I’d love to check in on the versions of myself in other universes and see if they are doing better or worse than me. Unfortunately, I don’t have any special powers that would allow such excursions. If you want to see what it might be like to travel between universes, the sequel to Doctor Strange delves head first into the Multiverse. The title sounds like a B-movie instead of the latest major Marvel release. Indeed, some aspects of this bonkers experience celebrate the spirit of those kinds of sci-fi and horror flicks of the second half of the 20th Century. Doctor Stephen Strange appeared in a number of other movies since his cinematic introduction, so it was time that the focus centered on him this time. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness delivers two hours of fun with plenty for both Marvel and Sam Raimi fans to celebrate.
Raimi notably directed Spider-Man and its two sequels with Tobey Maguire as the superhero. Although those entries mostly played it safe, there were glimpses of Raimi’s wild side as well. The director and writer Michael Waldron (writer and producer for the Loki TV series) tap into the anything-goes spirit of the Multiverse and keep you guessing about what or who may show up next. The story follows the events of Spider-Man: No Way Home and its own dealings with the Multiverse. Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) wakes up after a bizarre dream to head to the wedding of his old flame Dr. Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams). When a one-eyed octopus monster attacks the city, Doctor Strange literally leaps into action to take out this beast. Sorcerer Supreme Wong (Benedict Wong) shows up to join the fight, and both men protect a girl named America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) — the target of the monster. America has the ability to travel between universes, and someone wants to steal this power. Doctor Strange visits Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) to learn about the Multiverse to help America, and the movie turns into a roller coaster ride until the action-packed finale.
Cumberbatch plays Doctor Strange with both authority and a sense of humor. Thanks to the Multiverse, he also gets to tweak his performance with other versions of the character, as do some of the other main actors. Cumberbatch doesn’t hold back and fully embraces his various incarnations. In many of the other Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) releases, Wong appears for just a few minutes. Thankfully, he has a substantial role here. McAdams grounds the movie just as Christine does for Doctor Strange’s life. Olsen impressed me the most from the cast, especially as the Scarlet Witch, because her character has to deal with a greater range of issues and emotions than the rest. Chiwetel Ejiofor returns as Baron Mordo in a smaller role. I’m sure that you’ll see Gomez in a number of future Marvel films, and she fits right in with the veteran performers. There are plenty of cameos and surprises, but it’s best that you discover them on your own.
The Multiverse receives more attention and investigation than before, yet it doesn’t seem to be enough. Don’t blink during an amazing sequence that might last 30 seconds tops and probably took months to put together. Doctor Strange and America travel between radically different universes, and I’m sure that fans will break down this montage on YouTube at some point. Immediately, I wished that the characters would return to some of those universes during the movie. Just knowing that they’re out there may have been the point. Once Doctor Strange and America stabilize, the redheaded Christine of that universe describes to them how she has numbered the universes, which falls in line with Marvel canon from the comic books. The film features the main universe for all of the Marvel events, the one with the redheaded Christine and a place between universes. I would have gladly spent another half-hour in the theater if the filmmakers had taken on the challenge of incorporating more of the titular “mad” universes. I’m not sure why the second universe in the narrative seems overgrown with flowers and plants; if this was explained, I missed it.
Raimi knows how to stage a great fight scene, and there are plenty to enjoy, including a creative set piece that involves music. Raimi embraces both the gory and bloody with battles like the one with the one-eyed octopus creature and a free-for-all in the second act that includes characters with a variety of powers. The PG-13 rating reins in Raimi from some of his more intense and violent instincts. Nevertheless, he pushes the limits with some satisfying special effects and deaths. If you know Raimi, you’ll be on the lookout for a few things that appear in almost all of his films, and sure enough, these elements make it in the final cut. I don’t remember anything on the same level in the Spider-Man trilogy, but there are scenes that feel ripped right out of The Evil Dead or its sequels. Those parts made me laugh with glee because only Raimi could introduce that manic energy and crazy entities.
Danny Elfman produced a fun score where he combined some rock themes and loud guitar chords along with the more dramatic sounds. I expected a more serious film with the fate of universes in the balance. Fortunately, Raimi kept it mostly fun, light and funny like a ride through a fun house. Most of the characters have good one-liners, too. In some ways, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness feels like a way station between major events in the MCU, and moviegoers will just have to wait to see where it all leads, especially with a great tease of a mid-credits scene. Directors Anthony Russo and Joe Russo established their place in the MCU with four impressive releases: Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. I hope that Raimi gets another chance to continue his legacy by putting his spin on a Marvel title with his signature style.