OF DARKNESS, MADNESS,
AND MULTIVERSE STRANGENESS
In 2016, Marvel Studios released Doctor Strange, the fourteenth installment in the shared cinematic universe of comic book superheroes and opened up the doorways to the mystic arts of magic and sorcery into the MCU. Directed by Scott Derrickson, the film, which starred Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel McAdams, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mads Mikkelsen, and Tilda Swinton, follows the journey of neurosurgeon Stephen Strange, who under circumstances of an unfortunate career-ending car crash, and learns of the hidden magical arts to heal wounds (body and soul) as well as a battle against a rogue sorcerers named Kaecilius. Doctor Strange was well-met by critics and moviegoers (with only a few minor complaints); finding many praising the feature for its cast, visual effects, and musical score and grossed over $677 worldwide at the box office. From there, the character of Doctor Strange appeared in several superhero-team up adventures, including Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, as well as Spider-Man: No Way Home. Now, almost after six years since the release of the first Doctor Strange film, the character of Stephen Strange prepares his next solo film with the release of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Is this long-awaited Strange sequel worth a glance or does it lost within its own tangled web of multiverse conflicts?
Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is trying to get a handle on his purpose, working how to process his time of being an Avenger / superhero to the world as well as looking at his former life has carried on without him, including his ex-lover, Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), who’s getting married to another man. Plagued by bizarre dreams of a mysterious figure in the multiverse, Strange soon makes contact with one America Chavez (Xochiti Gomez), a teenager on the run from deadly power looking to claim her ability, which is to create doorways throughout the known multiverse. Joined by Wong, (Benedict Wong), Strange is intent on protecting the enigmatic newcomer to this dimension, only to learn that Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), whose witchcraft power have manifested to their fullest potential to become the legendary “Scarlet Witch “is behind the pursuit, looking to take possession of America’s powers to gain access to the motherhood experience she’s desperate to protect. Battling across the multiverse and in uncharted and unfamiliar territories, Strange seeks to protect America from Wanda
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Of course, as many of my reader fully know that I am a big fan of the MCU. Of course, there are some installments that I think that are better than others, with some needing improvement on its context, characters, or presentation, but overall I believe that this blockbuster superhero shared universe continues to be a powerhouse franchise. Back in 2016, I was quite excited to see Doctor Strange because it was going to feature a new character in the MCU and to have a skilled actor such as Benedict Cumberbatch (loved him as Sherlock Holmes in the show Sherlock) was definitely going to be a treat in watching the movie. In truth, it actually worked that way, with Cumberbatch delivering a solid performance in the role of Stephen Strange as well as the surrounding supporting cast (i.e. Mikkelsen, Swinton, and Ejiofor). Perhaps the only downside to the feature was it was (in lack of a better terminology) a straight-forward superhero origin tale that was akin to the first Iron Man movie as well as having a pretty forgetful villain character, despite being played by such a talented individual such as Mad Mikkelsen. Beyond that, I thought Doctor Strange was a great introduction to the character as well as new wrinkle within the more established universe of Marvel superheroes. In addition, to his origin story film, Cumberbatch was a great addition to the rest of the main players in the MCU, which is noticeable in his interactions / involvement in Avengers: Infinity War and Spider-Man: No Way Home. Overall, I think that the character of Dr. Stephen Strange was (and still is at this point of time in writing this review) a great addition to the MCU superhero roster, with the character showing no signs of appearing several more times within this shared universe of heroes, gods, and monsters.
This, of course, leads me to talking about Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, a 2022 superhero blockbuster film, the sequel to 2016’s Doctor Strange, and the twenty-eighth installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As mentioned above, after the conclusion of the first Doctor Strange film, I was quite curious to see where the character of Stephen Strange would go. Naturally, his involvement in the two Avenger movies and No Way Home were terrific, but I was curious to see where the sequel to Doctor Strange would take the good doctor; delving more into the mystical hidden world that was explore in the 2016 film as well as exploring more of the multiverse…. something that was hinted at during the end credits. Of course, when the line-up for the MCU’s Phase IV saga was announced, the sequel for Doctor Strange was a part of this grouping, which sparked a lot of interest. In addition, the movie had a lot of hyped going into it, with Multiverse of Madness having a lot of perquisites going into it beyond just the movies (i.e. WandaVision, What If?, and Loki). The film’s movie trailer also hyped up the movie; showcasing Strange crossing into a wide variety of multiverses as well as depicting Wanda Maximoff as an antagonist villain in the feature. Given all the hype for this particular film (as well as the successful Spider-Man: No Way Home), I was looking forward to seeing this movie….to kick off the “summer at the movies” season. I did check out the movie during its opening night, but, due to my work schedule and attending some personal matters, my review for this movie got delayed. So, now (about two weeks after its release) I’m ready to share my thoughts on the latest Doctor Strange movie. And what did I think of it? Well, it was great. Despite a few pacing issues and storytelling elements that felt a bit wonky, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is another solid addition to the MCU that mixes the classic action and drama of the superhero variety as well as mixing in the bizarre and horror element into this blockbuster. It may not beat out some of the top tier MCU releases out there, but it was definitely a very unique dive into the madness of the multiverse realm.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is directed by Sam Raimi, whose previous directorial works include such films like the Spider-Man trilogy (2002-2007), The Evil Dead, and Oz the Great and Powerful. Given his track record of helming such projects in the 90s and 2000s era of filmmaking, Raimi hasn’t directed a major blockbuster endeavor since 2013’s Oz the Great and Powerful. Granted, Raimi has shifted (from then until now) into more of a producer role, but I find it quite interesting that the director now sees the return to the mainstream filmmaking world, especially for a Marvel superhero movie. Naturally, given how the first Doctor Strange was presented, I was a little bit dismayed that director Scott Derrickson did not return, but, with Raimi at the helm, Multiverse of Madness (MoM for short) does succeed in cultivating in a very interesting (and slightly strange) superhero movie. Of course, all the nuances of what many would expect from an MCU are still present throughout the movie, which is a combination of “larger-than-life” superhero antics of action, comedy, and drama; a commonplace nuance for the MCU brand. That being said, Raimi, who definitely has his own special style of filmmaking, is given an opportunity to present something quite interesting for a Doctor Strange movie and does so from onset to conclusion. From the first moments of the film, Raimi’s style of directing is immediately felt. Sometimes it’s kind of hard to fully explain Raimi’s direction into words, but the flourishes of visual flair, comedic moments, and several dramatic sequences are definitely felt, which makes MoM a very unique experience to watch. Raimi dances to the “beat of his own drum” and MoM is all the better for it. There are moments are utter silliness (one example of this is a battle of musical notes against two people and it’s absolutely brilliant), there are scenes of fright (more on that below), and then there are sequences of great superhero frivolities that Raimi embellished upon and heightens the feature, which, in comparison to several other MCU entries, is quite a good thing to behold and experience in the movie.
Of course, MoM has long been promoted as one of the first MCU films to delve into some horror style elements; something that this shared superhero franchise universe has never journeyed into. Naturally, there are not truly R-rated horror of blood and guts, so parental figures needn’t worry about Doctor Strange 2 isn’t one the same level of a slasher flick or a dark supernatural spook feature. That being said, the film doesn’t shy away from the more PG-13 violence, so maybe the younger MCU fans might want to hold off watching this movie. Yet, the horror style elements do actually work, with Raimi channeling his Evil Dead vibe and producing some terrific moments that prey upon the sheer power and madness that the Scarlet Witch unleashes upon the multiverse and some terror scenes that definitely pushes the boundaries of MCU superhero boundaries.
In addition, like previous MCU installments, MoM has a lot of innerworkings of connection the larger shared universe to this particular film. As mentioned above, the movie has had a lot of build up and, much like a lot of projects within the MCU Phase IV saga, talks about the multiverse concept and how the variations of different possibilities play out. Raimi has fun utilizing this particular material and gives the film’s writer (penned by Michael Waldron) plenty to toil around, including a few surprising moments and fan-service cameo-like appearances. Exploring the weird and unordinary beings, places, and characters is something that Raimi relishes and gives MoM a great platform sandbox to play around in. Plus, having the narrative of the feature depicting the character of Wanda Maximoff (a supporting character in the MCU) as the main antagonist is pretty interesting plot device and seeing her character up against a main staple character like Stephen Strange is something fascinating to see come alive on-screen. The story of MoM, while having its fair share of problems, does seem to work with all the inherent pedigree that Marvel has initially setup within the MCU, yet Raimi and his team make the movie work; spinning a strange but interesting motion picture that has a plethora visual spectacle as well as a satisfying presentation that ultimately works. All in all, whether you love or hate the movie, there is no denying the simple fact that Raimi left his mark on the MCU, with his direction and overall production of MoM.
In the presentation category, MoM has all the flairs and visual aesthetics one would expect from a superhero blockbuster, with a few heighten tweaks that help make the feature standout from the classic comic book romp. Much like the previous Doctor Strange movie, MoM features plenty of psychedelic visual flair throughout the entire movie and that’s kind of the “bread and butter” for a Strange type movie like this. It is because of this that the film itself has quite distinct look and feel in comparison to the rest of the MCU entries, which helps stand out and MoM takes advantage of all the visual flair and “strange” aesthetics. Thus, along with Raimi’s sense of overall direction for the feature, the background layout and design setting are what you would expect, with a lot of strange oddities and locales that look familiar in realism, yet have a different feeling within a fantasy-esque depiction. This, of course, means that the movie’s “behind-the-scenes” key players, including Md Joni Hossain, Clint Wallace, Charles Wood (production design), John Bush (set design), Graham Churchyard (costume design) as well as the entire art direction team and visual graphics artists, deliver some solid work on their respective areas, which cultivates in making MoM have its own blockbuster flair throughout the entire proceedings. In addition, the film’s cinematography work by John Mathieson is rather good and helps bolster the film’s visual aesthetics as well as enhancing the cinematic blockbuster presentation throughout the feature. Lastly, the movie’s score, which was composed by Danny Elfman, is outstanding from beginning to end. Of course, one would expect a score from Elfman to be good (in general terms), but the soundtrack provided is big, bombastic, and grand…. hitting all the right notes and melodies with a precision puncture of composition music that delivers throughout.
Unfortunately, there are a few blemishes that MoM can’t overcome, with the feature facing points of criticisms throughout the entire feature. Perhaps the one biggest problem I had with the movie is the overall story. Granted, I liked it and was definitely “strange” in how the narrative presents its story in the strange and fun weirdness of how things play out. That being said, the story is also the biggest weakness that the film struggles to find a proper rhythm in how it ultimately plays out. Perhaps this stems from the script, which was penned by Michael Waldron. As mentioned above, the story of MoM has a lot of fun, with Raimi interject his directorial styles and influences within the overall madness that the movie has to offer. However, Waldron’s story, while playful and entertaining, certainly has its fair share of confusing moments, unexplained sequences, and particular storytelling elements that get muddy along the way. Again, I reiterate this…. I like the story presented in MoM, but some parts of the script’s narrative seem a bit underwhelming and not entirely fleshed out the way that the movie had intended them to be. Certain characters get sidelined and are entirely omitted from the movie as well as a few scenarios that were left dangling from several previous installments, which begs to question if this particular movie was (at one point) going to address them all. So, with the film reaching its ending, certain WTF big questions aren’t fully answered, especially from the movies and TV series that lead up to MoM. Plus, if one really looks at the story from the movie, the script shaping for MoM seems a bit simplistic, which can be both good and bad. What’s presented works, but it could’ve been easily expanded upon in a few areas.
In addition, I felt that the script working for the movie is a bit wonky, especially in the dialogue department. Again, for what its worth, film has classic dose of superhero frivolities of larger-than-life dialogue driven moments. However, the written dialogue for MoM can feel (at times) quite clunky and treads into the territory of campy / hokey. Of course, this sometimes works for the zany and crazy adventure that Strange and Chavez go through, but it all can be a bit silly at times and not quite up to snuff for what the MCU has previously established in its past endeavors. Again, I completely understand that each director has to “make their mark” on this shared superhero universe, but Raimi’s attempt (along with Waldron’s script) sometimes fall rather than soar. MoM is definitely an ambiguous project to shape, and the outcomes works, but not exactly on its proper merits or the way to make smooth.
Perhaps the only big point of criticism that came from Raimi’s direction is the pacing during the middle portion of the film. With the feature only having a runtime of 126 minutes (two hours and six minutes), the movie does feel long in a few areas, with a noticeable problem during the second act of MoM. It’s during this portion of the film that Raimi’s direction could’ve been more refined in or at least the film editing could’ve been trimmed down for a more leaner runtime. Another problem is the overall abundance of CGI. Of course, I sort of knew that this was going to be a problem, especially with all the fantastic elements of both being Marvel superhero movie as well as a Doctor Strange film (something that was quite established in the first feature). For the most part, the visual effects (as mentioned above) was pretty good, but there were a few times (several mind you) that the CGI scenes looked a bit underwhelming and clearly green screen effects. Not a complete deal breaker…. mind you…. but still noticeable.
The cast in MoM is great and bring their own charismatic bravado to the proceedings, with relative newcomer joining the expansive MCU universe with this movie as well as returning acting talents to reprise their characters from previous installments. Leading the charge in the film is actor Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays the central main protagonist of Dr. Stephen Strange. Known for his roles in The Imitation Game, Sherlock, and Star Trek Into Darkness, Cumberbatch has certainly made a name for himself throughout his career; providing a great catalogue memorable characters in his arsenal and some terrific performances he portrayed. Cumberbatch’s interpretation of Doctor Strange is such a character that delivers a lot of phrase (as I mentioned in my opening paragraph), with the actor’s likeable charm and thespian acting talents giving this particular sorcerer / superhero player in the MCU a run for its money. Plus, as seeing in several other MCU projects (Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame, and Spider-Man: No Way Home), Cumberbatch is fantastic when paired against other acting talents and their superhero on-screen counterparts. Thus, it comes as no surprise that Cumberbatch once again excels in reprising Stephen Strange in MoM and brings a new layer to this powerful sorcerer superhero. Cumberbatch is quite comfortable in the role and brings a certain sense of theatrical quality to the character; creating a strong and memorable protagonist throughout the movie. His journey in the MoM is what one would expect to find in a MCU superhero entry, so, while his character arc is a bit predictable in a few parts, Cumberbatch elevates Stephen Strange with his charismatic performance and proving that he (like Downey Jr, Hemsworth, and Evans) embodies the correct wholeheartedly and is terrific in the role.
Who actually shines a little better than Cumberbatch in the film is actress Elizabeth Olsen, who returns to reprise her MCU character of Wanda Maximoff / Scarlet Witch. Known for her roles in Wind River, Godzilla, and Sorry for Your Loss, Olsen has certainly becoming a sort of rising star, with the actress being featured more and more promptly. None more paramount than her reoccurring performance in the MCU has Wanda Maximoff, who has been featured in several superhero team up films (Avengers: Age of Ultron, Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame) as well as getting her own Disney Plus TV show in the form of WandaVision. So, it goes without saying that she has become more of a prominent character in the recent MCU installments and her appearance in MoM is one that gives her character an opportunity to create a new layer within Wanda’s narrative thread within the MCU. Of course, Olsen relishes the chance to toil around with Wanda’s darker side persona and MoM gives that perfect platform. Olsen gives enough madness and depth to make the character believable, especially the latter of the film, which also gives Strange and his companions a good adversary to fight against throughout the movie. Plus, much like what WandaVision did for her, Wanda gets a bit more added well-roundness to her character and adds a new wrinkle into her personality. Given all the hype that has been surrounding this movie (and her character), Olsen’s Wanda is terrific in MoM and a fantastic maniac / unhinged Scarlet Witch.
Of the main players in the movie, actress Xochitl Gomez is a welcomed new addition character to the MCU as the young teenager named America Chavez. Known for her roles in The Baby-Sitters Club, Shadow Wolves, and Gentefied, Xochitl is a relatively unknown actress, with her casting into a MCU blockbuster being one of her most ambitious projects to date. To that end, I think that Xochitl plays her character quite well by interjecting a lot of new perspective of this crazy situation that occurs throughout the MoM. Of course, one can easily that the character of America is merely there to act as a sort of “McGuffin” to sort propel events forward, but I think that Xochitl does a fairly good job in the role of America and definitely makes her mark in the film. Hopefully, the character will appear again in future MCU projects.
Unfortunately, the movie lacks the depth with a few supporting characters throughout the movie, with especially noticeable in actress Rachel McAdams (Wedding Crashers and The Notebook), who returns to reprise her Doctor Strange character of Christine Palmer. While I like McAdams as an actress and she quite capable of producing memorable characters in her career, her character of Christine Palmer was a bit underwhelming in the first Doctor Strange and sort of happens again in MoM. Of course, it’s not for a lack of trying on McAdams’s part as she does what she can with the material given to her, but Christine gets sidelined for most of the feature and is merely a narrative plot device when the story is need of her. Thus, once again, Christine Palmer gets an underwhelming positioning in a Doctor Strange movie, and it becomes another disappointment for a potential female side character. The same can be said for the character of Mordo, another magic user sorcerer from Kamar-Taj who help train Stephen in the previous film. The character is once again played by actor Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave and The Martian) and while the acting of Mordo is solid (thanks to Ejiofor), but his appearance in the movie is merely a “cog in the narrative machine” in the MoM construct. Again, it’s not for a lack of trying on Ejiofor’s part as he returns to the role with enough vigor and large-scale bravado through his dialogue, but the character of Mordo appearance in the film is nothing more than a minor supporting role in the middle act and a bit inconsequential (to me at least).
The rest of the cast, including actor Benedict Wong (The Martian and The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance) as Doctor Strange’s companion / Sorcerer Supreme leader Wong, actor Michael Stuhlbarg (Boardwalk Empire and A Serious Man) as Strange’s former surgeon colleague Dr. Nic West, and young actors Jett Klyne (Z and WandaVision) and Julian Hillard (The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It and WandaVision) return to reprise their WandaVision roles of Tommy and Billy Maximoff…. Wanda’s children. Of course, some have a bit large parts than others, but most (for their sum parts) are still good in their respective parts in the movie and help build upon the film’s side characters and narrative bits. In addition to these characters there are several other cameo-like appearances that are scattered throughout the movie, which makes for great surprises along the way. Some were hinted at online with all the rumors circling around the movie’s hype / anticipation, while a few other ones I was completely surprised over their appearances. I won’t spoil who is these cameo characters are and at what point do they appear in the movie, but it is definitely a treat to behold and I’m sure that fans of Marvel will appreciate their appearance in the film.
Lastly, as is customary for MCU installments, MoM does have two Easter Egg scenes during the end credits roll, with at the mid-credit mark and the other one at the very end. I won’t spoil either one, but I will say that one in particular will provide something quite interesting to happen for Strange in the future installment. What is it…. you’ll find out if you watch the movie.
Across the vastness of the multiverse, Stephen Strange discovers the peculiar and unimaginable as he protects a young girl from the menacing efforts by the Scarlett Witch in the movie Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Director Sam Raimi’s latest film takes what was established from the previous Doctor Strange film (as well as other projects) and presents a very unique superhero film that has splashes of blockbuster Marvel aesthetics, horror elements, and a special affinity towards the director’s personal signature of filmmaking. The result, while struggling in a few areas such as narrative plot holes and character developments / involvements, definitely works in the film’s favor, especially thanks to Raimi’s direction, the horror-like elements of the feature, the visual presentation, the scoring, as well as several cast members (i.e. Cumberbatch and Olsen) and the surprise cameo appearances. Personally, I liked this movie. Yes, there were a few problems that I had with the script / context as well as few pacing problems, but I felt that the film was quite enjoyable and delivered on the horror-ish elements as well as expanding upon the multiverse mantra; bringing together a rather “strange” (in a good way) adventure for the good doctor and his companions. Thus, my recommendation for this superhero movie is a solid “recommended” as I’m sure that it will please MCU fans out there as well as causal moviegoers who are looking to find some great visual distraction of the blockbuster variety. As mentioned, the film’s ending leaves the door open for a third Doctor Strange solo film as well as several possible offshoots / spin-off projects (movies or TV series) that take place during or after the events of the film. So, it goes without saying that something will probably materialize in the future….in some shape or form and, I, for one, am looking forward to it. To that end, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness delivers yet another solid entry in the MCU; projecting another “stepping stone” in the vastness of the multiverses as well as presenting a new slice of darkness, madness, and sometimes strange shared superhero universe of heroes, gods, and monsters.
4.0 Out of 5 (recommended)
Released On: May 6th, 2022
Reviewed On: June 7th, 2022
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is 126 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, frightening images, and some language