Director: Sam Raimi | 2h 6mins | Action, Fantasy
Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) encounters a young girl, who can travel the multiverse, being hunted by an unknown entity attempting to steal her power. Out of his depth, Strange seeks the help of Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) but her response is not what he expects.
In the five years since Doctor Strange’s introduction to the MCU, we’ve seen the quasi-Avenger go through a lot mostly surrounding the threat to the universe in Thanos. Since then, the threats have reached the multiverse, the never-ending expanse of different realities which came to fruition most recently, in Spiderman: No Way Home from last year.
The way most Marvel films have been heading blends the line between each stand-alone character’s outing and the group efforts in any Avengers title, and as with the previously mentioned Spiderman having Strange nearly as important as Spidey himself, Wanda plays a central role in this story too.
It opens with Stephen Strange attending the wedding of his ex-partner, Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), dwelling on his actions in the past and wondering how he could have changed the outcome. Before any form of real closure is achieved with Christine, however, a giant mono-eyed octopus attacks the city, chasing down America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez).
Doctor Strange… might be the closest attempt at a straight horror for Marvel’s extended universe
After a very Sami Raimi-esque fight scene, Strange and Sorcerer Supreme Wong (Benedict Wong) find out that she can travel the multiverse and has encountered other versions of Strange whilst being hunted. After deciding to enlist the help of Wanda, they discover she has less than genuine intentions and Strange attempts to protect Chavez from his previous ally, traversing the multiverse in the process.
For those who haven’t watched Wandavision (2021) there might be a bit of catchup to do with the narrative, but to the credit of screenwriter Michael Waldron we quickly get a sense of why Wanda is acting the way she is. Despite the name, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness feels more like the Wanda-lead film that the character deserved (again creating a grey area in these previously self-contained solo movies), and her grief from losing her children – and seeing them in her dreams every night – is driving her to the extreme to try and reunite.
As a director Sam Raimi might be most known MCU fans for his Spiderman trilogy from the early 2000’s, but many will also know him from his earlier films like The Evil Dead (1981) and his forays into horror – Doctor Strange… might be the closest attempt at a straight horror for Marvel’s extended universe, not so much in the jump scare territory but very visually heavy creating a unique stylistic follow-up to the previous Strange film, which in itself had broken the mould for MCU visuals.
That being said, the story itself is a tad lacklustre. Though Wanda as our emotional core is fantastic and engaging, it does feel like a step backwards from her arc in Wandavision instead of pure progression, and in terms of multiverse hopping there is surprisingly little exploration of what an infinite universe can offer. There is some fan service that doesn’t feel out of place and a thoughtful and unique way for Strange to discuss his relationship with Christine allowing him to find some sense of closure, but the title of Multiverse of Madness promises a bit more than you might expect.