Picking up roughly where Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021) left off, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness once again finds our titular hero dealing with the outfall of alternative realities. As well as being the first solo adventure for Doctor Strange in six years, Multiverse of Madness also marks the first film from cult director Sam Raimi since Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) nine years ago.
Multiverse of Madness doesn’t quite have the same impact as No Way Home, but even then, it manages to bring back most of the franchise’s favorites as well as introducing a number of new characters that will certainly change how the MCU moves forward.
The film throws the audience straight into the action with new character America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) and a character who looks very much like Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) being chased by a demon. It turns out that this Strange isn’t the one we are familiar with, instead being from an alternative universe which America has traveled to.
It turns out that America has the uncontrollable ability to jump through dimensions and this demon wants to harness her power. As the alternate Strange realizes he is unable to stop the demon he decides his only option is to kill America so her power doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.
Fortunately for her he is mortally wounded before he can carry this out, with America traveling once again to an alternative universe. It is here that she meets up with our world’s Doctor Strange, but due to her experience with his alternate she is unsure if she can trust him.
Now Strange, along with the assistance of the Sorcerer Supreme Wong (Benedict Wong) must work together in order to stop the demonic being hot on America’s tail. Realizing that the task at hand may be difficult, Strange decides to ask Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) for her help, although Wanda’s motives may not exactly be for the greater good.
Replacing the first film’s Scott Derrikson with Sam Raimi certainly makes a difference, setting Multiverse of Madness apart from the majority of other MCU entries, even if this is mostly from a visual standpoint. Raimi manages to bring his unique visual style to proceedings with him even including a number of homages to his back catalogue, most evidently the Evil Dead series as well as the likes of Darkman (1990) and even Crimewave (1986) which was unexpected.
The action scenes are all solid and surprisingly violent, with Raimi pushing that PG-13 rating to the max. I don’t exactly agree that this is the MCU’s first horror movie, as it is for the most part a fantasy actioner. However, Raimi does manage to include some welcome horror elements with ghosts and zombies even making an appearance. As shown in the trailers, an undead Doctor Strange is only one such inclusion. This version of the character is most welcome and how he is used in the overall plot was quite surprising.
The action is mostly magic based, so that means a lot of characters casting spells and shooting lightning bolts out their hands etc. Still, Raimi does include some more grounded hand to hand fight scenes, most memorably between Strange and an alternative version of Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Baron Mordo. Both of them get a chance to show off their martial arts skills (or at least their stuntmen do).
From a visual point of view, the film can’t be faulted, with there being enough of the old Raimi magic to make this identifiably his movie, more so than any of his Spider-Man movies. It is only when we come to the plot that the film has some issues, even if these aren’t enough to derail one’s overall enjoyment.
One of my main complaints comes from the fact that the film is called Multiverse of Madness, yet other than a brief sequence where Strange and America quickly travel through multiple dimensions, the majority of the film only takes place in 3 alternative dimensions, one of which is the main one the rest of the MCU is set. I suppose “Doctor Strange and the 3 Universes” doesn’t have the same ring to it.
Perhaps my expectations should have been lowered, as I did think the filmmakers would take more advantage of the fact the film is set over multiple universes. Sure, there are some interesting inclusions, especially one character which got a loud cheer in my cinema, there could have been more made of these alternative realities.
Still, the script from Loki (2021) screenwriter Michael Wadron is interesting enough and certainly gives the cast enough to sink their teeth into. Even with his slightly iffy accent, Benedict Cumberbatch has made the role of Doctor Strange his own. He adds a level of gravitas to the role and capably throws himself into the action. Having multiple versions of Strange also allows Cumberbatch to have a lot more fun with the character than in any of his previous adventures.
Unlike his previous solo venture, there is more focus given to his relationships this time round, most notably Rachel McAdams’ Christine. McAdams has a more beefed up role than before, playing an integral role in the latter half of the film. Her involvement allows the audience to see Strange’s more emotional side.
Speaking of emotions, Elizabeth Olsen takes away the film’s acting honors, playing the emotionally damaged Wanda. Still hurting over the events of Wandavision (2021), Olsen perfectly conveys the morally complex aspects of her character. Initially Wanda is neither hero or villain, but as the film progresses the character is taken into a considerably dark place.
No matter how dark Wanda becomes, her desire to be reunited with her children is understandable and perfectly realized by Olsen. In many respects Multiverse of Madness is as much Wanda’s film as it is Strange’s. An added bonus is finally getting a chance to see Wanda show off the full extent of her powers, proving to be one of MCU’s most powerful characters.
As powerful as Wanda and Doctor Strange are, they are almost overshadowed by the Sorcerer Supreme himself, Wong (Benedict Wong). Wong has fast become a fan favorite and steals every scene he’s in, with him getting a fair share of the action.
A special shout out should be given out to ace martial artist Jean Paul Ly who stunt doubles Wong during some of the more elaborate action scenes. With his assistance he allows Wong to show off a surprising agility with the character kicking and flipping throughout his action scenes.
It’s not all returning characters however, with Xochitl Gomez making her MCU debut as America Chavez. Sharing most of her scenes alongside Cumberbatch, the two work extremely well together with their characters bringing out the best in each other.
Having talked about the main cast I suppose it’s only fair I mention the new additions. Now, if you’d rather go in fresh I would suggest you stop reading here.
As teased during the trailer, Patrick Stewart makes his first official appearance in the MCU, reprising his signature role of Charles Xavier. This isn’t exactly the same Charles we’ve seen in the X-Men films, with him actually portraying the version that appeared in the 90’s animated series.
I must say, I got a kick out of his initial appearance, accompanied along with the series’ theme tune. Having him use the yellow wheelchair from the animated show was just icing on the cake. Essentially his part is just an extended cameo, but as expected, Stewart is perfect.
There are also call backs to Marvel’s What If? (2021) with Hayley Atwell portraying that serie’s Agent Carter. Atwell gets a chance to shine in one of the film’s most memorable action scenes where she fights alongside her fellow Marvel heroes to try and stop Wanda.
Those she fights alongside are where the film has most of its surprises and include that audience cheering moment I mentioned previously. Lashana Lynch portrays an alternative version of Captain Marvel, whereas Anson Mount surprisingly reprises his role as Black Bolt from the ill fated Inhumans (2017).
More importantly is the introduction of John Krasinski as Reed Richards/Mr Fantastic. His appearance is that audience cheering moment I mentioned. Although he was favorite for the role, this was the first time it has been confirmed he is part of the MCU.
Only appearing in a handful of scenes, Krasinski does well to give a taste of what to expect from the upcoming Fantastic 4 film. Perhaps Marvel can talk Krasinski into directing now that Jon Watts has left the project.
Of course, as important as all these characters are, they are all overshadowed by the mighty Bruce Campbell who makes his obligatory Raimi cameo as an angry Pizza vendor. Out of all his cameos I would say this is his most memorable, harkening back to his work on the Evil Dead movies.
Outside of the cast, a special mention should be given to regular Raimi collaborator Danny Elfman who contributes another quality score, a perfect accompaniment to the on screen action, with some sequences reminding me of a Godzilla movie.
Although not the full-blown crowd pleaser that was Spider-Man: No Way Home, the Multiverse of Madness is still a first-class blockbuster that contains everything fans expect from an MCU movie and even a little bit more that enjoyably sets it apart from other Marvel fare.
Plot: 3.5/5 Acting: 4.5/5 Action: 3.5/5 Overall: 3.8/5