I’m just going to get straight to the point Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is so overstuffed with twists, fan service, cameos, and character elements that it is next to impossible to review this with any depth without ruining the experience for you, the reader. So, don’t keep reading if you expect large character breakdowns or intricate details. Instead, I’m going to talk about the sweeping themes across the Multiverse of Madness, and how Sam Raimi, the horror master, has seared his particular brand of macabre camp into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The MCU continues to play in the multiverse with Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness as it pushes the boundaries further, expanding on what we know and crafting a new foundation for a new leg of Marvel movies. In it, Doctor Strange traverses the mind-bending and dangerous alternate realities of the Multiverse to confront a mysterious new adversary with the help of mystical allies both old and new. The film is directed by Raimi, written by Michael Waldron, and stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Benedict Wong, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Xochitl Gomez, and Rachel McAdams.
For his part, Cumberbatch once again pulls off Doctor Strange’s humor and aggressiveness in a way that is always charismatic across each of the iterations we see on screen. Additionally, Strange’s confrontation with his identity as someone powerful and aware enough to fix the multiverse or hurt it allows his character to hit multiple high notes outside of just his magic usage. Additioanlly, his dynamic with Wong, the now-Sorcerer Supreme who has a more expanded role in this film his other appearances are beyond stellar.
As Wanda, Elizabeth Olsen explores a dynamic range of emotions. While we’ve seen her show anger and pain and grief in her television series and in small moments in the MCU, the Multiverse of Madness is her greatest showing. With her performance, Olsen solidifies herself as one of the best actors across the multiverse. She’s raw and intimidating, an absolute force to be reckoned with from start to finish. The way her magic is juxtaposed against that of Strange’s sorcery is not only interesting but visually stunning as well.
Then there is America Chavez, around for most of the film, this new aged-down America feels more like an afterthought. She’s a plot device to keep the story moving and the choice to decorate a hero who is supposed to Puerto Rican with a Mexican sugar skull is a choice that worries me about the future of the character is pan-Latin. A sad realization when you realize how important she has been for Latine comic readers. Not to mention the work Marvel Comics has done to retcon her identity to not just be an interdimensional being, but a strong Puerto Rican hero. While I was worried about the de-aging and casting of an actress with noticeably straighter hair and lighter skin than her comic counterpart, it was all confirmed when her role becomes a child waiting to be saved instead of an active force in the story.
Outside of its characters though, Raimi is able to pack the film with a bevy of horror elements that range from haunted houses, poltergeist moments, slasher stalking, and a completely unhinged final fight sequence that only this horror maestro could pull off. That said, the rushed pacing doesn’t let these wonderful horror set-pieces have enough space to breathe. But when they work, god do they work. Body contortion, jump scares, death, and a touch of possession all sing together well, particularly because of Danny Elfman’s score.
Truthfully though, Multiverse of Madness is at its best when its exploring its main theme: are you happy? The film investigates happiness, grief, and the lengths you would go to in order to find at least one version of yourself through an infinite multiverse where you can answer yes to that question. Sadly though, this powerful thesis is muddled down consistently throughout the film, lost for large swaths of it in favor of packing as many Leonardo DiCaprio pointing meme moments into the middle half of the film as possible.
All of that said, if you haven’t done the homework of watching MCU television series, particularly Wandavision, or have knowledge of large Scarlet Witch story arcs, the chance of being lost is extremely large. Making this film less newcomer-friendly than others in the last few years but more importantly, this is the first film that requires you to watch a series in order to be in the know, or at the very least to get the most emotional bang for your buck.
Ultimately Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness bucks expectations and offers up a thrilling ride of a film that showcases Raimi’s talents and his blindspots in equal measure. The film manages to bring homage to Raimi’s filmography in a way that’s sure to stun his fans, myself included. While Multiverse of Madness buckles under its own weight, particularly where carrying its wealth of cameos and fan service are concerned, it still manages to be something utterly engrossing and unique at the same time.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is playing in theaters nationwide May 6, 2022.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
While Multiverse of Madness buckles under its own weight, particularly where carrying the wealth of cameos and fan service are concerned, it still manages to be something utterly engrossing and unique at the same time.