There was no other way.
It’s no hyperbole to claim that Doctor Strange played an instrumental role in thwarting Thanos’ genocidal ambitions. While his fellow superheroes suffered innumerable defeats due to their seemingly noble refusal to “trade lives,” the Sorcerer Supreme weighed every option, made some tough (but necessary) decisions, and eventually secured a decisive (albeit delayed) victory for the Avengers—and with relatively few casualties, to boot. Sure, half of the universe’s population was technically dead for five years, but most of the deceased were revived by Endgame’s conclusion. Ultimately, in the grand calculus of the cosmos, his actions were justified. His sacrifice was rewarded. He did the right thing.
From the early scene in which his former colleague, Dr. Nicodemus West, bitterly reflects on the downside of being miraculously resurrected (it turns out that pets don’t survive for very long after their owner spontaneously disintegrates) to the unexpectedly intimate climax, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness forces our protagonist to confront the consequences of his “end justifies the means” mentality. As he navigates a tangled web of alternate realities, Strange witnesses the devastation wrought by his own variants—betraying allies, tampering with demonic magics, reducing entire dimensions to rubble—in the pursuit of some vaguely defined “greater good.” Each horrifying discovery brings him back to the same troubling question: Is he truly fighting to defend peace, justice, the very laws of nature?
Or is he motivated by the selfish desire to satisfy his own bloated ego—a compulsive need to be “the one holding the knife" (as his ex-girlfriend so eloquently phrases it)?
It’s a surprisingly introspective conflict for a mainstream comic book adaptation—and Marvel would do well to follow Multiverse of Madness' example (modest stakes, character-driven plot, less emphasis on gratuitous cameos) as they continue to expand their endless franchise.