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Review: ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ tests the limits of the MCU and fans alike

‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ breaks all the rules as it explores infinite possibilities.

A scene from 'Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’
A scene from 'Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ courtesy of Marvel Studios
A scene from 'Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ courtesy of Marvel Studios

Originally posted May 6, 2022

‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ breaks all the rules as it explores infinite possibilities in a quest to escape a relentless hunter blinded by their own desires.

For characters with an established history and story arc, it can be difficult to simply cut ties and start anew. The same is true if a creator wishes to alter a personality in a manner that conflicts with the traditional version, or build a romance that currently seems improbable because the pair’s storylines have never crossed paths. Enter the multiple world theory, in which anything is possible because everyone has a life of infinite possibilities based on the choices they do or do not make — a prospect that is both thrilling and terrifying. In Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, the title character discovers both sides of the coin.

Doctor Stephen Strange’s (Benedict Cumberbatch) day is unceremoniously interrupted by a monster attack in the middle of the city. During the fracas, he realizes it’s not a random incident, but rather a targeted attempt to capture a young woman – America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez). It turns out she has the power to open portals to parallel worlds, though she can’t control her ability. As their pursuer refuses to give up, even when confronted with the full force of Kamar-Taj, Strange must travel the multiverse with America in a quest to obtain the only book that will give him the power to stop their opponent. In these other worlds, nothing is as it seems. As America advises, assume you know nothing and move forward from there. In spite of their best efforts, the chaos follows them, threatening these other worlds and forcing Strange to make an unknown sacrifice.

With two large-scale battles in the first act, audiences will quickly realize they’re in for a wild ride. With director Sam Raimi at the helm, anything seems possible… and indeed, the picture pushes the boundaries of even the comic book world and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which most recently disappeared half the population for several years. It’s imaginative and surprisingly violent as confrontations end in few to no survivors and heroes are brutally undone. Of course, in classic film tradition, the worst of these wounds occur off-camera and are left to audience’s imaginations, which can often be worse than anything the effects department can conjure. That said, there’s no shortage of big, blockbuster action from all-out war to angry spectres to an unusual fight of musically manifested weapons.

This isn’t Raimi’s first superhero film as he directed all three of the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man movies, nor is he unfamiliar with working with special effects having made several fantastical genre pictures. Yet, in spite of making a variety of films, Raimi is still primarily known for and associated with horror movies. Therefore, he notably seizes the opportunity to apply horror conventions to this unique Marvel script that features an exceptionally powerful and ruthless antagonist stalking their prey, building an intense atmosphere teaming with fear as no corner of the multiverse appears to be safe. Moreover, since anything is possible, the narrative is largely unpredictable, keeping audiences on their toes.

Cumberbatch is still an impeccable Strange, demonstrating the character’s growth with each outing as he accepts his role and learns from each of his mistakes — now expanding that to learn from the errors of his other selves too. Gomez makes a strong introduction, holding her own next to Strange, but never really claiming the spotlight. Elizabeth Olsen’s Wanda Maximoff, a.k.a. Scarlet Witch, plays a significant role in this journey even though her character is still reeling following the shocking events depicted in WandaVision. Nonetheless, she seamlessly reprises her role and impresses with a convincing range of emotion. A number of other MCU personalities also make appearances in varying capacities that will surprise and delight fans.

In the end, this movie serves to advance the multiverse narrative and open the door for new characters and possibilities. Unfortunately, it’s an unevenly paced film that shines when Wanda is on-screen, but struggles to find its footing when she’s not. Nonetheless, there’s potential in the future to which fans can look forward — just wait for the end credit sequence for confirmation.

Director: Sam Raimi
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen and Xochitl Gomez

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Sarah Gopaul is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for film news, a member of the Online Film Critics Society and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer-approved critic.

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