Review: Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness
Avoid all spoilers!
Really. Avoid ALL spoilers. That includes some trailers too.
This second Strange tale is packed with moments you really want to see without prior knowledge. Frankly, If you do seek out the spoilers, you might want to also seek therapy.
This film is packed with wow moments – a few already given away in earlier trailers – that means only the lightest skim through the plot is feasible at the moment.
Here goes: A teenager called America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) who has the power to cross the multiverse is hunted by demonic forces seeking to extract her power. She seeks the help of Dr Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) who enlists the help of other Marvel magic users to protect her.
And said multiverse madness ensues.
Already, that could give away too much.
Brass tacks: Is the film worth watching? Absolutely.
After what feels like a number of standalone tales, this is the first Marvel film in a while that feels like it’s moving the overall Phase 4 arc forward through its main plot, not its end credits.
I loved Shang-Chi And The Legend of The Ten Rings and liked Eternals, but in terms of the bigger picture, it was only those fleeting minutes tucked into the end crawls that advanced matters.
And while Spider-Man: No Way Home helped spread the multiversal word, it was very enclosed around the Spidey side of things, if not drawing a contractually necessitated line under the character. This feels far more expansive.
And it's not just the characters getting to explore new worlds.
Cumberbatch gets to explore the titular Bleecker Street magician more than he has been able to do for some time.
What Madness does highlight is that in the six years since the first Doctor Strange film, and his appearances in four other films, we’ve not seen much of Steven Strange the man, only in his professional capacity, the Doctor on call. The know-it-all with a dry quip. A Roger Moore of magic.
So while we get that facade, we see that Strange man is still learning. There is still fallout from the Thanos incident and the difficult decision the good-ish Doctor made that led to the five-year Blip. He saw there was only one way but he's being faced with the consequences.
It requires a fine balance of attractive arrogance and relatable vulnerability – and Cumberbatch nails it. He looks weird without the beard sometimes, but he nails it.
In fact, it feels a bit like Doctor Strange version of Gulliver's Travels as hops into different universes and discovers some aspects of madness in each.
Okay, there is also a moment where he inflicts some very unnecessary “justice” on an innocent street vendor in the name of comedy. It's... questionable.
There was talk that this would be Marvel’s horror movie, so bringing in the maestro behind the Evil Dead franchise (and the original Spider-Man trilogy) Sam Raimi to replace the amicably-departed Scott Derrickson seemed like a smart move.
It's not “very” horror, more horror adjacent. There are rumours that it has been toned down from the first cut, though there’s still quite the body count and quite a lot of blood – for Marvel, at least.
What Raimi brings is his trademark kinetic energy to the direction that keeps everything vibrant and crackling – which is good, because, from the moment you get past the Marvel fanfare, this film barrels along and does not pause for stragglers.
And with it being Raimi, while there’s some stunning CGI, he continues to be a director who could teach so many others in his field about the benefits of handmade, in-camera effects over getting the tech guys to embellish it in post.
Of the supporting cast: Benedict Wong is still the MCU MVP, Gomez is a great addition to the Marvel family and Elizabeth Olsen continues Wanda Maximoff's emotional journey that was ramped up in the WandaVision Disney+ series.
Speaking of which…
There’s a fair bit of exposition at the start and it has to be said that maybe a duff trailer could be dropped in exchange for a recap given that it contains elements from across six years of movies and TV shows. Not everyone is on Disney+ and not everyone has an MCU absorbent brain.
It’s great to see a Marvel film that has a balance between the director’s style and the needs of the studio. It’s great to see a Marvel film that pops with colour and feels close to its comic book origins without being too obvious or novelty about it.
On the downside, for a production of this scale and budget, there are some glaring continuity issues. Some characters visibly alter between cuts in the same scene.
That said, it’s not enough to overpower the fun. And at its heart, that's why this film works – it's fun.
After Spider-Man: No Way Home, Everything Everywhere All At Once, and with the upcoming Spider-Verse sequels, it is a great time to go universe hopping.
DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS