REVIEW – Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)

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Possibly the most “out there” entry in the MCU so far, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a wild ride that has fun with the multiverse concept and dabbles in horror motifs. Whatever hiccups it has in attempting character depth it makes up for in a ludicrous good time.

Doctor Stephen Strange encounters a young girl with the ability to travel through the multiverse and he must help her escape an entity that wants her power. For me to continue a synopsis may reveal too much but sufficed to say, the trailers have not only shown you nothing of real importance but may have also misled viewers… and for good reason, too.

Gonna do my best to be SPOILER-FREE for this review…

There’s actually a lot to take in from Multiverse of Madness, and yet I wouldn’t call it particularly deep story despite its attempts to give important character moments. It’s more like a wild ride that takes advantage of the multiverse concept and has a bit of fun with it. Showing us a bit of “what if?” but for the big screen.

Marvel Studios may follow a formula but it normally keeps things fresh by dabbling in various genres when it suits the story. The original Doctor Strange film was a psychedelic trip but ultimately its story was very reminiscent of Tony Stark’s origin. Multiverse of Madness is the MCU dipping the toe into the horror genre for the first time and with Sam Raimi as director (better known for the Evil Dead films) you can already get a feel of the kind of “fun” horror he brings with him. Maybe I’m jaded/inoculated to the genre but for me it was pitched at just the right level with the ideal amount of macabre, the grotesque, and jump scares without losing the younger viewers who buy the toys. Raimi knows how to make that palatable.

The performances are mostly solid with the heavily coiffed Benedict Cumberbatch still looking like the “guess the main character” meme when Strange is in civilian clothes (that’s not important, I just wanted to point out that observation). And Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) gets to continue her story from the wonderfully quirky WandaVision. It’s actually really nice to see the parallel motives for both Strange and Wanda, what drives them or maybe what they’re both trying to repress and that line Maximoff gives in the trailer about him being the hero and her the villain for doing similar things is quite the curious through-line for the story.

I enjoyed seeing Sorcerer Supreme Wong (Benedict Wong) doing more in this film and he certainly gets to shine with his own awesome action scenes and one-liners. Rachel McAdams is charming as always as Dr Christine Palmer who gets her own cool moments that expands on a character to more than a mere love interest. The one performance I’m ever so mildly torn about is the introduction of America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) and I’ll fully admit this is more about MY perception rather than anything else because I was anticipating her to be the standout but I felt as though she was underutilised, seen more as a walking “McGuffin.” Otherwise, I really liked her part in the film, as well as her naïve energy, and look forward to seeing where she ends up from here.

For anyone wondering whether or not you have to see WandaVision in order to understand what is going on here, well that depends: yes to fully appreciate the Scarlet Witch’s motivations, HOWEVER, the dirty secret of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is that it only makes you think you need to see everything to understand it. This is not really a standalone film, but it does its best to not heavily rely on a separate series to dictate where a character currently is.

While the first Doctor Strange film stood out for its trippy and psychedelic visual effects, this one tries to stand out with moments of imagination in how it depicts the multiverse (probably done better in Into the Spider-Verse but that’s a matter of taste) as well as realising the palatable horror elements (I did enjoy the nods to Raimi’s past Evil Dead work). It’s interesting to note how much this film harks back to the director’s previous work too. There are little elements regarding Raimi’s style that do differentiate it from what most consider “standard Marvel fare” but not so much that it deviates from the rest of the MCU. It’s a great balancing act that most of the directors chosen for these films have been able to accomplish so well.

As much fun as I had with this film, I think it did focus too much on certain aspects to the detriment of others. Not in any significant manner but it did some things at a solid 7 when it easily could have given me a 9. As I mentioned before, I enjoyed the parallels between Strange and Wanda, what drives them, but I felt as though it only gave enough to propel to the next moment instead of a deep dive to drive any points home. This film barely takes any time to properly rest, especially with those important character beats. It goes from one moment to the next and I suspect some development may have been left on the cutting room floor.

At 126-minutes, there is a lot packed into this movie, or at least it feels that way. The second act is very much the current trend of callbacks and references that nerd culture loves to eat up and I think the effort in that section may have diverted some of the attention away from aspects of the story and characters (it sounds silly for me to want more depth from this film but it’s the difference between me caring about a character and what happens to them – even though I still did – and just enjoying the adventure). These films are often littered with little easter eggs but none of them have ever felt this much at the forefront. If you got annoyed that the trailers revealed too much, that certain cameos should have been left a secret… you have no fucking idea!

Honestly, my nitpicks are more like speedbumps instead of barriers. Your mileage may vary on what constitutes too much when it comes to the “recognise this?” type moments. It’s like ordering your steak “medium” but they brought it out “well done” – it’s a matter of taste.

Some quick advice: pay really close attention to certain moments. Not everything is as it seems.

I forgot to mention that this also has a mid-credits scene, which I think is vital(?), and a less vital post-credits scene.

Overall, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a fun and thrilling chapter as we continue into the multiverse. It’s a highly-enjoyable adventure all on its own but it also makes for a good set up for what’s to come. EDIT: It’s now a couple of days later and I think I’ve come to the conclusion that when it comes to the two multiverse stories on the big screen (so far) I prefer this one over ‘No Way Home’ for what it’s worth.

Definitely getting this on blu-ray.


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