Director: Sam Raimi
Writer: Michael Waldron
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Benedict Wong, Xochitl Gomez, Rachel McAdams, Chiwetel Ejiofor
It’s hard to believe that it’s been SIX YEARS since Doctor Strange was released. Perhaps it’s his appearances in other MCU movies that have made it feel like less time has passed, but whatever it is, there’s no denying the significance that Stephen Strange has had since his cinematic introduction. The first movie introduced us to a more magical side to the MCU, a side wherein lies many other dimensions and universes, known to us now as the Multiverse. Hot on the heels of Spider-Man: No Way Home and Doctor Strange’s large role in that, Multiverse of Madness is set to take us even further into the unknown, opening up more possibilities of alternate timelines and new (and maybe sometimes familiar…) characters. Is Multiverse of Madness a suitable entry into the MCU’s fourth phase, or are we a little sick of seeing Strange everywhere now?
There are NO DIRECT SPOILERS for the movie in this review; any spoilers that warrant being mentioned will be in a separate paragraph at the very end with a warning beforehand. There will likely be spoilers for previous MCU movies/TV shows, however, as they cannot really be avoided.
While more or less minding his own business, Stephen/Doctor Strange (Cumberbatch) is pulled from his reverie when America Chavez (Gomez), a teenager from another universe, drops in along with a giant demon creature that’s trying to kidnap her for her power, specifically her ability to travel through the multiverse. After realising the demons hunting America are linked to witchcraft, Strange tracks down Wanda Maximoff (Olsen) to seek her help. Wanda, however, still hasn’t come to terms with the events that went down in Westview (that occurred in the show WandaVision, and she’s clearly still affected by the events of Infinity War, for that matter), and she seeks to use America’s power to get what she believes she should have, using an evil book called the Darkhold, a book that has informed Wanda’s transition into the Scarlet Witch. Strange and America go on the run, finding help in other universes from characters old, new and future past, to find a way to stop Wanda and to help America control her power.
So, Shang-Chi was alright. Eternals didn’t feel like anything spectacular but it did give us some cool characters to look forward to. Spider-Man: No Way Home was rollicking good fun. Multiverse of Madness though? Now it REALLY feels like phase four is getting underway. The storyline is genuinely interesting, exploring other universes and how each world’s Doctor Strange is perceived, and of course the character of Stephen Strange discovering more about himself and his power. His humanity too, for that matter. Also, much like No Way Home, we are treated to the involvement of particular characters that were frankly awesome to see in this way (more on that in the spoiler section) and how they may or may not get involved in the future of the MCU. Raimi has done himself proud with this film, keeping in with the MCU style while also putting his own humour and fun swerve on it, much in the same vein as James Gunn, Taika Waititi, Edgar Wright and, dare I say it, the now somewhat disgraced Joss Whedon.
Character-wise, Cumberbatch, while completely on form as Stephen Strange, often has the limelight stolen from him, though this isn’t necessarily a bad thing as he’s been quite the regular in the MCU since 2016. Olsen’s Wanda/Scarlet Witch is a fantastic villain, whether we want her to be not, her MO being something quite human and in many ways relatable. For me her motive for villainy seemed a little weak compared to that of previous villains we’ve seen in the MCU, but then I don’t believe her reason(s) for doing what she did are as obvious as they seem. Olsen’s performance is evocative, particularly when we get close-ups. Gomez too puts on quite a good performance as America, a teenager lost not only in life, but physically, too. It’ll be exciting to see where they may take her after this movie. Wong is as fun as ever as… um… Wong, and also as integral as ever to the survival of many of the characters. He’s working it as Sorcerer Supreme. Then of course we have the return of McAdams as Christine, Strange’s past love interest. McAdams’ Christine, while playing an important role in this movie, isn’t a scene-stealer. Not that she necessarily needs to be, but her character in general seemed to be more of a way to make certain ends meet rather than really be there to stand on her own two feet. Let’s be really honest, though. The true scene-stealer is Bruce Campbell in his standard Raimi-movie cameo, and it’s a fun cameo (or two…).
Raimi’s return not only to film directing after nine years but also to Marvel in general has been, in my opinion, a great success. After the appearance of Tobey Maguire in No Way Home, bringing Raimi into the MCU fold really feels like a homecoming for the pair of them. It would be great to see him back directing more comic-based movies (nothing DC though please Raimi, stick with Marvel). Multiverse of Madness is an incredibly entertaining movie, plenty of action, horror (the first MCU movie to be categorised as a horror, I believe), humour and MCU tidbits. Doctor Strange as a character could quite easily have been cast to the sidelines, but instead he has become a stalwart of the universe (of multiple universes, really). He’s a lynchpin that will likely keep the MCU from going too overboard with the multiverse and getting too confusing, acting as the bridge to bring in more exciting characters. Overall, a really great entry into the franchise.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
First off: PATRICK STEWART AS PROFESSOR XAVIER AND THAT YELLOW HOVERCHAIR AND THAT 90s ANIMATION THEME TUNE. What an entrance into the MCU (or at least into Earth-838). His understated yet extremely exciting appearance is preceded by the introduction of Earth-838’s superhero group, the Illuminati (the Avengers of 838?), which include John Krasinski as Reed Richards/Mister Fantastic (EXCITING!!!), Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter/Captain Carter (a great pull from the What If…? show), Lashana Lynch as Maria Rambeau/Captain Marvel (aka Carol Danvers/the MCU’s Captain Marvel’s bestie) and Anson Mount as Black Bolt (not much known about him so far, other than the character was supposed to appear in another apparently cancelled TV show). We aso have the return of Ejiofor as Mordo, Strange’s previous nemesis but apparently his counterpart in Earth-838 (he’s still a bit of a shit though). An eclectic mix for sure, and, um, if you haven’t seen the movie yet and don’t really want further spoilers, skip the next paragraph…
…because they all die. Yes, Wanda/Scarlet Witch essentially murders them all. However, does that mean the book is firmly closed on all these characters? Possibly not, as this is just one universe. It’s possible the actors may change in future iterations (PLEASE NO), but then it’s possible they may keep them on. It’s also possible this was just a pleasant (if very mean) tease for the fans, but I would like to hope it means bigger things for the characters, or at least for the potential of bringing the X-Men and Fantastic Four into the MCU.
Finally, the mid-credits scene, where we’re introduced to Clea, played by Charlize Theron, coming to grab Strange, who now has his third eye, for some reason or other. I don’t know anything about Clea, nor the specific reasoning behind Strange’s third eye, and I won’t be googling them just yet. And just enjoy the end-credits scene, where Raimi really bamboozles us all with Bruce Campbell. Cheeky.