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SYFY WIRE Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

'Multiverse of Madness' proves that Wong is the underrated MVP of the MCU

After six movies in the MCU, Wong deserves more praise. 

By Tara Bennett
Xochitl Gomez as America Chavez, Benedict Wong as Wong, and Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange/Stephen Strange

As we know, there are unofficial "tiers" when it comes to the importance of Marvel Cinematic Universe characters. In the first three Phases, the original Avengers (who have all gotten their own solo movies) were always treated as the narrative's A-level characters and given priority in the on-going storytelling. Since Avengers: Endgame, it's been interesting to observe the shuffling of statures for the myriad of supporting characters just based on how often they're featured in the theatrical or Disney+ streaming series. Some characters have had more blatant shifts into prominence, like Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) talking the shield as the new Captain America, while others have been doing the slow and steady work of gaining audience admiration whenever they appear.

There is perhaps no character who has quietly become such a power player as the Sorcerer Supreme himself, Wong (Benedict Wong). Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness marks the character's sixth appearance in an MCU adventure. Not only does he get to save a lot of behinds in this outing, but he gets a much richer array of emotions to express, including the grief of losing his own in battle and the frustrating-but-rewarding experience of helping the still-prickly Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch). Most importantly, everything Wong does in Multiverse of Madness just reinforces that while the character primarily operates under the narrative radar, he's one of the most underrated MVPs of the whole MCU saga.

Warning: This story contains spoilers for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

So much of Wong's success as a character is because of the skills of actor Benedict Wong. Because he's a comedian and dramatic actor of equal strength, Benedict has proven himself to be exceptionally resourceful to the writers and directors of the MCU. It didn't take long for Wong to move outside the confines of Kamar-Taj in Nepal, where he has shown up to support the narratives of other major characters and locales in his own inimitable way. As a reminder, Wong was a rallying force in both Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame where he heard the calls from first Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) and then Strange to collect allies in the ongoing battles against Thanos (Josh Brolin). With his portal-generating skills, he's one of the few to travel and meet the various ally factions, bringing in friends from Wakanda, New Asgard, and all across the universe. Most characters tend to stick to one main series of films within the franchise; Wong knows no such boundaries, which gives him a lot of unseen influence behind the scenes.

And, those implied escapades also make him quite mysterious, because Wong clearly has a whole life we’re not privy to seeing or knowing about until something unexpected calls for his appearance. For instance, in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, it's revealed that Wong somehow has a friendship with Emil Blonsky/Abomination after the two have a friendly cage fight in Macau. How that came about remains an unknown that just begs for a deeper reveal. But even if it isn't ever explained, that pairing certainly reinforces Wong's mystique and adds to the overall importance of what the character is capable of doing on his own time. 

In his capacity as the new Sorcerer Supreme (post-Blip), Wong has also become a friend to the existing Avengers. He doesn't just have Strange on speed dial; Wong can easily reach Banner and Carol Danvers (Brie Larson). Wong's Rolodex is beyond enviable. The man even tried to lay some knowledge on Peter Parker (Tom Holland) in Spider-Man: No Way Home — advice that was foolishly not taken. And, never forget that he laid out his karaoke skills to Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) and Katy (Awkwafina), which means he's a trusted figure to even the new guard of up-and-coming superheroes.

In Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, Wong arguably gets the most he's ever been asked to do on-screen as the stalwart leader of Kamar-Taj. In his years in charge of the hallowed ground, Wong has clearly earned the trust and respect of his fellow sorcerers. As such, when it comes to rallying the forces to defend the sacred outpost from the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), there's no question that where he leads, so follow his fellow sorcerers. And even when that goes very badly, with a huge loss of life and his forced confession about the locale of the Darkhold shrine at Mount Wundagore, Wong doesn't give up and still fights mightily to prevent Wanda from killing America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) and sapping her powers. When he's knocked off a cliff, audiences yelped in anguish and then bellowed in delight as Wong climbs that steep face to keep doing the right thing and make it possible for the Darkhold to be destroyed. It's a hero's moment, one well-deserved for both the actor and the character. It's not easy to carve out a unique space in an on-going narrative with an ever-expanding cast of characters to compete against. But Wong has done just that by making the character a grounding force of strength, moral fortitude and honor. Plus, he's got the comedic chops to make every line count, no matter how small the appearance.

And now, Wong is in charge of teaching, perhaps, the single most volatile person in all existence — America Chavez — about her potential and powers. As the tutor and guide who is helping Chavez control her multiverse jumping powers, there's no underestimating the importance of that role. Perhaps, the time has come to add another Disney+ series to the slate which pulls back on the curtain on everything Wong is doing to bolster the next generation of superheroes in a post-Tony Stark and Steve Rodgers reality?

Regardless, it's enough to just appreciate the many Wong moments that have enriched the MCU and continue to linger in our minds. One of his best happens at the end of Multiverse of Madness, when Stephen queries Wong about the existential question plaguing him all movie long: "Are you happy?" In a beautiful moment that feels like a breath of fresh, crisp air after the cacophony of events, Wong says the concept of happiness is mercurial but it's the gratitude of being alive that he clings to. It's a soul bomb of a life lesson that Benedict Wong just nails in an effortless way. And it's only a character like Wong who can say a truth like that without being maudlin or insincere — a true superpower if ever we've seen one.