Doctor Strange In The Multiverse of Madness takes the Marvel Cinematic Universe someplace new, and I’m not just talking about the whole, wide multiverse we finally get to see.
Director Sam Raimi’s Multiverse of Madness is a superhero film, in almost every way, but it’s also a little bit of a horror film too. At the start, the tone feels like a lot of other MCU films, but from the moment a monster appears in New York City, you can feel Raimi’s style creeping in.
Dr. Stephen Strange, played by Benedict Cumberbatch once more, is at a wedding, and it’s not just any wedding. His ex-flame Christine, played by the wonderful Rachel McAdams, is getting married, and Strange is naturally upset that things never worked out with her.
Christine has one good jab for Strange too. How could they work out when he’s only happy when he’s the one holding the scalpel?
As Strange wallows in his self pity, that’s when the city gets attacked by a giant tentacled eyeball that seems to be hunting a young girl. Strange has a tough time, and it’s only with some help from The Sorcerer Supreme, Wong, played by Benedict Wong, that he can defeat the monster.
The girl turns out to be America Chavez, played by Xochitl Gomez, and she is a bright point in the whole film. She’s fiery, full of heart, and she’s been travelling the multiverse most of her life as she tries to control her power that lets her open a star-shaped hole into other realities.
Strange and Wong try to figure out who wants to hunt down the girl, and it starts a wild trip across the multiverse, with some incredible cameos, genuine surprises, Mr. Bruce Campbell himself doing a sendup of Ash from Evil Dead II, and an ending that I both loved, and had to scratch my head at a little too.
From the moment Doctor Strange finishes off the eye monster, Raimi adds bits of horror to the film, with PG-13 style gore, trippy visuals, and that grim, comic style fans of his will recognize from Army of Darkness and Evil Dead II.
While the first third of the film is mostly familiar to other MCU films, the middle starts to show Raimi’s touches, and the last third is pretty much full-on Raimi.
Unlike Spider-Man 2, Multiverse of Madness doesn’t have a consistent tone from start to finish, and that’s probably because Raimi or the producers wanted to give audiences a chance to settle in before things get weird. As a fan of Raimi’s work, that was fine by me, but some audiences may find the tone strange, going from straight-up Marvel, to a mashup of horror and sci-fi in the final moments.
We get Zombie Doctor Strange controlling wings made out of dead souls as he tries to pommel the villain, and it’s absolutely one of my favourite things to come out of the MCU, as are the cameos in the multiverse, but it’s a trip to get to that moment for sure.
Writer Michael Waldron, who also wrote the Loki series, delivers some genuinely fun chaos and change to the MCU in this film, but not everyone will be happy with the villain, or some of the approach to the story.
Without going into spoilers at all, the best I can say is that there are characters fans will know and love in this, and one of them takes a turn that makes sense, but feels ultimately like it also messes up something great that could have been.
For once I’m also not a big fan of the great Danny Elfman and the music he created for the film because it feels more like another Spider-Man film than Doctor Strange. There are highs and lows for the score, but the tone doesn’t always work for me. Michael Giacchino is one of my favourite composers, and I feel like he brought something more unique to the original Doctor Strange.
On the bright side, Multiverse of Madness also delivers some of Cumberbatch’s best MCU scenes, including a moment with Christine that grounds the characters in new ways. I loved the chemistry, sparks, and sadness that feel like a real high point for Doctor Strange. He doesn’t come out of the film as a new man, but he might have a little more heart finally.
Cumberbatch also gets to play a little of his sinister self, as two version of Strange fight each other at one point. The film also offers a few poignant moments for Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff, leading directly off the events of WandaVision.
And I loved seeing Chiwetel Ejiofor as Karl Mordo again, and every scene with McAdams felt like a real treat. Fans are ultimately going to leave the film cheering for Xochitl Gomez though–America is a hero I can’t wait to see step into her powers.
Speaking of heroes, some of the cameos in the multiverse also give fans some battles that feel right out of What If…? They didn’t really work out as I’d expect, especially with two of the most powerful characters I can think of, but they were pretty satisfying to a point. Fans will absolutely be screaming with at least one of the scenes.
Going into this one, fans may not exactly know what to expect from the style or tone, but it’s a fun ride, the story stands on its own in a lot of ways, and it also delivers scenes that long-time Marvel fans will love. Evil Dead fans will absolutely be the most satisfied in the end, but I appreciate that the film brings something new to the MCU, and I hope it means we can expect a little more genuine horror from Marvel one day.
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