Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (A Film Review)
A thrilling ride into low-key horror and mystical elements that is equal parts mind-bending and compelling character development
WARNING: Includes some minor spoilers for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong and Xochitl Gomez
Directed by: Sam Raimi
Runtime: 126 minutes
Release date: May 6, 2022
Might I start by saying: that this film is not for the faint of heart, nor the newbie MCU fan. Every MCU film, if you're starting in the fandom, requires layers and layers of different films and TV shows within the extensive network of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to even begin to understand a single movie. And not to mention the comics if you want to understand Easter eggs and callbacks. And this movie is rife with fan service and Easter eggs, possibly even more so than 2021's Spiderman: No Way Home, which also starred Benedict Cumberbatch in a supporting role as the titular Doctor Strange.
But this film opens up a whole new can of worms that was previously touted in the second Spiderman film, Far From Home. And that is the multiverse. Quentin Beck, aka. Mysterio, the signature villain of that film, tells Spiderman that the multiverse is real, or at least alludes to it. It is later revealed to be a complete cop-out, but now that Disney and Marvel have acquired the rights to the X-Men and the Fantastic Four, it doesn't seem so far away anymore. And the Multiverse of Madness was proof of that, albeit with slight variations of well-loved characters.
The opening to the film is quite peculiar, and depicts a different, multiversal version of Doctor Strange, with a girl, running away from some type of octopus monster in a thrilling dream that ends rather frighteningly. This girl is revealed in the first act, after she arrives in New York, being chased by a similar monster, as America Chavez. In the comics, America Chavez has the power of superhuman strength and stamina, and possesses the power of flight, along with a power that becomes one of the central plot points of the story: the power to make star-shaped portals that can travel through the multiverse. It turns out that these creatures are marked with magical runes, and they want her power. And there is only one person who possesses magic.
The next few scenes introduce us to the character of Wanda Maximoff, aka. the Scarlet Witch. The finale of WandaVision (2021), left us with a lot of questions, but an incredibly teasing ending alluding to the fact that Wanda's twin sons created in the magical Hex anomaly of Westview as a rollout of her grief in the wake of losing her true love, Vision, are still alive and out there in the multiverse. The catch? Wanda possesses a dark tome called the Darkhold, and with every burst of her power that she uses, she grows more terrifying with every scene she's in in the film. And her character carries the film immeasurably. Upon first glance, it seems as though Wanda has complete control of the Darkhold and its malevolent contents, but upon watching further, it becomes more apparent that this book has control of her.
The second act of the film sees Wanda attempt to take America's power for her own, to travel the multiverse to find her children, and when that fails to work numerous times, she resorts to what the characters call 'dream-walking' which a person lives vicariously through someone else and effectively possesses them. Creepy stuff, huh? That's not even half of it. Things get complicated when a multiversal version of Karl Mordo (the side antagonist from the first Doctor Strange film, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor) captures Doctor Strange, bringing him and America Chavez to another universe, and Strange meets this universe's protectors called the Illuminati. This universe's version of the Illuminati is vastly different from the comics, but one calls to mind how the leader of the X-Men, Charles Xavier, was a member of the Illuminati, and it's a real treat to see Patrick Stewart reprising his role. He sports the comical-looking yellow wheelchair from the comics and even pulls out a very philosophical line that fans of the X-Men films will recognise.
More cameos abound in this particular segment of the film, with the previously fan-cast John Krasinski as Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic and Hayley Atwell reprising her role from the animated Marvel television show What If? as Peggy Carter/Captain Britain. All hell breaks loose when the dream-walking Scarlet Witch shows up, and one by one, the Illuminati all fall to Scarlet Witch's power, directly influenced by the Darkhold. The last to go is Charles Xavier, and this is where the second of the jump scares in the film occurs. It's a truly terrifying moment, one that definitely rivals and even trumps the first truly dark MCU film, Avengers: Age of Ultron. And it displays how utterly scary the Scarlet Witch is. Doctor Strange, America Chavez, and a multiversal version of Christine Palmer (played by Rachel McAdams, reprising her role from the first Doctor Strange film) escape as they are pursued through an eerily lit corridor by the Scarlet Witch, covered in blood and eyes glowing a bright, angry red. They escape, but just barely, into a portal where they find a book that was mentioned in the first act of the film: the Book of Vishanti. This book is seemingly the antithesis of the Darkhold, meant to give its user supernatural strength and magic to overcome their foes. Eerily similar to the beginning of the film, the book is destroyed when Scarlet Witch arrives on the scene. Doctor Strange and Christine are sent to a different universe, while the Scarlet Witch takes America Chavez to a place called Mount Wundagore, which has been constructed as a temple of sorts to the Scarlet Witch, of which Maximoff has taken up the moniker since the events of Westview.
And thus the third act begins. Doctor Strange meets another Doctor Strange, the aptly-named Sinister Strange, who appeared in What If? voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch. After defeating him, he uses Sinister Strange's version of the Darkhold to dream-walk into our world via the zombified body of Doctor Strange from the beginning of the film, where he finds the Scarlet Witch at Mount Wundagore preparing the spell to take America Chavez's powers. After a lengthy battle, America unleashes her power, sending the Scarlet Witch to Earth-838 and upon facing her multiversal counterpart, who lives in a suburban utopia with her sons, Billy and Tommy, she breaks down in remorse after her alternate persona frightens them. She surrenders, and brings down the mountain upon herself, destroying the mountain and all copies of the Darkhold throughout the multiverse. The film ends with the previously destroyed Kamar Taj being rebuilt, and America Chavez learning the Mystic Arts with the surviving sorcerers, and the film also holds some sneaky surprises in store for those who are keen to wait through ten minutes of the end credits.
My take on the film:
Altogether, I loved it. I liked the mild horror element, although those jump scares had me nearly hiding underneath my seat. I was not ready for those. Elizabeth Olsen's performance literally carried the film. I enjoyed the movie immensely, although I think they maybe could have made the film a bit longer, and maybe included a few more of those rumoured cameos, like maybe another of the X-Men or something. Oh, well, that can wait until another movie. The multiversal element kind of made the film a bit clunky, but aside from that, the acting was great and the visuals were on point. Sam Raimi is a brilliant director from what I've heard, and this film was no exception.
Stay tuned for my next review for the film Thor: Love and Thunder!
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About the author
Hi!! My name is Taylor.
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