DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS review by Mark Walters – Benedict Cumberbatch is back in action

DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS review by Mark Walters – Benedict Cumberbatch is back in action

After the amazing success of SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME, which prominently featured Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), one has to wonder if Marvel Studios can top themselves with the highly-anticipated follow-up, DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS. While the Master of the Mystic Arts has appeared in multiple Marvel movies, this is actually his first standalone sequel since the first DOCTOR STRANGE in 2016… that’s a big gap for a Marvel movie sequel. But the powers that be have found a way to pack this installment with plenty of wow factor to convince fans it’s been worth the wait. In fact in some ways it’s the most ambitious of the solo character films to come from the production house so far.

Before I get into this, I’m going to say something pretty specific and important here. If you haven’t seen WANDAVISION on Disney+, do NOT under any circumstances see DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS, as this movie is in many ways a direct continuation of the events that took place in WANDAVISION, and if you haven’t watched that, you’re going to be very confused with this film. I cannot stress this enough.

Our story here opens with Strange (looking very different from normal) in some sort of crazy distorted universe, running away from a monster while next to America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), a teenage girl who has the power to just jump from one multiverse to the next… only she hasn’t figured out how to control it. As they run to escape a power-siphoning beast, they’re trying to reach a mystical book that will hopefully give Strange the spells needed to overcome this horrifying creature… but he fails, and America just barely escapes into another multiverse. Cut to “our” Doctor Strange, very much alive, attending the wedding of his former lover Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams). Through some dialogue in this scene, we’re reminded that Strange was one of the half portion of the universe that disappeared for five years when Thanos executed his snap (in AVENGERS: INFINTY WAR), so Christine clearly moved on. As America Chavez appears in his realm, she’s being chased by yet another monster, and we realize these creatures are being sent to retrieve her, and whoever or whatever is sending them is after her power. So she enlists the help of a reluctant Doctor Strange, who himself goes to find Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) since he believes these multiversal creatures are created or controlled by witchcraft… and who better to advise him when it comes to witchcraft. The rest of the film involves trying to keep America Chavez from falling into the wrong hands, but along the way both Doctor Strange and his sorcerer friend Wong (Benedict Wong) will face many challenges and travel to different multiverses hoping to prevent the evil forces from having their way. And that’s about as much as I can say without getting into some heavy spoilers, such as who the actual villain is here and what their motivation is.

In many ways DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS is a lot like SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME in that it’s packed with a lot of fan service moments, and at times feels like it’s trying really hard to be a Marvel fan’s dream come true rather than a good story for the main character. It’s also a film that leans heavily into its supporting character of America Chavez, making her not only the driving basis of the story, but clearly doing what they can to set her up for future adventures. Sure, this is still Benedict Cumberbatch’s movie, and to a strong extent Elizabeth Olsen’s time to shine, but there’s a LOT of America Chavez here, and she’s not even as comfortable in her role as her comic book counterpart, rather we see her figuring things out for perhaps the first time, and as an audience member it can be a little frustrating waiting for her to adjust. I really enjoy seeing Cumberbatch in this role, though it’s hard now to not notice the fairly obvious fake wigs and darkly-colored facial hair. He’s a strong enough actor to overcome some of the slightly silly visuals, but there are definitely moments where his “appearance” in the movie is a little distracting, almost like you’re watching a heavily made-up cosplayer and not a masterful actor selling their role. Faring better is Elizabeth Olsen, who has really found a rhythm playing Wanda / Scarlet Witch, both the lovable and sympathetic aspects of the character, and the more horrifying traits we’re only just now getting to see. Her performance here is fantastic, really showing how strong she can be against others in similar roles, and how strong her character is within the confines of the Marvel superhero pantheon. She has discovered incredible range in taking on the personality of a grief-stricken mother who has lost everything, and wants so desperately to find comfort, no matter the cost. Olsen plays dark comedy and tortured tragedy with equal excellence, and it’s nice to see her character get such strong moments on the big screen… finally. This movie is in many ways a sequel to WANDAVISION more than a sequel to the first DOCTOR STRANGE. I also liked seeing Benedict Wong get more screen time as “Wong”, who is appearing in other Marvel movies as well – we just saw him in NO WAY HOME and SHANG-CHI, and it feels like Marvel is trying to give him a bigger presence in these productions, which is terrific since Benedict Wong is clearly having fun in the role. Chiwetel Ejiofor returns as Baron Mordo, only a slightly different version than what we met in the 2016 film, and he’s always a welcome addition to any cast – the man just has gravitas, and elevates any scene he’s in.

There are a few awkward performances on display here, starting with Xochitl Gomez as America Chavez, which is acceptable since the portrayal is meant to show us a girl who is trying to figure things out and is justifiably scared of what’s going on around her. We don’t get much growth with her character, but I imagine this is just the start and we’ll be seeing a lot more of her down the line. And then there’s Rachel McAdams, who is playing Christine as very emotionally disconnected this time, and while she’s given plenty of screen time I almost wonder if she even needed to be there for the purpose of this story. I was also a little surprised that this movie didn’t really show much reference to the events of SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME, in fact it barely mentions it. I think this was always intended to be more of a follow-up to WANDAVISION, rather than a follow up to the last time we saw Doctor Strange.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of the movie is the signature touch of director Sam Raimi, who previously helmed the original SPIDER-MAN trilogy to great success. His artistic vision is on full display here, and in many ways DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS becomes more of a horror movie than standard superhero fare… and that’s actually a welcome surprise. There are moments toward the end where it really feels like we’re watching a horror film in every possible way, and I was grinning at how disturbing it managed to get at times. This also makes sense when you think about the fact that Doctor Strange and Scarlet Witch are both rather “dark” characters as it is. Raimi saw the potential to ramp up the darker aspects and didn’t hold back, which makes the end result refreshingly odd and different that what came before it. These qualities might also upset some viewers who were hoping for more of the same when it comes to Marvel movies. If you’re a horror movie fan, you’ll probably enjoy this film a great deal, but if you’re a superhero fan you might find it a bit too unusual. Also a nice addition is Danny Elfman’s haunting score, and it’s great to see Elfman working with Raimi again.

There are things here I can’t talk about without spoiling major moments, even though some of the trailers for the movie have already dropped more than a few hints about what to expect. Let’s just say there is some really cool stuff that happens in the middle section of the movie that will undoubtedly have Marvel fans cheering, but the resolution of those spectacular elements might seem a bit sudden and perhaps even a little disappointing. It’s a danger when you try ambitious things in movies like this, and I’m sure there will be some pretty heated opinions about those scenes, and how they’re ultimately resolved. I wonder if Marvel Studios is starting to paint themselves into a corner by continually peppering in exciting characters in what is meant to be a solo character film. SPIDER-MAN did it, and now this film has to perhaps a bigger degree, and I feel like they will now feel pressured to do this sort of thing in every film yet to come. It begs the question of whether or not you can have too much of a good thing when it comes to superheroes in these movies, and do they really feel necessary to the story, or are they just purely fan service? I don’t know if DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS is a good “sequel”, but it is an entertaining Marvel movie. Make sure to stay through the end credits for some bonus scenes, one of which has me VERY excited for the future of Doctor Strange, especially based on the character’s comic book history.


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About the Author

Born and raised in Dallas, Mark has been a movie critic since 1994, with reviews featured in print, radio and National TV. In 2001 he started the Entertainment section of the Herorealm website, where he contributed film reviews and celebrity interviews until 2004. After three years of service there, he started, which has become one of the Dallas film community's leading information websites. Bigfanboy hosts several movie screenings in the Texas area, and works closely with film and TV studios and promotional partners to host exciting events and contests. The site also features a variety of rare celebrity and filmmaker interviews, and regularly covers the film festival circuit as well. In addition to Hollywood reporting, Mark has worked for many years as an advertising and sci-fi/comic book artist. Clients have included Lucasfilm Ltd., Topps Trading Cards, The Dallas Mavericks and The Dallas Stars. From 2002 until 2015 he managed the Dallas Comic Con, Sci-Fi Expo and Fan Days events in the DFW area. He currently catalogs rare comic books and movie memorabilia for Heritage Auctions, and runs the Dallas Comic Show conventions, but remains an avid moviegoer and cinema buff.