Marvel’s entertaining, terrifying mess: “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” Review


Courtesy of Marvel Studios

By Claire Boeck

“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” released on May 6, being the latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While the title promises madness, multiverses and the presence of Strange himself, the movie leaves something to be desired with all three of these elements.

The film is directed by Sam Raimi, famous for the 1981 horror film “Evil Dead” and the original 2002 “Spider-Man.” With his guiding hand, “Multiverse of Madness” delivers entertaining visuals and creative sequences that will certainly make the audience’s hearts pound with excitement, but its messy script only makes the movie’s troubled past hard to ignore.

Reprising his role as the titular surgeon-turned-superhero, Benedict Cumberbatch stars in this mystical blockbuster alongside Elizabeth Olsen, Benedict Wong and newcomer Xochitl Gomez, who plays a multiverse-hopping teenage girl named America Chavez.

Doctor Strange travels through alternate universes and realities with the help of America, interacting with various different versions of himself — which are also played by Cumberbatch — and his friends, while fighting against plenty of dazzling CGI effects as he battles an enemy that threatens the entire multiverse.

While previous movies in the MCU have garnered criticism that their directing is too stale and formulaic, “Multiverse of Madness” will surely pass by relatively unscathed. Raimi has his footprint all over this movie, for better or for worse.

Whips, pans, handheld camera movements, creative transitions and streaks of terror are everywhere. Raimi uses the horror skills that he’s known for, and often to great effect. It’s hard to imagine any other director coming up with some of the wacky and chilling things that show up on screen.

Raimi’s directing style was divisive forty years ago, and “Multiverse of Madness” will be no exception. It may be a taste that some viewers will simply not acquire and the film does get a little cheesy and campy at times.

At a little over two hours long, the movie is constantly in the fast lane. It rushes through all of its plot points, character arcs and set pieces as if it’s ticking off a checklist.

Just like being in the fast lane, the movie is certainly thrilling, but it always feels unsteady, like it’s only one wrong move away from crashing and burning. There is little room to let the characters breathe amidst all the chaos of the multiverse.

There is still plenty to love in “Multiverse of Madness.” Olsen as Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch, delivers an arguably scene-stealing performance that robs the spotlight away from Doctor Strange’s own movie at some moments. Her emotions are captivating and her presence on screen is intimidating.

The special effects, despite having low lows, have also astoundingly high highs. Raimi’s creativity feels uninhibited, and the story features plenty of twists and turns. It is genuinely gruesome, and its level of violence and horror pushes the boundaries of what could even be considered “PG-13.”

However, the movie does not often equal the sum of its parts. There are good things here, but they do not blend well. Much of this can be explained by the numerous obstacles the movie faced during production.

“Multiverse of Madness” was originally set to be directed by Scott Derrickson, who helmed the first “Doctor Strange” film. He stepped down after citing creative differences between him and Marvel Studios. His exit prompted Marvel to bring in Raimi along with new writers to completely rewrite a new script from the ground up, tossing Derrickson’s original.

The movie also originally had a May 2020 release date, but numerous COVID-related delays pushed back the movie further and further. Not to mention countless reshoots and last-minute script adjustments as Raimi attempted to stick the landing as best as he could, cutting and reshaping the movie nearly in real-time as studio executives handed him updated notes daily.

The final product being half-way coherent and full-way entertaining is practically a miracle considering what the production team went through, and it’s surely a testament to the skill and passion of everyone involved.