The Marvel train keeps on rolling! After just concluding Moon Knight on Disney+, the MCU is back on the big screen with Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. A sequel to the original 2016 Strange film and WandaVision, Multiverse of Madness is very much a different beast compared to the original film. I don’t think it’s for everyone, but fans of director Sam Raimi should enjoy this gothic-horror-inspired trip.
The film starts off with a Doctor Strange from another reality trying to save America Chavez from a sinister demon. The film opens hot and we’re left wondering “what’s going on” for the first few minutes. As it turns out, America can traverse the multiverse and this demonic force wants her power. After Strange tries to kill America to prevent the demon from succeeding, he ends up dying and America plunges into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, otherwise known as Earth-616.
Our Doctor Strange, who experienced this event in a dream, finds himself at Christine’s wedding. A theme in this movie and What If… is that Strange and Christine simply aren’t meant to be. He tells himself that he’s happy, but after seeing the woman he’s loved in the past find love and happiness without him stings more than he’s willing to admit. However, Strange’s happiness and purpose in the world is the only real important characterization we get in the film.
Despite being billed as a Doctor Strange movie, it isn’t really. Sure, he’s the protagonist and the avatar that guides us through the plot, but Strange is, strangely enough, the weakest part of this film. He lacks substance and intrigue. He’s tasked with protecting America, who is a MacGuffin with more intrigue on her than he has, but that’s all he has going for him. She’s able to plunge through the multiverse, but only when she’s afraid, and she can’t control where she lands, which is something of a complication. She has a pretty tragic past, after sending her moms away to another reality by mistake, and we definitely sympathize with her, as she’s not only alone, but a target.
On the flip side of that coin is Elisabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff. While MoM is a Strange sequel on paper, it’s really a sequel to WandaVision. Torn apart by grief, she succumbs to the darkness and openly becomes the Scarlet Witch. Her motivations though are very understandable. She doesn’t want world domination or anything trivial like that. She wants to see her kids again, whom she fabricated during the events of WandaVision. But they seemingly exist in other realities and she seeks to use America’s powers to reunite with her children, no matter the cost. The Dark Hold on her corrupts this desire and she goes to some extreme lengths to see her dream of being a mother again become a reality. Wanda has lost a lot since Infinity War, and we buy into her grief if we’re fully up to date with the MCU.
MoM is also a pretty solid Sam Raimi movie. I know his cinematic style isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but if you wanted to see the MCU version of Spider-Man meets Evil Dead II, this is the movie to scratch that particular itch. The film starts off fairly traditional for an MCU movie, but as the plot moves forward, the tone definitely changes. Raimi balances campy dialogue with creepy imagery and his signature camera style, from “floating POV shots” to hard swivels, crank zooms and more. There are even a few jump-scares in this MCU film and the imagery can definitely get creepy and even a bit gruesome. Raimi definitely pushed the boundaries of the PG-13, not only with the violence, but with the creepy factor. Wanda crawling out of the gong was quite spooky and creepy and our Strange uses the rotting corpse of another version of himself to dreamwalk from one reality to another. While not creepy, the musical battle between two Strange’s was a highlight of the film-Danny Elfman must have really enjoyed that sequence!
On that note, yes the Illuminati are in this movie! They play a small role and they all end up as cannon fodder for Wanda, but it was pretty neat seeing this lineup, which includes John Krasinski as Reeds Richards. Haley Atwell reprises her role as Captain Carter from What If… while Anson Mount resumes his role as Black Bolt from Inhumans, which was a surprise for me. We know Professor X was going to be in it, but he was joined by Lashawna Lynch as Captain Marvel and Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Mordo. All this takes place in Earth-838, so time will tell if Krasinski will be reprising his role as Mr. Fantastic in the upcoming Fantastic Four movie, or if that was just a bit of catnip for the fans, who eagerly wanted the actor to play the character. That said, if he is returning to the role, perhaps he could direct the film, since No Way Home’s Jon Watts recently stepped away from the director’s chair. I personally think Black Bolt or Captain Carter got it worst (brain exploding and bisected, respectively).
If you’re a fan of Doctor Strange, I do find this movie a bit difficult to recommend. He’s a weak character here and has little growth or intrigue. But the story around him is quite good and if you’re a fan of Raimi’s macabre camp, it’s all here. Olsen’s Wanda steps into one of the MCU’s best villains to date, as we have the foundation already established to justify her actions. If anything, I wish Marvel would have let Raimi go completely off the chain and do his thing stylistically to the max. I also wish there was more of that trippy kaleidoscope magic from the first film, as it only really showed up in one scene, which was a bummer as it’s a visual treat. In the end, Multiverse of Madness isn’t going to be for everyone and I would say those who like Raimi’s filmography might enjoy it more than the casual Marvel watcher. But I love that the MCU is taking more risks and allowing directors to be more expressive. More of this please!
Oh-and that post-credit scene, peak Raimi.