The sequel of the 2016 Doctor Strange movie is as buzzy as ever. Fans have been hugely anticipating MCU’s 28th film that its ticket pre-sales already beats other popular MCU movies like Captain Marvel, Thor: Ragnarok, and Guardians of the Galaxy.
Well, hardcore fans likely rejoice in seeing more multiverse action, especially those avid comic readers, but casual fans like me are often left scratching my head. Doctor Strange said in Spider-man: No Way Home that ’the multiverse is a concept in which we know frighteningly little’ I can’t agree more with that sentiment. Despite the fact that it has been introduced in the previous series, Loki and What If?, as well as in the recent Spidey movie, I still don’t quite grasp what the multiverse is all about.
The movie immediately drops you right into the action… Dr Strange and America Chavez (a member of the Young Avengers in the comics) are being chased by a huge monster. Chavez has the power of interdimensional travel, and America is a fitting name given she can open gateways to any world in the multiverse using her star-shaped portals. As the fight ends in a brutal fashion, Strange wakes up and shakes it as being a nightmare… but is it a bad dream or is it an actual occurrence that happens in another universe? When Strange goes to see Wanda seeking her help, that serene-looking field of cherry blossom is perhaps the only calm moment of the whole movie.
Given his background in the horror genre, Sam Raimi is a natural choice to helm this movie. He’s got a knack for blending giddy humor and genuine terror, which delivers the closest thing to the first MCU horror movie. There are plenty of Raimi’s signature sequences throughout, creepy and spine-chilling, especially towards the end when all hell breaks loose. Parents beware, this movie could be quite terrifying for young kids.
I’m not going to delve much into the plot to avoid spoilers. Most already know that Strange has unlocked the multiverse when he used his spell to wipe everyone’s minds to forget Spider-Man’s identity. The ramification reaches beyond the earth dimension, but across the multiverse. As if traversing through alternate realities isn’t tricky enough, he now must confront a new, ultra-powerful adversary. It reminds me of the line in Batman Begins, ‘you either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.’
I suppose it isn’t the first time MCU is dealing with fellow avengers fighting each other, even after they have fought together against a common enemy. In Captain America: Civil War, the perceived ‘enemy’ the Winter Soldier is a figure whose mind has been corrupted/brainwashed to the point that his new identity has overtaken him. That’s pretty much the case here with Wanda, who’s overcome with grief and anger over her children that get out of hand when her alter ego Scarlet Witch takes over.
Those who have seen the WandaVision series on Disney+ know just how powerful a sorceress she can be. It actually made me wonder that if Wanda had been able to channel Scarlet Witch’s power during the battle with Thanos, perhaps she alone could’ve helped avoid the whole Snap debacle.
The main plot focuses on Wanda’s story as much as it is Strange’s. In fact, his own journey takes a bit of a backseat after Wanda’s as well as Chavez, who’s very much learning to embrace her powers and how to control them. I’m totally cool with the ladies being front and center in a Doctor Strange movie. Elizabeth Olsen has done a marvelous job of portraying the complex Wanda/Scarlet Witch dueling persona. It’s a multi-layered role that allows her to run the gamut of emotions within a single movie. While at times I feel her line delivery feels overdone, she manages to give emotional depth to her role while also portraying one of the scariest characters in the MCU. Heck, you could say she could be more frightening than even Thanos, indeed hell hath no fury as a woman scorned!
Newcomer Xochitl Gómez is quite impressive here as one of the core characters in the movie. She has plenty. Of scenes with Cumberbatch and proven herself to be quite a fun match for him in both the comic and dramatic scenes. I know her character is quite significant to the LGBT community but I think she also has the chops to thrive amongst other strong female MCU characters. As for Rachel McAdams, I actually find her more memorable here than her first outing as Dr. Strange’s love interest Christine in the first movie.
Cumberbatch has more than settled in his role as the protagonist, having played the role in five different movies previously. He’s a reliable actor who can balance drama and comedy quite seamlessly. Here Strange serves a kind of like a referee in the fight between Scarlet Witch and Chavez, and a mentor/protector to the latter. Strange has grown wiser and less cocky than when we first saw him, certainly, the events in Avengers Endgame have a profound effect on him. Still, he’s not without the sarcastic wit and playful curmudgeon attitude that Raimi puts to good use. I’ve always enjoyed the banter between Strange and Wong (Benedict Wong) who’s now the Sorcerer Supreme, and I’m glad to see Wong got a bit more screen time.
There have been some leaks about various cameos, some are posted on social media. Thankfully I’ve managed to dodge them all so I was quite surprised to see some of the members of the Illuminati. A fan favorite from Raimi’s popular horror franchise also makes an appearance, and that’s all I’m going to say about that.
Whether or not you’ll enjoy the movie depends on how you feel about the whole multiverse concept. I personally am not a huge fan of multiverse per se, as I prefer my superhero movies to be more ‘grounded’ in reality like Captain America: Winter Soldier which feels more like a spy thriller than a comic-book movie. I think the multiverse concept naturally lends itself to something more uncanny and bizarre, which is not bad per se, I’m just not as fond of it. I equate this concept to the whole time-travel thing, which can be wonderfully intriguing under capable hands but can be a huge mess otherwise. I wouldn’t say Multiverse of Madness is a mess, but it certainly can be maddening.
For a movie featuring mystical beings spinning orange sparks, it sure takes its time spinning its wheels with far too many bombastic action sequences and too many gross-looking CGI monsters for my liking. We’ve already been subjected to an extended opening chase/fight scene with a huge mythical creature in one dimension, but not too long afterward, a giant, one-eyed octopus monster breaks through the current dimension Strange is living in and wreaking havoc. The problem with fantastical films where people can be thrown about violently without ever getting seriously hurt is that it numbs you out and drained you out. I find my mind wandering a few times while watching all the dizzying action.
On top of all that, I have no predilection for sorcery, black magic, and things of demonic nature, hence my aversion to horror movies. I’m not saying I’ve never enjoyed movies dealing with magic, sorcery, or demons, in fact, some of them like The Illusionist, The Lord of the Rings, Crimson Peak, etc. can be very enjoyable. But this Doctor Strange sequel just feels a bit too much for me… so many things hurled at you all at once in maddening speed. So despite some memorable scenes and good performances, this movie isn’t one I’m keen on watching again anytime soon.
So, what are your thoughts on ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness‘?