For the past year, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) in its 4th Phase has jumped into the multiverse, first teased in the first Disney+ series ‘WandaVision’ with the appearance of Quicksilver as played by Evan Peters from the Fox ‘X-Men’ films, which was reneged at the show's conclusion explained away as some guy named Ralph and his appearance was simply a coincidence. Then we got ‘Loki’, a series all about the Time Variant Authority (TVA), a group set to keep the timeline unbroken - only for it to break in the finale episode. We had our first animated Marvel series to be cannon in the MCU with ‘What If...’ where The Watcher guided us through different universes and showed alternate story lines like Captain Carter, Zombies and Supreme Strange. Yet most of these where merely teases until ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ saw Dr. Strange and Peter Parker breaking the multiverse. This all serves as an interesting pretense for what could take place in the latest entry in the MCU, ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’.
Picking up a few months after Strange's (Benedict Cumberbatch, ‘The Power of the Dog’, ‘The Grinch’) spell on Peter Parker, he runs into America Chaves (Xochitl Gomez, Netflix’s ‘The Baby-Sitters Club’), who has the ability to travel between dimensions. She is being pursued by various monsters across the universe, and now in Strange’s world is tasked with protecting her. With Wong (Benedict Wong, ‘Raya and the Last Dragon’, ‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’) already on his side, he decides to ask Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen, ‘Captain America: Civil War’, ‘Ingrid Goes West’) for help who, after the events at Westview, has been doing some spell-casting of her own to get her sons back, as well as coming to the discovery that she is the Scarlet Witch. But things don’t go to plan, and with Chaves unable to control her powers, they are constantly thrown around the Multiverse.
‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ is a mixed bag. It doesn’t deliver on its promise - and that's because of its narrative structure and what feels like studio interference. I personally don’t think Strange is a fan favourite character, and while Cumberbatch is doing a great job, there is a lack of connection to him. Strange is a character who sets things in motion; he isn’t one to get emotionally invested in. Wanda, however, is easily one of the new frontrunner characters in the MCU, and after ‘WandaVision’ has become many fans' new favourite - which makes the arc they give her odd. This is a spoiler-free review, but the journey she goes on doesn’t fell like a natural progression for this character, and clocking in at only 126 minutes this is quite a short entry in the MCU. I imagine a lot of her story was the first thing to be cut, since she isn’t the titular character. Also, if you haven’t seen ‘WandaVision’ I wish you luck, as the film does very little filling in the blanks, especially when it comes to Billy and Tommy. Olsen is a big saving grace of the film; she is truly phenomenal and does her best to stand out in the mess going around her. But with her character, we do run into the issue of her needing to fit a certain mould for the film, and again because of ‘WandaVision’ and the emotion that character went through, some of the leaps they make her take here feel out of place.
Our new superhero is America Chavez. Gomez is quite charming in the role, but does quite little in the film. She's the character they use to react to things. I do, however, hope we get to see again.
Being called ‘Multiverse of Madness’ we can expect two things - Multiverse and Madness - and both feel lacking. We don’t actually visit that many multiverses, we have one scene of them travelling through a bunch. This scene moves so fast, spending no time really looking at other universes; they just flash by. The story itself only really explores three or four. The film's production team never do anything too creative with the worlds we go to, the most inventive is instead of green meaning go and red meaning stop, they switch it... what madness. As for the cameos, all but one is hinted at in the trailers and while yes, they are cool and fun, in the one sequence they are in, there's just so much more they could have done. It’s a multiverse of madness, and it just was weak.
The whole idea of the multiverse that Marvel has dangled in front of us throughout 2021 feels incredibly misguided - even the events of Spider-Man - have little effect on Strange in this film.
Some positives - director Sam Raimi returns to the superhero genre after 2007’s ‘Spider-Man 3’ and his first time directing since 2013’s ‘Oz the Great and Powerful’ (what a sad two films for Raimi to have next to his great name). When he is allowed to go, the film is great. The horror elements, while tame because it’s still Marvel, still offer some genuine horror and scares. You can see the restraint he had put on him, but those moments where it slips up are great. Danny Elman’s score bounces around from good to goofy in every scene but it got laughs out me, with a weird rock element to it that never really lands.
The film also moves incredibly fast. There is no breathing room, and it just doesn’t stop. This really makes the film feel tired; it’s just running past you. The trailer showed real promise - Wanda particularly could have been a really interesting look at trauma and moving on from grief, but it’s just in the wrong hands. The whole idea of the multiverse that Marvel has dangled in front of us throughout 2021 feels incredibly misguided - even the events of Spider-Man - have little effect on Strange in this film. It felt like the easiest way forward - Strange messed up and now the Multiverse is a mess - but that’s not even close to what happens, nor is it mentioned.
Marvel wants us to watch everything they put out but they feel restricted in their own creations. They can’t push anything too far in case someone didn’t watch the last film or series, and everything feels very safe and inconsequential. In comics you have more freedom, but as the MCU continues to grow, and now with the inclusion of the series, it's becoming harder and harder to expand while still being accessible to a mainstream audience. You then have the flipside of the fandom and their legion of theories and you can’t please both parties - they don’t want to alienate the family who sees one film a year but they can’t ignore the fans, so we get these mild films that claim to be changing the status quo while in reality are just towing the line. A film about the multiverse and the word boring should not be in the same sentence.
‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ has a lot to live up to, and it was always going to be something of a let down. It’s not a bad film; it’s just a jumbled one. From a narrative with no guidance to a restrained director, this entry in the MCU is a minor roadblock.