Rating: PG-13 (Frightening Images, Action, Intense Sequences of Violence, Some Language)
Genre: Action, Adventure
Runtime: 126 minutes
Studio: Disney/Marvel Studios
From the Cover of Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madnessby Disney/Marvel:
“In Marvel Studios’ “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” the MCU unlocks the Multiverse and pushes its boundaries further than ever before. Journey into the unknown with Doctor Strange, who, with the help of mystical allies both old and new, traverses the mind-bending and dangerous alternate realities of the Multiverse to confront a mysterious new adversary.”
Transfiguring Adoption’s Overview:
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022) is the newest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and builds on the stories from Doctor Strange, WandaVision, and Spiderman: No Way Home. While the movie is technically watchable on its own, it will likely be much easier to follow and understand if you’ve seen at least these three installments prior to viewing. The movie opens with an intense fight sequence of Doctor Strange battling monsters in space, and it never really slows down from there. The movie has a few quiet moments but for the most part it hurtles from action sequence to action sequence which can be challenging for children and teens who have trouble coming back down from an adrenaline rush, as is often the case for those who have experienced trauma. The tone of the movie is also much darker than previous MCU installments and leans more towards the Horror genre than the superhero one. This one is definitely one to approach with caution, even for older youth and those who have handled previous Marvel films without issue. There are a few jump scares and in addition to a LOT of violence, there are a number of scenes that are gory and macabre. We recommend this is one that you absolutely pre-screen before taking youth and perhaps even skip it, at least until you are able to watch at home and take breaks and better control the viewing experience.
** Spoilers Could Be Ahead **
How Is This Relevant To Adoption & Foster Care?
This movie doesn’t really relate to foster care or adoption specifically, however most of the main characters in the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) have traumatic childhoods and backstories involving their parents. But none of those backstories are explored very deeply in this installment, though we do see a brief scene of traumatic separation of America from her parents. We also learn that America can travel the Multiverse but has no control over it. Children in foster and adoptive placements will likely relate strongly to her feelings of loneliness and isolation from peers, separation from her parents, and sudden environment changes.
Not Having Control Over Environment Changes America Chavez is the only character that can freely travel the Multiverse. However, she has no control over it. She explains that every time she gets really scared a portal just opens and sucks her through it and she ends up in another Universe and feels powerless to stop it. This can be a great analogy to foster care. Youth are separated from their birth families like America was, and often are moved from home to home without any real understanding of why and also feel powerless to stop it, especially very young children. This can be a great opportunity to have a conversation about their feelings about being in care or placement interruptions they’ve experienced. If youth aren’t ready to open up about their own experiences the conversation can stay focused on America and how she might feel being separated from her parents, frequently and suddenly changing environments, and feeling alone and isolated from her peers for being different.
Being a ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’ When Dr. Strange is brought into the Multiverse for the first time with America he starts to cross a street when the light turns red and is nearly hit by a car. America explains that in this particular universe red lights mean go and green means stop. She gives the advice to assume he doesn’t know anything when interacting with the environment. This sense of disorientation may be one that children experiencing adoptive or foster care relate strongly to. Any time they come into care or move placements it can be a lot like traveling the Multiverse and ending up in a world that’s completely different from what they’re used to- having to meet (And live with) new people, learn new rules, navigate a new school or neighborhood, etc. This analogy may be helpful for talking to youth about their feelings and experiences navigating these overwhelming (and sometimes sudden) changes, just as Dr. Strange and America must adapt to each new universe they travel to.
Gore/Horror Elements As mentioned above there is quite a bit of violence that has a more gruesome tone than previous Marvel films. There are Zombies, reanimated corpses, bizarre monsters, burnt and bleeding bodies shown after battle scenes, souls of the damned, several jump scares, etc.
Violence and Peril In addition to these horror elements there is also just a LOT of violence and peril. Characters fight monsters including Scarlet Witch (Wanda in villain form) in several intense battle sequences that involve many characters dying. The movie is also an almost nonstop action sequence with frequent chase scenes and characters often being in danger.
Villain Mother Scarlet Witch uses the phrase ‘I’m not a monster, I’m a mother’ as though the two are mutually exclusive and that somehow being a mother absolves her of any wrongdoing, despite the fact that she hurts and kills a significant amount of people. These statements and actions might be difficult to watch for children who have experienced trauma, especially at the hands of a caregiver or mother figure.
America is separated from her Parents During the scene in front of the memory bank we see a brief childhood memory of America’s where she is happily spending time with her moms. However, a portal is spontaneously and abruptly opened, and America’s parents are swept away while she is left to watch and eventually be swept away herself.
Mother is abused in front of her children When America opens the portal to allow Scarlet Witch to return to her children, we see her enter the home where Billy and Tommy are peacefully existing with their mom Wanda. Scarlet Witch attacks and injures Wanda while they watch, traumatized and trying to protect their mother. Scarlet Witch keeps insisting that she’s their mother throughout the scene which is both heartbreaking and terrifying. This may be very triggering for children who have witnessed domestic violence towards their mother, or if they themselves were abused.
Mind Control/Dream-Walking Certain characters (Wanda, Dr. Strange) are able to dream-walk which involves going into a trance and then controlling the actions of another version of themselves in another universe. For children who have been controlled by others or made to do things by an abuser this concept is likely to be very upsetting to them.
Dreams being Real We find out during this movie that in the Marvel Universe, anything that happens in a dream is actually happening to another you in another universe. Many children with backgrounds of trauma have severe nightmares and the concept that these nightmares could be real and happening to another version of them might be really scary and overwhelming for them to think about and worsen their anxiety and nightmares.
Memory Bank Forces Viewing of Past While in one of the alternate universes, Doctor Strange and America stumble upon a ‘memory bank’, a business that offers to show you your memories. Outside of the store there is a particular spot that seems to show a snippet of these memories when standing on it. We see both Doctor Strange and America get flashes of painful pieces of their past. The idea of something like this might be unsettling and stressful to those with a background of trauma.
Who was your favorite character in the movie? Why? Caregiver Note: This movie (and discussion guide) touches on a lot of complicated and heavy topics so it can be a good idea to start out with something low stakes to get the conversations going and elicit some bonding before diving into the deeper stuff. Talking about why we like certain characters can also offer some great insight into each other as well so make sure to share yours also!
We find out that America is the only person who is able to freely travel the Multiverse, though she had no control over it. How do you think she feels constantly ending up in new places? Caregiver Note: Youth with a background of foster care or adoption may feel a lot like America in this sense- they often end up in new homes, many times without a lot of warning or explanation as to why this is happening. This can be a great opportunity to talk about their feelings around placement changes. If they aren’t comfortable talking about their personal experiences, keeping the conversation centered around America and how she feels may still offer a lot of insight into their emotions about the topic.
Dr. Strange originally goes to find Wanda looking for help to protect America. However, he finds out that she is actually the one causing the bad things to happen. How do you think this makes him feel? Have you ever felt this way? Caregiver Note: When Dr. Strange first seeks out Wanda, he believes her to be an Avenger, someone who has powers and might be able to use those powers to help him, and more importantly to help protect America. However, he finds out that Wanda has been corrupted by The Darkhold and is actually the ‘bad guy’. For children who have been abused or neglected by a caregiver it often feels a lot like this- the person who is supposed to protect them turns out to be the one they need protection from. As with other questions, youth may not feel comfortable talking about their own experience so the conversation may need to remain on Wanda and Dr. Strange.
When Dr. Strange first enters the Multiverse with America, he is shocked to find that things work very differently than back home, the example being ‘Red means go’ (instead of stop). How do you think this makes him feel, having everything be different from what he knows? Have you ever experienced a situation like this? Caregiver Note: Entering foster care, or even changing placements often feels like being dropped into an entirely different world where everything you knew has changed- from the people to the building and the stuff in it, to the rules about how things might work. So just as Dr. Strange must suddenly learn that red means go, youth must learn to adapt to their new situation, and it often takes time. Talk with them about the ways in which you can help them to feel comfortable and learn to navigate their new situation. This could be as simple as having a ‘welcome to our home’ book that shows maps of the home/neighborhood, family member names, house rules, etc. to give them something to refer back to if they forget or get confused.
If you were to meet an ‘other’ you from another universe, what do you think (or hope) they’d be like? What would you want to ask them or tell them about? Caregiver Note: This is another one where there’s no right or wrong answer so encourage kiddos to share whatever comes to mind. This can be as simple or complex as youth want to make it. Maybe the ‘other’ them is an astronaut or a princess. Or maybe they are safe and happy with their birth family. The important thing here is to hold room for whatever feelings or ideas come up. Again, these conversations often work best when they go both ways so feel free to share your own answers as well.
Christine tells Dr. Strange that he ‘always has to be the one holding the knife’- what does she mean by this? Caregiver Note: One of Dr. Strange’s character flaws is that he always needs to be in control, and he really struggles to let go or to trust others to get the job done. This can be common in children who experience trauma as well- many aspects of their life probably feel uncontrollable so as a way to cope, they aggressively try to control any aspects they can. Rather than talking about this being only a negative thing, talk about the different ways this personality trait both helps and hinders Dr. Strange throughout his life and the course of this film. And as the conversation lends itself to it, maybe even talk about ways you can help them feel safe during times when they aren’t able to be in control of an aspect of their life.
The Darkhold is a powerful spell book that is said to corrupt anyone who tries to use it. We see it do so with multiple characters and yet both Wanda and Dr. Strange make the decision to use it, believing that what they’re trying to accomplish justifies the means. Do you think they were right or wrong? Is there any reason why you think it would be okay to use The Darkhold? Caregiver Note: This question isn’t so much looking for a right/wrong answer as it is to prompt some thoughtful conversation. Of course, the gut-reaction most of us have based on the consequences shown in the movie is that it’s always wrong to use the book no matter one’s intentions. However, it’s easy to see how someone might believe there are certain instances where it’s worth it. For example, some children who are separated from their biological parents or siblings might feel that Wanda’s reason (finding her children) is absolutely justified.
If you could travel through the Multiverse into a different life, would you? Why or why not?Caregiver Note: This might be a hard question for youth to talk about so if it’s too much don’t push it. This question is posed several times in different ways by different characters, talking about if they’re happy or if they knew they might be happier in an alternate universe if they’d trade their life for that one. For someone who has experienced a great amount of trauma this might be a very tempting thought. In the end most of the characters come to the realization that there is no ‘perfect’ life and just because one thing went different in another world doesn’t mean something worse or bad in another way might happen. Regardless of their answer, let youth know that their feelings, whatever they are, are valid and okay.
More than once during the movie characters think they will easily be able to defeat Wanda and seem to underestimate her again and again. Why do you think this is? Do you feel like people underestimate you? Caregiver Note: Wanda is young, has a traumatic past, and is a woman. All of these aspects likely contribute to her being underestimated. She proves multiple times that she is more powerful and capable of more than those fighting her expect. Much like Wanda, youth who have experienced trauma are often underestimated or written off as being less smart and less capable than their peers. This can be a great way to have a conversation about expectations and value and remind youth that as their caregiver you will do your best not to underestimate them and to help remind them of their value and worth.
If you were going to be an Avenger what powers or skills would you want to have? Why? Caregiver Note: This is another more low-key question to kind of wrap things up and get back to a less emotional state after some heavy conversation. We see quite a few different Avengers in this film with all different kinds of powers (even more so if youth have seen other films in the franchise). And even though this is a ‘fun’ question it can still be a great opportunity to learn more about your child through talking about what kind of ‘superhero’ they’d most like to be and why. And of course, be sure to share your own answers as well!
About the Author: Jenn Ehlers
Jenn is a central Virginia native who received her BA in Psychology from the University of Virginia in 2012. Since then she has worked for a local mental health agency and the Department of Social Services in various capacities and has been involved in her community’s efforts to create a Trauma Informed Network. Currently Jenn works in vocational rehab and mentors youth in foster care. When she isn’t working, Jenn enjoys writing stories, watching Marvel movies, visiting theme parks, and spending time with her nieces and nephew.
**Transfiguring Adoption is a nonprofit organization seeking to nurture growth in foster and adoptive families by giving a HOOT about their families. Transfiguring Adoption does not intend for its reviewers nor its review to be professional, medical or legal advice. These reviews and discussion guides are intended to help parents to better be able to connect and understand their children who come from traumatic backgrounds.