Warning! This review contains spoilers.
Films that switch directors during filming or late pre-production do not usually end up well. An infamous example is when Warner Bros. gave Justice League to Joss Whedon after Zack Snyder had to step down. Marvel Cinematic Universe fans may remember Whedon as the director of the first two Avengers films, which were incredibly successful. Unfortunately, Whedon must have forgotten what he did while making those movies, because Justice League was absolutely awful and should never have existed. So I would say my apprehensiveness of Sam Raimi, mastermind of the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man trilogy, being brought to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness was justified. Unlike Whedon, however, Raimi remembered how to make a great comic book movie.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness opens with a variant of Dr. Strange who has swapped his Cloak of Levitation for a much less magical ponytail, fighting a fiery tentacle monster who has been sent by a mystery villain to steal America Chavez’s powers. Played by Xochitl Gomez, America Chavez is a young girl who can open portals throughout the Multiverse. This short action sequence gives the movie a running start, and is quickly paced for the remaining runtime. In fact, the pacing is one of the best aspects of this film. Every scene had me on edge, obviously like moments with intense magic action, but even slower ones, as they consistently lend intrigue to the story. The seemingly short 2 hour 6 minute runtime is exactly what was necessary.
For those impatient viewers who don’t want to wait for the second act to see a big twist, you’re in luck! Because after the second tentacle monster (this one is green and cycloptic) attacks America, Dr. Strange goes to visit Wanda Maximoff to ask for her help. She is a highly powerful and talented magic user, but not a very good liar. Strange quickly realizes that she is the one sending all these tentacle monsters after America, as Wanda wants her power to travel to a universe where she can be with her children. This quick twist allows Wanda to shine as a villain for more of the film, which is another one of the highlights. Elizabeth Olsen’s performance is downright scary. Her character is so different from any of her other MCU performances, and you can feel how little remorse she has after being corrupted by herself and the Darkhold, the ancient book of evil magic.
There’s been a fair amount of debate on who the strongest Avenger is, but that discussion has been put to rest because this film shows us that it is the Scarlet Witch. Strange takes America to Kamar-Taj, the wizard fortress-school in Nepal, to protect her from Wanda. That proves relatively ineffective, as Strange and America manage to escape, but not before Wanda wrecks some buildings and kills most of the magicians with relative ease. If that wasn’t convincing evidence enough for you, I point you in the direction of a later scene where Wanda assasults the Illuminati headquarters, the secret group of multiversal people who think they get to make the decisions of what is acceptable and what is not to defeat evil. Wanda strolls in and takes about 10 minutes to defeat some of the smartest and most powerful Marvel characters, such as Black Bolt, Captain Marvel, Captain Britain, Professor X, and Mr. Fantastic. This results in some brutal and creative deaths. My personal favorite is when she removes Black Bolt’s mouth, so his sonic scream can’t go anywhere and explodes the insides of his head.
In fact, the horror aspects are another highlight of the film. Sam Raimi has a background in horror films, and while this would not classify as a horror movie, there are many horror elements that are prevalent. All these elements are used at the right time in the right ways, never feeling superfluous. Traveling through the unknown vastness of the multiverse while being pursued by a crazy all-powerful witch is something that would induce fear, and translating that to the audience is very effective. Horror elements such as those in Multiverse of Madness would continue to have great effect if used in specific and appropriate upcoming MCU projects.
Something we learn in the film is that dreams people have of themselves are actually gilmses of their variants in other universes. This is an interesting concept that I hope is touched upon in the future, but more importantly, what does it mean for us? If both the multiverse theory and this dream concept are both true, then does that mean there’s a universe where I’m playing capture the flag between rooftops in New York City? Is there a universe where Buford from Phineas and Ferb is the Doomguy? Dane Stephens and I are living in 1700s Austria? This is a lot to take in.
What makes Multiverse of Madness so great, (other than the previous aspects mentioned) is that it feels unique. For a while now the MCU had been critiqued for being formulaic, and it seems the current fourth phase is trying to branch out, with the introduction of the Disney+ series, and films such as Eternals and now Multiverse of Madness, with its quicker pacing and unique horror elements. Now that they’ve been established, Marvel has the capacity to try new styles, and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a flagship start.
Cover photo credit: Reddit