If ever there was a more apt title to a movie, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is it. A visually head-spinning film with a mind-boggling plot, although at its heart, is suspiciously simple. It also is the first Marvel Cinematic Universe that is more of a horror film than others. This could be because the man behind the lens this time is Evil Dead creator Sam Raimi, taking over from original director Scott Derrickson. While it’s a wild ride, it is slightly undisciplined and often messy, but another joy ride from the MCU. And for one of the cast members, give a performance that really knocks it out of the park.
Doctor Stephen Strange has dreams of a young girl called America Chavez, who can leap through the multiverse but has no idea how and cannot control her power. Turning to Wanda Maximoff for help, it soon becomes apparent that her alter-ego, Scarlet Witch, wants the girl for her own means, causing Strange to enter the various versions of the universe and come face-to-face with himself to save the girl and the world.
This is a simple tale of a man trying to save a girl from a woman who needs her. But, as I said, that is all there is to it. However, if you are familiar with the previous Doctor Strange movie from 2016, you will know that the whole thing gets thrown into a visual melting point that is a treat for the eyes but will mess with your mind. While the effects were amazing the last time, they have gone above and beyond, with Strange and his cohorts bouncing from one universe to another, some weirder than others. One sequence has Strange and America travelling through various worlds, including animated and painting. There’s even an imaginative musical fight scene. Yes, it’s that weird.
Add to the whole concoction touches of what made director Sam Raimi famous. This has moments of pure horror, whether it be effective jump scares, zombies and even demons, the film also pays homage to one of Raimi’s favourites, Carrie. This isn’t his first outing into the world of Marvel, having helmed the original Spider-Man movies with Tobey Maguire, but you can tell that he has much more free rein to deliver his style of filmmaking.
Like Spider-Man: No Way Home, the last film we saw Doctor Strange when he unwittingly opened the gates to the multiverse, the film is brimming with moments for Marvel fans to gasp at; as new characters and fan favourites make cameo appearances, none of which I will mention here. However, this trend does manage to lose the story’s momentum as you leap with joy at seeing whoever playing whoever. It does distract and trust me, you really have to pay attention.
The performances are all full of the appropriate energy. A newcomer to the MCU, Xochitl Gomez, is perfectly cast as America Chavez while returning cast members Benedict Wong as Wong, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Baron Mordo and Rachel McAdams as Strange’s former love interest, Christine, all bring a well-needed sense of familiarity to the proceedings. In his fifth outing (seventh if you include Thor: Ragnarok and the TV animation, What If…) Benedict Cumberbatch slips into the role of Strange with ease, like a well-worn suit, and this time is allowed to play various versions of himself for a sense of variety.
However, with all the special effects and moments of horror and nicely placed comedy, the film really belongs to Elizabeth Olsen. Returning as Wanda and Scarlet Witch, she is magnificent, showing that even in a movie which could be regarded as disposable, she brings an air of majesty to her roles. This is a woman suffering from her pains, a woman who, as she said to Stephen, “You break the rules and become a hero. I do it and become the enemy. That doesn’t seem fair”. She manages to bring humanity to a performance that could have been pantomimic. It should have been called Scarlet Witch in the Multiverse of Madness.
While this isn’t the best Marvel movie and is flawed, it’s also a visual treat and fun. Once again, stick around for two post-credit sequences, one that is definitely aimed at the Evil Dead fans. We haven’t seen the last of Strange, and there are high hopes for future Marvel movies.
4 out of 5
Director: Sam Raimi
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, Xocihiti Gomez, Rachel McAdams, Bruce Campbell.
Written by: Michael Waldron
Running Time: 126 mins
Release date: 5th May 2022