Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness | movie review
The doctor is in... serious trouble with a witch.
Movie summary: Dr. Stephen Strange casts a forbidden spell that opens the doorway to the multiverse, including alternate versions of himself, whose threat to humanity is too great for the combined forces of Strange, Wong, and Wanda Maximoff. (IMDb)
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (just Multiverse of Madness from here) has provoked interesting responses from critics and audiences, with people either loving it or really not liking it all and there seems to be little to no middle ground. Oddly enough, said middle ground is exactly where I stand, having ultimately enjoyed the movie while also feeling a little dissatisfied.
One particular argument I've seen against the movie is that it's too much of a horror movie for younger children, but it is a 12A - PG-13 in the States - and I feel that's perfectly fine. If you're taking children below those ages to a Marvel movie and they get scared, then that's more on you as a parent/guardian not knowing what those children can handle rather than the movie or the rating being to blame - hell, my parents were fine buying me Robocop (18-rated) on VHS when I was 12 because they knew I'd be fine watching it. Criticism has also come for the portrayal of Wanda as a villain, which I don't think stands up at all if you take into account the events of WandaVision, where she took a town hostage, psychically tortured them for weeks(?) and then only let them free once she was ready to move on. Even then, Wanda remained unapologetic to everyone except Monica Rambeau and fled rather than taking responsibility for her actions and turning herself in. That actually leads to one of my biggest criticisms of Multiverse of Madness, which is that I feel that this is the first Marvel Studios movie where another story is essential knowledge. For any other MCU entry, they might work better the more you've seen of them, but at least they still work on their own - you just might not get some references or call-backs to previous entries. On the other hand, there are plenty of people who supposedly loved WandaVision and completely missed that Wanda was actually the villain of the piece. This misreading of that story leads to not understanding her behaviour in this movie and thinking that Marvel Studios just made her into a stereotypical overly-emotional female villain who 'snapped' (psychologically, not Thanos-esque) to fit into the story they wanted to tell, which isn't the case at all considering her willpower and determination to push forward in an almost Terminator-like manner. Rather, it's Wanda's endless suffering and grief which has understandably driven her to this point - although that's not approval for her actions. Elizabeth Olsen is phenomenally good yet again as Wanda and makes it clear that it's her continued grief at the steady stream of losses she has suffered in her life that led to her use of the Darkhold, the book of the damned (and repeatedly referred to as a corrupting influence), to determine her course of action here.
Something that has bugged me for a long time as a criticism of many blockbusters - and not just superhero films - is that the writing isn't great because they always spell everything out and I think part of the criticism Multiverse of Madness has suffered is because it doesn't do that, despite the extensive exposition dumps dotted throughout the movie to explain the multiverse and alternate realities, and it really makes me wonder how any studio can overcome that criticism.
The other side of the coin to all this negativity is the praise many have had for Sam Raimi's direction, with many happy to see him return to a Marvel hero after his beloved Spider-Man movies - that is to say that many others like them, especially the first two, whereas I thought there were only ever decent at best even when originally released.
Raimi does have a great sense of how to make things visually interesting though, and Multiverse of Madness is certainly one of the best-looking MCU movies, even if there is the recurring issue of some off-putting compositing of CGI and live-action - especially early on. That said, there are also some genuinely creative moments that are really great to see on a big screen and they make you hope that future MCU movies can live up to this standard.
America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) and her power to travel across the Multiverse certainly help in that respect, with one particular tumble through many, many alternate worlds - including animated, black-and-white, and even dinosaur-filled versions of New York - which arguably surpass Strange being flung across various dimensions by the Ancient One in his first film.
Not wanting to go back to negativity, it has to be said that it's very clear this was changed a lot during filming and, most likely, the reshoots even more so than usual. Raimi might be great on visuals, but Multiverse of Madness does still feel pretty messy at times, as if the connective tissue between certain sequences is missing. This might be me being harsh on Raimi as it might well be that changes needed to be made to fit in with being released out of order due to COVID - this was intended to be out before Spider-Man: No Way Home after all, and America would've been the one to use portals rather than Ned in that movie.
Generally speaking, it's not a huge issue at any single point, but rather a cumulative one that did wear me down by the end of the story and made me wish that it could've been given just a little longer to more neatly tie things together. It doesn't help that the movie also ends rather abruptly too, so it'll be interesting to see the Assembled episode for this film when it's released on Disney+ to see just how much plans were changed during production.
Even with all the minor issues that pile up, I was quite impressed at the emotional journey Strange undergoes during Multiverse of Madness, even if might feel to some like a repetition of the Ancient One telling him it isn't all about him. Benedict Cumberbatch has always been great as Strange and is a lot of fun to watch this time too, adding far more depth to the character here than all of his appearances in other MCU films since his first movie combined.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a good movie whose strengths and weaknesses have been exaggerated to varying degrees. It is however, the first MCU movie that I think really does require having seen other material (namely WandaVision) and the story feels a little disjointed as a result, but the excellent visuals, along with standout performances from Benedict Cumberbatch and Elizabeth Olsen are more than enough to make up for it.