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Review: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

May 5, 2022

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The 28th film in the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is simultaneously a direct sequel to the 2016 film Doctor Strange, a followup to the most recent MCU entry Spider-Man: No Way Home, and a continuation of the Disney+ series WandaVision.

But, perhaps more importantly for film fans, Multiverse of Madness is also director Sam Raimi’s return to the superhero genre twenty years after the first Spider-Man starring Tobey Maguire, and a full fifteen years after completing his trilogy with Spider-Man 3 in 2007 (and subsequently walking away from the genre altogether).

And Raimi, a replacement for Scott Derrickson who directed the first Doctor Strange film but left this one in the early stages of production due to creative differences, brings a jolt of energy to the sequel when the studio allows him to let loose. While Multiverse of Madness inevitably feels like a bit of a clash between a more rote Marvel movie and a slightly unhinged Sam Raimi one, the director mostly wins out in the last act, and when he does, it’s a lot of fun.

Like the aforementioned No Way Home, this film finds Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) messing about in the multiverse. With Christine (Rachel McAdams) no longer available to him, the multiverse presents possibilities of another reality where they could be together. The film’s inciting incident is the arrival of America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), a young woman with the power to jump between different realities in the multiverse, who drops into New York while being pursued by a tentacled monster.

Strange and the Sorcerer Supreme (Benedict Wong) team up with America, who has trouble controlling where she ends up in the multiverse, and they enlist the help of Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), aka Scarlet Witch. But Wanda, who is still traumatized by what happened in Westview, wants America’s powers for her own, setting off a major battle. It’s worth noting that this is the most connected an MCU movie has been to one of their corresponding TV shows, with the film directly following WandaVision as much as it does the first Doctor Strange (it also helps if you are familiar with the animated series What If…?, since there are nods to that as well).

The storytelling is a bit uneven, and Multiverse of Madness maybe doesn’t do as much with its plot as it could have, at times feeling like it is essentially recreating Wanda’s character arc from WandaVision in a less nuanced way (though Olsen’s portrayal remains compelling). Despite the dense mythology around it, this is actually one of Marvel’s more straight-forward efforts, with a sort of get-in, get-out plot that makes the film feel quite lean. This simplicity may divide some fans, but it also gives the film a certain forward momentum once the story gets going. This is one of the shorter MCU films at just under two hours to credits (126 minutes including them), and it’s free of some of the bloat that has plagued other entries in the series.

While Multiverse of Madness still has some of Marvel’s more mechanical narrative elements, including predictable battle scenes, moments of fan service, and obligatory cameos and teases at what’s to come in the franchise, the film is at its strongest when allowing Raimi to play around in his wheelhouse. We get some of his trademark inventive camerawork (including Dutch angles), and even some welcome horror elements involving possession and reanimation. This is the closest an MCU movie has ever gotten to the horror genre, including a couple of jump scares and moments of ghoulishness, and this is easily the most memorable stuff in the movie.

While there are some moments of frustration when it feels like Raimi is being held back a bit by the Marvel machine, these horror elements that he manages to bring to the table feel fresh, and Danny Elfman (taking over for Michael Giacchino) further enlivens things with a strong musical score. The film is also able to deliver some trippy visuals, including an early sequence where they jump between various universes in what is edited to look like a single take. Despite some slight missteps along the way, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is mainly just a lot of fun, while delivering some emotional stakes for viewers who care about these characters.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness opens exclusively in theatres on May 6th.

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