- Run time: 2 Hours 6 Minutes.
- Studio: Marvel Studios
- Director: Sam Raimi
- Where to Watch: In Theaters
After dealing with the horrors of a potential multiversal disaster, Doctor Strange has begun to have nightmares. In his latest dream, he is running towards a strange book with a girl he has never seen before. Brushing it aside as just a weird dream, he goes to the wedding of his ex-girlfriend Christine Palmer. During the reception, a deadly creature with runes all along its body is chasing the girl from his dream. Strange intervenes and after the creature has been dealt with, he learns that the girl’s name is America Chavez and she has the ability to travel the multiverse. Fearing another creature or something worse, Strange sends America to stay at Karma-Taj with Wong and then leaves to go find Wanda Maximoff, desperate to ask for support from the most powerful magic user in the universe.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is the latest MCU entry of quality (Lookin’ at you Morbius) and the first one of 2022. During the 5 months since Spider-Man No Way Home, Marvel has been on a marketing blitz, slamming the Multiverse trailer in front of practically every available advertising slot. The Multiversal phenomenon is here to stay and it is going to be a part of the MCU for a very long time, assuming the proposed release schedule remains intact. With lots of interesting and exciting implications to be had from all the different properties finally being allowed to play nice with each other, it feels like the MCU is reaching a critical juncture. One misstep and the whole thing could lose a lot of goodwill from the audiences that continue to fund these modern-day epics. While Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is not enough of a misstep to spell disaster, it definitely didn’t take full advantage of the groundwork laid by No Way Home. Directed by the legendary Sam Raimi, Benedict Cumberbatch returns for a second dedicated Doctor Strange romp through the MCU with the benefit of having several other large-scale movies to round out the character first. Audiences don’t have to struggle through the equivalent of Dark World or Iron Man 2 for Doctor Stephen Strange, which allows Raimi to take more risks and spend less time developing the character. With horror DNA spliced into the story, Multiverse of Madness is a unique and sometimes startling movie that stands alone in the larger MCU. Instead of being as cutting edge as the mighty hat man Kevin Feige intended, this movie feels duller than most. The sum of the whole Multiverse of Madness is not greater than the parts that make it up.
There are lots of things to enjoy about the Multiverse of Madness story, but they are totally spoilers heavy so I’ll leave those to you to discover on your own if you choose to watch it. However, the things that are not so enjoyable about this movie are fair game. The main gripe is that it completely wipes out what was originally an enjoyable story from WandaVision. As a fan of that show and the message it delivered about trauma and reactions to said trauma, it is now completely null and void. As a refresher, WandaVision ends with Wanda releasing her grip on the town of Westview and sacrificing her happiness because she has come to terms with her own losses. She did this through her own redemptive arc and was backed up by several other characters in the show who believed that Wanda wasn’t wholly evil. The audience is led to believe that she’s given up trying to create her own false reality until the post-credit scene of episode 9 which shows the Scarlet Witch wielding some sort of Necronomicon-looking book. This book is revealed in MoM to be the Darkhold, or the Book of the Damned as Doctor Strange puts it. At the time, the post-credit scene didn’t leave me with the feeling that Wanda was up to something nefarious, more like she was just researching and would come to her senses. But like most things in the MCU, this was completely intentional and would be called upon later when the time was right. That time was about 30 minutes into this movie when it is revealed that Wanda has turned heel and is not going to stop until she gets what she wants. This makes me feel like everything I liked about WV is now pointless because throughout MoM it’s like she can’t be redeemed. Nobody else goes up to bat for Wanda and tries to reason with her. Everybody just assumes she’s gone and doesn’t care anymore until the very end of the movie when she comes to her senses and drops a mountain top on herself.
Putting the story gripes aside, there are the usual complaints for Marvel movies to deal with like the poor CGI in some instances and clunky dialogue. While the big set pieces looked great with lots of detail on the creatures and the magic, there are some moments that look downright pathetic. Most of them involved poor America Chavez. She had a few scenes where she’s running or twisting or jumping, just being generally active and she looks like modeling clay tossed in front of a green screen. There are other moments where certain magical fights looked entirely rendered instead of superimposed over stunt actors which created a lack of oomph or weight. Again, these are common complaints in most Marvel movies so it’s whatever at this point. I don’t expect any of these complaints to change anytime soon. However, it’s not all bad. Sam Raimi comes in with one of the most unique visual styles to date and adds some old-school cool to an otherwise bland movie. There are also genuine unsettling moments as Raimi brings his horror skills out to the fullest extent a PG-13 movie can handle. A couple well-earned jump scares and a few brutal kills make this one of the more brutal Marvel movies, even though most of it is implied.
As for the dialogue, there are moments where characters say things so cheesy and absurd it’s like the MCU has learned nothing over the past 10 years. For example, in a tense scene for Rachel McAdams’ Christine Palmer, she says “Go back to Hell!” or something close to that right as she blows away a demon. It is absolute full-on cheese, the sort of thing that belongs in a late 90s action B-movie. The same type of annoying overplayed dialogue exists when America is giving Strange the rules of the multiverse. The whole “Rule #1 of XYZ is blah blah blah” is so overplayed and cheaty. There are a few other instances of this and it’s a death of a thousand cuts type scenario. Then there’s the almost Karen-like dialogue assigned to Wanda. She proses on motherhood and how she created her children like magic, just like any other mother does. It comes off as very arrogant, which is great for a villain but not after what I explained above. These mistakes here and there just add up throughout the entire run time and make what should have been a slam dunk of a movie into something incredibly mediocre.
Casting-wise, Benedict Cumberbatch is just as charismatic as he has been, fully ingrained in the character, and understands what he brings to the table without pushing the envelope too far. Benedict Wong returns as Wong to everyone’s delight and is the perfect counterpart to Cumberbatch’s overly confident Strange. Elizabeth Olsen, in what was likely her last appearance as Scarlet Witch, does exactly what is asked of her and delivers 100% on her character. Wanda is tortured and vengeful but struggles with the poor Karen dialogue. America Chavez is a brand new character played by Xochitl Gomez. Gomez does a fine job, despite the clunky dialogue. As the movie goes on, I found myself enjoying her character more and more as she progressed through the typical Marvel nonsense.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness takes a while to get going and doesn’t quite add up to a great movie. There are oddly placed scenes and the usual clunky dialogue with less than stellar CGI that is becoming more and more problematic as the MCU goes on. Sam Raimi brings together a very familiar cast with a few new faces and creates one of the most promising Marvel movies to date because of the doors it opens for the rest of the multiverse. While he was allowed to push the PG-13 rating to its limit, the implied horror and brutality fell short of expectations.