Whenever we see an “alternate version” of a character in film or TV, they’re usually “the evil version”. But is that realistic? Is it time we reconsider who really is “the good guy” and who really is “the bad guy”?
In 1886, when author Robert Louis Stevenson put pen to paper to create The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, he gave the world an enduring picture of both the good and the evil that exist in a human being. He also articulated a dream that human beings might choose to separate themselves from the darker side of their characters.
That dream has been reworked for a new generation with the release of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
In the wake of Spider-Man: No Way Home, Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) finds himself confronting a multiverse (an infinite collection of possible universes) on the verge of collapse. He enlists the help of the Scarlet Witch, Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) to counter this disaster. Along the way, they recruit new Hispanic superhero, America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), better known to comic book fans as Miss America. Together, they traverse the mind-bending multiverse, seeking to undo the damage done in previous Marvel outings.
However, Strange and his even stranger posse are opposed by a collection of villains including Baron Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), and an evil version of Cumberbatch’s own character.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (hereafter referred to as DSMM) is the 28th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and a strong argument for viewers to do a little homework before they settle into their cinema. DSMM is a direct sequel to Doctor Strange and is also a nexus storyline for several threads left hanging in previous MCU productions.
In the TV spinoff Wandavision, Maximoff re-wrote reality to bring her lover back to life. In Loki, Thor’s adopted brother fractured the “sacred timeline”. And in Spider Man: No Way Home, Peter Parker’s dilemmas led Strange to perform a spell that allowed alternate realities to emerge. Yes, there is a lot of band-aiding to do. And who better to do it than another Marvel favourite?
DSMM was directed by Sam Raimi, the creator of the original Spider-Man trilogy. Raimi is such a fan of Strange as a character that he left easter eggs in those benchmark films pointing to the Master of the Mystic Arts. As the director of The Evil Dead, he is also a suitable choice for a production that Disney says contains elements of horror. Either way, good and evil are front and centre in a movie made to examine our moral choices.
In the process of unlocking the mysteries of the multiverse, Steven Strange encounters the “Mr Hyde” version of himself. Evil Strange has made forbidden choices, driven by his desire to prevent the death of love interest, Christine Palmer.
Fans of the Marvel animated series, What If…? will know Evil Strange’s tinkering with time has put the fate of the universe in the balance. What follows is a set-up for a battle between the light and the dark sides of our hero’s character.
In Stevenson’s classic, Jekyll and Hyde are separated by a chemical process. In the DSMM they are separated by the choices they make. The worldview that emerges suggests right character is a result of the right choices.
Now that you’ve had your introduction to the MCU, it’s time for a crash-course in philosophy.
DSMM draws on a worldview that is called libertarianism. This holds that human beings have real agency when it comes to the world and especially the shape their lives take. As Jessica Whittemore puts it:
“We aren’t just puppets dangling from a string, nor are we subject to some predetermined path. We’ve got the capacity and intellect to choose between options. On my own, I made the conscious choice to get an education, and I’m making a conscious choice each time I grab for potato chips. In other words, free will is alive and kicking! For this reason, the criminal deserves punishment, and the saint deserves adulation.”
So, as far as DSMM goes, if only the right decisions had been made at the right junctures, then there would be no Evil Strange—all the potential Doctor Stranges would be the Perfect Strange. And that’s why our Doctor Strange is the hero—because he made the best choices.
However, the Bible has a couple of issues with this. The first is that though we are capable of free will and are responsible for our choices, we have an in-built bias towards doing the wrong thing.
Because of the original sin of our ancestors, Adam and Eve, we are like moral lawn bowls. We may aim for the straight line of God’s character, but the prophet Jeremiah says we inevitably curve away from it as we follow our sinful nature: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)
It’s not that we’re incapable of doing good, it’s just that we are incapable of removing our inbuilt bias to do wrong. So, the Perfect Strange just can’t exist, no matter how hard he tries to make the right choices.
Now, Marvel is happy enough to present us with faulted heroes, so whoever that Perfect Strange is, he’s not the one on the big screen this month. However, the Bible would also take issue with the idea that even this one is solely responsible for the good he does.
Good doesn’t arise from our hearts. It is a reflection of the Creator Who made us: “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27).
It follows that when we do make a right choice, we’re not exhibiting just our own character, but the character of the One who gives us our concepts of right and wrong. Every good deed should not earn Steven Strange the adulation of his audience. Rather, it stands as a testimony to the goodness of his Maker.
But, of course, we’re talking about a fictional character, and there’s one more fiction he has for cinemagoers.
Have you ever noticed that when our heroes are confronted with an alternate version of themselves, it’s always the evil version? Our heroes, however faulted they may be, always represent the light side of this cosmic equation. So too with Doctor Strange in this latest outing. It’s almost unquestioned that our Doctor Strange is the Good Strange.
But what if our Doctor Strange were to meet a Better Strange? Or even the Perfect Strange?
Wouldn’t he be forced by comparison alone to realise that he needed to change his ways?
Well, the Bible says that something very much like that happened with Christ Himself. When Jesus came into the world, the book of Hebrews says He was the perfect representation of our good Creator. And the Gospel of John makes it clear that He lived among us and made Himself plain to us.
Now, in circumstances like that, we have no trouble recognising what the Evil Strange should do. Confronted with the Good Strange, he should change his ways—and the movie provides him with the opportunity to do so.
The majority of fans will support that action because they intrinsically believe that is what they would do in the presence of a better version of themselves. But John says the world did not take that step: “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).
In the presence of the Man of Light, humanity chose to remain in darkness. It begs the question, which version of yourself do you want to be: the best, or the worst? Good, or evil?
To discover the Perfect Man and how He can impact your life, go to discover.hopechannel.com/learn
Mark Hadley is a media and cultural critic who lives with his family in Sydney. Please note that discussion of a media product in Signs of the Times does not imply an endorsement or recommendation.