Marvel Studios Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is yet another post-Endgame Marvel Cinematic Universe offering that takes a crack at breaking free of the restraints of the formula that was so profitable for the studio without alienating the fans. With director Sam Raimi at the helm, the film does feel “Marvel-y,” but on the minus side, it is at the cost of fulfilling the promise in the trailers of a much more chilling and macabre-telling of the tale. So, though the film is a fun night out, it is less like Halloween at Knott’s Scary Farm and more like riding Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion.
As the name implies, the story revolves around Doctor Stephen Strange, once again played beautifully by Benedict Cumberbatch, at some point in time after he helps Avengers save the universe from Thanos (Avengers: Endgame). After the sudden and pretty spectacular appearance of a young woman named America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), whose fate seems tied to that of the Multiverse, Strange takes on the role of being a guardian/savior to both. As he is pulled into one universe after another, he finds new versions of old friends and enemies. Each encounter leaves him more unsteady and filled with questions about how to defeat the evil threatening the Multiverse and about himself.
Screenwriter Michael Waldron’s story is filled with as many dizzying twists as the multiverse itself, but Raimi’s direction helps keep the threads from becoming too tangled to follow. Injecting the film with humor and some impressive and scary visuals, the film never becomes too weighted down by some of the grimmer aspects of the story. Multiverse has the feel of old school, more fun, and less tortured superhero films, like Raimi’s “Spiderman” trilogy. It isn’t a perfect fit for this film, though. Not that I’m gung-ho for super dark and brooding superhero movies, but a dash more gravitas in this piece might have been a better fit for the character of Strange.
Cumberbatch slides back into Strange but shows us a more complete picture of the character we have ever seen since Doctor Strange. Strange is finally the story’s focus again, not just a supporting team member. This Stephen Strange has been through the wars, and it shows. The arrogance, we are reminded, is still there, but we see the scars and the vulnerability, as well.
Xochitl Gomez’s America Chavez is a welcome addition to the MCU. I wasn’t familiar with her backstory, but like other young characters from the Marvel comic books, she infuses the stories with a much-needed boost of youthful perspective and energy. The actress herself did an admirable job of grounding the character in reality no matter the hyper-reality of the scene.
Wanda Maximov/The Scarlet Witch has always been a compelling character, even from her introduction during and end credit scene in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. We have been invested in her journey, and Marvel has spent a lot of time making sure we stay that way, giving Elisabeth Olsen some of the more memorable MCU moments, including a series on Disney+. In Multiverse, her story continues and, in many ways, nearly eclipses Strange’s. This is not only in the writing but also due to Olsen’s fantastic performance. She almost walks away with the movie.
Touching on the visuals of the film, the design of the various universes was gorgeously detailed and impressive. Also, as hard as it is to say anymore, “Wow great digital effects” without someone rolling their eyes, they really were, well, great.
The sound design and editing were spot on, though it was a bit loud (or maybe I’m just getting old). Also, Danny Elfman’s score was appropriately thrilling and moody at times, perfectly underscoring the action and never taking center stage.
Finally, though no spoiler’s here, some gasp-out-loud moments are worth the price of admission and will make Marvel fans smile. In addition, the movie offers a few potential glimpses of the next phase of the MCU offerings. And, of course, stay for the end credit scenes.
It may not be the best of the MCU, and even though it is not the scare-fest you might be hoping for, it is definitely entertaining and unique. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness works, and I’m certainly going to see it again.
3.75 out of 5 stars
In Marvel Studios’ “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” the MCU unlocks the Multiverse and pushes its boundaries further than ever before. Journey into the unknown with Doctor Strange, who, with the help of mystical allies both old and new, traverses the mind-bending and dangerous alternate realities of the Multiverse to confront a mysterious new adversary.
“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, Xochitl Gomez, with Michael Stühlbarg, and Rachel McAdams.
The film is directed by Sam Raimi, and Kevin Feige is the producer. Louis D’Esposito, Victoria Alonso, Eric Hauserman Carroll, Scott Derrickson and Jamie Christopher serve as executive producers. The screenplay was written by Michael Waldron. “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” releases in U.S. theaters on May 6, 2022.