Anthony's Film Review - 'Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness' (2022)
Another satisfying superhero action movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe...
Once again, I am reviewing a Marvel Cinematic Universe film without having seen all of the key relevant prior films and TV shows. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, as far as I can tell, follows the events of Spider-Man: No Way Home and the Disney+ series WandaVision. It's actually not necessary to have seen those two, because I did see Spider-Man: No Way Home before and it's directly referenced very briefly in just one scene in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and I could still follow the latest events going forward even without watching WandaVision yet. That said, I have not forgotten how many times a good friend of mine who follows the MCU closely has pestered me about seeing WandaVision on Disney+. If anything, I am finally planning to watch all episodes of WandaVision after this film has stirred my curiosity.
Without having seen WandaVision, here's my understanding of Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) at this point in time. Just from her latest appearance in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, she appears to not be satisfied with her life. She is aware that, across the multiverse, there are universes where Wanda is a happy mother raising children of her own. That's something she doesn't have in this universe. She wants a better life and believes that going to another universe and assuming another life is the only for her to be happy. However, Wanda has also taken a dark turn. She also possesses dark magical powers, in the form of the Scarlet Witch. Consequently, Wanda is the antagonist of this story.
The title character is obviously the protagonist. Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is both a surgeon skilled with a scalpel and a sorcerer skilled with magical powers, mostly related to teleportation and transmutation. This movie may be the second film to center on Doctor Strange as a title character, but it's definitely not the second MCU film overall to feature him (for example, see Avengers: Infinity War and Spider-Man: No Way Home). As usual, he is assisted by Wong (Benedict Wong), who also wields similar magic. As the film's opening shows, Doctor Strange has a dream in which he and a teenage girl are frantically running across floating platforms in space. This imagery of a multiverse will eventually lead him across the multiverse. After all, that's what the title of the movie suggests.
While this film presents Doctor Strange versus Wanda, there is a vital third character who is caught in the middle. The young girl I mentioned above is America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), who has the power to open passages across the multiverse and enable travel from one universe to another. The only catch is that she does not know how to channel that power in the first place. That doesn't stop Wanda from going after her in hopes of taking that power for her own selfish needs. Obviously, Doctor Strange has to protect America, because he, who can see broadly across space and time, knows that Wanda's intended actions may be destructive to all universes.
Much of the film is a cat-and-mouse chase from afar. While Wanda is in one universe and Doctor Strange along with America are in another, both sets of characters are racing to defeat the other. For Doctor Strange, there is a sacred book whose magical spells can counter the magic Wanda is wielding. If he and America can get to that, they stand a chance to defeat Wanda. But Wanda has tricks up her own sleeve. Through a powerful mystical practice, she finds a way to track down America's location without physically going to another universe. When the two sides do meet again, it becomes a high-stakes life-and-death struggle that involves much fighting and destruction.
This is a good time for me to comment on something that has been noticed about the MCU films. Each one may center on superheroes, but each one also captures the styles and experiences of other types of movies. As my MCU friend said, Marvel doesn't make superhero movies, but rather movies with superheroes. Consider how Guardians of the Galaxy is MCU's space opera, Captain America is MCU's take on World War II, Shang-Chi is MCU's martial arts fantasy, and WandaVision is MCU's tribute to American television. (Hell, you can even say that Thor: Love and Thunder is sort of MCU's take on the rock and roll movie.) Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is essentially MCU's version of occult horror. There's a notable sequence in which an alternate universe Wanda is covered in blood, an image seen in many horror movies. The horror elements can also be seen with Wanda's witchcraft rituals and Doctor Strange's method of fighting back against Wanda late in the story.
It is good that this Marvel Cinematic Universe movie doesn't rely too much on references to recent MCU entries. Even if the situation with Wanda assumes you've seen WandaVision, it is possible to enjoy this movie without the backstory. I also appreciated how, as usual, the MCU is constantly expanding and introducing new characters adapted from the pages of Marvel Comics. One part of this movie introduces two Marvel franchises into the MCU. They aren't just any two franchises. They are ones that were previously adapted into films long before Marvel Studios was founded. In fact, one of the actors from those past movies reprises the same role here, but now officially within the MCU.
My overall rating for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is an 8 on my 1-to-10 scale, meaning it's a pretty good movie. There isn't anything special to say about the action and the story other than they're both good as you would expect for a typical MCU movie. I will say that I did appreciate the ending of this one. It's not what I had expected, especially because it's not necessary to think too hard while watching a movie like this. It's definitely better than what I had expected. Most importantly, I don't think there's a better way to end this movie than the way it was done here. This movie may provide a satisfying conclusion, but it's never the end for the Marvel Cinematic Universe that is expected to go on forever.
That said, I'll be doing two things: (1) waiting for the next MCU movie that I'll have a chance to see, and (2) watching every episode of WandaVision on Disney+.
Anthony's Rating: 8/10