Synopsis: After a brush with the multiverse in Spider-Man: No Way Home, Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is thrust head-first into a multiversal adventure when he meets America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), a mysterious teen with the power to travel to different universes. Vowing to help save her from the demons that are chasing her across the multiverse, Dr. Strange turns to Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) to learn more about the multiverse, putting all three characters on a collision course that could change the fate of the multiverse forever.
Note: This is a spoiler-free review.
Breakdown: Maybe my expectations were too high. Maybe the movie didn’t deliver. Maybe I fell victim to the numerous rumors and leaks, most of which didn’t pan out. Whatever the cause, I left the theater after seeing Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness feeling perfectly… whelmed. It wasn’t a bad movie, by any means. But it sits no where near the top of the previous MCU outings, by far. The movie is kind of a mess, which is both a good thing and a bad thing.
Let’s get the bad out of the way first so we can talk about what worked in this movie. The MCU, for better or for worse, has been groundbreaking in its mostly successful attempt at serialized storytelling. For the most part, every entry feels like a critical piece of the puzzle, and if it doesn’t, it eventually will once other projects come out. Some of the best MCU stories (The Winter Soldier, Endgame, Civil War, even WandaVision), have real stakes that cause real changes to both the characters and the major narratives being told in both TV and film. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, on the other hand, doesn’t.
The best metaphor I can come up with to describe this movie is that it feels, strangely enough, like an episode of Family Guy: entertaining to watch with absolutely bonkers events taking place through the course of the story, but by the end we are back at status quo for everyone and nothing really has changed. And while it is not a bad thing to have a self-contained story, the lead up to this film has indicated that it would change the face of the MCU forever. It doesn’t, really.
I mean, before seeing the movie, I would consider WandaVision, Loki, What If…?, Spider-Man: No Way Home, and the first Doctor Strange movie to directly tie into the events of this movie. In actuality, WandaVision is really the only previous project that is required viewing. There is no mention of the events of Loki, where we were led to believe that the multiverse fracture originated from; and some of the events from What If…? are referenced, but in the best executions only as fan service and in the worst executions as a sort of ret-con, retelling the events of the TV show in a vastly inferior way. The only thing you need to know from the first Doctor Strange movie is that it didn’t work out with Christine (Rachel McAdams) and Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) doesn’t like Dr. Strange. And as to the events of Spider-Man: No Way Home, the results of Dr. Strange’s final spell remain unclear. Yes, no one remembers who Peter Parker is, but they still remember Spider-Man. Meaning that Doctor Strange would not be surprised at multiversal characters showing up because he literally just dealt with them in the previous film.
And herein lies my biggest problem with the movie: the use of the multiverse. What could be an excellent opportunity for the MCU to tell compelling stories about how the choices we make shape who we become is quickly becoming a cheap way for them to introduce fan-favorite characters in brief cameos. I won’t spoil anything here, but the only meaningful characters that have been brought in as a result of the multiverse were introduced in Spider-Man: No Way Home; every other multiversal character has been a wink-wink nod-nod way for the MCU to say “we hear you, fans!” but not actually give us what we want. Time will tell if the introductions made in this movie will pan out, but as of right now, it feels a bit cheap.
Now onto the good parts of the movie: Elizabeth Olsen. Olsen has taken a character that was pretty meh on her introduction and turned her into one of the most realistic, nuanced, and emotionally stunning characters that have come out of the MCU. Wanda may just be my favorite character, especially after this movie. There are fans who are upset at the way she is portrayed in this movie, but I feel, if you have been watching her trajectory closely, her actions in this film are totally in line with everything that has come before. Wanda’s story is absolutely heartbreaking, and her motivations are the most human out of any character. That is saying a lot for a character who wiggles her fingers and makes red magic appear.
Xochitl Gomez does a fine job in her introduction to the MCU, and as the movies and TV shows keep building up their roster of young heroes, I am excited to see what she does next. Cumberbatch continues to do a fine job as the Sorcerer Supreme, quickly filling the role that Robert Downey, Jr. has left vacant since Avengers: Endgame.
And I’d be remiss to not mention director Sam Raimi, who returns to directing movies in general after a nine-year hiatus and returns to directing superhero movies since he swore them off after fans and critics alike hated Spider-Man 3. He does a fine job, bringing his horror sensibilities in what is one of the scariest movies in the MCU (but I use the term scary lightly). He brings with him frequent collaborator Danny Elfman to pen the score, and what an Elfman-tastic score it is. The music is so good that it even features prominently (albeit a bit randomly) in the final fight scene.
Verdict: 3 out of 5 stars
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a perfectly enjoyable film. It just feels like one that is turned up to 6, when it could have easily been turned up to 12 and just gone all out. There is a sense of fun and wonder that is lacking from the movie; I wanted to explore different universes and truly experience how different yet similar they are to each other. However, the most ‘zany’ thing we saw was that in one universe, cars started driving at red lights and stopped on green. Isn’t that CrAzY?!
There is a brief moment halfway through the movie where America and Strange are being blasted through multiple universes and we get a brief glimpse of different versions of Earth. I’d love to see more of that, and for the movie to really dive into the ‘madness’ of the multiverse. Unfortunately, that’s not what we got. What we got instead was an entertaining film that didn’t really have any major implications to the story moving forward. Which is fine, I guess, but that’s not really what we were sold on. With that being said, I still love these characters and can’t wait to see what happens next.
Mark Pereira is a senior writer for Boss Rush Network. He loves all video games, but his top three favorites are Skyward Sword, Super Mario 3D World and Batman: Arkham Asylum. You can find him on Twitter where he’s usually talking about Nintendo, video games, movies, and TV shows.
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