May 5, 2022

Things Get Out of Hand in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” (Spoiler-Free Review)

No Marvel film, aside from perhaps Avengers: Endgame, has ever had as much pressure as Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness has on its shoulders. It must follow up the satisfying multiversal madness from last year’s Spider-Man: No Way Home, in addition to living up to fan expectations and delivering the mass amounts of cameos that enthusiasts are demanding.

Image courtesy of Disney

With all that weight, it would be a very difficult task to completely satisfy everybody — and I genuinely believe there’s an incredible movie buried in what we eventually got. What we did get, though, is far from terrible. In fact, I’m close to loving it, and a bit more careful consideration might get me there.

One of my hangups comes with a stark behind-the-scenes change: Sam Raimi stepped into the director’s chair for Multiverse of Madness, and his involvement is both the films greatest strength and its greatest weakness. His quirky style often conflicts with the traditional Marvel style, which makes for an interesting (and sometimes jumbled) collection of colorful and genuinely scary moments, rife with unique editing choices that really show off Raimi’s eccentric directorial methods. Its clear that he knows his influences, and this may be the first mainstream Marvel film to chart that ground; Raimi brings everything back to the basics, and his presence makes the film what it is. A version of this movie made by the typical Marvel machine may not have been as interesting, but Multiverse of Madness makes a special path for itself by leaning into campiness and, for lack of a better term, strangeness. Then again, perhaps more Raimi would have made it even better.

There’s a lot that I want to talk about but can’t, out of an abundance of caution and fear of internet wrath. What I will say is that Multiverse of Madness, in lieu of putting story first, elects to introduce dozens of new ideas, many of which may never be seen again in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This isn’t the worst move, as it gives Marvel a testing ground for where the universe (or multiverse) might go from here, but that’s basically all there is to it — Multiverse of Madness is more content to explore cool concepts and play with its toys than tell a completely satisfying and closed story. I know it might be antithetical to call a two-hour runtime “too short,” but I genuinely believe Multiverse of Madness could have benefited from more elaboration. It never stays in one place for long, and as one of the shortest Marvel movies in the last ten years, it has to move very fast to keep up with the epic scale it’s imparting.

Image courtesy of Disney

I can’t believe I’ve gotten this far and not even mentioned a lick of plot. The title speaks for itself, and I’ll stray away from specific details, but an incident occurs that causes Doctor Strange (once again played by the multi-faceted and incredibly talented Benedict Cumberbatch) to dive headfirst into a multiverse of infinite possibilities. Cumberbatch, in addition to returning MCU stars Elizabeth Olsen and Benedict Wong, are all excellent, but Multiverse of Madness is just so crowded that I feel like none really get the time they deserve to fully shine. Even a returning Chiwetel Ejiofor and newcomer Xochitl Gomez are overshadowed by the (admittedly glorious) chaos happening around them.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is visually and stylistically distinctive from the rest of the MCU, and its fresh new spin is exactly what the ever-expanding universe needs. It may have more new factors and story elements than it knows what to do with, but at the end of the day, it’s an exciting comic book tale featuring some of our favorite superheroes. If you’re expecting anything else, this may not be for you.

Image courtesy of Disney

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is in theaters now. A spoiler-filled discussion will be published on May 8.

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