The multiverse is indeed strange in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, the second big departure for the MCU following the heavy heart of Chloé Zhao’s The Eternals. Courtesy of director Sam Raimi, there’s a manic and likable Evil Dead energy to this superhero movie, but fans expecting the same rigorous quality control of previous Marvel films may be left wanting.
For others, while Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness isn’t an entirely satisfying ride, it’s a rousing detour from the MCU formula that had become stale over the course of the past 15 years and 27 movies.
There’s real life to this one, and a genuine vision behind the camera. If only that vision was also shared by the script, credited to Michael Waldron, creator of the Loki series on Disney+.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness opens with a dream sequence featuring the Doctor (Benedict Cumberbatch) protecting a teenage girl (Xochitl Gomez) in a strange dimension. When another monster attacks the same girl in waking life, interrupting the wedding of Strange’s ex Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), he realizes there must be more to the story.
The girl is America Chavez, and she explains that the Doctor’s dream wasn’t a dream: it just happened in another dimension. America has the power to travel between dimensions, but she can’t control it, and she’s been seeking out the help of alternate-reality Doctor Stranges while being pursued by strange monsters.
This leads Strange to seek out the only other person he knows who might be able to assist in dimension-hopping: Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). Strange knows Wanda as a superhero who fought Thanos in the Infinity War. But viewers of Wandavision may know her as something… else.
As the world’s Masters of the Mystic Arts attempt to protect America from Wanda, led by Wong (Benedict Wong), Strange and America find themselves hurtling through alternate dimensions looking for answers.
It’s in the alternate realities that Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness truly soars, delivering alternative takes on familiar Marvel superheroes along with some non-canon appearances by characters from other Marvel franchises (following in the footsteps of Spider-Man: No Way Home).
For MCU fans, these cameos and potential setups for future Marvel movies are the highlight of the movie; others may be left in the dark at what essentially amounts to gratuitous fan service.
But Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness truly soars when incorporating the oddities of the alternate dimensions into its story. Climactic scenes that incorporate multiple Doctors may not have the nostalgic appeal of Spider-Man: No Way Home, but provide creative distractions to an otherwise routine story. An innovative musical duet-duel and a resurrected zombie Strange are particular highlights.
Raimi’s touch to Multiverse of Madness is particularly felt during the scenes with the Scarlet Witch, whose tragic storyline steals the movie away from the titular Doctor and gives the MCU one of its more memorable villains. Wanda’s scenes across multiple realities are pure horror – especially when seen through the eyes of the “good” Witch – and Olson is especially effective at conveying the character’s pain.
Less successful here is the primary storyline, which focuses on Strange and America, two characters without tangible arcs. That’s fine for Strange; we’ve gone through his personal journey in previous films. But while America is emphatically played by Gomez, the character is written with backstory in place of personality.
Ultimately, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is neither a rousing success nor second-tier Marvel, and delivers tension and thrills in ways that the previous 27 films haven’t. Like The Eternals, the film suggests that the MCU is ready to move on from its well-worn formula, but still trying to find its feet.