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By the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth! After months of feverish anticipation, Doctor Strange's first MCU sequel — subtitled in the Multiverse of Madness — has arrived on the big screen. "Madness" is the perfect word to describe the dimension-hopping hijinks of Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) in the follow-up directed by horror master/Spider-Man vet, Sam Raimi.
Like a grimoire of forbidden knowledge hidden deep within a remote cabin in the woods, the movie has the capacity to drive viewers insane with its mind-blowing implications for the wider mythos. The human brain can only withstand so much awesomeness in one go. There's plenty to unpack with the first official blockbuster of the season — from the promise of infinite universes to the film's plethora of big-name cameos. For the sake of brevity (and our own grip on reality), let's discuss the ending and what it potentially means for the sorcerer's adventures moving forward.
***WARNING! The following contains major plot spoilers for the new film!***
Fresh off his multiversal struggle against Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Stephen repairs the splintered watch gifted to him by Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) years before. The symbolism is plain for all to see: Strange has come to terms with the lonely status that comes with a life of practicing the Mystic Arts. The emotional cracks, aka the regrets of the past, have been mended and he's ready to step into a brand-new era.
He does just that, briefly leaving the Sanctum Sanctorum for a peaceful stroll among the streets of New York City. All seems hunky dory...until the sorcerer starts to clutch his head and falls to his knees. Clearly in unimaginable distress, he looks up to the sky and lets out an almighty scream as a third eye suddenly opens on his forehead. Despite his short use of the Darkhold and noble intentions, the hero has failed to avoid the irreparable corruption of dark magic. "The Darkhold exacts a heavy toll," his evil, three-eyed self warns earlier in the runtime. No kidding.
Now, you may be asking yourself: "does Strange ever gain a third eye (a concept often associated with enlightenment and higher planes of consciousness) in the comics?" Kind of.
Strange's newly-opened peeper — whose benefits and/or dangers have yet to be established — may very well be a nod to the Third Eye of Horus, a magical artifact that allows one to glimpse dimensions beyond the mortal plane of comprehension. Perhaps the good doctor has gained the ability of magical sight and no longer needs to cast revealer spells like the one he used on Gargantos near the start of the film.
Strange doesn't get to enjoy his down time for very long when, in the film's mid-credits sequence, he's approached by a strange woman — played by Charlize Theron! — who requests his help in rectifying a multiversal Incursion that he caused. After all, the "greatest danger to the multiverse ... is Doctor Strange," at least according to Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic (John Krasinski) of the now-dead Illuminati on Earth-838.
Reed also explains that Incursions are very bad news, indeed. Caused by individuals venturing out of their allotted realities for extended periods of time (either through Dream-walking or other methods), the term refers to a nightmare scenario in which the barrier between universes dissipates, causing them to smash into each other until one or both are completely destroyed. Given that Incursions are a central plot point of the acclaimed Secret Wars comic book arc by Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribić, the MCU may very well be setting the stage for its next big crossover event. The Russo Brothers (Avengers: Endgame) are totally on board to direct if that ever happens.
Ok, back to the mid-credits scene. The newcomer slices a hole in space-time and asks Stephen if he's afraid to join her. The cocky sorcerer scoffs ("Not in the least"), gets into costume, and opens his third eye, ready for a new adventure beyond the confines of the mortal realm.
While the name of Theron's character is never specified by the dialogue, her identity is revealed in the end credits as... Clea! Setting off any alarm bells yet, True Believers? Introduced in the comics a year after Strange himself, Clea is a powerful sorceress created by the inimitable duo of writer Stan Lee and artist Steve Ditko. The niece of the dreaded Dormmamu, she came to Earth where she studied under Doctor Strange, eventually marrying him. Anyone else notice how her fissure in Multiverse of Madness looked like it led straight into the Dark Dimension?
Hold on just a second there. Does Clea actually need to prevent an Incursion or is she just helping her uncle exact revenge on the only human who was able to outsmart of a near-omnipotent being? In any case, the MCU has found the perfect foil for the Master of the Mystic Arts.
A life with Christine was never going to work out (not just on Earth-616, but in any universe), and that's probably for the best. Their paths in life were too incongruous. Clea, however, is a fellow spell-casting veteran — someone who can actually understand what it's like to fight giant monsters and protect reality from collapsing in on itself. The only question is will they team up in a third Doctor Strange flick or the House of Harkness series coming to Disney+? The second option seems like a good bet, especially since Wanda's death is sure to leave behind a major power power vacuum in the world of witchcraft.
Whatever ends up happening, one thing is for sure: fans are eager for another helping of Marvel magic.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is now playing in theaters everywhere.