‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ Is a Visual Trip

Benedict Cumberbatch is back as Doctor Stephen Strange in 'Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,' out in theaters Friday, May 6. Here's our review.

Doctor Strange Multiverse

Image via Disney/Marvel

Doctor Strange Multiverse

How do you compete with the scope of Avengers: Endgame? As the conclusion to a decade’s worth of Marvel Cinematic Universe storytelling and the second highest-grossing movie ever, much of the MCU’s fourth phase of projects has lived in its colossal shadow. Naturally, the answer to this lingering question is to go much bigger: If saving one universe isn’t enough, how about the fate of infinite ones? 

Such is the story of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, the second installment in the Benedict Cumberbatch-led mystical, magical MCU franchise. The film opens breathlessly as America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) and Doctor Strange (Cumberbatch)—albeit one much different in appearance and demeanor—run from a massive, one-eyed octopus-like creature hunting Chavez. After this alternate Strange dies, Chavez and the monster crash into the primary MCU reality just as our Strange is watching his former flame, Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) tie the knot. Strange, with an assist from the new Sorcerer Supreme Wong (Benedict Wong), subdues the monster. The duo learn Chavez has the means to travel between realities—but is incapable of accurately wielding the ability. Strange, sensing the creature is not of magical origins, but instead, witchcraft, seeks out Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen). Still in isolation in the wake of WandaVision’s conclusion, deeper under the influence of the nefarious Necronomicon Darkhold book, and actively searching multiple realities for her lost children, she begins to make life for Wong, Strange, and Chavez a walking nightmare as the multiverse of Marvel comes to life. These strange yet familiar realities come with their own surprises, which are better left for audiences to discover in their individual viewings and won’t be spoiled here.

In addition to the promise of multiple realities is Sam Raimi’s return to franchise filmmaking, as the beloved cult director ushered in a new age of silver screen superhero icons with the first Spider-Man film (which, coincidentally, debuted 20 years ago the very same week as Multiverse is releasing). Raimi, who took over after the departure of Doctor Strange director Scott Derrickson, is a name who both Marvel stans and Film Twitter could both line up behind. Raimi’s work—especially in the Evil Dead movies—is distinctive enough that even MCU skeptics couldn’t help but be enchanted by the possibility of someone finally being able to break the long-established Marvel house style.

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Despite a few Raimi flourishes in the first half, Multiverse feels devoid of his personality, setting the stage for disappointment. That is until the director seemingly wrestles away control from the Marvel industrial complex in the latter portion and injects it with his unique sensibilities. Multiverse is, without a doubt, the most visually interesting MCU project ever, and is likely the last time audiences will experience something this stimulating. The way Raimi’s kinetic camera dips, dives, circles, and swoops throughout these scenes is nothing short of breathtaking. While any drop of nourishment is bound to be satiating when you’re in a desert, Raimi’s work staunchly stands out—especially a third act battle which elevates an already impressive Danny Elfman score—after such a drought of compelling visuals throughout the MCU’s expansive history. Not to mention, Raimi imbues the film with a few grizzly horror sequences that are worthy of inclusion alongside the chills of Evil Dead and Drag Me to Hell’s best moments.

For as compelling a fest as the visuals are, the story of Multiverse can’t quite match it. Loki (which remains the best Disney+/MCU series) scribe Michael Waldron makes the best of a script that’s, no doubt, noted to death—and that’s before you consider the various roadblocks the production encountered along the way, including several reshuffled release dates and an extensive reshoot—but the final result is a little rushed and uneven as it works to introduce the concept of the multiverse, focuses on Wanda’s continuing story, and provides a compelling sequel for Strange. Out of all these threads, Wanda’s arc is impacted the most; she feels a little one-note and would likely suffer greatly if not for Olsen adding some depth and nuance to her performance. Surprising, especially given the title of the film, is the way in which Waldron manages to thread the needle on the multiversal elements without losing the Doctor Strange of it all. Even with the increased scope, this is still undoubtedly a movie about and with Strange at its center, which proves to be no small feat. 

Doctor Strange in the Universe of Madness Review

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