Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

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S1: The following podcast contains explicit language. I tell you my secret. Now I see. Charlotte.

S2: Greatest people know I am the.

S1: What’s in the box.

S2: Yo, you’re blowing up.

S1: Damn, you old Al.

S3: Hi, I’m Dana Stevens, Slate’s movie critic. And we are here with another Slate spoiler special this week on Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, the new entry in the Marvel Canon. Joining me to talk about the second doctor, strange movie, second standalone Doctor Strange movie is Sam Adams, senior editor at Slate. Hey, Sam.

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S1: Hi, Dana.

S3: So where do we start with a movie that is about the entire multiverse? This was a very different Marvel movie that I went in expecting to see because it is a standalone movie about one character, right? It’s not one of those sprawling Avengers style movies that’s about the whole gang coming together. And so I thought that for people like me who haven’t seen every single entry in the Marvel canon, this would be something comprehensible. But this movie ended up being this very strange mixture of slavish fan service to the Marvel crowd and a pretty unusual, mature vision being implemented onto the Marvel Universe. And I wonder, first of all, I just wanted to get your general thumbs up, thumbs down. Would you send a friend to see it? And secondly, can you talk a little bit about that bifurcation between, you know, fan service and and visionary moments in this movie?

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S1: I think this is probably one of the best and also one of the worst Marvel movies that I’ve seen that has a lot to do with. And I’m interested to see where you kind of come down on this data. But I came into this as very much a fan of Sam Raimi, or at least some of the stuff that Sam Raimi has done, particularly his The Evil Dead trilogy, and then at least two of the three Spider-Man movies. I even have fondness for some parts of the third one. So he came into this kind of as a replacement for Scott Derrickson, who directed the first movie and got kind of booted off this one in the middle. And big question for me was this was this going to actually look like anything that was made by a person at all, let alone Sam Raimi in particular? And there are parts of it that definitely do. And I really like those. And there are parts of it that are just kind of regular Marvel clergy and it really aggressively just aggressively referential and completely incoherent sequel to the TV show Wandavision. And those are just a mess and kind of a joyless slog. Yeah, I don’t know if you average, like, one star in three and a half stars. What do you.

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S3: Get? Yeah, I completely agree. It’s both the best and the worst. I mean, in moments in this movie and we’ll get into what they are, they tend to be toward the end of the movie, you really hear that Raimi voice. And like you, if there was anything that got me into the seats in this movie because I’ve sort of by this time decided I’m not seeing a new Marvel movie just because there is a new Marvel movie. There has to be some reason, whether on the directorial side or the casting or something about the vision, to bring me into the theater, because I’ve just written the same review and had the same conversation too many times. And this time it was definitely Sam Raimi who. Yes, I agree. Sam Raimi is this unique director among horror directors. He’s a comic horror director. Right. His biggest skill is making people sort of laugh and squeal and squirm all at the same time. And there’s moments that this movie really carries that off. I think one of my favorite Sam Raimi movies ever. One that you didn’t mention is Drag Me to hell. Right. This really just quick and dirty little horror movie about about real estate and possession by the devil that I really highly recommend to anybody who hasn’t seen it. And it was remembering that fairly recently, you know, Drag Me to Hell was not a long time ago. How old is that movie? Maybe eight years ago or so.

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S1: You’re like 12, something like that. Yeah, fairly recent.

S3: I guess that’s a while back now, but I mean, it’s not going back as far as his his Evil Dead movies, you know, going all the way back to the nineties. But he still got it to some extent. Right. And I know that he has a unique material vision that I thought might do something different with this movie. But I think it is just really hard, whether you’re Chloe Zhao or Sam Raimi, it’s really hard for directors with visions to bring those visions into an entire Marvel movie. They might be able to plant a few seeds here and there, but there’s just too much on their shoulders in terms of, you know, the whole legacy of this universe. And you really felt that bifurcation in this movie to an extent that I honestly couldn’t decide if I liked it or not. For long stretches, I would think, Oh, this is doing something really interesting and fun. And I feel like I’m actually in a comic book world in a fun way and then feel dragged down into some really leaden space, and then it would sort of take flight again. And so I honestly don’t know whether to send people to it or not. I think it’s a sort of a curiosity and oddity on the Marvel shelf.

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S1: Right. I mean, there’s a certain extent to which being invested in like who directed a marvel movie is like really caring about who made the can that your coke comes in. Like it just, it doesn’t matter. And so many Marvel is very good at plucking sort of interesting directors often, you know, off the festival circuit or like Chloé Zhao of a big sort of Oscar winning, you know, arthouse hit and then having them turn on something that just looks like completely, you know, cookie cutter, fabricated personality, less slop, you know. So whether or not in the last movie that Sam Raimi made before this, which was almost ten years ago, it was Oz the Great and Powerful, which is someone who I think is seen every other movie that he’s made I couldn’t bring myself to see because just the idea of it was so depressing.

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S3: Oh, you made the right move. I had blocked that out. That was really painful.

S1: So I just I mean, on the one. I think I was set the bar very low for this, which is just like, if anything, it it looks like anything. I will be kind of happy about that. And it’s because unlike you, I, for better or for worse, drag myself to every single Marvel movie. I think I seen all of them except for the second half of Thor, the dark world, which really I just keep that way. So I can say that I haven’t seen all of them. But, you know, at that point you’re just looking for like little bits around the edges that you can enjoy yourself with and not expecting anything different from the main event because it is so much the same every time.

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S3: We will get there. But I think there’s more than a little bit. I think that there’s an entire sequence of this movie that that feels completely original and Raimi esque and funny, and that woke me up out of my seat. But we will get there. And honestly, I don’t think it starts off that bad either. Let’s start off with the opening action sequence. Of course, every Marvel movie and really every action movie now, it seems like, has to start off with an action set piece to just sort of whet your appetite. And the one that starts off this movie takes place at a wedding. It’s the wedding of Dr. Stephen Strange, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, his ex-girlfriend, played by Rachel McAdams. If I’m not wrong, we haven’t seen her before in the universe, right? I mean, she’s just being sprung on us as the as the heartbreaking ex of Doctor Strange.

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S1: Now she’s in the first movie, I think. I mean, I had to look it up, but I believe.

S3: She is this is where you’re you’re marvel complete ism or near-complete ism is going to come in handy because I don’t think I ever saw the first doctor strange movie Please Don’t Bludgeon Me listeners, but there’s like two dozen of these movies now and I just can’t with it all. So he’s at her wedding. At her wedding, he happens to meet Wang, his longtime accomplice, who now in we’re in the post snap era here. Right. We’re finding ourselves at some point after the the resurrection of everyone that Thanos snapped away out of existence in Endgame. And Wang has now become the sorcerer supreme the for the former post of Doctor Strange. Right. But the two of them continue to be sort of I guess they’re almost sort of like running a magic school together, it seems like. Right. I mean, their day to day job in the relatively peaceful universe where the movie starts out is that they’re training future magicians and sorcerers and kind of bringing them up in this big stronghold, secret place that they keep in the mountains. But anyway, this big action sequence that starts off the movie, I think is actually sort of a fun one. It’s it’s that Rachel McAdams wedding to another man breaking doctor strange. His heart is interrupted by this great monster who actually looks like something that you would get in, you know, a capsule and a gumball machine in the 1970s. He’s a one eyed octopus creature from space who turns out not to be an important villain or figure in the movie at all. He’s really just a reason that this wedding can be disrupted and that a new character can be introduced. But I was kind of delighted by the the cheesiness of that opening villain and how silly that chase through the streets with the one eyeballed octopus monster is.

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S1: Right. I mean, the Internet has informed me that this this creature is actually technically known as Shu McGrath, although because apparently the rights to the name Shu McGrath have been auctioned off to some other entertainment conglomerate. This is just sort of an unnamed one eyeball, the octopus tentacle monster here. But yes, so this rampaging octopus tentacle monster turns out to be chasing after a young woman named America Chavez. And we’ve actually seen an absurd brief scene at the beginning of the movie, engaged in battle, originally on the same side as a sort of alternate universe Doctor Strange, who then decides that he needs to suck out her power and kill her in order to defeat this demon? And then that doesn’t work out. They all get rid of her, and the corpse of this other type of strange get zapped into this universe, as does the monster, which then continues chasing after her through the of New York. So there’s a big rampage. Lots of things are flipped over and crushed and they go up walls. And eventually and this is when you really know that Sam Raimi directed this movie, The Creature is Defeated because Doctor Strange upRoots, a sort of old fashioned lamppost from the street in New York and stabs it through the eyeball of this eyeball creature. And then not only that, but yanks it out so that the eyeball comes free and you can see all the sort of squiggly little tendons behind it as well. And that is, I may have done a little bit of clapping silently in the theater when that happened.

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S3: Well, that’s what I mean, is that there’s just kind of a juvenile mad magazine, kind of gleeful nurse to the look of that monster. The grossness of the of the eyeball gag in the way that he’s done away with that made me feel like maybe this movie was going to be silly, you know, that it would sort of lean into the silliness of a guy in a cape defeating an octopus eyeball monster and for long stretches. It does enjoy the fullness of its own silliness. But there’s also a lot more a cult style somberness in this movie than in lots of these movies. So it’s a horror movie in two sense, is it has these kind of gross out silly scenes like that, and it has a lot of gloomy, supernatural, occult nonsense that I feel really drags the movie down, especially once Wanda this. Scarlet Witch enters onto the scene, which is which is going to happen in just a moment. But really, what the octopuses incursion into that wedding accomplishes is to show us that we are in a world of multiverses. Right. Because as you pointed out, this young woman, America Chavez, who shows up along with the octopus monster and the dead body of the other Dr. Strange is coming from the same universe he dreamed about. So an important premise of this movie is that if you have a dream in our world, you are dreaming something that actually happened or is happening in some other multiverse and dream. Walking ends up becoming a major way that, you know, people solve problems in this narrative. They find their way into a dream and thereby are living some sort of alternate reality, although it takes a little while for the movie to let us figure that out.

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S1: So America Chavez is played by Associate Gomez, who’s a newcomer to the MCU, tells Doctor Strange that she is being pursued by these creatures who are trying to steal her power, which is that she is actually able to sort of zap herself between universes in the multiverse, although it’s something that she can’t control. That kind of only happens when she’s especially afraid of something. But someone is out there trying to steal her power for some very bad end. And Doctor Strange, who apparently has forgotten everything that happened in the Spider-Man movie like four months ago and doesn’t know anything about the multiverse anymore and decides it needs to turn for help. To someone who understands a little bit about warping the fabric of reality, which is Wanda a.k.a the Scarlet Witch.

S3: And here I have a question for you. Well, first, I have a comment about America Chavez’s name. This is completely off topic, but I found myself getting distracted over and over again by the fact that an alien, which is what this character is supposed to be, she’s from a completely different planet and or universe has the name America that just seemed very imperialistic to me. Like, why would they even know about America? Their much last name, their child after it? But moving on to Wanda, so the character played by Elizabeth Olsen, a.k.a. The Scarlet Witch or Wanda, has she, at this point in the movie, lived through the experience of Wandavision, the television show, or do we not know?

S1: I believe she has some of the confusion with this movie is, I think, partly because of the pandemic and partly because, as I mentioned, there was another they had Scott Derrickson, who directed the first Doctor Strange making this movie. He chose, in quotes to leave. And Sam Raimi was brought in to essentially, I think, make the movie from scratch or keep as much or as little of it as he could. But this was supposed to come before Wandavision and then eventually ended up coming after it. So there’s a lot of stuff in it. I think they did some reshoots and in writing to kind of accommodate that, but it is also weirdly kind of doing the same thing as Wandavision. They they both sort of turn the idea that in response to the grief of the death of her, her husband vision, Wanda has used her reality warping magic to basically create two sons for herself out of thin air. And at the end of Wandavision she gives up those illusions, and the sons die to the extent that things that were never really live can die in the first place. And now she is a grieving mother in this movie, but also sort of plays like someone who has never really had children or has only had them in dreams or something. It’s all a little bit of a mess, basically.

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S3: I mean, I feel like Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, the theorist of grief, would be not happy with the way that the Scarlet Witch has dealt with her grieving if this takes place after Wandavision, because I only saw the beginning of that show. But isn’t it the case that that entire show is about her going through this massive experience of grieving and sort of coming to terms with loss? I mean, if she really is just still this upset and this violent in her, you know, ability to warp the universe for her grief, then Wandavision didn’t get much done.

S1: Yes. The show is about sort of her finding closure and not only accepting the death of vision, her husband of basically killing him again because she has created this replacement of him that then she has to kill. So she is supposed to be more or less completely reconciled with her loss at the end of that. And then in this movie, we find out very quickly they don’t even mislead us for more than half of the scene where she’s, you know, tells Doctor Strange, he comes over to her for help, if you like. Sure. I would love to help you with this America person whose name you haven’t actually told me yet. Where is she? Why don’t you bring her to me and I can help her? And then Dr. Strange is like, Ha, I never told you her name. And she is at that point standing in this sort of lovely apple orchard. And then once she’s caught out, she just waves her hand and it all sort of the magic spell goes away. And she’s actually standing in this sort of stygian hellscape somewhere in the world where she has chosen to live. And we find out at this point that, in fact, she is the villain who has been controlling these weird inter dimensional monsters with her magic powers because she wants to steal America Chavez’s power, killing her in order to use it to go to wherever it is in the multiverse that her two not real sons are not existing.

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S3: Right. Exactly. So it’s all ultimately about her wanting to be a happy mom. And I have to say that this part of the story did nothing for me at all. I really it’s a huge part of the story, right. Which is Wanda’s struggle and her desire to be happy with her sons. And, you know, periodically we cut in between these two universes where she’s a happy suburban mom versus where she’s this kind of, you know, I don’t know what to even call her. This Multiverse got evil God character who is controlling the whole universe or the many universes. I never cared about that. That subplot about whether she got back with her sons or not. It seemed like a very generic version of motherhood that was being played out, only to be contrived for narrative purposes. And unlike the love story between Strange and his, you know, thwarted girlfriend Rachel McAdams, it didn’t even have, you know, the basic emotional interest to sort of keep me watching that part. So when we were talking about the bifurcation of this movie, I feel like everything Wanda related goes on the bad side of the ledger. So I think that sets up the basic conflicts of the movie. Let’s take a quick break here for a word from our sponsor, and we will get back into the multiverse hopping part. All right. So after we’ve established our basic villain hero scenario and realized that it’s going to be Scarlet Witch, who is the bad girl, the bad lady? In this scenario, we get our second big action scene, a surprisingly gory one, with an extremely high body count, which takes place in the comer tage, as it’s called, which is that stronghold I referred to earlier, the place where Wang and Dr. Strange are training all of their apprentices in magician ship. And what the Scarlet Witch proceeds to do, because she knows America. Chavez, the girl she wants, is in that stronghold somewhere, is to just lay absolute waste to their sorcery school. Do you have anything to say about that scene?

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S1: This is sort of one of the more interesting parts of it for me because, I mean, the Marvel movies are notorious, certainly among me, for having even the ones that are basically interesting, just having really, really like dull and uninteresting battle scenes, some of these sort of individual smaller scale fight scenes, particularly in like the Captain America movies and Black Panther are actually choreographed and fun to watch. And then when you get. You know, several dozen people fighting against a bad person, throwing like big, glowy bursts of light out of the sky at them. It just all becomes sort of, you know, computerized previs stuff that is in a lot of the rumors are don’t even really involve the directors at all. And there’s just sort of churned out by this standing Marvel fight unit. And they all look the same. They all kind of have no weight and no consequence. And people don’t seem to get killed. They just sort of get blasted and fall over. And, you know, it’s just like, you know, the part of the movie where you could just, you know, step out and go to the bathroom and come back in 5 minutes and not miss anything. This one is a little different because Sam Raimi, like this movie, like it actually does want you to know that when the Scarlet Witch is, you know, laying waste to this stronghold of sorcerers, people are actually getting killed and they’re getting killed in like within the scope of like this being a, you know, PG 13 Marvel movie in fairly graphic ways. I mean, there’s a scene, there’s a shot where after the battle is over, the Scarlet Witch is sort of striding across the flagstone courtyard of this place, and her foot comes down, like right next to charred remnant of a corpse. It looks like something out of, like the eruption of Vesuvius or something. So, you know, he like he wants you to know that those are like the real bodies of, okay, granted, like, you know, magical sorcerers who have just engaged in combat. But it does actually want you to know that these are people who died. And that is a level of consequence that we don’t often see in these movies and I’m sort of grateful for.

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S3: Yeah, I think that there is a sense that there’s something really at stake in these battles besides symbolic victory. And there’s also a question that comes up again and again, which is a big question throughout the Avengers movies, which about trading one life for many lives, right? The kind of trolley problem question, because over and over, Wanda keeps sort of saying, if you just hand over America, nobody has to die except for her, right? I mean, except for the implied fact that taking her powers will in fact kill her. And so it’s the protection of this one life that makes it okay for all of these other lives to be spent. So as always, in Marvel universes, I mean, the moral calculus is a little shady. And, you know, there could be a lot of good place style debates about who is doing the right thing in these kind of scenarios. But it does seem that Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange is trying to uphold the honor system of, you know, every individual life being worth defending.

S1: Right. And it’s so funny. I mean, the character comes from the comics and that’s her name and they’re just kind of stuck with it. But the fact that there are so many lines in this movie where it’s like hand over America, is America okay? How’s America doing? And it’s every time you’re like it, you just feel like some, you know, cultural studies person is like student is just like going into, like, paroxysms of joy behind you and can’t wait to like put this in their term paper.

S3: I will say as well, and this is purely a scripting problem. It has nothing to do with show she Gomez’s performance. But that is a really boring character until the last until we’ll get there but until the last 10 minutes of the movie or so she is a damsel in distress and almost exclusively that and there’s scene after scene that just sort of involves her as this trading chip that people are fighting over and, you know, pulling out of abysses and rescuing from death at the last minute. And I know she’s supposed to be someone who has not yet mastered her power, which in a way makes her a proxy for the teen viewer. Right. She’s the sort of teen who’s learning to be a superhero. But in practice, that really makes her end up having to be just the girl who must be saved in scene after scene after scene. But so one result of this battle for Cosmatos having been more or less won, at least one in the sense that America Chavez has not been handed over to the person trying to capture her. Right. Despite all of that, that violence and damage is that now they can use the powers of America to pop from universe to universe. Unfortunately, they don’t have much control over where they’re popping to. But what they are essentially trying to do at this point is go to different universes to try to find a version of Doctor Strange who would be able to to figure this out for them and get them out of this this pickle with the Scarlet Witch. So the first universe they get to get popped into is one where and this is sort of gathered from clues that they get wandering the streets of this city. They end up in this kind of alternate New York and extremely utopic looking New York, actually, that rather than being a burned out hulk, is, you know, covered in flowers and lots of pedestrian walkways. They don’t seem to have traffic problems. So they’re walking through this sort of alternate, beautiful New York and they notice a big statue of Doctor Strange in front of a sort of Doctor Strange museum. So apparently in this universe, Doctor Strange is some kind of world hero who has performed some great act. So as American Doctor Strange enter into this museum, they discover that things are not what they seem. Do you want to talk about what they discover in there?

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S1: Sure. Well, yeah. So Doctor Strange sort of tracks down, you know, the equivalent of his, I believe, if I remember my comics correctly, it’s called the Sanctum Sanctorum. And he finds his. Old nemesis, Baron Mordo has sort of taken over a sorcerer supreme here. And he says, Hey, you know, you must be from another universe because our Doctor Strange is dead. So very nice to see you. Here, have a cup of tea.

S3: This is Chiwetel Ejiofor Chiwetel Ejiofor. Yes. I’m going to lose track of my superhero.

S1: So. Yeah. So he. You never let anybody in a movie to give you a cup of tea? You know what’s going to happen. So, of course, they both get drugged and knocked out and imprisoned and wake up in this plexiglass prison with this sort of power dampening cuffs on Stephen Strange I’m not sure we learn that in this universe they basically sort of have the equivalent of the Infinity War storyline. But in this case, instead of The Avengers, he was being fought by this group, the Illuminati, which were led by this universe’s version of Doctor Strange, and in order to vanquish Thanos, which he did, Strange had to give himself over to the Darkhold, which is basically this the Mcu’s version of the Necronomicon in the Evil Dead movies. It’s his ultimate evil book of spells, which corrupts anybody who uses it. The more power they take from it, the more corrupted and evil they become. This is the Earth 838 universe for those of you who know it from the comics. So in this version, this strange was completely corrupted by this evil spell book in destroying Thanos. And so in order to really save him as well as themselves, the Illuminati killed him. And then sort of, you know, came up with this whole sort of menu shot Liberty Valance, fake storyline where he was actually the hero who saved everything and died in battle and became a big statue. But they can’t have another doctor. Strange popping up and ruining that myth, let alone getting hold of the darkhold as he’s trying to do.

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S3: At this scene on eighth rate Earth has also what I consider the most static and most marvel in the worst way scene in the movie where there’s there’s just sort of a fan service parade where there’s this kind of bank of of heroes, the the Illuminati that the Doctor Strange, who is our actual hero from our universe, is standing there and confronting. And one by one, there’s just really literally just a slow pan across the stage with, you know, all the Marvel heads in the audience hooting and hollering as various new heroes are revealed. I had no idea who any of these people were. I’m not ashamed to admit it. I don’t understand why we’re excited to see them again. If you had any particular comments on any of these folks that you recognize from the Marvel Universe, especially who Patrick Stewart is supposed to be, I’m particularly interested in, but that whether or not those characters end up being important later on, I just can’t stand that kind of scene that is only there for people who know who they are already like, reach out to those of us who would be happy to learn to meet new characters if you would just explain them to us.

S1: This scene for me and I wrote, I wrote something about this for the site, but this next sort of 10 minutes of the movie are really both the worst and the best of this movie packed into a very short span. So, yeah, so we get to meet all the Illuminati, beginning with John Krasinski as Reed Richards from the Fantastic Four, which one person on my screen actually stood up and like pumped his fist in the air because there’s been this campaign on the Internet for years, like make John Krasinski Mr. Fantastic. So it’s like we did it. The nearest there’s John Krasinski is Reed Richards and there is I think it’s Anson Mount as black bolt from the Inhumans TV show that got canceled. I mean, we got but I guess it’s Monica Rambeau, his mother, Maria Rambeau, from the first Captain Marvel, who’s now Captain Marvel. We have Peggy Carter as the equivalent of Captain America, which you only seen on the Amanda animated what f Marvel show. And then we get the return of Patrick Stewart as Professor Charles Xavier from the X-Men movies, who can now appear in this universe because now Disney owns everything, including Fox, which has the rights to the X-Men and the Fantastic Four, so they can put them all in the same movie because they own everything, which is great. Yeah. So this is just absolutely the worst sort of like fan service jerk off of like look at all the stuff we own that we can now put in the same box. And we’re all supposed to feel really great about the fact that like Disney has bought up all the IP on the planet and can do whatever you mean. Is it basically like Space Jam two? It’s just like a flex of like all the stuff that Disney owns now.

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S3: I mean, what it almost reminds me of is an unboxing video on YouTube, because that’s about how lively it is. It’s as if as his A figures are being taken out of boxes and kind of displayed to the camera. And I mean, it’s particularly irritating. I know the X-Men movies, I’ve seen the X-Men movies with Patrick Stewart’s character. I just didn’t realize that those two universes were mingling because that scene doesn’t even go so far as to say, here is X character name, right? I mean, it’s so depends on the audience knowing who these people are that I don’t think it even identifies them by by character, name as they are, you know, introduced on the in that lineup of of Illuminati.

S1: Some of them they do. I mean they make a point of reminding you that the character Black Bolt’s name is his real name is Black, a guard bolt a gun, which is just the most ridiculous thing. And that is. I mean, this is Sam Raimi, the guy who made sure to throw in a joke in the second Spider-Man movie about how Dr. Octopus, his real name is Otto Octavius. Just to remind you how goofy all this comic book stuff is because he loves it. Like, he’s not trying to. Like, Marvel always tries to like the Marvel movies, always try to, like, not use people’s superhero names if they can get around it and just call them by their civilian names and not get into sort of all the like, like silly geeky stuff from the comics. And like, Sam Raimi loves that stuff and he could just say, Here’s Black Bolt, but he’s like, has to make sure that, you know, his name is black available to God because that’s just the dumb stuff that he loves so much. And what he also loves doing so much is then completely turning that upside down because there again, there’s this whole scene where everybody cheers all their favorite characters show up, the ones who you never knew if they were going to make it into the movies or what. And then the Scarlet Witch shows up and she kills all of them, some of them very quickly. She seals black bolt. They have this whole speech about how black bolt has this power. He can like level skyscrapers with his voice. She seals up his mouth and he uses his power and just explodes his head from the inside. She turns Reed Richards into kind of like rubbery spaghetti in like his head sort of bursts, like a grape that’s in like 20 seconds. Then Peggy Carter gets cut in half with her. Captain America SHIELDS Captain Marvel gets a big statue dropped on her. They’re just all dead and like, a couple of minutes. And, you know, this is Earth 838. These aren’t like the real versions of the characters or whatever. But, you know, these are the characters that people are like cheering to show up. And Sam Raimi just kind of thinks it’s funny to kill them all in this really sort of gory and inconsequential way. And I have to say that I also think that this is hilarious.

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S3: I suppose if I had some idea of where they came from or why they mattered, at least that scene might have seemed. I just found dead weight, completely dead weight that could have been taken out of the movie entirely. All right. We’re going to take a brief break from our conversation for one more word from our sponsor, and then we will get to what I think is a pretty rip roaring conclusion to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Okay. So back to Dr. Strange. I really think that this movie is very I know what you’d call it, but it’s very bottom loaded. I think all the real Sam Raimi signature stuff starts to kick in in the last 20 minutes or so. And it’s kind of unusual for me that a superhero movie gets more exciting toward the end in it and that it doesn’t lose whatever momentum it had. I think this movie really gains momentum because it has some extremely silly, scary, visionary kind of moments that happen in the final few battle sequences. The first one I wanted to touch on, which is not so much scary as just imaginative, is this crazy music battle that Dr. Strange has with one of his alternate universe selves. And there’s really not much to say about this, except that visually and musically. The scores by Danny Elfman. The scene is kind of remarkable. You want to talk about the battle of the music notes.

S1: Are Doctor Strange. And okay, so after there’s this whole battle in the earth 838 universe where Scarlet Witch like kills all these people and then, you know, ah, strange is basically totally defeated and sort of as a last ditch effort, America just kind of zaps him into this random other universe where he then fight which which is totally wrecked. There’s this whole issue in this movie of what are called incursions, which is basically what happens when two universes in the multiverse sort of start to crash into each other and both are destroyed. So this is a universe that is sort of mid incursion. The whole thing is falling apart. But Doctor Strange manages to find his sort of evil shadow self in this. Who is a version? Another version who has been corrupted by the darkhold but is still alive and has this book hanging around so the two strangers have to do battle in order for him to get hold of the book. And we haven’t mentioned there’s this whole thing in this movie. It’s such a weird red herring where they spend probably an hour of the movie trying to get this really good version of the darkhold called The Book of the Shanty and the Doctor Strange. Like finally gets to it and the Scarlet and immediately grabs it and it does nothing. And then the Scarlet Witch burns it up and it’s like, Oh, never mind, we don’t need that book after all. So then. So now he’s decided that he has to use the bad book and he has to fight the bad version of himself in order to get hold of the bad book. And as they’re gearing up to do battle, ah, strange just kind of falls and clanks his arm on the keyboard of piano there and unleashes this big dissonant sound. And then somehow the whole thing kind of goes into like matrix bullet time. Except instead of throwing bullets at each other, they’re throwing musical notes at each other coming from the piano. And they are defending themselves with with like basically like musical staff notation. Like they sort of draw five lines in the air and all the notes like line up on the staff instead of attacking the strange. And it’s this weird like 1930s cartoon battle, like sort of like Walt Disney pre Mickey Mouse or like just really sort of crude and inventive and bizarre and like nothing else you’ve seen in any of these Marvel movies. And they just sort of throw notes at each other back and forth. And then eventually Doctor Strange comes up after Doctor Strange comes up with a little twist on it to throw a bigger note at himself and defeat him and take hold of the book. But it’s just an example of like the completely loopy stuff that is allowed to go on at certain junctures in this movie.

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S3: I absolutely love that scene because like you say, yeah, it’s like more like something from the Merry Melodies universe, right? I mean, the idea that music somehow becomes a weapon. Danny Elfman score, which is really inventive and playful throughout the movie and I think is part of why this movie has a lighter hearted feeling in many parts than than your average big Marvel movie. But the way the visuals match with the sound is really clever. And the audience was cracking up when when this was going on in my screening, especially, there’s I mean, there’s literally a grace note that kills the bad doctor. Strange, right? There’s sort of this pause in the music and there’s this moment I don’t even think is an extra big note. These notes are kind of rendered in this sort of golden, slightly illuminated style, and there’s a sort of pause in the music and and then a harp comes out. As I remember, our doctor Strange from our universe pulls out this little lyre sized harp, plucks a strangle no single note on it. And in this one single little golden note, sort of razor sharp note flies at the other doctor. Strange. And that’s the thing. That doesn’t mean there’s just something so silly and satisfying about it that that movie won a lot of goodwill back for me when there was the goofy music battle.

S1: Right. And this movie establishes like even in that first, you know, the first couple of fight scenes in the streets of New York, like there’s just a real, you know, any movie about magic and people doing spells with their hands is tough. You know, can get really kind of goofy until the end. It’s just people like throwing big balls of fire at each other. And this movie establishes early on just a real like physicality to the way that, you know, Benedict Cumberbatch in particular is kind of acting the spells. And if he’s like, you know, picking up a lamppost and throwing at somebody, he has to do it by conjuring like a pair of giant hands and like using it as if he throwing it with his body. So it’s not just like waving your arms and doing like, you know, Harry Potter fan motions or something. It feels really physical. So that’s that sort of pays off here where they are, actually. You like taking these notes and throwing that in each other? Like there’s spears and it’s just like a much more fun and interesting way of doing this than, you know, the big glowing bolt of light.

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S3: Yeah. There’s nothing more boring, right, than those Harry Potter battles where you’re just watching two people throw CGI zigzags at each other. And these these scenes manager just managed to get around that in a nice way. Especially and this is the one we’ve been building up to, especially the last big set piece in the movie, the last big action moment, which I think is just conceptually so brilliant and so Raimi ask and this is the moment, I think, where comedy and horror come together in a way that seems atypical of a marvel movie. And I’m going to have a hard time reconstructing the exact logic by which they decide this, but at one point putting their heads together about what they need to do to conquer the Scarlet Witch and all these various multiverses they’re hopping between America. Doctor Strange and Wang all decide with it what they need to do. Or I guess Wong’s not in on it then, because he’s at that moment he’s clinging to a cliff face right near Wanda’s throne and he’s he needs to be rescued a bit later. But American Doctor Strange put their heads together and figure out that what they need is to dream. Walk into the corpse of the dead, Dr. Strange, who now exists in our universe, Earth One, or whatever it’s called. Because early in the movie, as you remember, he has been transported. When the eyeball monster invaded, there was a dead body of Doctor Strange that they buried. Right. There’s a quick scene where he buries his own alternate universe corpse in this kind of under a sort of vault of stones on top of his apartment building. So they then decide, look, we need to defeat Wanda in this universe, but in order to do that, we need to occupy the body of a doctor. Strange. And there isn’t one. So what are we going to do? And that’s when Doctor Strange has this idea. Oh, wait, we. Nobody ever said that the body has to be alive. And so what he does is dream, walk into his own decaying corpse in our universe in order to set this this good zombie. He’s a zombie, but a zombie with good intentions to go and kill Wanda. And I just. I found that scene so marvelously silly and funny and gross.

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S1: Right. And there’s a whole thing in here that I honestly can’t say that I understand. But there’s something involving, like, the souls of the damned, and somehow he gets the souls of the damned to cooperate with him and all these sort of like gooey specters to like, latch onto the zombie stranger’s corpse and make these sort of big, like, oily bat wings that he can then, you know, fly at Wanda with. And it’s, you know, another funny thing this movie does where she has she set herself up in the stronghold called not one to go or whether it is for like a giant stone sentinels standing guard who seem like they’re really imposing. And they’re going to there’s going to be this big, huge fight scene. And he just comes up and he has these little bat wings and he just basically flaps them. And then all of a sentinels that are left just fall off the edge of this mountain and into the abyss below. And there’s no fight whatsoever. He’s kind of knocked them aside. So he set up this whole big battle that you think is going to happen. And then it’s like, no, not going to do that.

S3: Another fun moment there is when when Wang, who, as I mentioned, is clinging to this cliff face right next to to Wanda’s stronghold. I guess he’s rescued, right? He’s rescued by the dead animated doctor. Strange figure who’s surrounded, like you say, by these these bat wings. I mean, nothing could look more like a bad guy than, you know, this this animated corpse surrounded by a strange sort of death eater types. And yet he is the one who is coming to the rescue. And I kind of love the humor of that moment where he rescues Wang, brings him up to safety again. Wang looks at this kind of bizarre creation, has just saved him and says, I don’t even want to know if that was a good line.

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S1: And I think this is the point. This is the point to where Doctor Strange says to Wanda, this time you’re going to have to do more than kill me to kill me, which is just a ridiculous that is, you know, pure, sort of stupid, like evil dead humor.

S3: Yeah, exactly. This is a moment when Evil Dead, the you know, the classic Raimi horror comedies from the early nineties is that when they’re from.

S1: The eighties into the nineties, yeah.

S3: The eighties into the nineties come back, that kind of spirit of, you know, this is gross, but it’s also funny and it’s morbid. You know, it’s just an extremely it’s takes a great delectable pleasure in this kind of morbid visions of decaying flesh. It’s body horror, which is a very unusual thing to to bring into the Marvel Universe. So that for me was a welcome incursion. What’s not so welcome to me because I thought it was a boring part of the movie is Wanda’s whole resolution, if we want to get into that. In other words, how does she balance her whole desire to manipulate the multiverse so that she can have a world in which she’s a suburban mom?

S1: We’ve been doing a pretty concerted job of not talking about it because I think we’re both so bored by it.

S3: It’s a very forgettable part of the movie. And if you’ve seen Wandavision, I didn’t even watch the whole thing. But if you’re even remotely familiar with that show, it’s sort of like this has all been told before, why are we retelling it again?

S1: And her whole character is just like, she’s a mom and she’s sad because her kids died and now she’s willing to, like, destroy the whole universe because she’s sad about. Our kids. And it’s just, you know, in a, you know, serious franchise that has not always had, like, the most thorough and in-depth characterizations of its female heroes. This is a pretty like one note idea behind this one. Yeah. So Wanda, who is basically all powerful at this point, they realize that they can’t defeat her or destroy her. So it sort of served as a last ditch effort. America Chavez, who finally come into her power at this point and learned that in addition to zapping between multiverses, she can also punch people really hard, which is very satisfying to see. She zaps Wanda back into this universe that she’s been dreaming about where she Wanda Maximoff is basically just kind of a normal suburban mom with her two kids who love her and sing her songs about ice cream and stuff like that.

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S3: Also, excuse me, as a parent to a parent, Sam, the vision of parenting, the idealization of the vision of parenting in this movie, like, oh, yes, having a parent is nothing but your child saying, Mommy, I love you. I love you so much, Mom, let me sing you a cute song.

S1: I mean, that’s that’s basically how it is around my house. So it seemed very familiar to me. But yeah, so these, these, you know, earth 838 kids with their nice Earth 838 Mommy C mean Earth 616 Scarlet Witch. And they’re very scared of her. And they scream and yell, No, no, don’t hurt my mommy. Stuff like that. And Scarlet Witch. Wanda realizes the terrible thing that she has let her grief make her into. And so she zaps back to her own universe and basically drops a mountain on herself and so she can commit suicide. Ah, and I guess the last thing that the, the other alternate universe, Wanda says to her something like know that they’ll be loved or something like I got this, I’m going take care of these kids. You go back to your own dimension and drop them out on yourself and everything will be fine. So that’s what she does.

S3: Yeah. So that story resolves in a completely predictable and an interesting way from the beginning, you would have seen that this would happen, right? Like what is the plausible universe where evil scarlet witch mom just somehow takes over and the kids don’t notice? And we’re back to the place that the show Wandavision left us, that where, you know, Wanda is someone who is mourning the loss of a life that she could have had. I think that may be the last thing to mention before we say goodbye to this movie is, you know, the requisite Stingers and what gets introduced as something that’s going to happen in the next movie. And once again, here I was sort of, huh. And I wonder if you have any thought about the the pre credits. Stinger I do have something to say about the Post-Credits Stinger, which is kind of a fake out of the audience, which is hilarious.

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S1: We’re both more interested in that one, but I will just for the sake of completeness here. So yeah, so the pre credits Stinger is, you know, after this whole thing is over and we’ve seen that that strange is sort of sort of back to normal but also that this use of the power of the darkhold has it’s going to have some effect on him and the bad him that he fought with. The piano notes. I can’t believe these words are coming out of my mouth. We knew that he had been corrupted by the Darkhold because he had a third eye in the middle of his forehead. So back in our universe, everything’s to be seems to be going okay. Doctor Strange is just walking down the street and all of a sudden this like, portal opens in the air in front of him, and this woman steps through who is Charlize Theron in a purple jumpsuit? And she says, you know, basically, like the multiverse is in danger. We got to go something like that. So she cut a hole in the air with her like purple sword thing. Stephen Strange pops his third eye and they jump through it to go. As the credits say, Doctor Strange will return with that.

S3: Do we know who Charlize is going to be?

S1: We do, because we Googled it. I think I Googled like Doctor Strange Woman Purple or something like that. Yeah. So she is a character named Claire who has a whole history in the comics we don’t even need to get into now. But she is sort of like the I think the the niece of Dormammu, the dread who is the villain in the first movie. Somehow these like. Cosmic bursts of energy that don’t really seem to have humanoid form also can reproduce in this world. So he. Yes. So she is related to your mom. So she is a very powerful sorceress from the Dark Dimension and she and Strange are going to go off and do things. But she also becomes at a certain point, sorcerer supreme in the comics. So it also seems like if there should come a day when Benedict Cumberbatch decides that he would rather make like the power of the dog, too, instead of another Marvel movie, they will now have another sorcerer supreme to hand the franchise off to.

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S3: I will say that I can I can see Charlize doing doing a good job as a marvel heroine. She can do better just as Benedict Cumberbatch can in his casting choices. But she sort of belongs, you know, I can sort of see her bringing that star power that she has to it to a marvel heroine.

S1: Yeah. It’s like her showing up as the, you know, Fast and the Furious villain. Like, I don’t know that this is the best use of her talents, but she is she was enjoyable doing it. And I’m sure she will be, you know, enjoyable if she shows up in another Marvel movie and makes, you know, $11 million doing it. So hooray for all of us.

S3: So let’s little grace note one little, little quarter note to sing in your direction is the Post-Credits Stinger, which I actually loved because of its pure eighties ness. And I feel like there’s a lot of eighties movies, including Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is one that occurs to me that end with someone showing up at the end of the credits to basically say, Get out of here, the credits are over. And that sort of happens at the at the end of this movie in a goofy way, if you want to touch on that.

S1: If there’s if you know almost anything about Sam Raimi movies, you know that he is sort of joined at the hip with the actor Bruce Campbell, who played the lead ash in all three of the Evil Dead movies and has turned up in, you know, small sort of cameo roles in almost every movie that Sam Raimi has made since, including all three of the Spider-Man movies as different characters. He is the the ticket taker who shoots Peter away from Mary Jane’s performance of the importance of being earnest in Spider-Man two. He’s their wrestling announcer who kind of gives Spider-Man his name in the first one. So he shows up in this movie in that sort of idealized alternate New York that you were talking about before, where not only are the buildings made of flowers, but also pizza comes in balls, which I guess is more convenient and you’re less likely to get tomato sauce on your shirt or something. But so that that ball pizza in this universe is being sold by a person named Pizza Papa. Pizza Papa is aware who’s played by Bruce Campbell. Have you mentioned that part? Pizza Pop is aware that the doctor strange in this universe is supposed to be dead. So he sees this other doctor Strange starts getting a hard time and Doctor Strange cast a spell on him, you know, a little bit of a snooty mood. He basically cast a spell on pizza Papa where pizza. Papa just has to, like, punch himself in the face for three weeks, just like, you know, sort of slap himself and do all this sort of, you know, Three Stooges. ESQ You know, physical comedy where he’s, like, slamming his head into his own hotdog cart and, you know, poking the eyes out and stuff, all that that kind of physical comedy that Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi kind of brought to the horror genre back in the eighties. So he leaves them beating the crap out of himself, story moves on all the way to the end of the credits. Pizza come up, it comes back still, you know, his face is all bruised and bloody and mottled from doing this. And then he finally, you know, smacked himself one last time and realizes he’s not compelled to smack himself anymore. And he says it’s over. It’s finally over. And that’s the that’s the Ferris Bueller. You can go home, lie. And it’s also sort of, you know, Bruce Campbell has said he’s like done played, you know, played ash in movies and TV series. And he said, like, he’s done with that, too. It also feels like a little bit of a kind of bookend to his, you know, I guess, you know, 40 years of making movies with Sam Raimi as well. So it’s just like a nice little grace note for fans. It’s a little bit of physical comedy. It is sort of a gag on the audience for sticking around for the second credits scene. And instead of Nick Fury, they just see Bruce Campbell punching himself in the face.

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S3: Everybody wins. Yeah, it’s great. I mean, I did not expect I sat resentfully through the credits thinking, I’ve got to see what other, you know, unknown to me, character appears so that I can write about it for talking about this movie and to have it instead be just completely about the Raimi verse and a little bit of a teasing joke on the audience was just such a treat that it sent me out smiling. So thank you, Sam and Bruce. All right. Well, Sam, in spite of all my protestations, I am sure I will soon be back in the seat watching some other Marvel movie or another. So I hope you’ll come back and spoil it with me then.

S1: I’ll be happy to do that in this universe or any other day.

S3: In any universe at all. Please all of you, subscribe to the Slate Spoiler special feed. If you don’t already, and if you like our show, read it and review it in the Apple Podcast Store or wherever you get your podcasts. And as always, if you have suggestions for movies or TV shows we should spoil in the future or other feedback you’d like to share. You can send it to spoilers at Slate.com. Our producer is Jasmine Ellis. Alicia montgomery is the executive producer of podcasts. It’s late for Sam Adams. I’m Dana Stevens. Thanks so much for listening and we’ll talk to you again soon.