One common criticism of Marvel films is that they’re very formulaic with relatively little stakes due to the fact that we more or less know that each film’s main heroes will probably make it out OK, and the villain won’t achieve their goal (outside of “Avengers: Infinity War”). But since the second “Guardians of the Galaxy” film and “Thor: Ragnarok,” Disney has allowed its MCU films to rock the boat a little bit, and Director Sam Raimi certainly does that with “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.”
The film opens with Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) from another universe fleeing from a demon with America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), a teenager with the ability to travel the multiverse, but she doesn’t know how to control it. What makes Chavez unique is that, while the multiverse has many versions of other Marvel characters, she’s the only version of herself that exits, meaning only she has her powers.
The demon kills this version of Strange, but Chavez launches herself into the main Marvel universe where she meets the version of Strange we’ve been following since 2016’s “Doctor Strange,” who is attending the wedding of his ex-girlfriend, Christine (Rachel McAdams). Chavez is pursued by a monster, and Strange interrupts the wedding to save her with Sorcerer Supreme Wong (Benedict Wong).
Not knowing what to do with her, he decides to confide in Wanda Maximoff (Elizbeth Olsen) A.K.A. the Scarlet Witch, hoping that she can help him with the demon. Unbeknownst to him, she had been corrupted by a magical book known as the Darkhold, which she started using after she was plagued with visions of her children she conjured up in the show “WandaVision” — apparently in the MCU, dreams are glimpses into other universes, and in every universe except the one she lives in, her children exist.
Maximoff wants to take Chavez’s powers — which will kill Chavez — in order to travel to a universe where her kids exist, and step in as their mother, using her powers to keep them safe from anything. It’s delusional, which the film admits, and she is a straight-up villain in this, killing indiscriminately. It’s a huge break from where she was at the end of “WandaVision,” but the leaps in her character development are explained away by the corrupting nature of the Darkhold. Still, it feels like there was a few scenes missing that would help explain her descent from B-team Avenger to remorseless killer.
There are moments where this is a horror film, in which Maximoff serves as an unstoppable force set on killing Strange and Chavez, and it works really well if you can get past her quick descent into evil. This doesn’t feel like a typical MCU film because Raimi was allowed to inject his style into it, and as such its tone feels somewhere in between his “Spider-Man” trilogy and “Evil Dead.” The film really shines when Raimi goes all out on his creative presentation and direction — this isn’t a factory-made film, and moments of it feel like a labor of love crafted by one of the most skilled masters of horror in the industry.
This certainly is not the film for everyone, but for some, it will be their favorite MCU movie. It looks gorgeous, combining really good CGI used in creative ways with classic filmmaking hallmarks of Raimi. His guidance makes the film stand out from a filmmaking standpoint, as it really feels like he got the most out of his blockbuster budget and managed to create something really unique; it’s a far cry from what seemed to be the norm from Marvel before “Avengers: Endgame,” in which no-name directors were hired to make narratively-fine but cinematically-homogeneous films like “Ant-Man” and “Captain Marvel.”
This is not a film without its problems, but its major one — Wanda’s abrupt turn, and the unexplained absence of her main love interest, Vision, who she brought back to life (sort of) in “WandaVision” and no doubt has alternate versions of himself in other universes — comes early and if you’re able to get past that hurdle you’re probably going to enjoy this film. Though, I still found it distracting that the happily ever after she was pursuing in this film didn’t include him,
There are some major cameo appearances from the Illuminati group from the comics, including some familiar faces from Fantastic Four/X-Men/Inhumans, and it seems like their scenes are either hit or miss for most people, but they work fine in the context of the movie — they’re just not in most of the film, and aren’t that important. But their inclusion does have interesting ramifications for Marvel — because of the fact that the multiverse has been blown open for exploration, any and all versions of their characters — even adaptations that were previously made by other studios (such as Fox’s X-Men franchise) can now appear in main MCU films.
If you’re looking for something fresh out of the MCU, this film will give you that, but this film is no masterpiece. I think it’s one of the better Marvel films, surpassing “Eternals” and “Shang-Chi,” but it doesn’t quite match the recent heights of “Spider-Man: No Way Home.”
“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” gets an 8.5/10