BY MATT TUCK, BLOGGER SUPREME
FB@The Comic Blog
Multiverse of Madness is in the books, and it’s left audiences scratching their heads. Today, let’s shed some light on those major MOM moments and make sense of the madness. [CAUTION: SPOILERS]
AT ODDS WITH MOM
Is anyone surprised that Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness had the biggest opening weekend of any movie so far in 2022? Practically anything with the Marvel Studios logo gets ushered to the front of the box office line. Add in the massive hype surrounding MOM, which coincidentally was released on Mother’s Day weekend, and the theories of cameos that would put Spider-Man: No Way Home to shame, it was no wonder that the movie is on pace for record-breaking profits.
Of all Marvel’s recent MCU entries, MOM is proving to be the most polarizing. While most fans enjoyed the roller coaster experience of massive CGI battles and action-comedy antics, the plot had enough holes to sink an aircraft carrier. Director Sam Raimi’s story focused more on the Scarlet Witch’s pursuit of America Chavez and action sequences than character and plot development. The explanations for her actions were minimal, and it sacrificed a chance to create a truly sympathetic hero-turned-villain.
Doctor Strange was a glorified background character, with his only real job that of advancing the action from one dimension to another. For 90% of the film, the MCU’s resident Master of the Mystic Arts was utterly useless against Wanda Maximoff and her Darkhold-enhanced powers. He asked a lot of questions, but America saved the day thanks to a last-minute pep talk from Strange that suddenly imbued her with the will to master her powers, which were uncontrollable to that plot-convenient moment. I guess his next movie will see him as a magical motivational speaker.
By the end of the day, this was a standard Marvel affair meant for the whole family to enjoy. It was a kitschy popcorn fest that basically got us from WandaVision and Loki to whatever is coming next. As of Monday afternoon, the MOM’s Rotten Tomatoes critical score stood at 75% and the audience rated at 87%. That’s still better than the 47% critics/78% audience scores for The Eternals, but it’s well below NWH’s 93/98 critic/audience results. Of course, it doesn’t matter if any Marvel movie scores high or low marks; they make money, and that is the corporate bottom line.
THOSE POST-CREDIT SCENES
Besides making billions of dollars in ticket sales, streaming content, and merchandise, the top priority for virtually every Marvel vehicle is to advance the MCU. The exception to the rule has been Moon Knight, which stayed away from the greater MCU’s heroes and plots in favor of a more self-contained story. MOM made up for that exponentially with enough namedrops and Multiverseal awe to cross pollinate with anything to ever have the Marvel stamp.
One of the ways Marvel has changed the landscape for moviegoers’ expectations is the post-credits scene. Oftentimes, the audience is more interested in what the bonus sequence has to offer than the movie’s actual plot, and that may help explain MOM’s loosely-knitted story. Being aware that the fans mostly want those Easter eggs, cameos, and post-credits scenes, Raimi may have decided to ignore the plot holes and focus on the carnival experience of it all.
The post-credits scene is meant to segue into the MCU’s future. Marvel wasn’t the first to try this approach, but they did master the art. It’s become something of a phenomenon, and audiences expect to get one last tease before the lights go up. That goes for more than just Marvel. Fans wait past the credits for every DCEU movie as well, and the good folks at Warner Brothers have delivered. It’s become such a mainstay of the moviegoing experience that audiences are conditioned to wait past the credits after almost any movie, superheroes or not.
MOM didn’t disappoint. After the credits rolled, we see Oscar winner Charlize Theron step onto the screen as Clea, who was Doctor Strange’s wife in the comics. She also happens to be the niece of Dormammu, the interdimensional god from the first Doctor Strange movie. Clea was long rumored to be on the casting list, and Marvel theorists were not stunned to see her arrive on the scene.
What role could she play in the MCU’s future? Her presence could signal a changing of the guard for the Master of the Mystic Arts. Earlier this year, Marvel Comics kicked off its “Death of Doctor Strange” story arc. Staying true to the title, Strange kicked the proverbial bucket, and Clea took his place as the magical emissary of Earth-616.
Granted, Wong is the MCU’s Sorcerer Supreme, and rightfully so. Afterall, Strange was blipped away by Thanos’ snap, and someone had to assume the title for five years. While the good doctor may have returned from oblivion, Wong is still the rightful leader of Kamar-Taj. However, his time in the position could be coming to an end. If the comics are a predictor, Clea will succeed him and become the Sorceress Supreme.
The other thing to consider is the name value Theron brings to the table. Not only is she renowned for her acting, but she has made a name for herself as a bona fide action star after Mad Max: Fury Road and The Old Guard. She is a worldwide superstar, and it would not be a stretch to suggest she will star in her own superhero franchise at some point. The character is already leading her own comics series, and that could be a way for Marvel to cultivate the stories she will tell on the big screen.
WHAT HAPPENED TO THE ILLUMINATI?
There is definite hype surrounding Clea and her MCU future, but the biggest moment of MOM was the introduction of the Illuminati. Minutes after their debut, MOM left us with its biggest moment and disappointment.
The Illuminati rumors began circulating close to a year ago. As far-fetched as they sounded, the speculation was that Patrick Stewart was returning to superhero cinema as Professor X in Multiverse of Madness of all movies. Why would Marvel choose to introduce Charles Xavier, and by extension, the X-Men, in a Doctor Strange movie? The logical connection between the two was the Illuminati, the shadowy puppet masters of Marvel-616.
Not only did Marvel add Stewart’s voiceover to the MOM trailers, but they also named the Illuminati and revealed Captain Carter straight from What If…?. That removed all surprises, right? Not quite. If you happened to avoid the leaked footage swirling around the internet, the shock was seeing John Krasinski playing Mister Fantastic, complete with the traditional Fantastic Four uniform. There also was Maria Rambeau’s Captain Marvel and the return of Black Bolt, who had been in hiding since the dismal flop that was the Inhumans television series.
Another level of intrigue was Professor X. Certainly, having Patrick Stewart in the role draws parallels to the Fox X-Men franchise. This version of the character seemed to roll his hover chair straight from the 1990s’ X-Men: the Animated Series. Not only was he in the trademark yellow chair, but when he used his telepathy, warbling vibrations and the high-pitched sound effect marched straight from the cartoon.
And then Scarlet Witch murdered them only minutes later, and they weren’t mentioned again.
Actually, she completely obliterated them in true Raimi-horror fashion. Echoing a scene from The Matrix, she made Black Bolt’s mouth completely vanish. With no outlet for his superpowered vocal chords, his internalized screams made his head explode.
After years of fan casting, we finally got to see Krasinski as Reed Richards. The excitement was short-lived. After uttering a few lines of dialogue, he extended his body in classic Mister Fantastic fashion. In a moment possibly inspired by Thanos’ annihilation of Marvel’s heroes in Infinity Gauntlet, Scarlet Witch turned his body into ribbon before his head exploded as well.
Then there were three.
Captain Marvel got in a couple of shots before Wanda dropped a column on her. Captain Carter had the last stand, a la Captain America’s final moments in Infinity Gauntlet. Instead of Thanos casually swatting Cap with a backhand of death, Sharon Carter is impaled with her own shield. In either case, those were unceremonious deaths to say the least.
Finally, Professor X entered Wanda’s fractured mind. He found her trapped in rubble that is reminiscent of the collapsed apartment building from her WandaVision flashback. When Xavier attempted to free her, a red cloud swept in, and a demonic Scarlet Witch broke his neck. That somehow translated into killing him in real life. Freddy Krueger would be proud.
Seeing the Scarlet Witch mow down the Illuminati was entertaining. It was unexpected and more brutal than I thought Disney would have allowed. The problem is that it left a gaping plot hole the size of the Multiverse. What was the point of introducing game-changing characters only to throw them away as casually as Luke’s lightsaber in The Last Jedi?
A MODERN DISNEY TRADITION
The Illumanti murder scene exposes a worrying trend in the corporate age of the MCU. It would seem that Disney resents fan expectations, and that sentiment spills onto the screen. Practically every opportunity that is presented results in a chance for Kevin Feige and company to remind fans who really owns your favorite characters, and Disney can do whatever it wants with them.
Between Marvel and Star Wars, it often seems that the corporation intentionally subverts the fan expectations. The filmmakers don’t seem to mind floating a giant middle finger across the screen that is meant for the most diehard, loyal viewers the mighty franchises have in their seats.
The easiest culprit to point out is Last Jedi. The sheer number of plot holes, canonical contradictions, and clear misunderstanding of beloved characters is overwhelming. The film's opening moments set the tone for the low point of Star Wars, and that’s saying a lot since we only recently endured The Book of Boba Fett. After the climactic Force Awakens closing moments that revealed the mysterious Luke Skywalker, Last Jedi was intent on frustrating its impassioned fan base. He flings the lightsaber over his shoulder and milks the space cows for blue milk. We find out the guy who never gave up hope for Anakin’s goodness plotted to kill his nephew after a bad dream.
All the mysteries that inspired fan theories across the internet were squashed with a mischievous grin. Rey’s parentage? Just a couple of nobodies who left their daughter on a desert planet. Snoke? Chopped in half. There’s no arguing that Rise of Skywalker wasn’t a winner, but at least J.J. Abrams attempted to pull Star Wars out of the corner Johnson’s fan disservice painted it into.
As of late, we’re seeing a similar trend rise from the Marvel camp.
Since WandaVision’s infamous Bohner joke that squandered what could have been one of the biggest moments in all the MCU. Evan Peters was dangled in front of the audience as Wanda Maximoff’s long lost brother from another universe. After numerous X-Men allusions, it was all misdirection to flip off the audience and all our theories and expectations.
WHERE DO WE GO NOW?
With Disney and Marvel’s recent shenanigans, does it come as a surprise that the entire Illuminati was teased just to wipe the floor with them? It shouldn’t. While we should expect Marvel to yank away the golden carrot, the bigger implications are rather puzzling.
The easiest explanation is that since this all happened on Earth-838, it means nothing at all. MOM writer Michael Waldron told Variety that the Professor X from the movie is not any specific Xavier. Rather, he is an amalgam of different professors over the years. As an audience, the musical notes from the X-Men: the Animated Series theme song, the chair, and the warbling effect from his powers were obviously added for us to connect that he is from the cartoon.
Should we dismiss the Illuminati as variants from a timeline the MCU likely won’t revisit and forget it ever happened? That could work for Maria Rambeau’s Captain Marvel, since Monica is more likely to challenge Carol Danvers for the title in The Marvels. However, there are bigger plot holes for the remainder of the Illuminati.
The most problematic is Reed Richards. Krasinski has been the fans’ choice for Mister Fantastic since Disney secured the film rights. There have been rumors for years that he would suit up as the smartest guy in the Marvel Universe. Introducing a Reed from an alternate dimension to set up the FF movie made sense, but bursting his head did not. When the FF arrive, will there be a running joke about the missing Mister Fantastic, one of Marvel’s icons since the company’s launch?
There’s been no official announcement on Marvel’s casting choices for the MCU FF movie. Since Marvel remains quiet on the new FF’s actors post-MOM, it would appear this was the fans’ one and only chance to see Krasinski in the role. After years of waiting to see the actor as Richards and to kill him so casually reeks of another “Bohner” joke on the audience.
Then there is Black Bolt. Again, another head bursting scene. While it was shocking and a cool visual that reinforced Wanda’s powers, violently murdering him symbolized Marvel losing faith in the Inhumans as a whole. The problem was that MOM was the best use of Black Bolt we’ve seen. If the Inhumans return, will Black Bolt be with them as if nothing happened? That could potentially confuse the audience and make the MOM moment mean nothing. Then again, Marvel does seem intent on making everything mean nothing.
The most problematic areas may be in the animated realm. Captain Carter was one of the breakout characters of What If…?, and the season finale set up more tales for her in the future. Since this was clearly the same character, how does that affect What If…?’s plans? For that matter, how does MOM’s Professor X death impact the upcoming X-Men ‘97? Like Captain Carter, this was clearly the same Charles Xavier from the classic X-Men cartoon. Does that mean he’s actually dead?
Again, the simplest way to exorcize these demons is to label them all as variants, and ignore the whole mess. That, my friends, is lazy writing, but that’s quickly becoming the MCU model.
Will we see another version of the Illuminati in the MCU? It’s possible. The Earth-838 Mordo survived the events of MOM, as did Doctor Strange. It is feasible that either Mordo could assemble another version of the Illuminati. Even better, perhaps Strange himself will see the need for the council and attempt to form a better council on Earth-616. Maybe he will seek heroes from across dimensions, a la the Guardians of the Multiverse. That could be the tie-in Marvel needs to introduce a transdimensional Fantastic Four or even the X-Men. It would also serve to explain why these powerhouses didn’t intervene during Infinity War and Endgame.
Those are suitable theories, and they’re fun to consider. The trouble is that Marvel Studios is not-so-subtly hinting that it has a distaste for fan theories. These are movies for the non-comic fans who are only casually familiar with the mainstays of the Marvel Universe.
Maybe I am being too hard on Feige and all of Marvel Studios.
When you delve into characters with decades of stories already told, making something original is a challenge. On one hand, there are the lifelong fans who want you to strictly adhere to the source material, but those same people will criticize a movie for being unoriginal. It also can lend itself to being overly predictable and boring. After all, how many times have we seen Bruce Wayne’s parents die in a movie or cartoon?
Audiences want twists and turns, and they want an element of surprise. Filmmakers want something they can look at as their creation, not a carbon copy of what came before. When we put it all together, it could be that Marvel and Disney are trying to give fans an experience that is unique and unexpected. There’s no question, dismantling the entire Illuminati in epic, bloody fashion was something no one anticipated.
Matt Tuck is the author of the novel, Lost Bones of the Dead. He is a professional writer, avid comic collector, former teacher, and the Blogger Supreme. You can follow him on his Facebook page, The Comic Blog, or on Instagram at matt.tuck.writer.