‘Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness’ Review
by Erik Amaya
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is equal parts exhilarating and frustrating. It is a film filled with great scenes, but never comes together as a complete or satisfying whole. And whether that is down to the dictates of Marvel Studios or the areas of the movie director Sam Raimi found more interesting is something each viewer must decide to themselves.
Picking up sometime after Spider-Man: No Way Home, Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is once again settled in his life as master of New York’s Sanctum Santorum, but the wedding of Dr. Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) calls up some regrets about his choices in the first Doctor Strange and Avengers: Endgame. Before he can really investigate those feelings, however, a monster resembling Shuma-Gorath (although called Gigantos for legal reasons) chases a teenage girl a few blocks away. In the film’s earliest indication of its true objective, Strange magicks away his tux and gets into his approximation of a superhero outfit to fight the monster.
This sequence will feel really familiar for fans of Raimi’s Spider-Man films. It is wildly colorful and brimming with fun and interesting demonstrations of the hero’s powers. Wong (Bendict Wong) also shows up mid-battle to reaffirm his dynamic with Strange as both partner and foil.
Soon the pair discover the girl, America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), has the ability to travel the Multiverse and that her power is sought by a mysterious entity behind the monster’s appearance. It also happens, Strange had a dream about her the night before. Yes, it will matter.
Everything past this point is a spoiler and we have to credit the Marvel and Disney marketing machines for their masterwork of misdirection regarding what’s really going on in the film. Its true plot is fairly different from what publicity materials suggested as Strange unites friends and crosses the Multiverse to combat the intelligence plotting against America. Unfortunately, that misdirection – and the sort of expectations it fostered – are harder to dismiss than in previous Marvel Studios efforts. They are, in fact, more interesting than the story that unfolds across Multiverse of Madness’s two hour runtime.
That’s not to say the film is bad, though. As we mentioned earlier, there are great scenes in the movie – particularly when Strange and Wong interact. Though Wong is his boss, their back-and-forth continues to be one of the best elements in the MCU’s take on Strange. Similarly, Elizabeth Olsen brings her finely-tuned Wanda to the proceedings. Although, we have to admit, it feels as though Raimi and screenwriter Michael Waldron disregarded some of what occurred in WandaVision to position her where they needed her to be for the plot. This leads to some ill-considered moments and sometimes incomplete narrative tissue. It also will leave you scratching your head about the extent of her powers once the full picture is revealed.
But if you’re still looking for Mephisto, the film might also give you some evidence of his presence if you look close enough.
In that same regard, the Marvel Easter Egg hunt is as fun as ever. While the blatant character cameos will stun you with the people chosen to play the parts – one actor is positively more surprising the rest for their return to the Marvel fold – the references to various locations and an unexpected emphasis on a certain book will offer some pleasing shots of dopamine.
On a similar front, Raimi’s direction also hits the pleasure centers when its apparent he’s come across a scene he really likes. There’s one in particular that we can’t really describe for spolierly reasons, but it comes late in the film and allows the director to reach back to his Evil Dead roots. Married with the trappings of the MCU, it proves to be one of the wilder and yet more satisfying things about the movie.
Nevertheless, because it’s clear there are things Raimi is less interested in filming, the movie is not entirely successful either as another entry in the ongoing Marvel saga or as a film onto itself. To the latter point, a re-watch of the first Doctor Strange, WandaVision and Loki (to an extent) are essential – something we did not feel about No Way Home as it recapped the necessary plot points from previous films in a concise and entertaining way. But even as Multiverse of Madness expects you to be primed for its story by watching the key films and shows on Disney+, it ultimately doesn’t feel like it is adding all that much beyond the potential of certain actors to appear again in a subsequent Marvel Studios film. The understanding of the Marvel Multiverse is not furthered and Strange never reaches a catharsis about his issues. Sure, it might be more realistic for an egotist of his ilk to remain unchanged, but it still leads to an unsatisfying narrative as the plot demands that actually change somewhat. Although, we’ll admit other viewers may sense more of a change in him by the film’s conclusion than we did.
Wanda is similarly plagued by the plot. It leads to choices that not only feel forced on her, but seem to go against what we’ve learned about her through the Westview incident. Beyond that, a choice she makes late in the film feels completely unearned as the movie focuses more on the whizbang and cameos than its characters.
Which, we admit, is a criticism often levied at all the Marvel Studios films. And yet, we’ll argue, most of the studio’s efforts at least offer the illusion that the characters have changed or grown by the end of a movie or a season of television. But for a film filled with mystics and witches, it is the one trick Multiverse of Madness never really pulls off.
The result is one of Marvel Studios messier productions, but that messiness will lead to a more varied appraisal of the film as it offers an abundance of unquestionable quality in its mixed efforts.