Review by James Lindorf
The people who like to complain about the MCU are always quick to turn to the singular argument that the movies are too similar. Setting aside the fact that is how franchises work, three examples show how well a director can play in the Marvel Studios’ sandbox and still stand out. The first was James Gunn’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” in 2014, then in 2017, Taika Waititi made himself known with “Thor: Ragnarok,” and the third example opens in theaters around the world tomorrow, May 6th. “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is distinctly a Sam Raimi film. If you have seen any of The Evil Dead series or “Drag Me to Hell,” you wouldn’t think anyone else was leading this project for one second. Raimi fans and MCU fans will love this film and rocket Dr. Strange up the list of favorite Avengers.
Again played by Benedict Cumberbatch, Doctor Stephen Strange has hit a lull after the events of” No Way Home,” but his life is about to get a lot more complicated, requiring his most daring feats of sorcery. The source of the latest upheaval is America Chavez, fantastically played by Xochitl Gomez, an interdimensional being who can punch holes through universes but can’t outrun a giant one-eyed octopus creature. America’s powers and her inability to control them will send them tumbling through the farthest reaches of the multiverse. But even that will not be enough to outrun a threat the MCU has never seen before. In the first proof that the Disney+ shows matter, a completely heartbroken Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olson) has given in to her alter ego, the Scarlet Witch and the Darkhold, and will stop at nothing to fulfill her desire. The reality in every universe will be twisted and tormented until she gets her hands on America.
This new phase of the MCU has been a roller coaster ride. They have introduced some fantastic characters, no one will ever talk me out of my love for Makkari, but the stories have left something to be desired. “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is a step in the right direction because while it introduces a great character in America Chavez, the story is a little more well crafted. The story still needs plenty of work because any love for America is 100% because of the performance of Gomez. The character is extremely thin, little more than a sentient MacGuffin, but Gomez’s charisma and talent shine through, and I want to see her get her own show and show up in many more movies.
Cumberbatch is good, especially in his physical acting, but Strange’s reserved nature limits how much he can do with the character. The critical component of Stange’s personality is his intelligence, in which he has complete confidence and is a source of comfort. His intelligence enhances his power, but because it drives his cockiness, it is also his greatest weakness as a hero and a person. With a reserved Cumberbatch, and a weakly written character for Gomez, the clear stand out of the film is Olsen. Though it will limit her interactions with the MCU, it is clear that she is a better villain than a hero, and she was good as an Avenger. How she vacillates from loving mother to horror movie monster to grief-stricken survivor is impressive and riveting. In her darkest moments, she would be right at home as Raimi’s Deadite queen, a terrifying and unstoppable force. In her warmest moments, she could anchor a great sitcom or all-ages family comedy, and she feels natural at both ends of the spectrum.
“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is a lot of things. It is a superhero movie, a horror movie, and a movie about grief and finding happiness when all you feel is sad and alone. Wanda and Stephen have a lot in common. A traumatic event led them to their powers; their powers brought them greatness and isolated them. They can shape the world in their image should they choose, and still can’t have the thing they want most, and how they handle that frustration is the crux of “Multiverse of Madness” and will play a significant role in the MCU as they move forward. No matter what people think of “Multiverse of Madness” in the end, it will be forever loved by MCU fans for the film’s trip to the fanservice universe. It will have audiences excited at a level not seen since Sam said on your left. In his first and hopefully not last foray into the MCU, Raimi has a solid success scoring a 4 out of 5.
Genre: Fantasy, Action, Adventure
Original Language: English
Director: Sam Raimi
Producer: Kevin Feige
Writer: Michael Waldron
Release Date: May 6th
Runtime: 2h 6m
Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures