Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness has some very high expectations attached to it. The film promises to take us on a multiversal adventure, the likes of which we’ve never seen before in a Marvel movie. The good news is that it more than achieves that, but it does so at a cost.
As promised in the title, the Doctor Strange sequel is full of multiversal madness. The movie gives us hundreds of unique worlds to gawk at and recruits some of the most fantastical MCU characters on the roster. But at its heart lies a simple story.
Stephen Strange has successfully saved the universe more than once, but now he’s contemplating whether being a hero actually makes him happy.
Tossed into the middle of his existential crisis is America Chavez, a teenager with the power to bust through universes, who is being pursued relentlessly across the multiverse by alien creatures. Should her multiversal power fall into the wrong hands it could be devastating, so Doctor Strange makes it his mission to help her.
While the protection of America Chavez is at the core of Multiverse of Madness’ story, that’s about as simple as things get.
Doctor Strange 2 heralds the return of Sam Raimi to the world of Marvel and he well and truly makes his mark. You’ll hear a lot of people saying that this is a Sam Raimi film, not so much a Marvel film, and for good reason.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is an action-packed blend of retro horror and gruesome fantasy, the likes of which has never been seen in a Marvel Cinematic Universe movie. It’s refreshing, but it can also be jarring.
Raimi puts forward a vision of the multiverse that is as beautiful as it is unnerving. Between bouts of visual spectacle, there are moments of gore and tension that push the MCU firmly into the realms of horror. To be clear, this is camp horror more akin to Raimi’s The Evil Dead than something like Halloween, but it’s horror nevertheless.
Let’s be real, the MCU is now sitting at over 30 different projects. Without some variety in directorial styles, the films will begin to feel stale.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is probably the perfect place to unleash Raimi’s imaginative visual style. However, it will no doubt be polarizing for audiences hoping for more substance from a Doctor Strange film.
The story in this movie is never difficult to follow, but it quickly becomes stuffed with competing plot devices, absurd fantasy elements and CGI action. The third act in particular is where things really go off the rails and you have to leave your preconceived notions at the door.
While Multiverse of Madness is never a boring experience, it’s the character stories that suffer here. Marvel movies aren’t exactly deep psychological studies, but Doctor Strange 2 lacks the emotion that makes other MCU movies shine.
There are some truly poignant moments in the film but they’re quickly pushed out of the way to make room for stylistic set-pieces, leaving little room for character arcs to fully breathe.
To be fair, the cast gives it their all in this film. They are fully committed to Raimi’s vision which deftly switches between light comedy to fantastical horror tropes, often in the same scene.
The script also frequently serves them incredibly cheesy dialogue, which is as tough to hear as it must be to say, but there still isn’t one bad performance.
Benedict Cumberbatch is handed a mixed bag of scenes that range from melancholy to completely absurdity, but he manages to nail them all and truly establishes Doctor Strange as the new father figure of the Marvel universe.
Newcomer Xochitl Gomez also makes her case an MCU one to watch for her performance as America Chavez. Her character isn’t always given a whole lot to do, but in those more emotional scenes, she holds her own against some of Hollywood’s biggest stars.
Undoubtedly, the best performance comes from Elizabeth Olsen. Without saying too much about Wanda Maximoff’s trajectory, Olsen manages to deftly guide her character through a rollercoaster of emotions without missing a beat. It’s truly magical to see her play this character.
We also can’t talk about the Multiverse of Madness without mentioning the cameos and let’s just say expectations here have already been set too high thanks to the trailers.
Yes, it has its share of jaw-dropping cameos. But this isn’t an Avengers: Endgame level event, so don’t go in expecting every hero and their dog to appear.
The cameos we do see, however, are well worth the price of admission.
Speaking of expectations, the notions you bring into the film could easily sway the way you feel when you leave.
If you like the idea of a wildly paced, fantasy horror with an over-the-top plot that brings a visual feast to your eyeballs, you’ll probably like Multiverse of Madness.
If you’re going in expecting a Doctor Strange movie similar to the original, with a serious psychological edge and more cameos than you can cope with, you might leave disappointed.
Multiverse of Madness is overall a change of pace for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s fresh, and unafraid to utilise Raimi’s horror touches, but being a Marvel movie, it can’t quite fully commit to them. It also means some of the film’s emotional anchor is lost in the process, despite killer performances from its cast.
It won’t be for everyone, but when it comes down to it Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness delivers on what it promises: madness.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness – The Verdict
Pros: Fresh horror vibe, incredible visuals, stellar performance by Elizabeth Olsen.
Cons: Cliche dialogue, lacks stakes, trades character beats for impressive visuals.
Watch it if you like: Loki, The Evil Dead, Carrie.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is in Australian cinemas from May 5.