Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
The creative forces behind the Marvel Cinematic Universe have done an oddly impressive job of encompassing a plethora of genres into their stories, as they somehow also ensure that the movies feel basically the same. While action is understandably the main genre, there has been comedy (Thor: Ragnarok, Ant-Man), spy thriller (Captain America), science-fiction (Guardians of the Galaxy), coming-of-age dramedy (Spider-Man) and fantasy (Doctor Strange, Shang-Chi, The Eternals). Now, horror can be added to the list thanks to Sam Raimi’s sequel, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
To be clear, this is not horror in the sense of scares. There is none of that. It is still exactly what the audience expects from Marvel in terms of tone. The horror comes in the form of the visuals, which at least keeps this interesting amid the usual overstuffed plot and repetitive action.
It does look different. Otherwise, this resembles every other MCU product, both the good and the bad. It has the big special-effects battles, the mood-lightening humor, sudden moments of heart in an attempt to humanize its hero and tons of references to Marvel characters, movies or Disney+ shows. It is everything this mega franchise has become, meaning there is some fun stuff, some cool stuff and way too much stuff to build for the future.
These releases have to serve a lot of masters: they have to pay off things that were previously setup, setup things to be paid off later, plant a bunch of hints for the future and also be their own story. This becomes so overwhelming that, oftentimes, these drop the ball on the latter. Multiverse of Madness (116 minutes, plus mid/post-credit scenes) succeeds mostly based on Raimi’s creativity in portraying a world that is grotesque, violent, beautiful and massive. Outside of that, it is nothing noteworthy.
Unlike most sequels, if you haven’t seen the original, don’t worry because it isn’t important here. However, if you haven’t seen Spider-Man: No Way Home or, especially, the shows Wandavision and What If…?, you are going to be pretty confused. There is very little introduction and plot setup here, since it was already done there. The story is incredibly dependent on prior knowledge to the point where the one contained in this movie doesn’t have a beginning and only kind of has an end. It is a lot of middle.
Regardless, the plot in a nutshell sees Doctor Strange trying to protect a teenage girl, who possesses the power to travel between dimensions, from Wanda, AKA the Scarlet Witch, who wants to use the girl to find her children in a different reality. There are detours to tease upcoming series’ and linger on Strange’s singular emotion (his love for the woman who gave up on him). As with the majority of the MCU, this material is largely there as a breather from the spectacle.
The pacing isn’t as breakneck as in No Way Home, yet it is apparent where all of the effort and thought went. The influence of Sam Raimi, the director of The Evil Dead, as well as the original Spider-Man trilogy, is obvious. There is no gore (come on, this is the MCU!), but there are images right out of the horror genre. Close-ups of demons in eyeballs, bodies that seem to be coming apart, the flying undead, the coloring is even dimmer in parts, such as a sequence where Doctor Strange enters a destroyed dimension. Despite the stakes seeming fairly low, the threat seems quite high. People do die in more brutal ways than normal, though the ickiness is always kept offscreen.
Raimi definitely gives Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness its own style. It would have been nice to see what he could really do when given complete control over something like this, but then there wouldn’t be as much room to reference a million movies/tv shows and tease a million more.
In that way, the MCU is closer to a comic series than it is to a traditional movie franchise. Usually, the latter is made up of connected entries that each have a beginning, middle and end of their own. In the former, nothing can truly end because something else is coming just around the corner (Thor: Love and Thunder is a mere two months away). That can make it difficult to review these and, sometimes, it makes it difficult to enjoy them.
2¾ out of 5
Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Stephen Strange
Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff
Xochitl Gomez as American Chavez
Benedict Wong as Wong
Rachel McAdams as Dr. Christine Palmer
Chiwetel Ejiofor as Baron Mordo
Directed by Sam Raimi
Written by Michael Waldron