Film Review: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)

Picking up a few months after the events of Spider-Man: No Way Home, ex-Sorcerer Supreme Steven Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) attends the wedding of his ex-fiancé, Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams). During the reception, Strange and Palmer chat, and agree that a relationship between them never could have worked out because of Strange’s prolific involvement in the universe’s super-happenings. Their reminiscing is cut short, though, when a commotion starts outside; a commotion that turns out to actually be the sound of a giant octopus demon attacking a young woman who has appeared in at least one of Strange’s dreams — just a Friday for these guys. Strange takes down the octo-demon with the help of his wizard-boss Wong (Benedict Wong), and the two question the dream-girl.

The dream-girl, named America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), reveals that she has long been pursued by demons who wish to steal her superpower: the ability to jump between universes. She also lets Strange know of her discovery that his dreams (and all dreams, for that matter) are actually glimpses of real events in other universes — a concept which definitely made me think back on some odd dreams I’ve had. Hoping to help Chavez, Strange seeks out Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) for help in the matter, but it quickly becomes apparent that she might have a bit more of a personal connection than originally thought. 

With as bombastic a title as “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” I think it’s safe to say most superhero fans had this latest Marvel installment sized up as the Next Big Crossover Film.™ And to Marvel’s credit, they’ve handled these box-office angels remarkably well; every Avengers film (particularly the latter two) and the recent No Way Home have used effective fan-service and told huge stories while still leaving adequate room for character arcs to come to fruition. This new film that (technically speaking) serves as a sequel to 2016’s Doctor Strange manages to… well… almost pull off the magic of the aforementioned MCU pillars.

Since everything in the Marvel universe is so interconnected, the sequel films we do get are very rarely DIRECT sequels, at least where viewing practicality is involved; very seldom can you just ‘jump in’ without having seen 30 or so previous Marvel projects. Naturally, this new Doctor Strange follows that same pattern, but the difference is that it really doesn’t feel like a Doctor Strange movie much at all. If anything, Multiverse of Madness is more of a follow-up to the Disney Plus series WandaVision. 

Keeping that in mind, I think Wanda is definitely one of the highlights of the film as a whole. Elizabeth Olsen has proven herself time and time again as perfectly capable of bringing this complex character to the screen, and her performance here is no exception; she brings a complexity to the character by being altogether sympathetic, tragic, sinister, and heartbreaking. If you liked her character trajectory up to this point, you’re going to love it here. 

That being said, Wanda is really the only character who gets any kind of arc here. With Strange, his situation with Christine is definitely THERE… but never feels fleshed out or resolved in a satisfying way. America Chavez also feels wholly uninteresting; despite the good casting with Xochitl Gomez, her character feels purely like a means to a plot end, and has no real substance of her own. 

And then there’s the matter of the fan-service characters. Much like No Way Home, this film has had MANY familiar faces rumored to make guest appearances, and some of those rumors do indeed prove themselves true. What’s disappointing is that NONE of these characters has anything actually interesting to add to the story… the only reason they’re included is for nostalgic fans to point to the screen and gasp for breath like a beached school of fish. It makes me wish Marvel valued telling interesting stories with their existing characters rather than shoehorning in as many new cameos as they can.

Sam Raimi’s direction is another definite highlight here. His camera sweeps over the action sequences quickly and with purpose, with crash zooms and pans for added excitement. Additionally, he adds plenty of horror elements to certain sequences heavily reminiscent of his Evil Dead films (there’s also a fun little reference to the second part of that trilogy). 

The screenplay is pretty sloppy; the pace is way too rushed, and the dialogue is often very cheesy and jam-packed with irritating one-liners. The saving grace with the writing is the way the resolution is reached with the main antagonist. It isn’t the expected MCU conclusion with big chunks of CGI smashing into each other, but instead takes a very emotional and tragic approach. Bravo to whoever came up with that idea. 

There are plenty of small moments of brilliance in Multiverse of Madness, but they’re bogged down by the plethora of negatives. I’d love to see a director’s cut of this someday, hopefully with better character development (Sam Raimi says about 40 minutes of footage were cut from the final film) but until that day comes, we’re stuck with a mediocre outing brimming with wasted potential. 

Overall rating: 5/10

Published by Jeremy Bader

Aspiring writer, film and music lover, drummer.

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