Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (Spoiler-Free) Review
The MCU has teased the idea of jumping into the multiverse with Loki and Spider-Man: No Way Home but takes its first major step with the latest Doctor Strange film, Multiverse of Madness, where it struggles to take an ambitious leap.
The lead up to Multiverse of Madness has had the internet buzzing for months and built possibly the biggest hype for an MCU film since Avengers: Endgame. Fan theories and rumors about who could possibly appear and what other universes Strange could venture into spread like wildfire. Not to mention, the film was said to be a true MCU horror movie and with a legend of genre like director Sam Raimi at the helm, Multiverse of Madness had all the potential to be something special. In terms of its execution as a horror movie, Multiverse of Madness is some of Raimi’s best work in the genre.
As Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) gets ensnared into a multiverse conflict that sees a dark demonic entity hunting down America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) to steal her power to navigate the multiverse, Raimi immediately gets to work creating some amazing horror visuals that up the ante for brutality and creepiness in the MCU. Horror is an especially fitting tone and style for Multiverse of Madness given how it deals with darker magic and continues to show a darker side to Wanda/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) following her tragic story in WandaVision. There are some really great sequences that ramp up the tension with some eerie visuals and showcase some chilling imagery that makes great use of necromancy coming into play. It’s a great evolution of the very mesmerizing and trippy imagery of the first film and the psychedelic and wild horror visuals here bring some of Raimi’s classic filmmaking styles back, which is a real treat.
Multiverse of Madness is a Raimi horror flick through and through and thankfully doesn’t feel limited by its rating or taking place within the MCU. The film features some of the most brutal kills of any MCU movie, with one in particular that was so mind-blowing that everyone in the theater gasped. The kills are equally creative in their visuals and Raimi utilizes every inch of scenery to create unexpected moments of horror. The visual effects are off the charts in terms of creating these transfixing atmospheres mixed with great sound design and Danny Elfman’s stunning score and Raimi creates a horror flick that never ceases to amaze. Multiverse of Madness establishes itself greatly as a unique entry in the MCU’s canon and is the top-notch return to the horror genre for Raimi that will impress everyone.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for everything outside of Raimi’s stylistic vision as the storytelling and execution of the multiverse is subpar and somewhat problematic. The film’s struggles show early as it feels incredibly rushed and jumpy with how it establishes relationships and the story at hand. It literally throws viewers into everything, from America running from this gargantuan demon with another version of Strange to Strange woefully appearing at Christine’s (Rachel McAdams) wedding, without giving satisfying context. The film doesn’t delve into much of what Strange has been up to since the events of Endgame, let alone No Way Home, and once America arrives, Strange just jumps into action helping her. Worst is that Wanda’s introduction is super rushed and establishes an arc for her that doesn’t exactly coincide with where she ended off at the end of WandaVision. It just suddenly has her shift character in a way that might be fitting to the comics but is incredibly confusing in the moment.
Sadly, the film never really recovers from its rough start and only provides a few emotional moments for its characters. If it wasn’t for such strong performances, this film’s story would completely fall through, but it’s thankfully held up well by the cast. America’s story might be thin and not provide much real growth for the character, but Gomez’s performance is instantly likeable with the kinetic charm she brings. It’s a breakout performance that presents a possible new fan-favorite with time and you can’t help but love the star imprints she leaves with all her actions. Although Christine doesn’t really break out of her bland love interest role, she does at least have a more expanded role here. As for Strange, his personal arc in the film feels pretty weak and the stakes of him succumbing to darker magic never feels like a prevalent or meaningful threat. The film tries to make Strange out to be this possibly dangerous threat through the stories of other versions of him, but it never translates in how viewers will see him. Things also end on a confusing note for Strange with the film’s final twist coming without any sort of real explanation and the way it carries over into the mid-credits scene only adds to the confusion for where his story is going next. Yet, Cumberbatch manages to keep Strange constantly entertaining and delivers a truly beautiful monologue to Christine that’ll easily get tears flowing.
The most baffling character blunder is with how the film handles Wanda as it basically wants to ignore what she learned in WandaVision and force her down a bland path of selfish anger and rageful emotion. Olsen absolutely sells the hell out of Wanda’s desperation to have the life she created with her sons back again and gives a complex performance with some strong emotion, but this characterization feels totally rushed and somewhat unearned. Try as the film may to make Wanda’s motivations complex and understandable, it never manages to work as she just comes off as this nasty evil entity. For the journey that she’s had in the MCU, this feels like an unceremonious result that mishandles the character badly and doesn’t give her the respect or depth that WandaVision did.
Worst of all though is that Multiverse of Madness barely explores its multiverse concept and is far from ambitious with its surprises. For a film that had so much going for it, it’s devastating to see how Marvel Studios dropped the ball with this one. The universes that are explored aren’t all that interesting and really, there are only a few in total. Because of how many cameos were officially confirmed before the film’s release, there are really only one or two big surprises worth talking about. There’s honestly so much more this film could’ve done to showcase an exciting and vibrant multiverse, but it plays it way too safe, and the film is massively underwhelming as a result. It also doesn’t really delve too much into the impact of the multiverse so there isn’t really a direction established with where the MCU is heading with this idea.
Raimi should absolutely be credited and lauded for everything he accomplishes with bringing a fun and visually stunning horror atmosphere into the MCU, but it sadly isn’t enough to make Multiverse of Madness anything but disappointing. The sequel does nothing to capitalize on its characters, story potential, or multiverse opportunities making the direction of the MCU more confusing than ever.