Let’s talk about Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
We are back in the Marvel train here! After an enforced year break due to the pandemic, though it couldn’t have come at a better time, it feels like we get more Marvel stuff than ever. That’s because not only are we getting three movies a year, we are getting several TV shows as well. Seriously, just a couple of days before this film was released, Moon Knight wrapped up on Disney+, meaning there was a break of one day without new Marvel content before this film was released. It’s madness really. Ooh, that’s a link to this film, because it’s called Multiverse of Madness! God I’m almost quite good at this writing thing.
America Chavez bursts into Doctor Strange’s world with the power to move in between the multiverse. The only problem is that she is unable to control this power. She also has a demon chasing her trying to steal her power which risks the entire multiverse being destroyed.
Much like the last time Doctor Strange appeared, which was back in December’s Spider-Man: No Way Home, a lot of the appeal of the movie is the potential surprises within. This is what has excited so many about Marvel entering the multiverse over the last year. We could see any character from any universe in any form and that has led to a lot of excitement. If you visit Reddit or anywhere that discusses these movies, you will have seen lots of chatter about potential leaks and who could be in this movie. Obviously that makes it difficult to discuss in a review which is a pain in the arse for me. So what can I say? Well I think I can confirm that there are surprises, no one will be mad at me for saying that I hope, and I think they are pretty good ones as well. Well, at least one person in my screen gasped and audibly said ‘yes’ when one of the reveals happened, so they were happy with it at least.
Doctor Strange has often been a mercurial character when he’s popped up in The Avengers and other Marvel films. He’s been the intelligent advisor to the other characters in this universe which makes him being the lead again a difficult task. After all, a leading character has to be far more flawed than what Strange has been over his last few appearances. The film finds some good ways to make him more relatable and human though. Firstly, there’s the pairing between him and America Chavez. Yes, bringing in a young woman/maybe a teenager can often be a jumping the shark moment, but here it’s done well. There’s good chemistry between her and Strange and even better, she isn’t just here to be a damsel in distress. Admittedly, there is a bit of that considering she’s the victim of demons and they like chasing her around the multiverse but there’s also a lot of character and she isn’t just there to get trapped and then rescued. Strange’s sort of relationship with Christine also makes a comeback as he wonders if he’s truly happy being the world famous sorcerer if he hasn’t got true love by his side. It’s a very likable story which doesn’t take the obvious turns you might expect.
This film did have some changes before it got to the big screen. Originally, Scott Derrickson was going to helm this film. He directed the first Doctor Strange and when you read his interviews about this one, he seemed very excited about the idea about this one being a full on horror. He ended up leaving the project due to ‘creative differences’ which was probably due to Marvel being squeamish about throwing $200m+ at what would have been a horror movie. Sam Raimi came in to replace him and you can see where both of their styles has mixed. While this isn’t the pure horror Derrickson was wanting when he started making the film, there’s some of that in here still. There’s some scenes intending to scare and make the demon villain into something truly horrific. It helps they set up this villain as one of the most terrifying and powerful ever encountered in the MCU but these elements definitely work.
But Derrickson’s replacement Sam Raimi is also a very distinctive director so his vision had to get in as well. And that’s definitely here as well and it isn’t just because Bruce Campbell shows up for a cameo. Raimi was always good at combining a cartoon sensibility with horror and sometimes gruesome violence. And that’s definitely in here too. There is a stunning scene which combines some humour and then some quite gutwrenching violence when Doctor Strange is being held prisoner while in another universe. It’s at times like this when the film just submits to the darkness when it is at its best. This scene in particular is nothing like any other we’ve seen in a Marvel film and shows that even though the MCU has often been seen as the light and funny comic book compared to DC, this shows they can go right into that place and have it work.
The film is not without its issues though. Firstly, the amount of background reading you need to do. Yes, with a sequel in an expanded universe it’s fair to think the audience will have some knowledge. But we’re getting to a point where you need to revise as much for a Marvel film as you would for an A-Level exam. For this film you need to have watched Doctor Strange, the Infinity War films, and all the background reading you need for that, the latest Spider-Man film and also the TV series WandaVision due to the inclusion of Scarlet Watch. That’s a lot of stuff to watch if you want to get the most out of this film and I worry that this could get a lot worse over the next few years. I also worry Marvel will lean too much on generating surprises after the success of this film and Spider-Man which will only lead to diminishing returns as Tony Khan can tell you. There’s also a few pacing issues, especially at the start when the film really does motor to try and get going.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is still a very fun ride though. We get a mad rush through various universes, some cool surprises which will please fans even if Marvel should learn not to rely on this to sell tickets and when the film goes dark, it really does work. I hope we can see more of this side of Marvel going forward. It’s definitely an exciting film and fans of the series will really enjoy it and the almost cartoon violence works in its favour. However I suspect there are some cracks starting to show in the MCU here, though we’ll have to see if they develop into anything that eventually ends this empire.