“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is one of the most ambitious and bizarro entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date. Despite shifting release dates, a pandemic and behind the scenes drama, the latest chapter in the MCU has arrived and is ready to leave its mark.
Being the 28th entry into a cinematic universe means “Multiverse of Madness” is undoubtedly going to be carrying some baggage. On top of all of the various Marvel film’s and shows needed to understand this sequel, the first film’s director, Scott Derrickson, stepped away for “creative differences,” while COVID forced rewrites and reshoots. However the biggest obstacle this film has working against it is fan expectation.
With the most recent MCU entry, “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” demolishing box office records and thrilling fans with cameos and fan service, the expectations for the next “big” MCU film has reached almost unsustainable standards.
So how does one combat such high expectations? Bring in a comic book veteran in director Sam Raimi. The filmmaker behind the original “Spider-Man” trilogy is no stranger to the superhero genre, and is now making his debut in the revamped world of Marvel films. Considering his last Marvel movie, “Spider-Man 3,” was raked over the coals for its over stuffed line-up of villains and studio interference, it’s a small miracle that Raimi even accepted a meeting with Feige and company. Raimi has deep roots in the horror genre and a unique vision behind the lens, and seeing how that translates into this story is what really puts “Multiverse of Madness” over the top.
After the events of the Disney Plus series’ “WandaVision” and “Loki,” as well as “No Way Home,” the multiverse is being manipulated and explored like never before on screen in the MCU. Unfortunately, if you have not seen these films and shows, you may be a little confused and not quite sold on certain character motivations and rules within the world. This film also features several key fan service scenes, and if you are not well-versed in Marvel lore, it may lessen the impact. That’s not to say its not thrilling in its own right, but it goes down much smoother with the knowledge.
“Multiverse of Madness” has a slower first half as it sets up its characters and conflict. There are some obvious pacing issues, whether this is due to reshoots or constraints of the pandemic, it initially struggles to find its footing and gets a little sloppy. Once those hurdles are cleared and we get to the driving plot points, though, it’s a whole new ballgame.
Once again, Strange is in over his head, this time in the form of newcomer Xochitl Gomez, who plays the multiverse-jumping America Chavez. Chavez is being pursued by by an evil power and it’s up to Strange to protect her and vanquish the enemy. The only hiccup is that Chavez has no control over her power. Once that obstacle is taken care of, Raimi turns the film up to 11, with things getting absolutely bonkers and out of control.
Raimi’s fingerprints are all over this film, and if you are a fan of his “Evil Dead” films or “Drag Me to Hell,” there is going to be a lot to love here. With the different variants and worlds zipping in and out, it’s easy for a masterful director like Raimi to bring his signature style of mixing real horror and a zany silliness that complements the film. Teaming up with composer Danny Elfman was another stroke of genius, as the pounding score helps set the tone, as well as elevate more than a few scenes.
Benedict Cumberbatch is further cementing his legacy starring as Doctor Stephen Strange, not only settling in as a mentor, but as one of the most powerful Avengers. Aside from Cumberbatch, Benedict Wong, Elizabeth Olsen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Rachel McAdams all return, as well as a few well-placed cameos.
Overall, “Multiverse of Madness” is a very dark and thrilling film. There is a lot to like, and seeing Raimi have control over the film and bring his particular brand of horror and craziness is enough to overlook the less-than-stellar moments. Exploring more into the mystic arts and wizardry than ever before, “Multiverse of Madness” opens the door to the darker side of the MCU, making the future of the franchise even more exciting.
“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” releases in theaters May 6, 2022.
Film critic and member of the NCFCA and SEFCA