Ever since audiences were introduced to the multiverse in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, storytellers had to figure out a way to incorporate that into future storylines. With Marvel’s Loki and Spider-Man: No Way Home, it made sense to include multiple worlds and versions of our favorite characters, while also providing a little bit of fan service along the way.
For Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, it plays into the multiverse by pulling the worst of its demented creatures from it to create a Marvel movie that falls into the horror genre instead of the typical “superhero” one that many are used to.
Filled with creepy, gross-looking demons and well-executed jump scares, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness sets a new and fresh tone for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It makes sense to have Doctor Strange delve into the horror genre as the comic books and characters do fall in line with demons, mystical arts, and the supernatural. It also deals with altered reality — another favorite of horror fans — determining what is real and what is not and is it just the mind? Honestly, director Sam Raimi, with his history working on the original live-action Spider-Man trilogy and the Evil Dead franchise, seemed like the perfect person for this job. He understands both genres and does a pretty good job pulling the dread and darkness out of our characters.
The film begins in between dimensions with America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) running away from a creature with another universe’s Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch). After failing to protect the girl, that version of Doctor Strange meets his demise — which triggers something in our Doctor Strange. He wakes up having felt like that was a dream, but realizes quickly it was all real and he must now protect America from the evil demons that are chasing her.
It’s a lot to take in. There is even more to unpack when you involve Wanda aka The Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), who must confront her own demons (pun intended) from Disney+’s WandaVision.
The film does require a little bit of Marvel knowledge from both the recent content and a few of the comic books. There is a lot of information that had to be explained in the film because the story deals with casting spells and traveling between universes. It would come to no surprise for the casual Marvel fan to watch it and feel a bit confused. Even I, who has extensive knowledge of the MCU, had to pause and reflect back on Marvel history to understand some aspects of the story. Please be sure to catch up on all the Disney+ content prior (or a rewatch if you’re forgetful), including Marvel’s WandaVision and What If.
Although Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is different and entertaining, it’s far from perfect. The CG is all over the place. Although it works extremely well for some scenes with Wanda’s dark magic, many times it feels a bit overkill. The first monster battle between Doctor Strange and the one-eyed squid monster was a headache-inducing nightmare. It’s only when the focus falls on Wanda’s mental state and anguish that Raimi knows where to add the horror visuals into the story, creating this kaleidoscopic and dark world.
The film also falls into the problem of focusing so much on the spectacle rather than character development with the heavy CG, the many dimensions and universes, several fan service cameos, and the multiple “morals of the story.” It feels overstuffed and rushed with content that it fails to go deep inside Stephen, America, and Wanda’s shared loneliness and grief. There is so much story in there, but it would rather turn Wanda’s traumatic state into an unnecessary evil than explore it. Disney+’s WandaVision focused on Wanda’s suffering from losing her loved ones to now, in Doctor Strange, using that as an excuse for villainy. If anything, WandaVision felt like a gunshot to Wanda’s trauma and Doctor Strange is poking its fingers in it and wiggling inside the wound.
The story also seems to forget the recurring question being asked of our main protagonist throughout the film: “Are you happy?” After watching the woman of his dreams marry another man, Stephen questions his life choices — giving everything up to become this superhero — and runs into multiple versions of himself who made the same wrong choices, but never goes deep into whether or not he’s truly happy. The answer in the end felt very empty and unsatisfying.
Still, the film is fun to watch. It may not blow your mind in terms of storytelling, but it feels very different from previous Marvel films and content, especially for those who may be experiencing some superhero fatigue.