“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is a simple taste of what the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) could offer going forward by letting directors find solace in their creative landscapes. I’m hoping Marvel continues to take chances and reap the rewards.
By traversing the slippery slope of horror, the narrative brings forth a balance of heart while tackling themes of hubris, grief, and false ideals.
It’s unapologetic and brutal with the tone and delivery. It sounds like a gamble, but director Sam Raimi goes all in, never comprises his distinct tone, and lets the characters grow and, in turn, become human to feel quite similar to the blueprint of his Spidey trilogy. However, that’s only the start because Raimi also shows the false ideals of heroism juxtaposed with the satirical nature of fictional narratives.
Raimi has crafted a thrilling showcase disguised as an MCU film that takes inspiration from the glory days of Marvel cinema. It’s Raimi at his finest, from the camera work, signature dutch angles, and no pointless exposition that is usually reserved for a pop culture reference or setting up a sequel. To clarify, Raimi’s influence and distinct style were present. Michael Waldron’s script, which felt like rushed pacing and torn between genres, utilized Raimi’s ability to humanize these icons and invoke a narrative that brings forth a balance of heart while tackling hubris, grief, and false ideals.
Elizabeth Olsen was sensational as Wanda Maximoff / Scarlet Witch in terms of story and performance, which to many will say she stole the film from the second she entered the frame. To spoil her range as multiple variants and how she approaches each version of herself would tarnish the experience of the film. Olsen is that good, and her pain stemming from the events of Wandavision never felt forced and came off organically in terms of progression. Every element displayed, such as her fingers being black and almost looking like they were ready to fall off. Her costume is a darker shade of red, charred with cracks most noticeably over the heart, symbolizing the corruption and malice that the Darkhold is causing.
Benedict Cumberbatch continues to amaze as Doctor Strange. Still, I need to praise his growth and character development, most noticeable when Raimi and Waldron showcase the weight of consequences and the guilt Strange harbors but never expresses through his past MCU appearances. He needs to face the repercussions of bearing pain causing the snap and Peter’s wish from NWH to come full circle to see his actions are stricken with consequences.
Bringing me to the patent Raimi twist taking center stage of pitting both characters to the audience as chess pieces symbolic of chaos and order and diving into the consequence of morality and sin. Wanda is seduced by the false idea of being united with her sons while losing her sanity in the process, which many know Wandavision was a symbol of Wanda going through the five stages of Grief.
Strange longs to find eternal serenity, but understanding his role as Earth’s Defender means he can’t compromise, but he tries to help, and his pride gets in the way of his happiness. It sounds crazy in execution to work, but it does, fictional characters expressing dialogue and mannerisms that are incredibly human.
Of course, the Doctor Strange sequel does mean new characters are introduced into the MCU sandbox, such as America Chavez, portrayed by Xochitl Gomez, who ate up the screen when she entered the frame. If honest, at first, Chavez’s role in the story felt among the lines of MacGuffin and just a way to advance the plot.
However, as the film progresses, Gomez’s role starts to develop. The young actress then introduces a sense of witty chemistry, reinforced by solid acting, leading to a standout performance that feels she will be a new fan-favorite going forward and someone to root for.
Benedict Wong is back, and it’s no surprise that Wong continues to be a scene-stealer and an overall foil to Cumberbatch’s snarky patent Stephen Strange one-liners. One thing to note is that Wong is a strong character in humanizing both Strange and allowing a sense of mentorship among the lines of Tony Stark and Peter to form between Strange and Chavez.
Rachel McAdams plays a minor but pivotal role in the film, and to note, her chemistry with Cumberbatch was off the charts and a major highlight of her performance. Of course, at times, the story did feel it presented a sense of closure was on the horizon with her time and character portrayal in the MCU.
One note of praise is the balance of color grading, which allows the film’s environments, sets, costumes, and flair to take center stage and deliver an experience like no other, and it’s surreal. I don’t want to say that it was due to Raimi’s touch and attention to detail, but it didn’t feel like an MCU film at times, and at other moments it did.
Of course, once Raimi has you entranced with his tone and quality of the film. He utilizes his knowledge of his horror background to ensure when a jump scare is appropriate or a specific angle or character motivations need to be shown.
Conveying to the audience, we are treading the waters of the horror genre. Then at the last second, you know when the music and score start to dwindle, and then you are in the fields of nightmares, and Multiverse of Madness has plenty of haunting, scary, and downright brutal moments.
The score by Danny Elfman was pretty good, and I enjoyed the subtle differences in style, tone, presentation, and delivery from Michael Giacchino, who scored the first Doctor Strange. I love the whimsical and mystical delivery of Strange’s theme that both composers bring to the table of conversation.
Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness is a visual and cinematic experience like no other, and the Raimi touch made the film a benchmark of what the MCU should strive to achieve once more. Sure, the pacing is a little rushed, and the narrative can sometimes be messy. Still, with prolific acting from Elizabeth Olsen and Benedict Cumberbatch while staying in constant sync, or Xochitl Gomez and Benedict Wong both being scene-stealers, the film is well worth the price of admission.
It’s a film that will honestly divide many, and it requires multiple viewings to digest and process everything, but it’s a lot of fun. Marvel Studios sheds the fear of MCU fatigue while establishing the future is open to limitless possibilities.
“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” gets a four-star rating.