Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness Still Maddening on Asian Diversity

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By Jana Monji, AsAmNews Arts & Culture Reporter

In this cycle of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the oversimplified view of diversity threaten Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness  despite obvious efforts to makeup for the fiasco that was the 2016 Doctor Strange.

For those who don’t remember the 2016 film that introduced and served as the origin story of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Stephen Strange, you can visit my blog for a refresher. The Doctor Strange story is basically that of a White man who learns the mystic martial arts of Tibet (East Asia) to cure a serious hand injury and becomes a superhero. 

The film Doctor Strange into the Multiverse of Madness starts in a strange universe of floating pieces of architecture and a pony-tailed Doctor Strange (Defender Strange) who is speaking Spanish to the young girl we’ll later learn is America Chavez (Xhochitl Gomez).

They’re attempting to reach a luminescent tome, the Book of Vishanti, but they are pursued by a dimensional monster. This Strange decides that America must be sacrificed for the greater good, but that seems to be a miscalculation. Strange abruptly wakes up in his bedroom. Getting dressed, he leaves to attend the wedding of his true love, Dr. Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams). 

At the wedding, Strange has a brief conversation with Christine (Rachel McAdams) who tells Strange it would have never worked out between them because, “You always had to be the one holding the knife, and I could respect you for it, but I couldn’t love you for it.” Suddenly, there’s a loud disturbance outside and Strange downs his martini and quickly puts on his superhero garb, including the Cloak of Levitation, and battles a one-eyed creature that is after the girl from Strange’s nightmares. 

Benedict Wong arrives to help Strange in his battle and together they determine who this girl is (America Chavez) and what her superpowers are (the ability to open star-shaped portals between parallel universes or what the Daniels in Everyone Everything all at Once would call “verse-jumping”).  She tells them that the one-eyed crabby creature with octopus-like tentacles (but more than eight)  is “like a henchman who works for a demon.”

America tells the two that “Dreams are windows into our multiversal selves.” America and a Spanish-speaking Strange from a parallel universe had been seeking the Book of Pure Good, but still the demon triumphed. Strange and Wong  realize that this is magic and Strange decides to visit a certain Scarlet Witch.  Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) is also dreaming. In her dreams, she has brown hair and two children, but in her waking life, she’s alone. Not even a cat.

With some dark magic, Wanda could have those two kids. When Strange tells her, “Your children aren’t real; you created them,” she replies, “That’s what every mother does.” 

Strange and Wong face the Scarlet Witch at Kamar-Taj, the learning place and library in Nepal. Strange refuses to surrender America and this world (Earth-616) so Wanda says, “I am not a monster, Stephen. I’m a mother.” 

This would have seemed like a lovely opportunity to introduce more Asian or Southeast Asian characters, particularly as we’re jumping between parallel universes but that doesn’t really happen but there seems to be a concerted effort to insure there is a Black character at every major event.

In another parallel universe, Strange meets the Illuminati which are, as one can expect, Black or White (although one actress is part Native American I don’t believe her character is such).

Since the MCU is broad and deep there were other people outside the Black and White binary that could have been used as Illuminati. I go into detail on this in my blog entry.

As there is a good book– Book of Vishanti, there is also a bad book and that is Darkhold or Book of the Damned. This book has already appeared in:

  • WandaVision (Disney+)
  • Agents of SHIELD (ABC)
  • Runaways (Hulu)

The Book of the Damned will also appear in this multiverse. Some of what happens between Wong and the Scarlet Witch is cringeworthy because there seems to be a hint of Hinduism. The Lotus position is used and that pose is more related to Hindu, Tantra, Jain and Buddhist traditions than to witchcraft. The connection between Hinduism and Doctor Strange seems to be hard to deny and that would bring up an issue of cultural appropriation. 

On the diversity side, although Doctor Strange into the Multiverse of Madness introduces a Latina superhero, America Chavez, and Strange does become less egotistical, the decisions made in previous films show a disappointing lack of imagination for people of East Asian descent and that continues outside of the Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. This diversity binary of Black and White continues to be problematic in the MCU. My husband gave this film a 3/5 stars. I’m more inclined to a 2/5. 

The moral here is “Face your fears” and question “Are you happy?” 

If you’ve seen the animated Disney+ series What If… and WandaVision, you’ll have some idea how Multiverse mayhem will work. It’s less fun, less whimsical and much less poignant than the three Spider-man film Spider-man: No Way Home and has less stylized nostalgia than WandaVision.

It’s wonderful that director Sam Raimi was the producer for Sandra Oh’s recent horror flick, Umma. Although he directed the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man trilogy, this trip into the multiverse is dark and lacks the humor of the Spider-Man-centric forays. Writer Michael Waldron also was credited as the creator and writer of the Loki TV series which had strong Black characters but not strong API characters.               

Doctor Strange into the Multiverse of Madness is the least amusing journey into the multiverse and suffers greatly in comparison to the crazy, R-rated Everything Everywhere All at Once

Do stay for the mid-credit and post-credit scenes.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madnesswill be released on 6 May 2022.  

For my full review, visit my blog Age of the Geek.

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