The newest installment of the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe comes Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Directed by Sam Raimi, the horror savant behind the Evil Dead series takes a crack at his second superhero franchise, the first being the original Spider-Man trilogy from 2002. The film does not shy away from Raimi’s signature stamp on the horror genre, adding a bizarre tone with unsettling imagery and a wacky sense of humor to the Dr. Strange sequel.
The story picks up when Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) hears a disturbance outside his ex’s wedding reception, Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams). In wizardry fashion, Strange springs into action to take on a massive intergalactic, one-eyed squid creature that is strong enough to throw cars and buses with ease. The current sorcerer-supreme Wong (Benedict Wong) is fighting with heavy doses of magic with Strange. Once again, New York City is under attack; that must be exhausting. The action sequences appear believable, while the movie is filled with CGI (computer-generated imagery).
It turns out the monster was in pursuit of a newly introduced character who snuck into this universe, America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), a young teenage girl who has the unique ability to travel between universes. Threats from this universe and beyond would love to get their hands on this one-of-a-kind power. An important plot point of the film is how America hasn’t learned how to master her powers and can only use her abilities when she’s in great danger.
To further understand the concept of the multiverse, Strange seeks out help from Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). Strange, without knowing that Wanda has fallen under the spell of an evil book known as the Darkhold. Warning Strange to stay back; Wanda is seeking a universe where she can be the loving mother to her two sons since this is impossible in her universe. A tad on the power-hungry side, Wanda fully embraces her villainous side as she ruthlessly travels through other multiverses to find her children. The only way to stop her is for Strange and America to travel through the multiverse, communicating with different versions of Dr. Strange to acquire a second book that can destroy the Darkhold. Most of the alternate versions of Strange have the same inability to connect and relate to the people closest in his life, especially with the love of his life, Christine Palmer. She seems just out of his reach romantically in other universes due to their typical complications.
Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Strange is, of course, great. He’s more down-to-earth and less arrogant from the experiences he’s dealt with, Avengers: Infinity War and End Game. He’s been through many difficult circumstances, making him wiser and more mature. But he still has that sarcastic wisecracking side. There’s a consistent theme for his character questioning happiness, and it’s a nice touch of adding a human element to his character.
At the core, this film is about Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda, who chews the scenery. Wanda has the most emotional pull in the story. She’s dealing with internal conflict that carried over from the Disney+ tv show, Wandavision. Wanda is driven by grief, and that grief turns into something else which becomes threatening. Olsen makes you believe her character is experiencing heavy emotions. Honestly, it’s mainly her movie, and she’s outstanding.
Xochitl Gomez as America Chavez bounces perfectly off Benedict Cumberbatch, and I enjoyed her charisma. Hopefully, they will explore her backstory in another project to add a little more weight to her character. America felt underdeveloped, but it’s impossible to not root for her.
Multiverse of Madness deals with violent and darker themes. Including possessions, spells, and demons is not what we’re accustomed to in Marvel movies. The magic and action scenes are visually appealing. Sam Raimi includes a few gruesome deaths that really push the PG-13 Rating. There are moments of humor to ease the tension and a few surprise cameos from other Marvel Characters that had my theater standing up and applauding.
One major problem was that the multiverse rules weren’t clear. I thought specific life-changing events wouldn’t occur across other universes, but the story picks and chooses when to do it, just to progress the narrative. That felt like lazy writing to me to make it convenient. The pacing is swift. You don’t have many moments of downtime or a chance to relax because a threat appears immediately when the story slows down. Yes, Sam Raimi keeps you on edge most of the film. Once we finally got to the climax, it felt disappointing and lackluster.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness benefits from giving Sam Raimi the green light to take his signature horror elements and weave them into the usual light-hearted Marvel Cinematic Universe. Also, being a visually stunning and stylistically innovative film. The combination of gory violence, slapstick humor, and engaging camera movements makes this the most ambitious Marvel project.