We’ve spent time getting to know Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) throughout his appearances in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). From his first feature film back in 2016 to team outings in Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: No Way Home, viewers can see the non-Sorcerer Supreme back at the “yellow sparkly thing that he does” in Multiverse of Madness.
Yet again, Strange is not alone. In addition to the current Sorcerer Supreme, Wong (Benedict Wong) and former flame Dr. Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), Doctor Strange has to enlist the help of Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) when a multiversal travelling America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) ends up in Earth-616 chased by monsters. While the creatures are clearly after Chavez for a reason, it is unknown who or what is guiding them her way. However, Strange’s efforts to secure aid do not go as planned and lead to a multiverse-hopping extravaganza you’ll have to see to believe. While all of this sounds great—and trust me, some of it is—that doesn’t mean the film is without flaws.
Of course, one doesn’t go into every film expecting perfection. Still, the writing in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness often disservice some of its characters, particularly Wanda. While Olsen steals the show as Scarlet Witch (the film should have been called Scarlet Witch in the Multiverse of Madness), Wanda’s main motivations don’t truly mesh with the character development that comes from the end of WandaVision. Although still grieving in WandaVision, she does free the town and apologizes to the people of Westview, even if people are reluctant to trust her. In the end, she does the right thing.
Ultimately, the events in Multiverse of Madness seem very similar to WandaVision, but it’s not the grieving of Vision that drives Wanda’s choices; it’s her children. While we’ve consistently been told that mothers would do anything for their children, an undeniable extremeness felt throughout the movie takes away from feeling empathetic, despite Olsen’s emotional portrayal of the character. To quote Wanda’s words from the film, “That doesn’t seem fair.” The saving grace, however, is how easily Olsen can transition between menacing and vulnerable, which does a decent job of keeping your focus on the bigger story at hand and not just the Scarlet Witch’s unhinged behaviour and actions.
Cumberbatch has done an excellent job of solidifying himself as the character in the MCU, but for a film about Doctor Strange, there is not nearly enough of him. For most of the film, he plays Tony Stark to Gomez’s Peter Parker in another MCU mentor-mentee story. Cumberbatch and Gomez worked exceptionally well together, so I didn’t dislike this choice—but it would have been nice to see Gomez have more to do as America Chavez. In that regard, it was a disappointment because Chavez is literally only a plot device to serve the film’s end goal, but Gomez does the best with the material she’s given. If the Young Avengers team ever comes to fruition in live-action, Gomez will make an excellent addition with what would hopefully be a script that does her character justice.
The other key players are Wong and Christine, and Wong and McAdams do a great job. They can centre Stephen in ways others cannot, making for great rapport and character moments throughout the film. Although they don’t have as much screen time as some of their counterparts, they make the most of it, and it was nice to see that McAdams had more to do this time around than in the previous film. You do not just cast THE Rachel McAdams and have her do nothing (even if that’s basically what happened in the first film—yes, I am still upset about it, let me be).
Aside from the characters, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness shines brightest when it is at its most Raimi. The horror elements are particularly thrilling, and I wish the film had stepped into this a little more wholeheartedly. Of course, in doing so, the film would likely have run the risk of no longer being PG-13, but sometimes sacrifices must be made. Still, a few moments elicited a jump from my seat, or my mouth fall open in shock because I was honestly not expecting what occurred or how it would be topped next. There’s also some camp involved that I enjoyed, that took me back to the original Spider-Man film and something that is lacking (or not well done) in many of the MCU movies.
It’s hard to formulate my complete thoughts about Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness without getting into spoiler territory (be on the lookout for a separate piece that does deep dive into everything), but I will say that while I enjoyed parts of the movie—mainly its horror aesthetic and the multiverse hopping adventures, where it falls flat is its overall story. There are a fair few questionable choices made by certain characters written throughout the script that can only be described as cringe, and often, it pulled the rug of enjoyment right out from under me. I suspect I will be thinking (or rather, overthinking) this one for a while…and I don’t think that’s entirely a good thing. That said, the film is entertaining nonetheless—even though I suspect it will divide some viewers.