Benedict Cumberbatch returns once more as the Master of Mystic Arts in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, though the title should say ‘In the Multiverse Of Horrors.’ It would not be a Sam Raimi film without some talking corpses, evil spirits, screaming victims, and close-ups that let you see the actor’s pores. A film that does a great job at keeping audiences entertained with magical dazzling lights and more than a few scary moments but ultimately falls apart due to an incredibly weak plot.
Without a short introduction, we are thrown into a battle of bright lights with Stephen Strange fighting a monster to grab the magical book of deus-ex-machina to protect America Chavez. From the start, the Doctor Strange sequel expects viewers, whether new or old, to the MCU to just understand and accept everything that is going on. Even worse, it expects all viewers to have watched all of the previous Marvel content on Disney+ or otherwise completely fail to understand how Wanda got her emotional scars and who the members of the Illuminati are. We, as viewers, are thrown from one situation to the next without ever getting a satisfactory explanation of anything, just following it as it goes in the hope that viewers have enough comic book and, or MCU background knowledge to just understand the action.
Few scenes in the film fulfill any true purpose besides starting up marketing and advertising for the trailers, or ‘hype,’ as the kids call it. Let’s dig deeper into The Illuminati and what purpose they serve in the overall plot. Does Doctor Strange learn anything from them that impacts his decision-making for the rest of the film? Do they succeed in stopping Wanda or helping Stephen? Do they help America Chavez? Instead, we get a visual exposition of how they defeated Thanos in their universe. Most interesting, but how does that further move the plot? One could argue that Strange learns how dangerous the book of the dead is, something he already knew from the beginning as soon as he saw Wanda wield it. If anything, it served to find Christine, even if it’s a Christine from another universe. Needless to say, nobody would have gasped if they had seen Rachel McAdam’s character during the trailer season.
The 28th movie based in the Marvel Cinematic Universe shows with sparkling magic the direction in which Phase 4 is moving. Gone are the days of science-based superheroes such as Iron-Man or Captain America. Coming in is the new brand of heroes such as wizards, witches, nordic gods, alien gods, and people that just teleport the vastness of the multiverse without any explanation whatsoever. The total weight of the billion-dollar Marvel franchise has fallen onto the shoulders of Benedict Cumberbatch and Elisabeth Olsen with this latest addition to the MCU series. Cumberbatch was much more entertaining to watch in previous installments when he was given witty and arrogant comebacks to Tony Stark and Thor. The actor seems to be as dead on the inside as the corpse he reanimates during the final showdown. America Chavez, played by Xochitl Gomez, is sadly brought down to a secondary, or should I say thirdly, character that needs saving from an old white man. Instead, the script gives The Scarlet Witch almost as much screen time as it gives The Sorcerer Supreme himself. Giving the villain more lines is a technique that immensely helped Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame make Thanos a mad man, yet a mad man that we can comprehend. Hence, it is no surprise her character arc is well-rounded and comes to a fatal and somewhat melodramatic completion.
On the other hand, Stephen Strange’s story takes him to places that almost feel like watching Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol. When Stephen Strange finally visits his version of the spirit of Christmas future, he realizes that no matter how great a superhero he is or how many times he saves the universe from Thanos, he will never know true happiness because he is not married to the love of his life. Is it just me, or does it sound dangerously close to the plot of every Hallmark Christmas movie ever?
Finally, Sam Raimi did what he could with the script he was given. He gave it his own personal touch of horror-comedy, Bruce Campbell cameo included. If anything, the film’s horror saved it from being close to the worst thing a fantasy-action movie could be, namely dull, flat, and boring. The horror is mainly associated with The Scarlet Witch and her relentless hunt for America Chavez. It was surprising to watch how a Disney production let some rather gruesome deaths happen on screen and called for the help of demonic entities from the book of the dead to help save the day.
Score 3.5 out of 5
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness makes for a great sequel to No Way Home and leads the path for future Marvel films. However, considering the limitless possibilities and endless open doors the concept of a multiverse gives, a rather limited number of worlds were visited. The only madness and spice in the film were due to director Sam Raimi’s fun twist on horror and more special effects than three Star Wars movies combined. Sadly, it wasn’t enough to save a film that took significant reshoots last year due to its lackluster plot and story.