Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness marks Sam Raimi’s grand return to the franchise for the first time in fifteen years to deliver what is billed as Marvel’s ‘first horror movie’.
Benedict Cumberbatch reprises his role as Stephen Strange for his second solo outing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) as he and newcomer America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) are pursued relentlessly by Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch who seeks the latter’s dimension hopping powers.
This is a movie for die-hard Marvel fans, without question. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness tries to keep its focus on Strange and his supporting cast, but it largely serves as a direct sequel or epilogue to WandaVision which premiered on Disney Plus last year.
Marvel has assumed that general audiences have kept up to date with the intricacies of their expanding universe, but I’m starting to feel that the overarching lore is becoming a bit convoluted.
It was tricky enough to keep on top of everything when Marvel was releasing three -sometimes four – films a year, and to add to this franchise collection, we now have an endless list of Disney Plus spin-offs on the back of the films…and with more on the horizon.
Even characters introduced in spin-offs are getting their own spin-offs. It’s getting out of hand. It really is a huge ask of your audience to keep on top of all of this and it could be a sign that Marvel are looking to ditch the idea of smaller self-contained stories.
This is made clear in the film’s pacing which moves at a breakneck speed and doesn’t spend any time catching audiences up on what’s been going on. If you missed WandaVision then you’re out of luck I’m afraid. This also extends to some of Strange’s supporting cast.
Take for instance Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) who serves as Strange’s love interest yet hasn’t been seen, mentioned or heard from in six years when she appeared in the first film in 2016.
When the character has had such a massive absence after all this time, why should anyone care about this relationship or dynamic when it feels like an afterthought?
The pitfalls of the MCU are all too apparent in the film’s first act. Comedy in these films have always been hit or miss for me and in recent instalments the comic relief has taken a real nosedive to the point that it feels unnatural and forced.
There’s also the boss fight with the CGI Lovecraftian demon which is frankly laughable for all the wrong reasons and reeks of studio interference. Thankfully Sam Raimi’s guiding hand and strong performances from the cast course correct and steer the film in the right direction.
Scott Derrickson was originally supposed to return to helm Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness but left the project due to creative differences. There could have been no better replacement or any man for the job other than Sam Raimi.
There may be some who don’t quite vibe with Raimi’s kookiness and directing style as seen in his Evil Dead and Spider-Man trilogies but for long time fans it’s an absolute delight to see Raimi back in action.
Raimi, who is a maestro of the horror genre (Evil Dead), delivers genuine scares, frightening imagery and a high body count by the time all is said and done. Raimi also effectively plays on Strange’s magical prowess to deliver some truly stunning imagery that hasn’t been seen before in the MCU.
There are some gruesome and creative kills on display which combined with the darker tone of the film pushes the family friendly factor of the MCU to it’s absolute limit. Multiverse of Madness also reunites Raimi with long-time collaborator Danny Elfman who has produced one of the MCU’s best scores to date.
Benedict Cumberbatch gets the chance to shine in this film. He’s been playing this character for six years now and while Strange is often portrayed as a major player in event films like Avengers: Infinity War, it was starting to feel as if he was simply a supporting character in the overall franchise.
Multiverse of Madness proves once and for all that Benedict Cumberbatch is a pillar of the MCU and stands alongside the likes of Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth and Robert Downey Jr.
Xochitl Gomez is likeable enough in her debut role as America Chavez; she has a fun dynamic with Strange, adds some much-needed levity and is overall a strong addition to the roster of MCU heroes. Chiwetel Ejiofor briefly returns as Strange’s nemesis Baron Mordo who I would love to see more of going forward.
Elizabeth Olsen completely steals the show however with her best performance to date as Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch. Wanda has always been one of the deeper and more complex characters in the MCU which has been heightened by Olsen’s performance over the years.
Here we find Wanda at her absolute lowest point, and she’s all the more terrifying for it as she crosses a line that will leave viewers shocked. Olsen’s Scarlett Witch is a sympathetic figure stricken by grief yet also channels the same energy you’d expect from Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers.
In the hands of a less capable director Doctor Strange In The Multiverse of Madness would be a convoluted mess, and at times it veers dangerously close, but this is a mostly triumphant return for Sam Raimi. I do wonder what the future of the MCU looks like though.
Could we see a return to smaller stand-alone adventures or will Marvel’s commitment to their multiverse storyline and overarching lore alienate casual viewers? It could be that these movies are becoming a bit too much like their comic book counterparts for better or worse.