The first Doctor Strange movie remains one of my favorite MCU films. While it has been criticized for seeming derivative of earlier movies (substituting magic for science in presenting the tale of an arrogant jerk with a magnificent beard learning to be a hero) it was still a good origin story and did a fantastic job of replicating the weird aesthetic of the original comics by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee. Doctor Strange In The Multiverse of Madness is similarly accomplished, though it is often as unwieldy as its title.
Set sometime after the events of Spider-Man: No Way Home, Multiverse of Madness finds Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) in a state of ennui. No longer the Sorcerer Supreme and left reeling by the impending marriage of his ex-girlfriend Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), Stephen is left wondering if he’s made the right choices in his life. He has little time for reflection, however, as a disruption to Christine’s wedding calls him into action and introduces him to America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) – a young woman with the amazing power to travel between realities. With the able assistance of the current Sorcerer Supreme Wong (Benedict Wong), Doctor Strange must protect America from the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), who seeks to claim America’s power for herself.
Whatever else may be said about Multiverse of Madness, it is definitely a Sam Raimi film. Fans of the original Spider-Man trilogy and the Evil Dead films will be on familiar visual ground, as this movie plays out more like a horror film than a traditional superhero movie, with jump-scares and shaky-cam shots. This is fitting given the darker subject matter, however, for Multiverse of Madness may well be the most twisted MCU movie to date.
While the screenplay by Michael Waldron draws deeply off a number of sources (particularly the Disney+ series Wandavision) it remains accessible to those people who haven’t seen all the shows or read any comics and don’t understand the significance of Incursions being introduced into the MCU. The only real weakness to the story is that it does drag a little bit in the middle, with an extended stay in one universe resulting in a number of cameos that either reference earlier Marvel movies and series or hint at things to come. While these moments resulted in some of the biggest cheers from the audience I overheard while watching the movie, they weren’t strictly necessary to the story, even if they were fun.
The ensembles’ performances are all solid. Elizabeth Olsen stands out as she manages the magical trick of being a truly sympathetic villain whose status as a villain is somewhat open to debate. Chiwetel Ejiofor is also impressive as the Baron Mordo of another Earth, taking a relatively small role with no major effect on the story and giving it his usual gravitas.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is not as great as the first Doctor Strange movie, being unable to stand on its own and being too concerned with setting up further adventures in the MCU. That being said, it is enjoyable on its own merits, of which there are many. Fans of the actors involved and Sam Raimi are sure to be satisfied. And be sure to stick around for both of the post-credits scenes!