Doctor Strange In the Multiverse of Madness marks the return of director Sam Raimi nearly a decade after his last film, 2013’s Oz the Great and Powerful. Moreover, it’s a film that has him returning to the superhero genre with a character best suited to his sense of style. In Multiverse of Madness, we find Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) at a crossroads in his life. After resounding supporting roles in the last two Avengers movies and one big Spider-Man film, Strange finds himself somewhat depressed. If the first Doctor Strange was about humility, Multiverse of Madness is about something less tangible. A film about Strange coming to a reckoning with his actions in every film up to that point. If only that reckoning had any proper weight to it.
The film is filled to the brim with Raimi’s signature style in its direction, cinematography, and action. However, its story is lacking. After Strange takes a newcomer from another multiverse America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) under his wing, he’s forced to protect her from former Avenger turned wannabe mom Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), who wants her children back at any cost. What follows is a psychedelic universe hopping chase film with Strange at his wit’s end.
Overall, Cumberbatch’s familiarity with the character paired with Raimi’s vision is a good combination. The result of such a collaboration with a director like Raimi makes Multiverse more than the sum of its parts. Raimi has a sensibility as a director that helps to surpass the limitations of typical MCU storytelling. With a litany of cameos and some stunning visuals, the only thing holding this film back is its script and supporting characters.
Case in point: America Chavez. The multiverse hopping character has been the topic of much discussion surrounding the film. Unfortunately, the discussion and controversy surrounding the character are more in-depth than the character itself. Chavez in Multiverse of Madness is more of a MacGuffin than a character. Her powerset sets the story forward as she serves as motivation for both Strange and Wanda. That’s as far as her development goes as a character. Her struggling with her powerset doesn’t work as an arc, especially because of how cliche it is. On the other side of the spectrum of performances, Olsen as Wanda is a highlight of the film.
Wanda serves as an incredible driving force in the film. After the events of WandaVision, her power boost and corrupted mental state make her a force of nature. Wanda feels like an unstoppable force, going after Strange and America Chavez with everything she has. Olsen is no stranger to playing Wanda with a tragic demeanor about her. However, this time around her grief is paired with anger and determination. A determination that leads her to butting heads with Strange. Her despair and desperate need for motherhood give her much more resonance than the previous Strange baddie Kaecilius- one of the few parts of the film superior to the first.
Meanwhile, Strange and his arc primarily involve his relationship with Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams). Returning from the first film, Palmer and Strange get a chance to develop their relationship that was only briefly touched upon in the first film. McAdams gets to play different versions of the character, allowing Strange to reflect on his life up to this point. While most of the film has universe hopping big picture MCU shenanigans, the film also has lots of moments of Strange pondering his life and the multiple paths he could’ve taken. Think It’s a Wonderful Life if George Bailey was being chased by a universe hopping crazed Witch.
However, as intriguing as these character arcs are, they’re barely touched upon. In lieu of character development, we got some creatively intense action sequences and signature Raimi flair. Although the character arcs of Strange and Wanda have more emotional heft than America Chavez, they still do nothing more than to set up for yet another installment in the MCU’s neverending mythos. Benedict Wong as Wong also becomes somewhat pushed to the wayside in favor of multiverse shenanigans.
Overall, while boasting impressive performances and visual effects as well as some fantastic direction on Sam Raimi’s part, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness still comes up short. What the film lacks in a compelling script and character development it makes up for with some of the most creative action sequences and set Marvel has had in years. Moreover, Sam Raimi is a welcome addition to the pantheon of MCU directors. However, this trip through possible realities for Doctor Strange ends up being a little less about the character and more about teasing what comes next. – Ernesto Valenzuela
Grade – 7/10
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is Now Playing in Theaters