fury suspects that his recruits are being targeted by an unknown party, and charges Natasha to escape Brock Rumlow’s (Frank Grillo) custody and make contact with Doctor Betty Ross (Stephanie Panisello). Though initially distrustful of Natasha due to her association with those who’ve hounded her friend, colleague, and former lover, Doctor Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Ruffalo), Betty is convinced to take a closer look at the injector used on Stark and theorises that a microscopic projectile fired from the needle killed the superhero. Hungry for blood after learning of Hawkeye’s death, Natasha agrees with Fury’s theory that their killer is targeting Avengers recruits; unfortunately, General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (Mike McGill) arrives looking to arrest Banner and sparks his transformation into the rampaging Hulk as in his solo film. However, the seemingly immortal Green Goliath also falls victim to the mysterious killer when he violently explodes from the inside out, and things escalate even further when Loki Laufeyson (Tom Hiddleston) arrives looking to avenge Thor’s death. Fury manages to buy himself one day to solve Thor’s murder on the promise of delivering the culprit to the God of Mischief and, when Natasha finds that a dead agent’s credentials were used to access S.H.I.E.L.D.’s database, she’s brutally beaten to death by an unseen assailant, and only able to tell Fury that all the deaths are relating to “hope”. This, however, is enough to piece together the perpetrator’s true identity: Doctor Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), who targeted Fury’s recruits in the guise of the size-altering Yellowjacket after his daughter, Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), died while working for S.H.I.E.L.D. A broken, bitter, twisted old man, Pym blames Fury and has become a deranged killer due to his grief and anger. However, Pym and his tech are outmatched when Fury is revealed to be Loki in disguise but, after Pym is defeated and taken into Asgardian custody, Loki double-crosses Fury and declares himself ruler of humanity. To combat this threat, Fury gets back to work assembling his super team, starting with calling Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel (Alexandra Daniels) back to Earth and uncovering Captain America’s frozen body.

A grief-stricken Dr. Strange finds he cannot save his love no matter how many times he tries to alter the past.

The show shifts over to the world of magic and mysticism for “What If…Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?” (Andrews, 2021), which presents a world where Dr. Strange and Doctor Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) are still a couple in a loving relationship. Fully supportive and enamoured by Dr. Strange, Christine encourages his ego and his skills as a surgeon, but sadly her influence doesn’t extend to his driving skills. However, in this world, Dr. Strange is relatively unharmed from the car crash that took his MCU counterpart’s hands but is left grief-stricken when Christine dies as a result of his negligence. In a bid to fill the void in his life, and his heart, Strange travels the world and, once again, ends up studying the mystic arts at Kamar-Taj under the tutelage of the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). Like his mainstream counterpart, Strange becomes the Master of the Mystic Arts after the Ancient One’s death and successfully bargains with the Dread Dormammu (Cumberbatch), but remains preoccupied with the mistakes of his past and the promises offered by the Eye of Agamotto’s time-bending abilities. Haunted by memories of happier times with Christine, Strange ignores the warnings of the Ancient One and his manservant, Wong (Benedict Wong), and uses the Eye to place his current consciousness into the body of his past self. Unfortunately, the tragedy still occurs no matter how safely he drives, which route he takes, or even his refusal to go to the award speech as Christine dies again and again whether he’s there or what he does. Dr. Strange’s anguish at being unable to save Christine isn’t helped by the Ancient One’s explanation that her death cannot be averted as it would create a potentially universe-destroying time paradox (if Strange prevents her death, he won’t become a sorcerer and be able to go back and save her).

Strange Supreme saves Christine, but only briefly and at the cost everything that ever is or was in his reality.

Refusing to believe that Christine is fated to die, and angered at the Ancient One’s refusal to help him break this “absolute point” in time, Dr. Strange uses the Eye to flee from the confrontation and consult the ancient tomes of the Lost Library of Cagliostro. There, he meets O’Bengh (Ike Amadi) and learns that one can potentially gain the power he requires by absorbing magical beings; thus, Dr. Strange conjures a variety of demonic, Lovecraftian, and magical creatures (including gnomes, familiars, dragons, and even the octopus-like creature Captain Carter fought). When they won’t willingly share their power, he resolves to forcibly take it, and quickly becomes obsessed with gaining more and more magical power from these entities over the course of centauries to become “Strange Supreme”. As he does so, he grows increasingly monstrous and takes on more of their attributes, but is shocked to learn from O’Bengh that he’ll never be powerful enough to achieve his dreams due to the Ancient One using magic from the Dark Dimension to split him in two and create two concurrent timelines. His other half, who took Wong’s advice and moved on from Christine’s death, is charged by an echo of the Ancient One to oppose his dark doppelgänger before his ambition erases all of reality. When Strange Supreme’s attempts to coerce his other half into joining his cause are rejected, a magical battle ensues that spans multiple dimensions. Despite Wong’s protective spells and Strange’s efforts to talk down his dark half, Strange Supreme’s centauries of basking in the powers of countless magical beings makes him the superior and he’s ultimately able to absorb his missing half. Finally whole again, Strange Supreme succeeds in undoing Christine’s death but is transformed into a demonic being by the effort this requires; understandably, she is horrified by his nightmarish appearance, and he’s left helpless to stop the time paradox from devouring all of his reality. Desperate to preserve the world, he begs the Watcher for help but he refuses to get involved, despite wishing to punish Strange Supreme’s reckless arrogance, and the once Sorcerer Supreme is left alone, despondent, and remorseful in the tiniest pocket of reality with nothing but his grief and regret for company.

Banner is horrified to find the world, and many of its heroes, infected by a zombie virus.

One popular, recurring storyline in Marvel Comics in recent years has been the Marvel Zombies spin-off (Various, 2005 to present) that tells of a devastating zombie plague overwhelming the Marvel universe (and beyond). A version of this reality is explored in “What If…Zombies?!” (Andrews, 2021), which finds the Hulk crash-landing into the Sanctum Sanctorum as in Avengers: Infinity War (Russo and Russo, 2018) only to find it, and the streets of New York City, deserted. When Iron Man, Dr. Strange, and Wong arrive to take care of Ebony Maw (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) and Cull Obsidian (Terry Notary), Banner’s elation soon turns to horror when the three are revealed to be vicious, flesh-eating zombies who tear Thanos’s children to shreds, instantly infecting them in the process, and Banner is only saved from the same fate thanks to the timely intervention of Dr. Strange’s Cloak of Levitation, a swarm of ants commanded by Hope van Dyne/The Wasp, and Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Hudson Thames). Spider-Man’s amusing orientation video shows that the MCU’s zombies largely confirm to the “rules” commonly associated with their kind; they’re decomposing corpses with a voracious hunger who turn others with a single bite and can only be killed by removing the head or destroying the brain. However, they’re not as mindless or shambling as traditional zombies; they’re intelligent enough to co-ordinate their attacks and utilise tech like the Iron Man armour and magic like the Sling Rings. In a change of pace, the Watcher reveals a definite origin for the zombie outbreak by relating how Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) became infected with the virus while stuck in the Quantum Realm; when she bit Hank Pym, he brought the virus back with him and the entire world was quickly overrun once the Avengers were turned.

The survivors narrowly escape Zombie Wanda, completely unaware of a greater threat waiting in Wakanda.

Banner joins up with the few uninfected survivors and learns from Okoye (Danai Gurira) of a possible cure at Camp Lehigh, New Jersey; the group travel to the Grand Central Station, where they’re attacked by zombified versions of Sam Wilson/The Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Hawkeye, and Captain America. Although they lose Harold “Happy” Hogan (Jon Favreau), the group is able to get the train working and fend off the zombies thanks to Okoye and the Wasp. However, the train is attacked by Zombie Cap, who infects Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp) and forces Bucky to end his undead existence, retrieving his shield in the process, but Hope is also infected from a small cut she receives after disposing of Sharon. Although Peter tries to remain optimistic that she’ll be cured before she can turn, Hope sacrifices herself to atone for her part in causing the outbreak by carrying the group through a horde of zombies and dropping them off at Camp Lehigh. There, they find the zombies refuse to breach the camp thanks to the presence of the Mind Stone in the Vision’s (Paul Bettany) head; he and the severed head of Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) reveal that the Mind Stone’s properties can reverse the zombie virus, and the group is excited to spread the cure throughout the world from Wakanda. However, Banner learns that they’re not the first to respond to the Vision’s beacon, and Bucky is horrified to find that the Vision has been feeding parts of other survivors (including T’Challa) to a zombified version of Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) since she’s proven resistant to the Mind Stone and he’s been unable to kill her due to his love for her. When Wanda breaks free and proves uncontrollable due to her powers and hunger, the Vision rips the Mind Stone out of his head to atone for his actions and the group’s escape is covered by Bucky and the Hulk, who finally emerges from Banner’s psyche and is able to resist the zombie’s bite and hold back Wanda so the others can take off. The one-legged T’Challa, beheaded Lang, and shellshocked Peter console themselves with the knowledge that they’ll be able to save the world once they reach Wakanda, completely unaware that the nation has already succumbed to the infection and is under the rule of a zombified Thanos and his partially-completed Infinity Gauntlet!

Killmonger rescues Stark and becomes his most trusted confidante to kill his way to his birthright.

We then go back to where the MCU all started in “What If…Killmonger Rescued Tony Stark?” (Andrews, 2021), which recreates the opening moments of Iron Man (Favreau, 2008) with one key difference: right as Tony Stark is about to be injured by one of his own missiles, he’s saved by N’Jadaka/Erik Stevens/Killmonger (Jordan), who fends off the Ten Rings soldiers looking to kidnap Stark and thus means that the genius, billionaire philanthropist never learns the humility or courage that led to him becoming Iron Man. Instead, he remains a conceited, arrogant, self-serving glory hound who believes that he needs to build bigger, better weapons to protect America’s interests. To that end, he drafts in Killmonger, who wastes no time in publicly outing Obadiah Stane (Kiff VandenHeuvel) as the man who bankrolled the Ten Rings’ attack on Stark, and Stark is so grateful to his saviour that he quickly promotes Killmonger to his new Chief Operations Officer, alienating Virginia “Pepper” Potts (Beth Hoyt) in the process. Killmonger swiftly becomes Stark’s closest friend and confidante and, together, they create robot drones, the “Liberators”, based on Killmonger’s fandom for anime. Killmonger pushes Stark to use Vibranium as a power source for the Liberators, and Stark sends in Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes (Don Cheadle) to steal some from Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis). However, the Black Panther attacks the meeting to recover stolen Vibranium, only for Killmonger to reveal his true intentions and kill T’Challa with one of Stark’s weapons. He chastises Rhodey for wearing the uniform of his oppressors and kills him with the Black Panther’s claw to make it seem like they killed each other; thanks to Just A Rather Very Intelligent System (J.A.R.V.I.S.; Bettany), however, Killmonger’s actions are revealed to Stark. Stark tries to avenge his friend’s murder using a Liberator, but Killmonger easily bests the drone and kills Stark with a Dora Milaje spear, which escalates the tensions between the United States and Wakanda into all-out war. General Ross assumes control of Stark’s assets and the Liberators are pushed into mass production; Killmonger then kills Klaue in order to deceive the Wakandans, then seizes control of the Liberators to lead his people in “defeating” the invading army. His victory and battle prowess wins over his uncle, T’Chaka, and earns him the mantle of the Black Panther; however, T’Challa’s astral warnings of Killmonger’s impending defeat are left a distinct possibility not only due to Ross’s obsession with continuing the war but also when Pepper and Shuri (Ozioma Akagha) agree to work together to expose Killmonger’s deception.

This Thor just wants to party, but his good time is spoiled by Captain Marvel and Jane blabbing to Frigga.

“What If…Thor Were an Only Child?” (Andrews, 2021) lightens things up a bit by retelling the events of Thor (Branagh, 2011); in this version of the story, in the absence of a brother to grow up alongside, Thor is little more than a lackadaisical, party-loving frat-boy who, despite still being worthy of Mjölnir, is far more interested in wasting time revelling with his friends than following his mother, Frigga’s (Josette Eales), instructions to behave or becoming a bore like his father, Odin Allfather (Anthony Hopkins). To avoid the all-seeing gaze of Heimdall (Idris Elba), Thor and his drinking buddies head the Midgard, the most backwater, insignificant world in all the Nine Realms, and invite guests from all over to join them in a massive, nonstop party. Tracking the cosmic disturbance and fearful of an alien invasion, Doctor Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) investigates and is both disturbed to find that Thor’s parties are so out of control that they can kill planets and won over by the Thunder God’s otherworldly charm. Jane and her intern, Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings), join the party, quickly being swept up in all the intergalactic chaos and merriment on display; Darcy even marries Howard the Duck (Seth Green), and Jane and Thor get matching tattoos, but soon wake up to massive hangovers and the arrival of S.H.I.E.L.D. Acting Director Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) is deeply concerned that Thor is leaving a trail of destruction as he takes his party on the road, and calls in Captain Marvel to assist with the perceived threat. Thor’s reunion with fellow party animal Prince Loki of Jotunheim is interrupted by Captain Marvel’s arrival; Thor brushes off her demands that he leaves, and a fight ensues that sees the two battle all across the globe. Despite Thor’s petulant, childish nature, the two are seemingly equally matched in terms of power and durability, but Carol’s forced to hold back her full power to avoid damaging the world or endangering lives. Since Jane disagrees with attacking or eliminating Thor since she’s so enamoured by him, she uses her tech to contact Heimdall and literally tells on Thor to Frigga. As Hill prepares an all-out nuclear strike against Thor, he’s terrified by Frigga’s impending arrival and begs his guests to help him clean up all evidence of their shenanigans. Despite Thor’s best, most frantic efforts to put right all the anarchy he and his friends had caused, she sees through his deception; however, rather than being mad at Jane for selling him out, he thanks her for teaching him a lesson in humility and asks her out…only for he, and the Watcher, to be stunned by the sudden appearance of an alternate version of Ultron!

This alternate version of Ultron is such a threat to the multiverse that the Watcher is forced to intervene.

This cliff-hanger is explained in the following episode, “What If…Ultron Won?” (Andrews, 2021), which presents a post-apocalyptic world where Black Widow and Hawkeye are the only Avengers left to oppose the all-powerful Ultron. In this world, Hawkeye not only sports his ridiculous mohawk and a mechanical right arm, but Ultron successfully fulfilled its goal to cause an extinction-level event by claiming the Vision’s body as its own, killing Iron Man, Cap, and Thor, and launching a worldwide nuclear attack that decimated humanity. When Thanos arrived looking to retrieve the Mind Stone, Ultron split him in two with one shot and claimed the Infinity Stones for itself, becoming a God-like being capable of laying waste to entire worlds and Realms with its endless supply of drones. Asgard, Ego, Xandar, and countless others all fall before Ultron’s power and even Captain Marvel is unable to oppose it; having eradicated the vast majority of life across the universe and ascended to a higher pane of existence, Ultron not only sees but also hears the Watcher. Although the Watcher previously considered intervening in Dr. Strange’s story, he held true to his vow of non-interference since he deals in a cosmic balance beyond the lives of mere mortals, even ones as powerful as the Master of the Mystic Arts. However, Ultron’s threat is so terrifying even to this cosmic observer that the Watcher is sorely tempted to assist Natasha and Clint in their efforts to coerce Zola’s artificial intelligence into helping them. The Watcher is pleased when their perseverance pays off but, although Zola is able to possess one of Ultron’s drones, he cannot shut down Ultron’s hive mind as Ultron is outside of the known universe, meaning Clint is forced to sacrifice himself so that Natasha and Zola can escape. The Watcher is aghast when Ultron not only does the impossible and breaches his cosmic observatory but is also able to match even the Watcher’s cosmic power. Their battle sees them literally smashing the dimensional barriers into numerous alternate realities and sees Ultron devour a whole universe and force the Watcher to flee. While Ultron prepares to lay waste to the entire multiverse, the Watcher is forced to turn to Strange Supreme for help in opposing Ultron’s threat.

The Guardians of the Multiverse join forces to end Ultron’s threat.

This story, and the entire show, comes to a head in the final episode, “What If…the Watcher Broke His Oath?” (Andrews, 2021), which sees the Watcher recruiting Captain Carter, T’Challa Star-Lord, Killmonger, Party Thor, and a previously unseen version of Gamora (Cynthia McWilliams) to join Strange Supreme as the Guardians of the Multiverse. He enlists each of them right as they’re in the middle of tying up loose ends from their respective episodes and emphasises that every one of them is needed to protect something even bigger than their individual lives or concerns. Captain Carter immediately recognises the gravity of the situation, while Strange Supreme sees this as his chance at true redemption, and, despite the odds, they all tentatively agree to work together to combat Ultron, steal his Soul Stone, and destroy it using Gamora’s “Infinity Crusher” device. While Strange Supreme struggles to contain the dark magics within his body, Gamora is troubled by Killmonger’s obsession with Ultron’s technology, and Thor accidentally attracts Ultron’s attention, but the group is thankfully shielded by Strange Supreme’s protection spell. Following Captain Carter’s lead, the Guardians are able to launch a co-ordinated attack that allows T’Challa to swipe the Soul Stone; when Ultron makes short work of Zombie Wanda and follows the Guardians to its home reality, it gets summarily pummelled by the Guardians’ repeated attacks and Strange Supreme’s ability to counteract both Ultron’s Time Stone and match its enlarged form with his monstrous magic. Although they’re stunned to find the Infinity Crusher ineffectual because it and the Infinity Stones are from different realities, Ultron’s threat is ended when Captain Carter helps Natasha avenge Clint and fire an arrow containing Zola’s consciousness into Ultron’s armour, erasing its sentience once and for all. In the aftermath, Killmonger claims Ultron’s armour and proposes using the Infinity Stones to “fix” their universes; when they refuse, he attempts to destroy them and they’re saved by a Zola-controlled Vision, who tries to take the Infinity Stones for himself. Before they can properly get into a potentially devastating battle over the gems, Strange Supreme freezes them in time and seals them within a pocket dimension, ending their threat once and for all. The Watcher trusts Strange Supreme with watching over the two, and returns everyone to their proper place and time; since Natasha’s world was left lifeless by Ultron, the Watcher sends her to help Nick Fury overthrow Loki, and then alters his vow of impassive observation to a pledge to protect the multiverse when needed.

The Summary:
At first, I wasn’t too sold on What If…?’s animation style; the slick, computerised cel-shaded look has never been a favourite of mine, but I was quickly won over by it due to how closely each character and episode mirrors their live-action counterparts. Everything from the recreation of certain shots, to the musical cues, to the costumes and likenesses perfectly emulates the source material each episode is based on, meaning we get the brown-hued colour scheme of World War Two for Captain Carter, the barrage of bizarre cosmic colours for Star-Lord, and the industrial, high-tech grey of Stark and S.H.I.E.L.D. facilities. Although some notable names from the MCU didn’t return to lend their voices to their iconic characters, What If…? employs the services of some incredibly gifted soundalikes and even goes the extra mile in presenting a version of Bruce Banner that resembles both Edward Norton and Mark Ruffalo, which is fitting considering we encounter this character between his solo film and his first big MCU crossover. Animation also means that What If…? is theoretically able to do absolutely anything it desires, regardless of budget, and is limited only be the imagination of the animators; thus, while things are a little on the safe side with slightly different retelling of Captain America: The First Avenger, Thor, and other MCU films, it’s not long before we’re seeing massive Lovecraftian creatures, a whole host of Marvel heroes interacting in ways we’ve not really seen before, an additional taste of the cosmic madness of the universe (and multiverse), and a wide variety of both horrifying and oddball concepts to really test the waters of what the MCU is capable of going forward.

Captain Carter and T’Challa Star-Lord are just as competent, if not more so, as their MCU counterparts.

I really liked that, despite their reversed roles, Peggy and Steve still have a mutual attraction based on mutual respect and their respective struggles; Peggy faces an uphill battle due to being a woman in a male-orientated world (and war) that constantly weighs her down even after she’s enhanced by the super soldier serum, and of course Steve has been overlooked and undervalued his entire life due to his gaunt frame and sickly nature. While everyone else is either incredulous due to her being a woman or impressed by her fighting prowess because she is a woman, and she must prove her worth through her deeds to win them over, Steve admires the person that she is and her fighting spirit; he’s the only one that doesn’t judge her for her gender and who doesn’t need convincing that she’s the right person for the job and is only too grateful to be an active combatant alongside her in the Hydra Stomper. Peggy is also quite different in the role; like Steve, she attacks it with a sense of duty and honour, but she also takes far more joy in her newfound abilities. There’s a sense that she’s finally able to let loose, that she’s been given the physical gifts to realise her full potential, and she literally dives head-first into making the most of that opportunity. T’Challa’s characterisation as a galaxy-wide force for good is a fitting tribute to the late Chadwick Boseman; unlike Peter Quill, T’Challa is a well-respected and competent space mercenary, and I loved the running gag that he’s somehow able to convince even the most maladjusted individuals to give up their villainous or tyrannical ways simply through presenting a convincing argument. Korath is only too willing to change sides simply out of his worship of Star-Lord, and his crew follow his lead into doing good deeds simply because he was such a positive influence on them. Unfortunately, he’s not able to have the same influence on the Collector, who’s not only blinded by his position in this universe, but also driven by his inherent greed and given a major power boost thanks to his artefacts. However, while threats still remain in this timeline, on the surface it seems to be a far more peaceful and united universe simply thanks to T’Challa’s positive influence on others.

What If…? isn’t afraid to get very dark and show twisted or corrupted versions of these popular characters.

Things take a turn to the dark side once the Avengers (especially Stark) start getting killed off; What If…? is a self-contained show within the larger MCU multiverse, meaning literally anything can happen to anyone, and seeing the franchise’s core six heroes be so brutally murdered really hammers that home. It also gives Hank Pym, someone introduced later into the MCU, a chance to be a more prominent player in this sandbox; seeing him active in the MCU’s first phase is a great way of fleshing out the world in a unique way, especially as he’s become a murdering psychopath. This is a Pym whose neuroses and paranoia have been pushed to breaking point, which deftly showcases just how much of a threat a guy with Pym’s intellect and technology can be to even the most superhuman individuals. Of course, the epitome of dark character turns is the tragic tale of Strange Supreme; it’s absolutely heart-breaking to see Dr. Strange left so desperate and despondent by Christine’s loss that he fell deeper and deeper to the darkness. His frustration and anguish at being unable to change the past see him become obsessed with gaining more and more power, to the point where he is fixated only on being reunited with his love. This makes him blind to all pleas, even those of his uncorrupted counterpart, and it isn’t until all of reality is about to be erased forever that he realises the error of his ways. Sadly, by then, it’s much too late for him to undo anything; Christine once again dies in his arms and everything that ever was is unravelled due to his time paradox; even the Watcher judges his heinous actions, and the once mighty Strange Supreme is left alone and repentant in the tiniest slither of reality. It’s a poignant and gut-wrenching take on the snarky, stubborn, and arrogant Sorcerer Supreme, one that shows just how dangerous a threat he could be if he lost his strong moral compass, and it’s a testament to the show that the character remained a tragic and relatable figure right up until the end rather than simply being a malevolent antagonist.

What If…? showed characters are their grimmest and worst and also at their most carefree.

Easily the darkest tale is the inclusion of zombies; never before has the MCU veered so closely towards traditional horror and I really appreciated the bleak, gory change of pace. It was fantastic seeing the MCU’s most powerful characters reduced to animalistic ghouls, forcing the few survivors to battle their lifelong friends and making painful sacrifices to ensure the safety of others against overwhelming odds. This was also a prime opportunity to show a new side to the Vision; him luring in survivors just to feed his love is a haunting glimpse at the darker side of his cold, calculating logic. We’ve seen such behaviour, this overpowering sense of denial, in zombie films before and, here, it served as a gruesome reminder of just how close to the brink this alternate reality is to total collapse. This continued in Killmonger’s welcome reappearance, with his alternate tale basically showing what could have happened if he had succeeded in his goals of reclaiming his Wakandan birthright; Killmonger was always one of the MCU’s more driven and dangerous antagonists and his episode showed just how truly vindictive and sadistic he really was. He had no qualms about deceiving or using anyone and any resource at his disposal, and even incited an all-out war just so that he could get himself into a position of trust and power, which serves as a stark reminder to just how ruthless a villain he really was. The party-loving version of Thor is the polar opposite; Party Thor cares little for battle or being a king and just wants to enjoy himself. He revels in being the centre of attention and throwing the biggest, most outrageous parties in all the Nine Realms and is lauded amongst his guests as being the wildest party animal around. Thor is a consummate free spirit and a friend to all; alien races, Gods, and recognisable beings from all across the cosmos cheer his name and share in his revelry, making for some of the most light-hearted and amusing moments in the entire series as Surtur (Clancy Brown) tries it on with Lady Liberty and Frost Giants deface Mount Rushmore. This episode also leads to one of the best fist fights in the series as Thor and Captain Marvel trade blows, but he delights in the fight as much as he does in enjoying himself with mead, and only the disapproval of his mother finally shakes Thor from his apathy and pushes him to make amends for his reckless merriment.

The Watcher is forced to take action for the first time in his long life in order to defend the multiverse.

Of course, things come to a suitably dramatic and action-packed conclusion with the final two episodes, which finally force the Watcher into action. Up until then, the watcher existed outside of the normal universe, powerful and cosmic enough to remain completely undetected, but Ultron’s sentience and force grows to such an extent that it’s able to sense the Watcher, breach his observatory, and begin a maniacal campaign to conquer and destroy the entire multiverse. Untold aeons of quietly observing the multiverse haven’t exactly dampened the Watcher’s power cosmic, but in the face to Ultron’s might, enhanced by the six Infinity Stones, the enigmatic onlooker is forced to do the one thing he has never done and ask for help, calling upon the characters he has been observing and asking them to intervene where he cannot. Seeing these wildly different versions of these characters interacting was a blast; they arguably got on the same page much faster than the regular Avengers (which is no doubt due to the short length of the episodes) and were able to launch a united attack on Ultron as a result. Indeed, Ultron kind of got a bit shafted in the last episode; it went from going toe-to-toe with a cosmic being to getting battered about by a handful of mortals and Godlings simply because the Guardians were able to keep the pressure on and keep Ultron from activating the Infinity Stones. Realistically, Ultron could’ve just “snapped” them all away, but then that wouldn’t be anywhere near as exhilarating for a final battle now, would it? Seeing Killmonger claim the gems and just the idea of what his twisted imagination would use them for was a cool moment, as was the idea that he might someday escape his trap to threaten the multiverse again, and just about the only issue I had with that last episode was the random inclusion of a Gamora when they could’ve maybe employed Zombie Wanda instead. Overall, though, I thoroughly enjoyed this series; the presentation, the humour, the fun twists on established characters, and the bizarre stories were all really fun and engaging and I can’t wait to see more from this as the MCU continues to expand into more and ore obscure concepts.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

Did you enjoy What If…?? Which episode was your favourite, and which of the alternate characters did you like the most? Did you enjoy the Watcher’s inclusion and characterisation? What did you think to all the cameos and the animation style? Did you enjoy seeing Ultron as an all-powerful force and what did you think to its battle with the Watcher? Were you also disappointed that Gamora didn’t get her own episode? Are you a fan of the What If…? comics and, if so, which was your favourite? What other hypothetical scenarios would you like to see explored in a future season? Whatever your thoughts on What If…?, sign up to drop a comment down below and check back next Sunday for the final instalment of Multiverse Madness.

Talking Movies [Multiverse Madness]: Doctor Strange


In September 1961, DC Comics published “Flash of Two Worlds” (Fox, et al), a landmark story that brought together two generations of the Flash: the Golden Age Jay Garrick and the Silver Age Barry Allen thanks to the concept of the multiverse, an infinite number of parallel universes that allowed any and all stories and characters to co-exist and interact. Marvel Comics would also adopt this concept and, to celebrate the release of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (Raimi, 2022) this month, I’m both celebrating the Master of the Mystic Arts and exploring the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MCU) equivalent of the multiverse every Sunday of May.


Released: 4 November 2016
Director: Scott Derrickson
Distributor:
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Budget: $165 to 236.6 million
Stars:
Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Mads Mikkelsen, Benedict Wong, and Tilda Swinton

The Plot:
Doctor Stephen Strange’s (Cumberbatch) life is a celebrated neurosurgeon is shattered after a car accident robs him of the use of his hands. When traditional medicine fails him, he looks for healing, and hope, under the tutelage of the enigmatic Ancient One (Swinton). Arrogantly mastering spells and magics in a short space of time, Dr. Strange is forced to choose between his life of fortune and status and defending the world from the dark forces rogue sorcerer Kaecilius (Mikkelsen) seeks to unleash.

The Background:
The creation of legendary artist Steve Ditko, Dr. Strange started out as a five-page pitch prior to his debut in the pages of Strange Tales and was known for his elaborate spells and quirks and bizarre adventures. Dr. Strange is renowned as one of Marvel’s most pivotal figureheads, and actually has quite the storied history with adaptation. Like a number of Marvel superheroes, the Master of the Mystic Arts first flirted with the silver screen in the seventies thanks to an extremely obscure live-action adaptation that I’m sure the vast majority of people have never heard of. Dr. Strange also cropped up in Marvel cartoons over the years, and even had a feature-length animated adventure back in 2007, but another live-action adaptation very nearly happened in the late-eighties and mid-nineties as well. After many failed attempts to bring the character to cinema screens throughout the 2000s, the legalities surrounding Dr. Strange were tidied up when, in 2014, Dr. Strange was officially announced to be part of the MCU’s third phase of films. Scott Derrickson was chosen to helm the film after producing not only a twelve-page scene for the film but also a ninety-minute pitch, concept art, and even an animatic all at his own expense. Derrickson’s background was in horror, and he aimed to ensure that he had actors of the highest calibre to experience the film’s fantastical elements. Although many actors were considered for the title role, Derrickson (and many fans) always envisioned Benedict Cumberbatch as the Sorcerer Supreme, and the actor took great care to properly reproduce the character’s hand gestures from Ditko’s art work. Derrickson also returned to Ditko’s original art for the film’s special effects, which aimed to bombard the viewer with surreal imagery and fantastical visuals to set the film apart from others in the MCU. Despite being one of Marvel’s more obscure superheroes, Doctor Strange was a massive success; its worldwide gross of almost $680 million ensured that the film would receive a sequel, and the film was universally praised for its visuals and originality in a genre quickly becoming bloated with superhero adventures.

The Review:
I remember being quite excited and intrigued when Doctor Strange was announced and the first trailers dropped; Dr. Strange is another Marvel superhero who I am not really all that familiar with, as my reading of him is limited to a few sporadic appearances in other stories and the comics collected in his Marvel Platinum compilation. Thus, the bulk of my knowledge about him comes from what I’ve read online, his appearances in the 1994 Spider-Man cartoon, and the aforementioned animated feature; however, it turned out that this was more than enough to make me familiar with the character, some of his abilities, and a couple of his major enemies ahead of seeing his live-action debut for the first time.

Arrogant neurosurgeon Dr. Strange is ironically left unable to operate after a devastating car crash.

When we’re first introduced to Dr. Strange, he’s already a wealthy, acclaimed, and arrogant neurosurgeon; so talented are Dr. Strange’s abilities that he can easily perform life-saving brain surgery while identifying music tracks, and not only instantly identify a premature case of brain death and operate on a man already declared clinically dead but also perform complex invasive procedures into the brain without the aid of scans or camera imagery. Dr. Strange is so full of himself that he talks down to others at every opportunity, offering little in the way of professional courtesy or respect, and routinely turns down surgical prospects that he deems unworthy of this time and attention in order to be given a real challenge. He believes that a normal, everyday Emergency Room is a “butcher’s shop” that is capable of only saving one life at a time compared to the scope of his more specialised field of expertise, which has brought him fame and acclaim. This has bought him a luxurious apartment full of expensive clothes and accessories, and a supercar that he drives with reckless abandon that is only compounded by his insistence on talking on speaker phone while rocketing around tight, winding roads outside of the city; distracted by his phone, Dr. Strange is blindsided and sent careening down a cliff side in a horrific car crash that leaves him a bloodied, broken mess. Although he survives, his hands are completed shattered from the accident and, following many painful and desperate surgeries, he is left frustrated and angered by a constant trembling in his hands that spells the end of his surgical career.

Former lover Christine is the closet thing Dr. Strange has to a friend.

Dr. Strange’s condescending attitude and tendency to show off means he clashes with fellow surgeon Nicodemus “Nick” West (Michael Stuhlbarg), a fully qualified and experienced doctor whom Dr. Strange sees as an incompetent fool at the start of the film. Dr. Strange partially blames Nick for the state of his wrecked hands mid-way through the film, but he is forced to turn to him later on when his trembling hands still prove incapable of performing surgery. However, while also frustrated by Dr. Strange’s attitude, his medical skill and sheer genius in the operating room are a source of awe to Doctor Christine Palmer (McAdams), a former lover of Strange’s and the closest thing he has to a friend. While he helps her with a misdiagnosed patient, he does so mainly to stick it to Nick and more to show off his incredible talents rather than out of any kind of professional courtesy, and, though the two share some banter given their previous relationship, she knows all-too-well how vain and self-centred Dr. Strange is. However, even she couldn’t predict the sudden shift in his attitude following the accident; where he was once arrogant and condescending, Dr. Strange becomes a broken, infuriated, embittered man who lashes out at her attempts to help, drains his fortune on experimental procedures, and is so driven to desperation that he seeks out Jonathan Pangborn (Benjamin Bratt), a former paraplegic who made a miraculous recovery and points him towards Kamar-Taj.

Mordo is a devout follower of the Ancient One, an all-powerful sorcerer with a dark secret.

Using the last of his resources, Dr. Strange travels to Kathmandu to seek out the mysterious Kamar-Taj and attracts the attention of Karl Mordo (Ejiofor), who saves Strange from a brutal beating at the hands of muggers and brings him to the doorstep of a dilapidated building, where he is introduced to “The Ancient One”. Even in his pain and suffering, Dr. Strange remains sceptical and somewhat insolent; this is understandable, to be fair, given he’s a man of science and logic and the idea of magic is as bizarre to him as it would be to us, but his insolence is only exacerbated thanks to his relentless ego and temper. Mordo empathises with Strange’s scepticism, and even relates to it, but is a far more respectful and informed individual after learning from the Ancient One. The Ancient One literally forces Dr. Strange to open his eyes to a wider world, one beyond the limits of the physical body and his rational perspective on life, by pushing him into the Astral Dimension by separating his Astral Form from his body. There, beyond time and space and the limits of reality, he is given the briefest glimpse of the vast, dangerous wonder of the multiverse. Though cast away from Kamar-Taj, Dr. Strange’s stubbornness impresses Mordo, who is able to convince the Ancient One to give the damaged neurosurgeon a chance to redeem himself under their tutelage, despite the similarities she sees between Strange and Kaecilius.

Though a quick study, Dr. Strange struggles to let go of his scepticism and overcome his physical ailments.

What follows is an extended training montage in which the Ancient One introduces to Dr. Strange (an the audience) the logistics of magic and how it works in the MCU; through training and hard work, sorcerers are able to draw upon energies from across the multiverse to conjure weapons, cast spells, and work wonders. Because of the damage to his hands, Strange initially struggles with the physical aspects of his training, but is humbled when he sees an amputee performing spells and learns that he must set aside his ego, and his disbelief, in order to succeed; the Ancient One pushes him to this revelation by stranding him on Mount Everest and forcing him to transport himself back or risk death. Thankfully (or conveniently, depending on your perspective), Dr. Strange possesses a photographic memory; just as this allowed him to acquire Medical Doctorate and PhD at the same time, this means that he can digest multiple volumes from the Kamar-Taj library both while awake and asleep thanks to utilising his Astral Form. Dr. Strange’s thirst for knowledge and incredible learning ability impresses the Kamar-Taj librarian, Wong (Wong), who puts Strange onto more advanced tomes and warns him against stealing from the Ancient One’s private collection. Stoic and gruff, Wong provides much of the film’s comic relief, but it’s also through him (and while learning combat alongside Mordo) that Dr. Strange learns more about Kaecilius and how he fell from grace.

Kaecilius is determined to expose the Ancient One and “save” the world from death and suffering.

Kaecilius was introduced at the very start of the film, when he and his zealots attacked Kamar-Taj, and stole pages from one of the library’s many mystical tomes before managing to escape from the Ancient One after one hell of a visually impressive confrontation in what we later learn is the “Mirror Dimension”, a pocket reality where the environment is constantly shifting and changed around the inhabitants as the caster dictates. Proud and headstrong, Kaecilius questioned the Ancient One’s teachings and turned against his teacher after learning that the Ancient One was drawing forbidden powers from the Dark Dimension to extend her lifespan and grant her her awesome powers. A cold, driven man, Kaecilius believes her to be a hypocrite who deceived all of her pupils and, alongside those he has convinced to his cause, works to decipher the pages he stole from Kamar-Taj to both draw from that same dark energy and expose the Ancient One’s true nature. This sees him, and his fellow zealots, become imbued with the malevolent influence of the Dread Dormammu (Cumberbatch), a primordial cosmic entity that is seemingly the embodiment of hatred and seeks to infest and conquer all realities using sorcerers like Kaecilius as puppets. Kaecilius, sadly, falls into the same trap as many MCU villains in that he’s largely a waste of a talented actor and disappointingly absent for much of the film; spoken about as a kind of bogeyman and as a dark mirror of Dr. Strange, Kaecilius ends up being a lot like Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) in that he makes an impression when he is on screen thanks to Mikkelsen’s scowling countenance and silky-smooth line delivery but ends up being a regrettably forgettable villain who is simply there to give Dr. Strange someone to fight against and strive to be the opposite of.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Magic such as this is a tricky concept to bring to life, and was wholly new to the MCU at the time; we had seen a version of magic before, of course, one that is just as much attributed to near-God-like alien physiology and technology, but had never seen literal, unequivocal magical spells and abilities before. Thus, it was smart of the film to introduce this franchise-changing concept slowly, and in a way that kept things tantalisingly grounded (for the most part) while hinting at magic’s incredible (and near-limitless potential). Sorcerers tend to limit their magic to glowing, sparking whips, shields, or melee weapons and to instantaneously shift from one location to another, and often focus their abilities through weapons or objects such as the Staff of the Living Tribunal or the Sling Ring. The film slowly develops the wealth and potential of magic as it progresses, localising it in the mysterious foreign land of Kamar-Taj and then expanding it to encompass more familiar and urban locations, such as New York City. This allows us to see that this kind of magic has always existed in the MCU, we just haven’t experienced it yet, and it was smart to frame magic, and the secret of Kamar-Taj, as a mystery that Dr. Strange must solve.

Dr. Strange mostly focuses on defensive magic, but recklessly experiments with the Time Stone.

Wong reveals to Dr. Strange that the true purpose of Kamar-Taj, and the sorcerers, is to man three Sanctum Sanctorums across the world and continuously fend off threats from beyond their world, such as Dormammu, in an on-going battle of light against darkness. Despite everything he’s seen and learned, this is where Dr. Strange initially chooses to bow out since he has no intention of fighting a magical war, but he is forced to fight alongside Mordo and Wong when Kaecilius suddenly attacks the Sanctum Sanctorums. Though a talented and peerless surgeon, Dr. Strange struggles to learn the ways of magic; even after absorbing knowledge from Wong’s library, he is severely outmatched against Kaecilius and his followers, and succeeds only through luck, the use of rudimentary spells, and the intervention of the Cloak of Levitation, a semi-sentient cape that allows him to fly and adds more comic relief to the film. Dr. Strange’s scepticism soon turns to an insatiable thirst for knowledge and to challenge himself by experimenting with more and more advanced magic; this not only leads him to steal volumes from the library and question the nature of Kamar-Taj, but also to experiment with the Eye of Agamotto. This ancient relic houses the Time Stone and allows the user to control the flow of time itself, localising it to reverse or speed up time as they dictate, and Wong and Mordo are angered by Strange’s recklessness with the Infinity Stone. Mordo, in particular, is outraged at Strange’s careless tampering with the laws of reality, something he believes should be protected at all costs, just as he whole-heartedly believes in the teachings and standards set by the Ancient One.  

The Ancient One teaches Dr. Strange about the vast dangers of the multiverse which dwarf his ego.

The multiverse is presented as a veritable acid trip, a bizarre bombardment of colours, energy, and surreal environments that overwhelm Dr. Strange’s perception of reality and throw all logic out of the window. This, and the fantastical nature of Dr. Strange, allows the film to stand out from others in the MCU with some truly trippy visuals, such as New York collapsing in on itself, Dr. Strange’s Astral Form directing Christine’s attempts to save his physical body (and even killing one of Kaecilius’s followers, something he is aghast at thanks to his Hippocratic Oath), and worlds full of fantastic visuals, warped gravity, and cosmic impossibilities that exist side-by-side with a Dark Dimension full of malice and hatred, where only malevolence lives. Seduced by Dormammu’s influence, Kaecilius longs to destroy all concepts of time and allow the Dark Dimension to envelop the world in a perverted attempt to “save” it. So driven by his conviction and power is Kaecilius that he fatally wounds the Ancient One, but not before revealing that the Ancient One has been drawing power from the Dark Dimension. Before dying, the Ancient One explains to Dr. Strange, in the Astral Dimension, that her methods were necessary in order to defend the world and that such bending of the rules will be necessary to balance out Mordo’s steadfast nature and defeat Kaecilius.

Dr. Strange successfully bargains with Dormammu, but Mordo is left disillusioned by deception.

Indeed, Dr. Strange is faced with an apocalyptic scenario when Kaecilius and his zealots conjure Dormammu in Hong Kong, leading to widespread chaos and destruction and the deaths of Wong and many other sorcerers. Taking the Ancient One’s words to heart, Dr. Strange sees no other option but to first reverse time to restore those who have fallen and journey to the Dark Dimension himself and confront Dormammu head-on. There, in a world of swirling, nightmarish, eldritch horror, we see how truly gigantic the scope of the MCU is as the titanic cosmic being that is the Dread Dormammu dwarfs the fledging sorcerer and threatens to overcome the entire world and spread his reach to every man, woman, and child. However, Dr. Strange has the last laugh when he unleashes the power of the Time Stone to trap Dormammu in an ever-repeating loop of time; there, Dormammu’s continual attempts to kill Dr. Strange, though successful, ultimately fail as the loop resets over and over, angered the malevolent creature since he is unfamiliar with the concept of time and forced to bargain with Dr. Strange. In return for taking Kaecilius and his followers and abandoning his desires to consume the Earth, Dr. Strange agrees to release Dormammu from the loop, thus saving the entire world and ending the threat from the Dark Dimension. Although we see Dr. Strange die again and again, we have no way of knowing exactly how long this loop lasted for, or how much pain and suffering Dr. Strange endured as he made perhaps the greatest sacrifice of anyone in the MCU as he was fully committed to ending his days in that cycle of death and this moment not only completed Dr. Strange’s character arc in the film of learning to set aside his ego but also cemented him as a big-time player in the larger MCU. Unfortunately, while Dr. Strange finally sees that his true destiny is to serve a greater good, Mordo is disillusioned by the revelations and the lengths that Strange goes to to repel Dormammu and pledges to rid the world of sorcerers.

The Summary:
Doctor Strange remains one of the most unique and intriguing entries in the MCU; even when Thor Odinson (Chris Hemsworth) first burst into the franchise and shook it up by introducing Gods and a version of magic, and we started seeing the first hints of the Infinity Stones, I never would have guessed that we would see the Sorcerer Supreme reversing the flow of time, fending off cosmic entities like Dormammu, or blowing the fabric of his fictional world apart with concepts like the multiverse. And yet, at its core, Doctor Strange is the humbling story of redemption for a vain, arrogant asshole of a man who endures a horrific accident, has his entire world destroyed, and is forced to accept a greater destiny. It’s pretty clear now that the intention was to set up Doctor Strange as a counterpart to Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr); both are snarky, self-absorbed men who put their unique talents to use in service of both personal glory and the wellbeing of the world around them. However, while Iron Man helped to ground the MCU and make its fantastical elements relatable, Dr. Strange’s very existence meant that the scope of the MCU was basically limitless and we’ve since seen that it stretches beyond even our reality. Full of mind-bending visuals that make for some entertaining action sequences, Doctor Strange might have played things a little too safe but that’s not exactly a bad thing when it comes to a concept like magic, which can basically do anything and make characters like Dr. Strange severely overpowered. Thankfully, the film frames Strange as very much a rookie and struggling to master and even fully understand this bizarre world he has entered into, meaning that subsequent appearances by the character can simply build upon the foundations laid by this fantastical first film.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Were you a fan of Doctor Strange? What did you think to the introduction of magic to the MCU and the way the film explained the concept? Did you enjoy Dr. Strange’s character arc and portrayal in the film? What did you think to the Ancient One and the depiction of Mordo? Were you also a little disappointed by Kaecilius, and what did you think to the final showdown between Dr. Strange and Dormammu? What are some of your favourite stories involving these characters and do you think Dr. Strange is too overpowered as a character? Whatever your thoughts on Doctor Strange, sign up to leave your thoughts below or leave a comment on my social media, and check back in next Sunday for more Multiverse Madness!

Back Issues [Multiverse Madness]: Strange Tales #110


In September 1961, DC Comics published “Flash of Two Worlds” (Fox, et al), a landmark story that brought together two generations of the Flash: the Golden Age Jay Garrick and the Silver Age Barry Allen thanks to the concept of the multiverse, an infinite number of parallel universes that allowed any and all stories and characters to co-exist and interact. Marvel Comics would also adopt this concept and, to celebrate the release of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (Raimi, 2022) this month, I’ll be both celebrating the Master of the Mystic Arts and exploring the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MCU) equivalent of the multiverse every Sunday of May.


Story Title: “Doctor Strange, Master of Black Magic!”
Published: 9 April 1963 (cover-dated July 1963)
Writer: Stan Lee
Artists: Steve Ditko

The Background:
Dr. Strange began life as the brainchild of legendary artist Steve Ditko, when he submitted a five-page pitch for a new type of character, one who dabbled in black magic, to the immortal Stan Lee. The character was so named as he was to debut in the pages of Strange Tales, a Marvel Comics anthology title that initially published horror tales, and it was Lee who infused the character with many of his more elaborate spells and quirks. Known for his surreal visuals and bizarre adventures, Dr. Strange has since become one of Marvel’s most pivotal figureheads. The Master of the Mystic Arts has been at the centre of many of Marvel’s most important stories and remains one of their most powerful characters, and has even successfully crossed over into the mainstream thanks to featuring in various videogames, cartoons, and the MCU.

The Review:
The story begins with a man being tormented by horrific nightmares as he sleeps; presumably having tried every solution to no avail (though there’s no actual in-comic evidence of that), he seeks out the help of the mysterious Dr. Strange, a man rumoured to practise the dark arts, in order to ease his torment. The next morning, he arrives “on a quiet street in New York’s colourful Greenwich Village” at the fantastic home of the aforementioned doctor, and begs for his help. The man tells of a haunted figure, bound in chains, who incessantly glares at him in his dreams, and Strange immediately pledges to visit him that evening and discover the answer by entering the man’s slumbering mind!

Dr. Strange agrees to help a man being tormented by horrific nightmares.

Before this, though, Dr. Strange indulges in a bit of meditation where he separates his soul (or “metaphysical spirit”) from his physical form and effortlessly travels through walls and across vast distances to “a hidden temple somewhere in the remote vastness of Asia” where his wizened master dwells. The old man warns Strange of a darkness that threatens him and urges him to be cautious as Strange is set to succeed the elderly wizard as the defender against the forces of evil. Dr. Strange heeds the warning, and promises to depend upon his magical amulet when under threat, and makes good on his promise to visit the man and enter his nightmare using his metaphysical spirit form.

In the dream dimension, Dr. Strange comes under threat from the mysterious Nightmare.

In the desolate void of the dream world, Strange encounters the figure tormenting the man and demands answers. The cloaked spirit claims to the symbol of the evil this man has done to a “Mr. Crang”, but their conversation is quickly interrupted by the arrival of a caped, shadowy figure on horseback, one far more menacing and known all-too-well to Dr. Strange. The entity is Nightmare, a being of darkness and chaos, who vows to make Strange pay for entering the hostile dream dimension once more. As Dr. Strange’s physical body is left helpless and in a trance, the sleeping man awakens and, keen to keep Strange from revealing what he knows about Mr. Chang, pulls out a gun and prepares to murder the sorcerer on Nightmare’s bidding!

Thanks to the intervention of his master, Strange is saved and the criminal is exposed.

However, Dr. Strange isn’t left entirely helpless; he calls out to his master for aid and, from half a world away, the elderly wizard manipulates the mysterious golden amulet around Strange’s neck. The trinket glows brighter and brighter, revealing “a fantastic metal eye […] such as no mortal has ever beheld” and, upon seeing this strange eye, the would-be gunman freezes on the spot and is left immobile. This is all the distraction Strange needs to easily dart past Nightmare and return to his body, though his shadowy foe vows to have his revenge one day. Upon returning to the physical world, Strange compels the man to speak the truth and he finally reveals that his nightmares were caused by all the robberies he committed against other businessmen. The story ends with Dr. Strange urging the man to confess to his crimes as it’s the only way he’ll be able to sleep and thus ends the…less than thrilling first appearance of the Master of the Mystic Arts.

The Summary:
“Doctor Strange, Master of Black Magic!” is very clearly a back-up tale in a comic book featuring a bunch of different short stories and, as a result, is a brisk little episode simply designed to introduce this quirky new character to Marvel’s readers. We really don’t learn a whole hell of a lot about anything going on here; we don’t even learn the name of the man being haunted by Nightmare let along any background on Dr. Strange, his origin, or his motivations. Even Dr. Strange’s powers are vague, at best, with the focus of this first story being solely on his ability to astral project and enter dreams to help others. His magical amulet isn’t named or explained beyond being this mystical artefact and a lot of the familiar trappings either aren’t really here or are ill-defined compared to what you might expect from the character.

While the story’s not that great, Dr. Strange stands out as an enigmatic highlight.

The story itself is incredibly simplistic, which is most likely due to how few panels and pages were allotted to tell the tale, and there’s definitely a lot of questions left hanging in the air for subsequent stories to fill us in on, which is a refreshing change from other superhero debuts that bombard the reader with nothing but exposition. “Doctor Strange, Master of Black Magic!” is arguably too vague, though, but it’s definitely very intriguing; Dr. Strange isn’t really positioned as a superhero in the traditional sense and is, instead, more of an enigmatic consultant for ailments and supernatural occurrences. The real standout here is the art, particularly regarding Dr. Strange’s character design; while the backgrounds and locations aren’t that interesting (the dream dimension is basically an empty void), Dr. Strange is colourful and eye-catching and I enjoy how he gives off a wise, almost condescending authority that would become so synonymous with the character going forward. The hooded figure and Nightmare are intriguing malicious forces representing guilt, sin, and chaos but they’re very vaguely defined, so it’s pretty easy for Dr. Strange to steal the show. It’s just a shame that he basically spends the entire story either standing around or sitting down in a trance rather than doing something more interesting, like casting spells or spewing out nonsense incantations.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Have you read “Doctor Strange, Master of Black Magic!”? Do you own a copy of Strange Tales #110? What did you think to the story and the mystery surrounding Dr. Strange? Do you think that the tale needed a few more pages to tell a bit more of his story or did you enjoy the intrigue surrounding Dr. Strange and Nightmare? What are some of your favourite Dr. Strange stories and who is your favourite villain of his? Do you enjoy multiverse shenanigans in comics or do you find them to be overly complicated? Whatever your thoughts on Dr. Strange, sign up to drop a comment down below or let me know on my social media and check back next Sunday for more Multiverse Madness from the Sorcerer Supreme.

Talking Movies: Spider-Man: No Way Home

Talking Movies

Released: 17 December 2021
Director: Jon Watts
Distributor: Sony Pictures Releasing
Budget: $200 million
Stars: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Jacob Batalon, Willem Dafoe, Alfred Molina, Jamie Foxx, and Benedict Cumberbatch

The Plot:
After having his secret identity publicly outed, Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Holland) finds himself branded a murderer and hounded at every turn. In a bid to return his life to something resembling normality, he requests that Doctor Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) cast a spell to make everyone forget his identity. However, when the spell is corrupted, the walls between realities are fractured and Peter is beset by foes from across the multiverse seeking to avenge themselves against Spider-Man, no matter what world he’s from!

The Background:
Following the massive success of the original Spider-Man trilogy (Raimi, 2000 to 2007) and the largely mediocre reception of the poorly-timed reboot films, Marvel Studios were finally able to achieve the impossible when they reached an agreement to include a new version of the iconic web-slinger in their interconnected Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Tom Holland took on the role of a young, fresh-faced take on the character and debuted in spectacular fashion in Captain America: Civil War (Russo and Russo, 2016) before spinning off (no pun intended) into the incredibly successful Spider-Man: Homecoming (Watts, 2017). Spider-Man: Far From Home’s (ibid, 2019) impressive $1.132 million box office proved that the MCU could sustain the success it had amassed even after the cataclysmic events of Avengers: Endgame (Russo and Russo, 2019) but development of a third outing for the character was initially stalled when financial disputes threatened to see the character once again pulled from Marvel’s control. After these issues were resolved, and following a delay due to the Covid-19 pandemic, production finally got underway in late-2020 and, almost immediately, rumours began circulating regarding the possible return of actors from the previous Spider-Man franchises. These were only exacerbated when Benedict Cumberbatch was confirmed to reprise his role as Dr. Strange, a character who was already scheduled to have his own multiversal adventure, and when the long-awaited trailer was finally released following a leak, confirming that Alfred Molina would be returning as Doctor Otto Octavius/Doctor Octopus thanks to digital de-aging. Finally, after months of speculation and wild fan rumours, the film’s final trailers confirmed that this story would tackle Spider-Man’s varied cinematic multiverse and the film received an official release date. As of this writing, Spider-Man: No Way Home has been met by unanimous praise; critics lauded the performances and heart of the film, in addition to atmosphere and chemistry between the actors, and has currently made over $600 million at the box office..

The Review:
I feel it’s only fair to emphasise here that I simply cannot find the language to talk about this film without using spoilers. If the title and various warnings aren’t enough for you, then this text should be: here be spoilers, and I’m not planning on holding back as I feel the movie deserves to be discussed in detail and the only way to do that is to talk about spoilers. Also, I was initially torn when it came to this film; the build up to it saw some really toxic opinions and members of the fandom rear their ugly heads, and the marketing has been a bit all over the place. Sony showed a surprising amount of restraint with their trailers, and maybe held them off a little too long, but it definitely built up a great deal of hype and intrigue surrounding it and it felt good to be excited and curious about a movie for a change. Having said that, though…be better, people, come on. If you have a favourite Spider-Man, that’s great, but don’t rag on people for having a different opinion. Spider-Man is really lucky as he has had so many adaptations and so much representation, so many live-action portrayals, and all of them have been extremely accurate to the source material and exciting outings in their own right, so maybe just be thankful that the web-head gets so much love and is so popular rather than being ungrateful or attacking others for their opinions?

Jameson’s smear campaign spells personal trouble for Spider-Man and his friends.

Spider-Man: No Way Home picks up immediately where Spider-Man: Far From Home left off, with blustering, loud-mouthing online personality J. Jonah Jameson (J. K. Simmons) gleefully broadcasting edited footage sent to him by Quentin Beck/Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) that not only implicates Peter as a murderer but also outs his secret identity to the entire world. Naturally, this sends New York City into a bit of an uproar and, pretty much immediately, both Spider-Man and his new girlfriend Michelle Jones-Watson/M. J. (Zendaya) are swamped by a mob that is split between worshipping and condemning Spider-Man, paparazzi looking to get a sound bite, and cops seeking to question Peter’s involvement in Beck’s death. Despite his best efforts to escape the chaos, and to break the news to his beloved Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) and his begrudging friend and handler, Harold “Happy” Hogan (Jon Favreau), Peter and his friends and family are soon apprehended by the Department of Damage Control (DODC), which has now extended its scope into being a federal agency responsible for such matters. Although M. J. and May remain tight-lipped on the matter, Peter’s bungling but loyal friend Ned Leeds (Batalon) and Peter himself don’t exactly help his case, and Peter is left overwhelmed by the barrage of accusations and the public’s awareness of his true identity. Any legal ramifications concerning these matters are quickly swept under the table, however; although Happy and May recently ended their fling (much to Happy’s dismay), the Parkers are given sanctuary at Happy’s secure apartment and an especially good blind lawyer is able to ensure that the charges against Peter are dropped. However, public opinion remains divided; since the world considers Mysterio a hero, many people condemn Spider-Man (which isn’t helped by Jameson’s continuing smear campaign against Peter) and Peter is treated with both awe, fear, and adulation by his fellow pupils. Thankfully, he has M. J. and Ned there to support him through it; despite the revelation uprooting their lives and thrusting them into the spotlight as well, they remain his loyal and understanding companions, which is always sweet to see. While Peter appreciates this, and could probably have adjusted to the major changes in his life with their support, his guilt and shame are magnified when neither her, Ned, or M. J. are able to successfully get into college.

Peter turns to Dr. Strange for help, but muddles the spell and causes reality to fracture as a result.

Because of the media storm and controversy surrounding Peter, no college wants to risk being associated with any of them, and Peter is guilt-ridden at having cost his loved ones the chance of realising their dreams. Yet, even though this has happened, M. J. and Ned still take it on the chin and remain optimistic (or, at least, put on a brave face, in M. J.’s case) and neither of them blame Peter for this, but it does little to alleviate his guilt. Desperate for a solution, Peter seeks out the council of Dr. Strange (who, it is amusingly revealed, is no longer the Sorcerer Supreme thanks to being snapped away for five years; Wong (Benedict Wong) has assumed the position instead, which could potentially be explored to greater humourous effect in Strange’s upcoming movie). Although Wong cautions against it, Dr. Strange offers to cast a complicated and dangerous spell that will erase the knowledge of Peter’s secret identity from everyone in the world; however, Peter starts to panic mid-way through the spell and requests that May, M. J., Ned, and Happy be exempt from the erasure, which causes Strange to lose control of the spell and contain it within a jewel least it wreak havoc upon the world…and the multiverse. The relationship between Dr. Strange and Peter is notably different to what we saw between Peter and Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr); Strange isn’t a mentor to Peter, he’s more like a work associate, and he’s willing to help the kid out because of his efforts at restoring half the population, but he’s easily frustrated by Peter’s naivety and ignorance, especially when it comes to the world of magic, and angered that Peter risked tampering with the fabric of reality before properly exploring all of the real-world options available to him or learning to adapt to the changes in his life.

Molina makes a triumphant return as the crazed Doc Ock, who’s intrigued by the presence of the MCU.

Determined to make up for this, Peter tracks down a college professor to plead M. J. and Ned’s case, only to suddenly be attacked by a face very familiar to us but completely alien to him as Dr. Octopus attacks the Queensboro Bridge in a confused rage, ranting at Peter and demanding to know what happened to his “machine”. Though confused by the villain’s sudden appearance, Spider-Man holds his own in impressive fashion thanks to the advanced technology and gadgets built into his Iron Spider costume, saving lives while fending off Doc Ock’s mechanical arms; his genius mind addled by the corrupting influence of his mechanical tentacles, Doc Ock is intrigued by the Iron Spider’s nanotechnology but startled to find a very different face behind the mask. His confusion soon turns to manic frustration when Peter is able to use the suit’s nanotech to take control of Doc Ock’s arms and render him helpless, and Octavius’s rage is only incensed further when he suddenly finds himself a prisoner in a dark catacomb beneath Dr. Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum. Although dismissive of the idea of magic and vehemently rejecting the idea that he needs help or to be fixed, Doc Ock is intrigued to see the evidence of a multiverse surrounding him; not only has he met the MCU version of Peter and M. J., but he shares his prison with Doctor Curt Connors/The Lizard (Rhys Ifans), a monstrous creature Dr. Strange was able to subdue offscreen and who is very clearly from another reality. Ock’s curiosity is only piqued further when he and Peter catch a fleeting glimpse of another Spider-foe Octavius knows all-too-well, Doctor Norman Osbourn/The Green Goblin (Dafoe), before being imprisoned.

Peter finds a number of monstrous, and maniacal, villains have crossed over into the MCU.

Angered at the incursions that have slipped into their world because of Peter’s ignorance, Dr. Strange demands that he and his friends “Scooby-Doo this shit!” and round up the visitors so they can be sent home; he grants Peter a magically-charged gadget that allows him to shoot a web that instantly teleports the villains to the prison, and Peter is forced to turn his suit inside-out after it gets ruined by paint thrown by a mob. Although he initially heads out to track down the Green Goblin, Peter instead finds Max Dillon/Electro (Foxx), who draws power from electricity lines to regain his physical form and alter the nature of his powers. Disorientated at having being violently ripped from his reality, Electro lashes out in anger, and Peter is only saved by the timely intervention of Flint Marko/The Sandman (Thomas Hayden Church), who helps Peter subdue and capture Electro. However, upon realising that he’s trapped on another world, the Sandman also grows antagonistic and winds up confined as a result, and Peter learns from each of them the nature of their personalities, their worlds, and their fates: Green Goblin, Doc Ock, and Electro are all fated to die in battle with Spider-Man, and returning them home would seal that fate, and that’s something Peter cannot, in good conscience, allow.

The Green Goblin quickly re-establishes himself as Peter’s greatest threat.

This brings him into conflict with Dr. Strange, who is determined to activate the jewel and send the visitors back home regardless since he’s weighing the fate and stability of the entire multiverse rather than the lives of a few villains. When Peter tries to take the jewel from him, a bit of a scuffle ensues in which we see Peter is able to control his body even while forced into his astral force thanks to this spider-sense, and his knowledge of geometry also allows him to figure out the mirror dimensions, web up Strange, and leave him stranded there while he works to cure the villains. While he has good intentions, and his friends and family support his efforts, and he is even able to convince the villains to trust him to help keep them alive, Peter underestimates the depths of Norman’s psychosis. Rendered a meek, bewildered scientist who is lost and in pain, Norman willingly works alongside Peter to help fix Doc Ock, returning the tentacled menace to his more good-natured self, but Norman’s dark half, the Green Goblin, soon resurfaces to throw Peter’s entire plan out the window. I got a real kick out of seeing Norman and Otto being familiar with each other, and the Lizard and Electro also having a familiarity with each other, it really helped to flesh out their respective worlds and deliver exposition regarding the characters to those who might not be familiar with them. While it’s disappointing that the Sandman was rendered entirely in his sand form for 90% of the movie, and the Lizard was basically a non-factor (there’s even a moment where he is simply confined to a van and forgotten about until the film’s big climax needs to happen), both Doc Ock and the Green Goblin play significant roles in the story. The Goblin wraps the remains of his God-awful suit in a tatter cloak and Dafoe’s demented facial expressions get to shine trough as he operates entirely unmasked throughout the film; he’s also far more vicious and deadly than ever before, cackling in Peter’s face and taunting him at every turn. While all of these returning actors slipped back into their roles perfectly (and even got a chance at redemption, in Electro’s case), Dafoe steals the show ones again as a maniacal and vicious villain who simply wants to cause Peter pain, no matter which Peter it is!

The Nitty-Gritty :
When I first heard that Tom Holland’s third solo movie was going to delve into the multiverse, I have to admit that I was disappointed and annoyed; I enjoyed Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Persichetti, Ramsey, and Rothman, 2018) but even with that film I questioned the logic of confusing matters with multidimensional shenanigans. The MCU definitely seems to be gearing towards exploring the multiverse, but I expected this to be confined to Dr. Strange’s solo films and worried that bringing in faces from the Sam Raimi and Marc Webb films would just be pandering and confusing. Not only that, but I’m of the firm belief that every role can be recast: Dafoe, Simmons, and Molina were all fantastic in their previous iterations but who’s to say that another actor wouldn’t be just as good, if not better? I expected this third Spider-Man movie would be the perfect excuse to finally bring the Sinister Six to life using the villains already established in the MCU: Adrian Toomes/The Vulture (Michael Keaton), Herman Schultz/The Shocker (Bokeem Woodbine), Mac Gargan/The Scorpion (Michael Mando), and even Mysterio (he was the master of illusions, after all) could all have returned and joined forces with two new villains (ideally an all-new Doc Ock) to collect a bounty on Spider-Man. Hell, I was more excited at the prospect of Charlie Cox returning as Matt Murdock/Daredevil or Spider-Man being forced to go on the run and teaming up with the Netflix Defenders than complicating things with multiverse hijinks, and I still maintain that it makes zero sense to have Eddie Brock/Venom (Tom Hardy) exist in a separate universe when it would have been far simpler to have him be based in San Francisco but still exist in the MCU (like how other MCU heroes and movies take place in different cities but those characters don’t have to be transported through time and space to interact).

Spider-Man butts heads with Dr. Strange regarding how to deal with the villains.

And yet….man, was it a thrill to see Alfred Molina return in the role! Bringing back these iconic actors in their most famous villain roles might be unapologetic fan service but it was fan service executed almost to perfection. I say “almost” as we were one villain short from an iteration of the Sinister Six; Eddie doesn’t show up into the mid-credits scene and he is teleported back where he came from without having any impact on the movie (though he does leave a part of himself behind…) and there was no secret sixth villain added to the roster. However, that’s not to say that the five villains we did get were disappointing…far from it! Since the MCU is different to where he came from, Electro is able to not only reconstitute his body, but also alters his powers; the addition of an Arc Reactor only pushes his powers even further, allowing him to resemble his traditional comic book appearance far closer than in his original iteration. The Sandman may be in sand form for the majority of the film, but he remains an emotionally conflicted character; at first, he helps Peter, and even tries to talk sense into some of the villains, but the idea of being kept from his home world and his daughter pushes him against the web-slinger out of pure self-preservation. This motivation is the driving force behind many of the villains, as they have either accepted their monstrous new powers or have no wish to be sent away to die. In the case of Doc Ock and the Lizard, this is due to technology or mutation clouding their judgement; when Peter repairs the inhibitor chip on Ock’s neck, he becomes much more agreeable and even helps Peter to hold off the villains in the finale, and when the Lizard ingests the cure and returns to his human form, he returns to his more docile personality.

Peter is devastated by loss and pushed to the edge by the Green Goblin.

The same is also true of the Green Goblin, however Norman’s psychosis is far more manipulative, calculating, and violent. He has no desire to return home to meet his end and absolutely brutalises Peter to keep him from trying to cure him; the Goblin quickly re-establishes himself as Peter’s most dangerous and notorious foe not only by swaying the other villains into turning on Peter, but delivering a massive beatdown on him that leaves him helpless to keep his Aunt May from harm. Although Peter manages to shield May from the Goblin’s pumpkin bomb, the glider blindsides her and leaves her with a fatal wound, and she tragically dies in his arms, leaving him heartbroken and with her final words of encouragement ringing in his ears: “With great power, there must also come great responsibility.” May’s death devastates Peter, and drives him into a quest for revenge against the Goblin; no longer merely satisfied to cure or help the villains, he wishes nothing less than the Goblin’s death at his hands, and it’s a true moment of despair for the young Avenger. No Way Home really puts Peter through the wringer, pushing his morals and optimistic outlook to breaking point, and really burdens him with the guilt of having indirectly caused his mother-figure’s death by trying to help the villains rather than allowing them to return home and potentially die as fated.

Spider-Man gets some unexpected help to fend off the combined threat of these multiversal villains.

Desperate to find Peter and give their support, M. J. and Ned mess about with one of Dr. Strange’s sling-rings and discover the presence of two more familiar faces who slipped through the dimensional barriers and are determined to help and let me tell you…I have never seen a cinema explode into rapturous applause before but my screening blew the roof off when Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire made their long-awaited, and long-rumoured, return to their famous roles. Both arrived due to Strange’s spell and have been trying to track down MCU-Peter, and both have arrived from later in their careers, finally giving us a coda to their stories: Webb-Peter reveals that he struggled to cope after failing to save Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), and almost lost himself to his rage at one point, and that he has thrown himself into his duties as Spider-Man to cope. Raimi-Peter is noticeably older, but still in good shape, and, though haunted by his failures and losses, maintains that he and M. J. (Kirsten Dunst) found a way to carry on). The scenes with the three Peters are an obvious highlight and they share some fantastic line sand banter together; Webb-Peter is elated to have found “brothers” and they work together to synthesise cures for the villains based on their previous experiences and scientific acumen. They also share stories of their adventures and powers, with Webb-Peter and MCU-Peter both being astounded (and a little disturbed) by Raimi-Peter’s organic webbing, Raimi-Peter extending a much-needed pep talk to Webb-Peter, and both Webb- and Raimi-Peter being impressed by MCU-Peter’s space adventures. Seeing them work together, offering MCU-Peter support and understanding, is fantastic as Webb-Peter delivers an emotional soliloquy about his failures (and gets to make amends for it by catching M. J. in a truly emotional moment) and Raimi-Peter relates the messages passed on to him by his beloved Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson), and MCU-Peter is even able to help them get past being solo heroes and work together using his experiences of teamwork as an Avenger.

The multiversal breach rages out of control, leading to Peter making a selfless sacrifice…

With three Spider-Man working together, the Lizard, the Sandman, and Electro are all subdued and returned to their human forms, presumably alleviating them of their madness and violent tendencies, in a mind-blowing final confrontation around the Statue of Liberty (which is being refurbished to hold Captain America’s shield aloft). Despite the best efforts of his alternative counterparts, though, MCU-Peter is driven into a rage and attacks the Green Goblin mercilessly and even prepares to deliver a fatal blow with his own glider, only for Raimi-Peter to intervene (and get stabbed in the back for his efforts). Ultimately, MCU-Peter delivers a cure, rather than a kill, to his newest foe and Norman is left an emotional and remorseful wreck, though this pales in comparison to the threat unleashed by one of his pumpkin bombs as Strange’s spell is blown free and miscellaneous, vaguely-defined villains and intruders from all across the multiverse threaten to converge on the MCU. Dr. Strange struggles to contain the spell and, determined to make amends for his previous mistake, MCU-Peter decides to make the ultimate sacrifice and has Strange cast a new spell that will make everyone, everywhere, forget all about Peter Parker. He thanks his counterparts for their help and bids an emotional farewell to M. J. and Ned, promising to find them and rekindle their friendship/relationship after the spell is cast, but hesitates upon seeing how happy and better off M. J. and Ned are without him in their lives. Ultimately, Peter chooses to leave them be and fashions a new, 100% comic accurate costume for himself using his counterparts’ suits as inspiration and finally gets his big, triumphant final swing as he begins a new life safe in the knowledge that no one knows his true identity any more…and that he’s not alone in the vast, dangerous multiverse.

The Summary:
After viewing that first trailer and seeing Doc Ock show up once again, my mind was pretty much blown when it came to this movie; it raised so many questions, many of them being concerns that Tom’s third solo outing would get overwhelmed or bogged down by multiverse shenanigans and blatant fan service. Subsequent trailers helped shed a bit more light on the film, and I began to calm down a bit and predict that these returning characters wouldn’t be as integral to the narrative as many were making out. This turned out to be true, to a degree; the villains are definitely a big part of the film, but Spider-Man: No Way Home still does a fantastic job of focusing on Peter, his relationships, his growth, and his identity crisis. Could we have seen a grittier, more grounded film that dealt with him being on the run and learning to adapt to his tumultuous new public life? For sure, yes, and I would also argue that many of these villains could have been recast and reimagined as MCU characters and it would have worked just as well, but again there is such a thrill to be had at seeing these actors return to their iconic roles and, in many cases, reinvigorate their characters with the benefit of hindsight.

No Way Home successfully juggles its multiversal aspects to focus on Peter’s current crisis.

I loved that Peter’s focus was on others the entire time; his selflessness is a driving force of his character, and every decision he makes is to try and benefit either his friends or family or to save lives. This is motivated by his guilt, of course, as they would only be in danger because of him, and he remains a flawed character trying to make amends for his mistakes, which is the quintessential essence of Spider-Man for me. More than any other Spider-Man, MCU-Peter tries to help even the most villainous characters rather than condemn them to death, it was truly heart-breaking to see him o devastated by Aunt May’s death that he was willing to cross that line. Of course, the undisputable highlight is seeing Tom Holland share the screen with Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield; while it’s painfully obvious that all three actors weren’t on set or in the studio at the same time for every shot (whether due to Covid or scheduling), it’s still a blast to see them interacting, hearing those iconic themes, and seeing them in action. Once I accepted that No Way Home was going to be a multiverse adventure, my hope was that the film would go all-out to deliver on its potential…and I’m happy to say that it went above and beyond! Action-packed, emotional, and amusing throughout, Spider-Man: No Way Home may very well be in the top-tier of Spider-Man adventures and I am very excited to see where Peter’s journey takes him now that his status quo has been so dramatically changed.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

Have you seen Spider-Man: No Way Home? Did I completely spoil the film for you? Were you excited at the idea of iconic Spider-Man villains making their return or do you think that the multiverse stuff should stay in the Dr. Strange movies? What did you think to the way the film handled the public’s knowledge of Spider-Man’s identity and would you have preferred to see this explored a little more in-depth? Which of the returning villains was your favourite, and how excited were you to see Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield return (and Charlie Cox finally be incorporated into the movies)? Were you disappointed that we came so close to the Sinister Six and that Venom didn’t have a role in the film? Where do you see the MCU-Spider-Man’s story going from here? Whatever your thoughts on Spider-Man: No Way Home, sign up to leave a comment below or leave a comment on my social media (but be mindful of spoiling it for others!)

Screen Time: That ’70s Marvel Cinematic Universe

Superheroes may dominate television screens these days, but it all started back in the seventies. Long before the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) took cinemas by storm and drummed up enough cash to sink a small cruise liner, Marvel Comics had ventured into live-action adaptations of their comics books by licensing their properties to studios like CBS and Universal Television. This produced the iconic Incredible Hulk (1977 to 1982) television show that firmly entrenched the Green Goliath in the cultural consciousness and produced tropes that became synonymous with the character for years to come.

70sMarvelHulk70s
You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry…

However, The Incredible Hulk wasn’t the only live-action adaptation of a Marvel Comics property to be produced in the seventies; in fact, there were so many productions (or, at least, so many Marvel characters) around this time that a version of the MCU can be seen to have existed long before Iron Man (Favreau, 2008) graced cinema screens. So, today, I’m going to take a quick look back at some of these productions and have a chat about the MCU we very nearly saw come together back in the days of Pink Floyd, frayed jeans, and mullets…

70sMarvel

As I mentioned, The Incredible Hulk kicked all of this off; starring Bill Bixby as Dr. David Bruce Banner, the show depicted a scientist recklessly experimenting on himself with gamma radiation in a bid to unlock the hidden strength and potential of the human body. When he absorbs too much gamma radiation, moments of stress and anger cause him to transform into the green, bestial Hulk (Lou Ferrigno), a creature of limited intelligence, immense rage, and incredible strength.

70sMarvelMcGee
McGee relentlessly hounded Banner.

Believed dead at the Hulk’s hands, Banner is forced to wander around the country in search of a cure, helping those in need with both his intelligence and the strength of the Hulk when pushed too far, all while being relentlessly pursued by reporter Jack McGee (Jack Colvin). The show was famous for coining the phrase: “Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry”, which has since become so synonymous with the character that it has appeared in most Hulk adaptations. Equally popular was both Bixby’s portrayal of Banner as a wandering nomad, desperate to cure himself of his alter ego and return to normal life, and Ferrigno’s portrayal of the Hulk (a role that Arnold Schwarzenegger auditioned for and that originally went to mammoth actor Richard Kiel).

70sMarvelFerrigno2
Ferrigno always had a place in Hulk adaptations.

Ferrigno has since become so associated with his role as the Hulk that he went on to not only voice the character in the animated Incredible Hulk (1996 to 1997) television series but also collaborated with Mark Ruffalo in voicing the Hulk in the MCU and cameoed in both Hulk (Lee, 2003) and The Incredible Hulk (Leterrier, 2008), a movie that was heavily influenced by the ‘70s television show.

70sMarvelHulkTalk
It took some time to get Hulk properly articulating.

If there’s any downside to the show, and Ferrigno’s performance, it’s that they both popularised the notion that the Hulk is a feral, growling creature rather than a semi-to-impressively articulate individual. While Stan Lee himself may have signed off on this at the time (“I had the Hulk talking like this: “Hulk crush! Hulk get him!” […] that would have sounded so silly if he spoke that way in a television show” (Lee, quoted in Greenberg, 2014: 19 to 26)), I feel this was more a case of Lee signing off on anything for the licensing revenue. This portrayal even carried over into the MCU, where the Hulk was capable of rudimentary speech (one or two growling lines here and there) but did not properly articulate until Thor: Ragnarok (Waititi, 2017); to compare, Bradley Cooper was snarking up cinema screens as Rocket Raccoon in Guardians of the Galaxy (Gunn, 2014) before Hulk was allowed to properly talk.

The Incredible Hulk returned with a bang.

In any case, The Incredible Hulk ran for eighty episodes before finally coming to an end on 12 May 1982. Banner’s adventures, however, continued in the made-for-television film The Incredible Hulk Returns (Corea, 1988). While the TV show shied away from including any Marvel characters aside from Banner and the Hulk, much less his fellow Marvel cohorts, The Incredible Hulk Returns featured two of the most unlikely inclusions you could imagine given the show’s relatively rounded approach to its source material. After successfully suppressing the Hulk for two years, Banner’s idyllic life is turned upside down when an old student of his, Donald Blake (Steve Levitt), seeks him out. Right as Banner is on the cusp of finalising a potential cure in the Gamma Transponder machine, Blake reveals that he discovered an enchanted hammer in Norway that, upon his command, releases the mighty immortal warrior Thor (Eric Kramer) from Valhalla.

70sMarvelHulkThor
I honestly can’t tell the difference…

When Thor upsets Banner, he briefly battles with the Hulk and damages Banner’s the Gamma Transponder, but the two (three, I guess) are forced to work together to stop criminals from stealing Banner’s research and harming his life interest, Dr. Margaret Shaw (Lee Purcell). In the end, while Shaw is rescued, Banner is forced to destroy a vital component to the Gamma Transponder and, with the Hulk’s presence catching McGee’s attention, promptly returns to the road to seek out a new cure for himself. When I was a kid, I never got the chance to watch The Incredible Hulk, so one of my first exposures to it was with The Incredible Hulk Returns, which I found to be hugely enjoyable largely because of the thrill of seeing the Hulk in live-action and the banter between Blake and Thor. Rather than transforming into Thor, as in the comics, Blake instead brings Thor forth with the hammer and is charged with guiding him in life and in the fulfilment of a number of heroic deeds so he can take his place at Odin’s side in Valhalla. It’s absolutely mental, especially as a continuation of the TV show, but Kramer is so much fun as the loud-mouthy, arrogant, meat-headed Thor that you can’t help but smile when he’s onscreen, especially when he’s drinking and fighting in a bar or battling with (and alongside) the Hulk.

Banner forms a kinship with Daredevil.

I said I never really watched the show but, in truth, my first ever exposure to the Bixby and Ferrigno team was the follow-up movie, The Trial of the Incredible Hulk (Bixby, 1989), in which Banner, now a desolate soul who’s lost all hope, wanders into a city and, after disrupting a mugging on an underground train, is wrongfully imprisoned. As luck would have it, his appointed attorney is none other than Matt Murdock (Rex Smith), a blind lawyer who also patrols the streets at night as the black-clad vigilante Daredevil. Murdock is pursuing evidence against Wilson Fisk (John Rhys-Davies), an entrepreneur whom Murdock (rightfully) believes is a dangerous crime boss. While Banner is content to stay safely locked up in jail, the idea of being put on trial causes him to Hulk out and, eventually, team up with Murdock/Daredevil in bringing Fisk to justice.

John Rhys-Davies was great as Fisk.

The Trial of the Incredible Hulk is notable for a couple of reasons; it features Stan Lee’s first-ever live-action cameo in a Marvel production, it heavily adapts elements of Frank Miller’s iconic run on the Daredevil comics, and the titular trial only actually takes place in a nightmare Banner has while imprisoned. Nevertheless, Rhys-Davies is exceptional as Fisk; he’s never referred to as the Kingpin onscreen but that doesn’t stop him being a cool, calculating puppet master of a villain; his eventual escape (in a God-damn rocket ship!) is a loose end that was never tied up as the final TV movie, The Death of the Incredible Hulk (Bixby, 1990), chose to bring an end to the Incredible Hulk series and did not feature any additional Marvel characters.

Hammond was a decent Peter Parker…and he had a great stunt double.

Hulk wasn’t the only one to get his own live-action TV show though; after the feature-length pilot, Spider-Man (Swackhamer, 1977), proved popular, Marvel’s web-head got his own thirteen episode series in the form of The Amazing Spider-Man (1977 to 1979). In addition, episodes of the show were edited (“cobbled”, is probably a better word) together into two made-for-television movies, Spider-Man Strikes Back (Statlof, 1978) and Spider-Man: The Dragon’s Challenge (ibid, 1981), both of which (along with the pilot) are the only exposure to this show I’ve had. The Amazing Spider-Man starred Nicholas Hammond as Peter Parker (with the show’s stunt co-ordinator, Fred Waugh, taking the role of Spider-Man, which was pretty obvious given their wildly contrasting size and builds) and, if you thought that this show took more from the source material than The Incredible Hulk then you’re going to be woefully disappointed.

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I mean…they did the best the could…

Jonah Jameson (played by both David White and Robert F. Simon) featured quite prominently but Robbie Robertson (Hilly Hicks) and Peter’s Aunt May (Jeff Donnell) only appeared in the pilot episode and, though Spidey tussled with hypnotists, terrorists, and gangs, he never once butted heads with any of his colourful rogues gallery. Spidey (and Parker) also initially ran afoul of Police Captain Barbera (played with gruff, loveable glee by Michael Pataki), but this character was sadly dropped for the show’s second season. The Amazing Spider-Man was an ambitious project, especially for the seventies; Spider-Man is a character who requires a lot of effects and stunt work to pull off correctly and is arguably far more dependent on modern computer effects than the likes of even the Hulk. As a result, while the show featured an incredibly faithful recreation of Spidey’s origin, costume, and web shooters and did its best to portray Spidey’s wall-crawling and web-slinging through wires, pulleys, and other camera tricks, the show always came across as being far more absurd than its Universal counterpart.

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For whatever reason, Doctor Strange got a movie too.

There was more to come from Universal Television, however, as they also produced a Dr. Strange (DeGuere, 1978) made-for-television movie that featured Peter Hooten in the title role (I guess Tom Selleck was unavailable…) and Jessica Walter as Morgan Le Fay. This one’s especially obscure and many have probably never heard of or seen it; it actually got a DVD re-release in 2016, coincidentally around the same time as Doctor Strange (Derrickson, 2016) was released in cinemas. Interestingly, Stephen Strange is portrayed as a psychiatrist rather than a physician and stumbles into his destiny as the Sorcerer Supreme when Le Fay possesses one of his patients, Clea Lake (Eddie Benton). The movie also featured other recognisable faces from the source material, such as Wong (Clyde Kusatsu) and the Ancient One (Michael Ansara), which is already a bit of a leg up on the Hulk and Spider-Man outings.

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More like Dr. Obscure, am I right?

What scuppered Dr. Strange, though, was, again, the fact that it was produced at a time when special effects simply were not up to the task of doing the character justice. It also didn’t help that the film was criticised for being overly long and boring and lacking any real urgency. In all honesty, there really isn’t much to see here that’s worth you rushing out to watch except the novelty of seeing a C-list character like Strange get a live-action movie well before his time.

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Yeah, I don’t think K.I.T.T. had anything to worry about…

CBS also had one another Marvel character to offer the seventies; Captain America (Holcomb, 1979) brought the star-spangled Avenger to life on television screens and…dear Lord, is this a sight to behold! Reb Brown starred as Steve Rogers, a former marine-turned-artist living in the present day whose patriotic father was known as “Captain America”. After he’s nearly killed by an attempt on his life, he’s inexplicably chosen to be administered with the super-serum F.L.A.G. (Full Latent Ability Gain), which turns him into a superhuman. He then decks himself out in a horrendous version of the Captain America costume and takes to the streets on a modified super-cycle so massively over-the-top with gadgets and features than even K.I.T.T. would blush!

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Cap does love a good motorcycle.

Luckily, by the end and the sequel, Captain America II: Death Too Soon (Nagy, 1979), Rogers adopts a more faithful version of the costume and uses his abilities to oppose the plans of General Miguel (inexplicably played by Christopher Lee!), who desires to create a dangerous chemical. I’m actually far more familiar with the equally-lambasted Captain America (Pyun, 1990), which is still a guilt pleasure of mine. Nevertheless, both films were released on DVD and, while Dr. Strange was lost to the mists of time and obscurity, these films appear to have at least partially influenced the MCU as Cap (Chris Evans) does favour a motorcycle (but, to be fair, so did the comics Cap…).

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I would’ve watched a show with either of these two in.

Both The Incredible Hulk Returns and The Trial of the Incredible Hulk introduced Thor and Daredevil with the intention of setting them up for spin-off shows of their own but, for a variety of reasons, this never came to be and that’s a bit of a shame. Smith is no Charlie Cox but, while his Murdock was quite dull and boring, he gave a pretty good turn as Daredevil and it would probably have been easier and far cheaper to produce a Daredevil TV show than a Hulk or even Thor one. Similarly, I love the portrayal of Thor in Trial; sure, he doesn’t look or act anything like his Marvel Comics counterpart, but it could have been pretty fun to see him tossing fools around, getting into bar fights, and learning lessons in humility on an episodic basis. One thing that is equally unfortunate about all this is that the inclusion of Thor and Daredevil really took a lot of the focus off of Banner and the Hulk; sure, in the show, he was often a supporting player in a bigger story and other character’s lives, but these movies devoted so much of their runtime to pushing and establishing their new characters that it’s easy to forget that Banner and Hulk are even in them. The Death of the Incredible Hulk rectified this, but at the cost of killing both characters off in what was, while emotional (as a child, anyway), probably the lamest way imaginable.

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All these guys co-existed at about the same time…

Unfortunately, there hasn’t been much love shown to The Amazing Spider-Man over the years; it’s never been released on home media outside of a few VHS tapes and, while Hammond appears to have been the basis for Parker’s design in the Spider-Man (1994 to 1998) animated series, he’s never returned to the character or the franchise again, not even for a quick cameo or a voice role (though I’m hoping the sequel to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Persichetti, Ramsey, and Rothman, 2018) will rectify that). Interestingly enough, there were apparently talks in 1984 to produce a movie that would see Spider-Man cross paths with Banner and the Hulk, with Spidey even donning the black costume during the film. There were, apparently, also talks of an additional made-for-television Hulk movie, The Revenge of the Incredible Hulk, which would have seen Banner (somehow) revived and forced to recreate the accident that turned him into the Hulk (or be reborn as the Hulk with Banner’s intellect, depending on what you read) but neither of these ideas ever came to fruition and were ultimately halted when Bixby sadly died in 1993.

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Magic linked these shows together, however tenuously.

However, none of this changes the fact that, sometime around 1978 to 1979, there were all these Marvel characters running around on television screens at about the same time, all produced by two studios and, in some cases, airing on the same networks. What this effectively means, then, is that it’s easy to imagine an alternative world where negotiations never broke down and the shows and movies proved popular enough for Spider-Man to crossover with the Hulk and, by extension, interact with Thor and Daredevil. So, what if…? What if there were a threat so big, so far beyond petty street crooks and one-note villains that these heroes would be forced to band together? Dr. Strange was heavily steeping in magic and mysticism, which was already (however unfitting) be proven to be a part of The Incredible Hulk’s world; hell, even The Amazing Spider-Man dabbled in the paranormal at times.

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It’s easy to image these guys existing in the same place and time.

Perhaps the threat would involve Fisk waging a war against Daredevil and all costumed heroes? The city is never named in The Incredible Hulk Returns but it could easily be New York City, the same New York City that Spider-Man swings around in. Perhaps this would be a chance to do a supervillain team-up, of sorts, between Fisk and Le Fay or to introduce other classic Marvel villains, such as Loki and the Red Skull. I would have loved to have worked Nick Fury (David Hasselhoff) into this imaginary Marvel team-up but it’s difficult to do that seeing as Bixby died in 1993 and Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Hardy, 1998) didn’t release until 1998 but what if…? What if Bixby hadn’t suffered from cancer, or had beaten the disease and Banner had been resurrected in The Revenge of the Incredible Hulk? Perhaps we would have seen a version of the Professor Hulk or Grey Hulk personas, one that merged the brawn and the strength together, and Fury could have banded these heroes together to fight a common enemy.

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Spidey and Daredevil often work well together.

Personally, though, I would have preferred to see Banner and Hulk as they were portrayed in the television series; Bixby would have been the veteran actor who held this team up together and I would have limited his Hulk outs to two or three occurrences. Have him be the team’s moral compass, the hesitant advisor who learns to reconcile with his enraged alter ego through working with the other heroes. Murdock, as the older of the two, could have also acted as a kind of mentor to Spider-Man as the two are often portrayed as friends in the comics and have a lot in common with their “everyman” approach to super heroism. While the effects would not have allowed us to properly see the two swing across the New York rooftops, I think they could have cobbled together enough to produce some semi-decent, maybe even slightly acrobatic, fight scenes between the two.

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These guys are worlds apart.

You’d obviously think that Captain America would be the natural leader of this group but, remember, this isn’t the war-tested superhero we all know and love and I am not proposing an Avengers movie; Brown’s Cap is more of a secret agent, an enhanced super soldier who hasn’t nearly a fraction of the combat experience that Cap is usually known for. Because of that, I’d imagine him as the public face of the group and (in the absence of S.H.I.E.LD.), a source of the group’s intelligence resources. Perhaps Cap prefers to work alone and he has to learn to work with a group, rather than tackling everything head-on.

Thor still had a lot to learn about humility.

Instead, I’d have Doctor Strange be the de facto leader of the team by virtue of his age and power as the Sorcerer Supreme. His arc, perhaps, would have revolved around him needing to shift his focus from the bigger picture to factoring in the smaller issues that his peers face on a daily basis, effectively making himself both a public figure of the superhero community and improving his interpersonal skills. And then there’s Thor (and Blake, of course); Thor would be the group’s hot-headed jock, the guy who runs in, hammer swinging, trying to fix every problem with brute strength. This team up would be the perfect opportunity to teach Thor proper humility, to accept that he must work alongside mortals and lead by example rather than being a blundering buffoon. While he learned some of this in The Incredible Hulk Returns, it was clear that there was more to tell with his story and, perhaps, this team up and his learning of humility would be the final heroic act that would earn him his place in Valhalla, allowing Blake to, however sorrowfully, begin his life anew.

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In the end, for as hokey and cringe-worthy as a lot of these seventies Marvel shows were, it does disappoint me that we never got, at least, to see Spider-Man, Hulk, and Banner crossover onscreen. There was a lot to like about each of these, from the impressively realised costumes to the heart-felt emotion, to even the woeful action scenes and I would honestly have loved to see all of these characters come together to battle a common enemy. What do you think about Marvel’s television show and movies from the seventies? Do you have fond memories of The Incredible Hulk? Do you also wish that The Amazing Spider-Man would get a release on DVD? Perhaps you hated the monotony and ridiculousness of these shows. Whatever your opinion, leave a comment below and get in touch.

Talking Movies: Thor: Ragnarok

Talking Movies
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Not content with redefining the superhero genre of movies, the latest effort from Marvel Studios has also redefined the word “psychedelic”. Apparently, the last solo effort to feature everyone’s favourite, muscle-bound God of Thunder (Chris Hemsworth), Thor: The Dark World (Taylor, 2013), did not meet the expectations of many fans and critics out there; it’s easily among the top three less-than-stellar offerings from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (though, personally, I enjoyed it quite a lot) so, in an effort to rectify this, continue the expansion of their cinematic universe, and finally allow the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) some time to shine, director Taika Waititi has stepped in to infuse the hammer-wielding hero with some of the same outlandish humour seen in the Guardians of the Galaxy (Gunn, 2014; 2017) film series but does it work? Thor: Ragnarok begins with the titular hero bound in chains in the hellish Muspelheim as a prison of the devil-like Surtur (Clancy Brown); through a humorous voice-over, we quickly learn the Thor’s search for the legendary Infinity Stones has turned up nothing and he has stumbled upon evidence to prove that Ragnarök, the twilight of the Gods, is looming on the horizon. As Ragnarök is prophesied to be caused by Surtur placing his crown into the Eternal Flame, Thor defeats the demon and claims his crown. Upon returning to Asgard, he quickly sees through the tricky of his brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), easily deducing that the God of Mischief has been posing as their father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins).

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Sadly, Hela’s potential never stretches beyond this display of power.

Less than impressed, Thor forces Loki to take him to Odin’s location; however, they are immediately intercepted by Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) who, somewhat needlessly, ushers them along to Norway, where Odin has found himself. On the verge of death, Odin tells his sons that his passing will release his first-born child, Hela (Cate Blanchett), the Goddess of Death, who desires to end all Asgardian life and bring destruction to the Nine Realms. Upon vanishing into a puff of golden sparks, this immediately comes to pass and, when Thor attempts to stop Hela, she easily catches and destroys his magical hammer, Mjolnir. Fearful of his half-sister’s great power, Loki commands the Bifröst to transport them back to Asgard; however, Hela follows and casts her younger siblings into the void of space. Upon her arrival in Asgard, she kills Volstagg (Ray Stevenson) and Fandral (Zachary Levi) within the blink of an eye and recruits Scurge (Karl Urban) as her executioner. Deposited upon the planet Sakaar, Thor is captured – his power subdued by an obedience disk – by Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and becomes a prisoner of the enigmatic Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). Loki is also there, having landed weeks earlier due to a time-dilation effect and, being in favour with the Grandmaster, is content to remain, leaving Thor to challenge the Grandmaster’s champion in the arena to win his freedom. Just when all hope seems lost, Thor is confronted by the champion, who turns out to be the Incredible Hulk. Revelling in his fame and glory, the now-sentient Hulk battles Thor mercilessly. However, Thor summons the powers of lightning to turn the tide and is summarily subdued by the Grandmaster.

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The battle between Thor and Hulk is easily the best part of the film.

In Hulk’s bed chambers, Thor converses with his fellow Avenger, who is less than enthusiastic about helping Thor as he was hated and feared on Earth, even by his team mates. Thor persists, even managing to convince Valkyrie to help him escape and save Asgard but, after activating the Quinjet that brought Hulk to Sakaar, Thor loses his primary means of transportation when the Hulk destroys the ship during his manic reversion back into Bruce Banner. Banner, in a state of shock as he has been trapped within the Hulk for two years, fears for the loss of his identity should he transform again, yet still teams up with Thor, Valkyrie, and Loki to steal the Grandmaster’s luxury spaceship, return to Asgard, and prevent Hela from bringing ruin to the Nine Realms.

In case it isn’t clear from the trailers or television spots, Thor: Ragnarok is an action comedy with a heavy emphasis on the comedy. Thor, whose humour was always present and based in a dry wit, quips one-liners and glib remarks throughout the film, even in the face of annihilation at the hands of Hela. However, the humour works very well; the chemistry between Hemsworth and Hiddleston is as potent as ever and both react, and act, perfectly with the Hulk. Speaking of the Hulk, the Green Goliath finally gets a chance to show a personality; having been transformed for so long has made the Hulk capable of intelligent, if child-like, speech and able to comprehend what is happening around him. There is a clear difference between the Hulk, who is always angry and craving a fight, and Banner; Banner’s previous tenuous control over the Hulk is apparently now lost and he faces a very real fear of being consumed by the Hulk (although this is never developed beyond a short exchange with Thor).

After a strong but, undoubtedly disappointing, showing from Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), there was quite a lot of anticipation surrounding Hela. Like Ultron (James Spader), Hela has a powerful presence and a snappy wit, with clear and concise motivations: she seeks to rule the Nine Realms through anarchy and death rather than the peace and prosperity her father once sought. However, although she is easily Thor’s most powerful foe, she still succumbs to the same issues that plague many of Marvel’s villains: procrastination. The film, honestly, spends too much time on Sakaar and not enough time with Hela who, upon reaching Asgard, kills a bunch of people, stands around gloating, and is then unable to enact her plan simply because Heimdall (Idris Elba) stole the sword that activates the Bifröst. This is quite the problem as she literally storms into Asgard, leaves some bodies in her wake, awakens an undead army and her steed, Fenris Wolf, and then stands around doing nothing until Thor and his team (the “Revengers”) finally return to take her on.

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The brilliance of Jeff Goldblum continues to astound.

Logically you would think that it would be the Grandmaster who acts as the secondary antagonist; however, you would be largely mistaken. Although Goldblum, who was clearly given free reign to ad-lib and bring as much of his awesome quirks to the character, steals every scene he is in, he isn’t even an obstacle in Thor’s path beyond making him fight the Hulk. Indeed, Thor stages an uprising (lead by Korg (Taika Waititi, whose soft-spoken take on the character was a surprise, to say the least) simply to distract the Grandmaster’s pitiful forces long enough for him to steal his ship and escape. The film appears to be treating Ragnarök as its primary threat; however, the humour laced throughout is so prominent that this apocalyptic event isn’t really treated with the weight or gravitas that you might expect, meaning that Thor’s realisation that he must revive Surtur to cause Ragnarök as the only means of defeating Hela is given barely any significance (Korg even cracks jokes during what should be the sombre and gut-wrenching destruction of Asgard).

Valkyrie is a welcome addition to the franchise; having faced Hela centuries ago and watched all of her fellow female warriors perish, she has become a bitter recluse, resigned to being an alcoholic bounty hunter. Thor gives her a chance at redemption and she takes it gladly, taking up arms once more to help rescue the Asgardians from extinction. However, her inclusion comes at a price; in a throwaway line, Thor reveals that he and Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) have broken up, and (perhaps more criminally) Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander) is noticeably and inexplicable absent, with no mention of her in any way, and the Warriors Three (Thor’s brothers-in-arms) are unceremoniously killed off presumably to appease Idris Elba with a more significant role for Heimdall, who basically becomes Thor’s right-hand man by the film’s end.

Yet, Thor: Ragnarok is a stunning film to watch; Sakaar is a dystopian cyber-punk dreamland, filled with the decrepit, lived-in quality of the cities and peoples seen in the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. It is clear that the film is meant firmly entrench Thor in the wild, wacky cosmic side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the eighties-inspired soundtrack and visuals really help to hammer that point home (no pun intended). In addition, the humour is truly entertaining and the action is intense and thrilling; the battle between Hulk and Thor is fantastic to watch and the sheer scope of the movie is quite impressive given that it mainly jumps back and forth between Sakaar and Asgard. Additionally, as he is devoid of Mjolnir, Thor showcases his command of lightning to great effect in this film; he truly becomes the God of Thunder, summoning lighting bolts, surrounding himself with a shield of lightning, and powering himself up to the point where is is all-but untouchable. In the end, though, I actually expected more. I was expecting a threat such as the Goddess of Death to be treated with a bit more severity; her campaign never really gets a chance to begin before she is stopped in her tracks and the true impact of her actions or threat is never really felt meaning that, in the end, she is as ineffectual a villain as Malekith was because neither got to showcase their incredible potential due to the many other plot threads at work in the film.

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Sadly, this cameo didn’t really add a lot to the film.

Hulk, despite given much more characterisation than ever before, actually quickly fades into the background by the third act and the interesting idea that Banner and the Hulk are finally two separate entities within the same body is never truly explored. Most notably, Thor: Ragnarok goes out of its way to quickly tie up the loose ends from Thor: The Dark World with a very simple and disappointing payoff; when The Dark World ended with Loki impersonating Odin on the throne of Asgard, it posed so many questions and raised expectations of an epic battle to reclaim the throne. Instead, Thor simply reveals the deception and finds Odin maybe ten minutes later. It would have been faster if not for the unnecessary cameo by Doctor Strange; literally, Strange’s inclusion offers nothing of value (Loki could have taken Thor straight to Norway and skipped the entire New York sequence completely) except, I guess, to establish (or re-establish) that Strange acts as the mystic guardian of Earth but we already knew this from Doctor Strange (Derrickson, 2016). I’m all for cameos and inclusions of other Marvel characters but they’ve got to add something to the film and I really don’t think it did in this instance. I think those who disliked Thor: The Dark World will see this film as a redemption as it is, undoubtedly, a better movie and probably the strongest of the Thor films as Hemsworth and Hiddleston truly embody their characters and the interactions between them and their fellow cast of characters was great to see. However, I can’t help but think a film about the literally death of Gods should have some more gravitas to it and be more epic in its scope and execution; instead, this is an action comedy primarily focused on integrating Thor into the cosmic aspect of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and infusing the Hulk with some actual characterisation and, in these aspects, it succeeds spectacularly.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Recommended: Yes, though I’d have to voice a a bit of disappointment at the execution of the film’s primary plot.
Best moment: Hands down, the battle between Hulk and Thor in the arena, which delivered in every way possible.
Worst moment: Hela’s lacklustre effort as the primary villain and the execution of Ragnarök left a lot to be desired, effectively nullifying the significance of the final act of the film.