Doctor Strange certainly descends into bizarre new territory with the multiverse. Having had a taste of it in Spider-Man: No Way Home, he finds there are greater dangers beyond his realm of comprehension. That much was true in the first Doctor Strange film but now there’s more of a horrific angle to these terrors of other universes.
Doctor Strange Goes To Horror
It helps that such a picture has Sam Raimi as director, keeping with a certain tradition of this saga being helmed by horror directors (the previous being Scott Derrickson of Sinister fame). Raimi’s chaotic and giddy sensations are all over this picture. Everything from the dutch angles with the frightening close-ups are all present.
Stylistically, the film looks great and has just the right atmosphere of being a trippy and terrifying experience. All that being said, it feels less the titular hero of Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) has that much of a presence. He seems more like the fish-out-of-water character he was in the first film then the wise wizard he has developed into.
While it is refreshing to watch Strange being thrown off balance, his visually vibrant adventure overshadows his greater arcs. His relationship to Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) becomes a central hurdle for the character to get over. While we do get a real arc for the character learning to let go, it comes about in the most stumbling of manners.
Not as much charisma comes across the screen when there’s so much going on. There’s giant tentacle monsters smashing up New York City and magic of the damned threatening the world of the living. The entire multiverse is on the line in a complicated plot of universe hopping and the connection between multiverses.
It’s really a shame that the film doesn’t have time in its brief pacing to explore the dynamic between Strange and the plucky young hero America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez). Don’t expect another Peter Parker situation here. Chavez is so entrenched in the universe-saving plot that there’s hardly a moment for her to comment on the quirk’s of Stephen’s universe compared to others.
Both characters have a certain amount of pathos that is compelling but reserved for seemingly one scene. The rest of the film is wall-to-wall frights and fantasy. This leads to strange new worlds with different versions of familiar characters, along with a few surprises per Marvel’s penchant for stunt casting.
Unfortunately, the ballooning of the horror-staging overshadows many of the returning characters. Benedict Wong is always fun as Strange’s sterner and more playful sidekick Wong, but doesn’t have much to do beyond his duties as Socerer Supreme (a title he still holds since Avengers: Endgame). Chiwetel Ejiofor returns as the rival wizard Mordo but he feels more like an afterthought than a built-up adversary.
The only character who has the more emotional and compelling arc is Wanda Maximoff, reprised by Elizabeth Olsen. The former Avenger has a real presence in this picture and a grander drive for her actions. Without giving too much away, the character leans even heavier into the cerebral horror she evoked in WandaVision.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is Visually Mesmerizing
The biggest plus for such a picture is that it takes far more risks than the most recent of Marvel movies. It has a lot more in common with the experimental nature of Marvel’s What If, daring to explore more. This goes beyond just what characters can be included but how far down the franchise can descend into the depths of darkness.
It’s for this reason why it’s a bit baffling that the film takes itself perhaps a tad too seriously. Yes, there’s some dark topics touched upon as well as some emotional realizations. But Raimi’s horror style always carried a bit of the tongue-in-cheek humor that feels a bit muted in this picture.
There are shades, however, of those giddy horror leanings. There’s some cackling of monsters and some disorienting effects that border on comedy for being so outrageous. It was honestly refreshing to see just how far the MCU can tackle going into horror territory.
That being said, it’s a bit sad to see the limits being tested. Just when it feels like Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is leading into some over-the-top moment of exciting horror, it hits a wall. That wall is not as surface level as violence, although, wow, does this film get brutal.
The issue is that chemistry of embracing this horror just doesn’t feel as present. There’s a brilliant sequence involving zombies and demons that looks amazing and absurd at the same time. The punchline delivered for such a scene is surprisingly weak, revealing how the MCU quips seem ill-suited for such a picture.
So much of the way that this film is staged for the fan-service moments come off quite hollow. Maybe it’s because we’ve been spoiled by all the surprise cameos pumped into Spider-Man: No Way Home. Maybe it’s how experimental Marvel’s What If could be in animation that live-action incarnations feel depressingly smaller in scope.
Whatever the reason, there’s so many scenes that feel par for the course. Fans can expect that ONE scene which will make them cheer for the onslaught of an ensemble amassed on the big screen. It’s a neat assortment of characters, sure, but how long can MCU movies keep framing such excitement before it loses its edge?
Doctor in the Multiverse of Madness Review Conclusion
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness has its issues but it’s still a strong enough visual bonanza to warrant the trip. The very visuals and camera work are compelling enough to warrant a recommendation. It’s also intriguing to watch Strange’s arc, despite how little time it’s given to flourish.
It could be argued that this film is more about style over substance. Rather, it’s more a case where style is more interesting than the substance. So while it’s sad to admit Strange defying gravity in a void of reality is more interesting than trying to honest with lost love, it’s still really fun to watch him traverse the multiverse.
Did you see Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness in the theater? What did you think? Was it better than the last film? Where does it sit in your ranking of the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Let us know in the comments below.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness will be playing theaters on May 6th.