"Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, Xochitl Gomez, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Rachel McAdams. Releasing on May 6, 2022, the film has Stephen Strange facing a new threat after casting a forbidden spell that opens the multiverse.
The film is directed by Sam Raimi, who also directed films such as "The Evil Dead", "Darkman", "The Gift", "Spider-Man", and "Oz the Great and Powerful". It is the sequel to the 2016 film "Doctor Strange" and the 28th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The multiverse has always been a concept that people knew absolutely nothing about. Since it's recently been unleashed on our universe, I guess now would be a good time for them to start learning. With the release of Disney+ shows "Loki" and "What If" and the MCU's previous theatrical outing "Spider-Man: No Way Home", the multiverse is officially front and center in the massive superhero blockbuster franchise. It displays multiple opportunities for fresh ideas and possible returns of former Marvel actors from previous years. It also inspired the likes of Sony and Warner Brothers to get a piece of that multiverse cake. This weekend sees another superhero confronting the multiple bizarre universes, and it's the one who brought them here in the first place. I guess that's what happens when you use a magic spell to try to help a web-slinging high school teen. This latest installment in the MCU marks the first time we see the franchise kickstart the summer movie season since 2019 due to the pandemic. Additionally, the film marks the first directorial effort for Sam Raimi since 2013, when he helmed "Oz the Great and Powerful", and his first superhero movie since the original Spider-Man trilogy. This is a splendid change of pace for the filmmaker after only producing some cruddy movies for almost a decade, save for "Don't Breathe" and "Crawl", which I would highly recommend. Plus, I enjoyed some of Raimi's previous films and his unique approach to the horror elements, so it's a no-brainer that I was ecstatic to see what terrifying tricks he's got for the superhero sequel. I also had a blast watching Doctor Strange perform plenty of incredible magic in his previous outings, especially his first solo film in 2016. So was this trip through the multiverse crazy enough to start this year's summer movie season, or was it an overblown mess that's more maddening than madness? Let's find out.
The story once again follows Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch), a Master of the Mystic Arts. He's struggling with the actions he performed in his previous adventures, mainly the one where he opened up the multiverse in "Spider-Man: No Way Home". One day, he and his friend Wong (Wong) encountered a teenager named America Chavez (Gomez), who has the ability to travel between dimensions. She's on the run from those who want to use her power for nefarious purposes. This puts Strange on a dangerous mission to protect Chavez, which leads them on an adventure through the multiverse. During his quest, Strange comes face to face with Wanda Maximoff (Olsen), a former Avenger gone rogue, a mysterious group called the Illuminati, and his former mentor-turned enemy Karl Mordo (Ejiofor).
One of the things that maintain the franchise's freshness is the exploration of distinctive sides of Marvel's larger-than-life universe. "Doctor Strange" invited audiences to the world of the mystic arts and introduced them to the dimensions beyond our own. As a result, the film is a trippy yet exciting superhero origin movie where the visuals served a vital role in the story and world-building. "Multiverse of Madness" expands upon this part of the universe by delving deeper into the multiverse and injecting plenty of horror elements into the MCU sequel. Since the franchise did pretty well in combining different genres with superhero elements, it's no surprise that it wanted to provide more creepy stuff in the strange world of magic. Plus, with the multiverse still playing a significant role in the franchise's fourth phase, the possibilities for this film seemed to be endless, especially after the experience that was "Spider-Man: No Way Home". Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be the case for "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness", but that doesn't mean I didn't have a good time watching the strangeness unfold.
Despite being another installment where the multiverse comes into play, the movie offers a contained story that continues the arcs introduced in the previous projects and envisions a surprisingly darker take on the concept. So if you're hoping to see the characters visit tons of different universes or witness hundreds of cameos from the other Marvel properties, you might be a bit disappointed with this movie's direction compared to "No Way Home". Although, the Illuminati did compensate for its lack of huge surprises. However, if you just want a straightforward superhero sequel filled with dazzling visuals and immersive action, "Multiverse of Madness" offers enough in its plot, world-building, and style to please plenty of Marvel fans. My only concern with its storyline is that it features crucial elements from the other MCU properties, mainly "WandaVision" on Disney+. So it does provide a challenge for Sam Raimi and screenwriter Michael Waldron (who also wrote the Disney+ series "Loki") to explore those details for people who haven't watched those installments. Fortunately, they managed to make it work by briefly referencing those events without breaking the film's pace. It shows that you don't have to watch "WandaVision" or the other Marvel projects to understand "Multiverse of Madness", but they are necessary to get the full emotional context of the characters, especially Wanda.
Aside from that, the story may not reach the usual heights of the other MCU follow-ups like "The Winter Soldier" regarding the narrative choices. However, it does deliver some terrifyingly good fun without overusing the genre tropes, like the jump scares. Yes, there is plenty of jump scares in the film, but don't worry. They're utilized very well by Raimi, who's no stranger to the horror genre. More importantly, the plot has compelling character arcs that work in providing some decent emotional weight, even though some of them aren't as effective as others. First, you have Stephen Strange, who's still reeling over the decision to protect the world instead of being with his former lover Christine Palmer (McAdams) and his fear of expressing his feelings towards her. Then, you have one of the new characters, America Chavez, who's afraid of her powers and has trust issues. Finally, there's Wanda, aka the "Scarlet Witch", whose personal quest puts the entire multiverse in danger. Wanda's arc continues to be one of the more intriguing parts of the franchise, as it further explores her journey of grief and loss that began in "Age of Ultron". As someone who witnessed every installment involving the character, I thought this film did a great job building up this character from her previous misadventures. Additionally, I would give big props to Elizabeth Olsen for fully committing to her performance as Wanda regarding her character's complex emotions and obsessions.
Benedict Cumberbatch also did exceptionally well with his performance as Stephen, further proving himself to be one of the best casting choices in the franchise. Xochitl Gomez, known for her role in the Netflix series "The Baby-Sitters Club", had a lot of shoes to fill for her role as America. America is another lesser-known character from the comics making a first appearance in the MCU. Not only that, but it is also Gomez's first big role in a feature film, let alone a superhero blockbuster. It's safe to say that she fit those shoes effectively. Gomez's performance was spot on, and her character offered enough solid moments to continue her role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Another element I enjoyed the most was the direction. It's easy to notice that the film has Raimi's name written all over it. You have the immersive framework, its unique transitions, the frantic nature of the editing and visuals, its grim and violent tone, and some frightening imagery. This was marketed to be the MCU's first horror movie, and man, was it able to prove me right. Scott Derrickson did a decent job combining the superhero elements with some scary moments in the first film. However, for the sequel, Sam Raimi took the combination a step further by making it more disturbing than ever while still retaining the magic and action that made the predecessor an enjoyable ride. Although I will say that its dark tone and violent sequences may turn off some younger fans of Marvel, so you might want to think twice before taking your kids to this film.
In "Doctor Strange", the visual effects expressed some creativity in its surreal spells, action sequences, and immersive dimensional settings. The bizarre imagination that the film provided helped overshadow the formula we've seen in the other superhero-origin movies. While the visuals in "Multiverse of Madness" didn't have the same wow factor as the ones in its predecessor, they still work in providing some eye-catching action sequences and creepy images. I also didn't mind the musical score by Danny Elfman, who previously provided music for Raimi's previous films like "Spider-Man".
Overall, "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" continues the franchise's long-running streak with a mind-bending and frighteningly bizarre sequel that's visually appealing and consistently entertaining. It has some minor issues in its spellbook that kept it from reaching top-tier Marvel gold regarding its execution, but it compensates by being a satisfying piece of superhero entertainment. From its impressive cast to Raimi's visual flair, this recent trip to the multiverse is a terrifyingly delightful treat, even though it doesn't reach the full amount of madness as I would expect it to be. It also serves as an excellent comeback for Marvel's tradition of starting the summer movie season with a bang. The film is definitely worth checking out if you enjoy some of Raimi's previous directorial efforts and Cumberbatch's portrayal of the Mystic Arts sorcerer.