Movie Review: Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
In 2016, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) introduced a new character, Dr. Stephen Strange.
Since then, the character has appeared in five other films, but he hadn’t gotten a sequel…until now.
Yes, several years after its announcement, Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness has finally entered theaters. Here’s my review of the latest Marvel movie.
What Is Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness?
First and foremost, the film is a (long overdue) direct sequel to 2016’s Dr. Strange.
After that story, Dr. Strange demonstrated his abilities as the Sorcerer Supreme in Avengers: Infinity War. He used his powers to calculate the only method to defeat Thanos.
Then, Strange gave his Infinity Stone to the one person who shouldn’t have it, Thanos, to ensure that the Avengers won in the end.
For his troubles, Strange blipped out of existence for five years after Thanos’ Snap. Then, the Sorcerer Supreme returned in time to help defeat the tyrant/mass murderer.
However, a few things changed while Strange was dust. For instance, Master Wong replaced him as the Sorcerer Supreme.
Also, Dr. Christine Palmer moved on with her life and met someone else. Oh, and his former friend, Mordo, despises him now.
So, we have a lot in play for a sequel. Perhaps the most intriguing change takes place behind the camera, though.
Horror veteran Scott Derrickson dropped out of the project, only to be replaced by Sam Raimi.
Derrickson is one of the few horror filmmakers to dabble in the realm of superheroes. Raimi was the first. His hiring is an absolute masterpiece.
Also, let me be clear on this point. No matter what you’re expecting with Multiverse of Madness, it IS a Sam Raimi film in the best possible way.
The scare tactics here fluctuate between harrowing and hysterical. Raimi’s having fun in what he expects to be his final superhero movie.
What’s the Story of Multiverse of Madness?
This story plays out as a direct sequel to a movie AND a Disney+ series, but it also ties into the events of Avengers: Endgame.
Two characters from that film, Dr. Strange and Wanda Maximoff, have since played roles in different apocalyptic tales.
Wanda has nearly destroyed the town of Westview as she lives out a sitcom fantasy about marrying Vision and having two kids.
Dr. Strange has broken the world by casting an ill-considered spell for Peter Parker, whom he may not even remember now.
Multiverse of Madness ties those premises together by forcing Strange to intercede for the first time in Wanda’s new life.
Before that happens, a new player takes the field. We meet America Chavez for the first time as she attempts to help her ally, Stephen Strange. No, not that one.
Yes, this film happily skips into the multiverse with several versions of Dr. Strange appearing. We witness more than one Wanda as well.
Chavez interacts with all of them, as that’s her thing. She’s a multiversal character whose ability ties the story together.
Speaking of which, Captain America: Civil War provides the baseline for the Dr. Strange sequel. In that movie, Avengers battled against one another.
You should prepare for the fact that Mordo isn’t the villain of this piece, as we’d expected for the past five years. Instead, it’s Wanda.
The Scarlet Witch’s driving goal in the film is a reunion with her children. Unfortunately, Dr. Strange and Chavez stand in the way of that. Never try to keep a mother from her kids!
For his part, Strange is trying to find his way in a world that can do just fine without him. It’s a hard thing for a narcissist to accept.
What Works in the Film?
Writing a spoiler-free review of this film is like talking about Hamilton without mentioning the lyrics. It’s possible, but the outline seems skeletal.
At one point, a massive battle occurs that is wildly satisfying AND utterly shocking in its outcome. And I cannot tell you a single participant who fights against Wanda.
Otherwise, I’d ruin any number of surprises, two of which caused my audience to stand up and cheer.
What I can say is that Multiverse of Madness works as a grand unified theory of Marvel comic book stories…and not just ones from the MCU.
One of the characters who fight in battle here comes from a television series nobody even remembers. Another is among the most beloved Marvel characters ever.
My suspicion is that many other cameos didn’t make the final cut, as the movie lost half an hour in the editing bay.
So, what I can say with complete sincerity is that every appearance in this film feels well-considered and satisfying.
Also, some of the trippier effects from Dr. Strange don’t factor as heavily into the sequel. I’m relieved by that, as I wasn’t really a fan.
Instead, the action here takes more of a Sam Raimi tone, with action and humor combined cleverly.
In fact, I want to explore that for a moment. Long ago, Raimi and his buddy, Bruce Campbell, came to my neck of the woods, East Tennessee, and filmed Evil Dead.
Multiverse of Madness features a shocking number of Evil Dead callbacks and related concepts. In addition, this story comes with a LOT more horror gags than you might expect.
What Doesn’t Work in the Film?
I’ll go ahead and tell you right now that I give the film an A. So, I obviously quite enjoy it, albeit not quite as much as Spider-Man: No Way Home.
Part of that stems from the subject matter, as No Way Home’s use of returning characters felt more organic and believable.
However, some of the acting in Multiverse of Madness doesn’t quite ring true for me.
For whatever reason, Elizabeth Olsen’s acting rings false at times. And I’m saying that as someone who believes her performance in WandaVision was among the best of the past decade.
Raimi asks Olsen to be severe at times here, and it comes across as wooden. Meanwhile, some of Wong’s actions feel…dumber than Wong.
Marvel just faced the same problem with Moon Knight. Sometimes, characters must behave in idiotic ways to advance the plot to a final payoff.
The best Marvel movies don’t have that, but Multiverse of Madness does at times.
These are nitpicks in the greater scheme, though. Overall, Multiverse of Madness does what Marvel had promised. It concludes the story arcs of Strange and Maximoff, at least for now.
I may disagree with the methods, but Raimi himself anticipated that. He acknowledged that it’s probably not the story WandaVision fans wanted, just the one they needed.
I’m resisting every urge to gush about this movie. I presume you’ll watch it for yourself soon, at which point you’ll know what “music fight” means.
For now, all I can say in a non-spoilery way is that this scene is brilliant. I also love the Lovecraftian monsters, although I wish they’d played more of a factor.
That’s my immediate, lingering thought about Multiverse of Madness. I wanted more of everything, which is always a good sign.
In the aftermath of Avengers: Endgame, I would rank Dr. Strange 2 well above Eternals and Black Widow and on a par with Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Fists.
So, we’re talking about upper-tier MCU…but not top tier. That’s plenty good enough, right?
Seriously, go see this movie asap! That way, we can talk about [redacted] dying because of [redacted] by their own [redacted]! Who saw that coming?!