In the days leading up to the next major Marvel Studios release, audiences are well aware of the traditions involved. Spoilers lurk behind every social media swipe, and it isn't long before friends, families, door to door solicitors start asking the question, "Have you seen the new Marvel movie?" "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" has a legendary director in Sam Raimi, which marks a return for Raimi to the genre. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Stephen Strange, and Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff, here completely embracing her power and title as The Scarlet Witch. The duo travels into the multiverse for a journey that will transform their relationships with each other, and themselves.
Nothing from the MCU you know so far can prepare you for this experience crafted with a heavy Raimi hand. Raimi has impacted generations across genres in horror and comic book movies with "Evil Dead" and the trilogy of "Spider-Man" movies with Tobey Maguire leading. Raimi's attachment signaled a stark difference between his web work and this project, as he was working in a position that provided him a developed world, characters who arrive with backgrounds detailed across several projects, and bringing a multiverse of madness to completion throughout a pandemic! Early responses to Raimi's stake in the MCU were that of the director bringing in horror elements and using Doctor Strange's mystic arts as a playing field for one unsettling ride with our beloved characters.
What this multiverse allows, at least from what audiences carry from "Spider-Man: No Way Home”, is the existence of our heroes in alternate forms across the multiverse. Picture the “What If…” series on Disney+ (a recommended watch before this) and how they explored imaginative versions of our heroes without discounting their presence in the universe. The same goes here, and MCU fans have surprises waiting on the big screen. There is still plenty for new fans to be caught off guard with as well. Raimi does so much here to pull you in from another perspective. His approach allows a viewer to take in what we see across the multiverse and allow it to unsettle, letting the thrill take over.
As a horror aficionado, I became giddy in the theater seeing Raimi pull off these visual and stylistic tricks that only he can translate to the franchise. The movie is a change for this new phase for Marvel titles and marks how diverse their individual stories can feel while pressing other narratives as a team.
Benedict Cumberbatch delivers an exceptional performance yet again in this role, as Doctor Strange. Exploring the multiverse introduces alternate versions of Strange, which Cumberbatch knocks out of the park in every take on the character. We see him continue his friendship with Sorcerer Supreme Wong (Benedict Wong), which is thankfully kept consistent from the first film. Wanda Maximoff is not a returning character from Doctor Strange, but is a consistent hero appearing in other Marvel films.
With all the growth centered around Wanda (Olsen) since her awakening as The Scarlet Witch (in Disney+ “WandaVision”), in the Multiverse she can unleash magic output we haven't seen or expected since her showdown with Thanos in “Avengers Endgame”! The more and more she does with this power confirms the statement that she is in fact powerful beyond compare. She has new spells to cast, all visually exciting, and is further developed with new motivations. Although this film’s title is Doctor Strange, it’s entirely Wanda’s film when she’s on screen. Unfortunately, when she’s offscreen, the film does have its noticeable dips.
Strange has minimal development with characters from the first film. In trailers, we see Doctor Strange interact with Baron Mordo, played by returning actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, but it’s quickly discovered he is from the multiverse so their relationship is entirely new. For their relationship to be halted after developing to the end of “Doctor Strange” (2016) is entirely a misstep. He is a villain fans are anticipating but isn’t mentioned. On the other hand, we do get a truly new character, America Chavez and her unique set of abilities brought to screen.
America Chavez, portrayed by Xochitl Gomez, is introduced at the start of the film and is expected to push the pace of the plot as she's being hunted. She has the power to open gateways in the shape of a star between different universes, an attractive ability to certain threatening parties. Gomez embodies a hero still understanding their definition of the word while struggling to control massive power potential. It's exciting to witness a character who casually, and involuntarily journeys throughout the Multiverse and she is a guide to Strange as they adventure.
It’s a bumpy ride, one sure to catch audiences by intrigue and surprise, and the evolutions of these characters to this point only meant one hell of a showdown was to come. To execute that with a director’s touch that bleeds through marks this as an impressive addition to the MCU.
“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” was released in theaters on Friday, May 6th.
You can find more reviews on my page here, and follow me on Twitter @NoahsPlotting. Check out the podcast Plot Devices, where I host alongside Brandon King, a fellow reviewer and regular Odyssey contributor.
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