Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. (Marvel Studios)
There are three distinct demographics who should be excited about Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and what each want from the film might be at cross purposes from what others do. The first is, of course, fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe who want to learn what happened to Steven Strange after casting the spell that made everyone forget Spider-Man. The second is those people who see this not as a sequel to the 2016 film that introduced Benedict Cumberbatch the Sorcerer Supreme, but a sequel to the Disney+ series WandaVision, the first series for that fledgling streamer that turned Wanda Maximoff, one of the tertiary characters from the Avengers, into one of real consequence. The third group is fans of Sam Raimi, who may be best known for the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man series, but made his name in shlock horror movies like Army of Darkness.
To satisfy all three, what Doctor Strange needs is not a multiverse of madness, but a multiverse of movies, and to a certain extent that is what it attempts to be. In the film, Doctor Strange has a dream about encountering America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) and draining her powers to save the universe, which he later learns did happen, only it happened to a Steven Strange from another reality. America has the power to jump between various versions of the multiverse, but because of that power, she is being tracked by Wanda, who went into isolation after the events of WandaVision and has now assumed the powers of the Scarlet Witch. Wanda fights against Strange and the rest of the sorcerers, and even though she defeats most, Strange and America escape to another dimension, where they have to track down a spell book that will give them the power to stop the Scarlet Witch while she uses her powers to manipulate the multiverse.
Because the multiverse is a different version of reality that still maintains some connection to other versions, in the new dimension Strange comes across a version of his former fiancee, Dr. Christine Palmer (Elizabeth Banks, reprising what might be the most thankless love interest in the MCU), a version of his sorcerer adversary who turned against him in the previous film (Chiwetel Ejiofor), along with a few characters that are either fanservice from movies you love or advertisements for movies to come. This is the material that is meant specifically for the fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and if it doesn’t even come close to comparing to both Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield joining Tom Holland in the last Spider-Man movie, but it’s hard not to appreciate one cameo, in particular.
What separates Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is what Sam Raimi brings to the movie, which isn’t necessarily what people expect from a Marvel movie. Under Kevin Feige, the Marvel movies will never diverge too much from the studio formula, but Doctor Strange has never been a top-tier character, so his movies allow room to play. The first one was trippy and a little psychedelic, and this one, appropriate for the man who did Army of Darkness, is the closest thing that Marvel has done to a horror movie. It’s a little more visceral, a little grosser, and it’s safe to say that this is probably the last MCU movie to feature reanimated corpses for the foreseeable future.
But for those who come to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness after WandaVision, the film may have a more mixed reception. The film does give Elizabeth Olson her most consequential role in a Marvel movie, but slotting her into the villain role feels like a disappointment after WandaVision, which found nuance to the character that the films never did. Olsen has some affecting moments in the film, but the movie doesn’t quite have the keen understanding of Wanda that the series demonstrated, and that ultimately diminishes what Olsen proved she can do with Wanda Maximoff. That series was remarkable for its recreation of sitcoms throughout the genre’s history, and Olsen proved herself an adept comedian no matter the style (her best, though, was a note-perfect take on Julie Bowen). Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness has a more limited view of what Wanda should and can do. It’s mostly a standard Marvel movie, just with a touch more horror and gore than usual.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
Now playing in theaters
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