Welcome, World Travelers! Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is Mad Fun (Spoiler-Free Review)
by James Coulter
No doubt, the multiverse has become a driving factor in Marvel Phase Four. While previous phases brought together various characters in the same shared cinematic universe, Phase Four involves an entire cinematic multiverse of characters from alternate realities, timelines, and even franchises outside of the MCU canon—as was the case with Spider-Man: No Way Home. The concept has opened limitless possibilities within a now seemingly limitless franchise. Now that the multiverse has become front and center in the titular Multiverse of Madness, will the new Doctor Strange movie open a multiverse of endless possibilities, or will it inevitably end in madness?
In his latest movie, the titular Doctor Strange stumbles across America Chavez, a young wayward girl with dimension-hopping powers. She’s being pursued by the movie’s villian, who wants to hunt her down and steal her powers to pursue their own nefarious purposes. Strange is now tasked with protecting the young girl and traveling through the multiverse to escape and defeat the main antagonist. Will Strange be able to do so? And at what ultimate cost?
As with the original Doctor Strange, this movie is a visually-stunning masterpiece that expertly showcases the titular character’s reality-bending powers, which are only enhanced by Chavez’s dimension-hopping powers. The visual effects have evidently improved since the Doctor’s first theatrical outing, bending reality in unique and spectacular ways that all offer a truly unique spectacle. The initial dimension-hopping scene is perhaps the best example, as the main characters not only travel through dimensions, but also transform to match their surroundings, even altering their own states of matter.
Sam Raimi directed this film and it shows. While he is most famous with Marvel movies for directing the original Spider-Man trilogy, his role as director for this movie feels more like him directing his famous Evil Dead movies. This filmshowcases his most signature special effects, what with the many snap zooms, spinning cameras, wild angles, jump scares, and even blood and gore. Yes, Multiverse of Madness lives up to its reputation as the MCU’s first “horror” movie with plenty of creepy imagery and disturbing, borderline gory effects that pushes its PG-13 rating to its limits. No spoilers, but the final battle certainly feels like a scene ripped straight from Evil Deadand given an extra CGI boost!
Front and center in the film is the eponymous Doctor himself, whose character undergoes some much-needed reflection. In his many theatrical ventures, Doctor Strange has proven utilitarian almost to a fault, with a very “ends justify the means” morality, even at the cost of nearly destroying reality itself. After all, while his decision to give Thanos the Time Stone in Avengers: Infinity War may have ultimatley led to an outcome that inevitably defeated the Mad Titan in Avengers: Endgame, his decision still left half the population turned to dust for five long years during the time in-between. In this film, the villian confronts him with a similar “ends justify the means” philosophy, but whose ends are less than noble, which inevitably forces the Doctor to reconsider his outlook.
Speaking of which, if there is a downside to this movie, it’s with how it portrays one of its other characters. No spoilers, but the other character appearing in this movie has appeared in previous Marvel installments, and they end up doing things in this movie that may be interpreted by some fans as “out-of-character”—even grossly so. While their motivations are portrayed as sympathetic, their decisions still lead to actions that arguablycross serious lines, both morally and as a character. Again, no spoilers, but this character and their portrayal will no doubt prove quite divisive and spur much discourse.
Another slight negative is that, despite this movie being advertised as a massive dimension-hopping adventure, travels to alternate dimensions are kept at a bare minimum. If you’re going into this movie expecting a grand romp through the multiverse with visit to countless alternate realities and meet-ups with alternate versions of Marvel characters, including those from films outside of the MCU canon, well, be prepared to cull your expectations lest you become too disappointed. No spoilers, but rest assured, there are still plenty of satisfying and surprising cameos.
Overall, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a true visual spectacle with the usual high-octane action and a surprisingly dark twist that opens up a realm of possibilities for future Marvel movies, and while it’s not quite the massive multiverse adventure as advertised, and though it may arguably do one character dirty, it is the typical clean fun that Marvel has excelled at.