Movie Review: Doctor Strange

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Marvel Studios

“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” hits theaters with a lukewarm reception.

“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is a departure from the typical MCU film formula, but doesn’t quite live-up to its full potential.

The film is a sequel to 2016’s “Doctor Strange” and stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Stephen Strange, Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch, Xochitl Gomez as America Chavez, Rachel McAdams as Christine Palmer, and Benedict Wong as Wong, the Sorcerer Supreme. The film is directed by Sam Raimi, who also directed the original “Spider-Man” trilogy starring Tobey Maguire, which thanks to “Spider-Man: No Way Home” and the multiverse, are now the first films canonically in the MCU.

The film follows Doctor Strange as he attempts to protect America Chavez, a teenager who can travel between universes, from Wanda Maximoff, also known as the Scarlet Witch.

The film opens with a chase scene in a different universe where America and an alternate version of Strange are being pursued by a monster. Strange attempts to kill America to prevent the monster from getting her powers, but he is killed before he can do so. Upon being killed, the main universe’s Strange is woken from his dream of the alternate universe. This sets the concept of dreams being ways to peek into alternate universe versions of yourself.

Strange then goes to the wedding of his former lover, Christine Palmer. At the wedding, he is asked if he made the right decision to give Thanos the Time Stone in “Avengers: Infinity War”, and thus sacrificing half the universe for 5 years. Strange says he made the right decision but the man who asked him doesn’t seem to agree. Strange is then asked by Christine if he is happy, to which he responds with “yes”, but with some hesitation.

Following the conversation, an invisible monster can be seen in the New York streets chasing America. Strange and Wong rescue the girl and ask her why she was being pursued. She reveals that she has a unique gift of being able to travel across the multiverse. Strange and Wong are doubtful until she shows them the dead body of the alternate Strange from the opening scene. The three debate as to why America is being pursued across the multiverse until Strange recognizes the markings on the dead creature as being witch runes.

Strange then goes to meet Wanda, who is living on an isolated farm following the events of “WandaVision”. The film makes the viewing of the Disney+ show required to understand the character’s motivations for the rest of the film. Strange asks Wanda what she knows about the multiverse and then if she knows why a monster with witch runes would be chasing a teenager. Wanda slips up when she mentions America’s name despite Strange not telling it to her. She then reveals that the lush farm is an illusion, with the real farm being corrupted by dark magic.

Wanda reveals that the Darkhold, a book of dark magic, has shown her that every alternate version of herself has real children. Wanda states that she wants America’s powers for herself so she can go to a universe where her children are real and not illusions she created. Strange refuses to give up America and the stage is set for a showdown between the Scarlet Witch and sorcerers from all over the world.

After a lengthy battle, Strange and America get transported through the multiverse to an alternate universe. While being transported, the duo can be seen going through several alternate universes that are visually stunning. One universe is entirely black and white, one is animated like a cartoon, and one is made entirely out of paint. The characters also change with the universe they travel through, assuming matter and light are changed in that universe. The pair end up in a universe that isn’t that dissimilar to the main MCU universe, although New York is covered in flowers and cars go on the color red, along with a few other changes that make for a few fun moments.

In this universe, we get a tragic backstory for America and explore more of Strange’s own past that make him question if he is really happy. This universe is where the film introduces most of its alternate versions of various characters from the MCU and other Marvel properties. The alternate characters are part of that universe’s Illuminati, with two very notable characters that have yet to make their official debut in the MCU. While it was very special to see a certain beloved character from another Marvel property, I cannot help but feel that he and the rest of the illuminati were wasted. They only get about 10 minutes of screen time before they are casted aside in favor of an alternate Christine that accompanies Strange for the rest of the film.

Despite wasting the potential of the alternate characters, the fight with Scarlet Witch in this universe almost makes up for it. The fight is extremely violent and gory, with lots of horror aspects. Raimi does an excellent job at making the Scarlet Witch a powerful and terrifying villain. Her motivation seems justified, but her deciding that to kill a kid shows how far she has fallen since the last film she was in. While her fall can be explained by the Darkhold corrupting her, it seems a little too abrupt. The film does its best to explain this, but I can’t help but feel as though we should have seen the character become a villain gradually over a few projects before this film.

Strange and the alternate Christine make it to one other alternate universe, which is a destroyed earth with a Doctor Strange that has been corrupted by the Darkhold. The fight between the two Stranges is extremely creative. They fight by using the music notes from a piano as projectiles. Each time one of them catches the notes, they shoot them back at the other which briefly plays a famous musical piece. Strange defeats his evil self with a simple, yet intelligent use of his magic. The final battle isn’t quite as creative, but once again displays Strange’s intelligence as his greatest weapon.

While Wanda is far more powerful than Strange, he breaks the rules to fight the Scarlet Witch, which catches her off guard. People in the alternate universes insist that all versions of Doctor Strange will turn to dark places to ensure success, but Strange breaks the mold in the final fight. He chooses to trust in America rather than turn on her like his alternate selves do. While he does break the rules to fight Scarlet Witch, he has the alternate Christine to help him keep his sanity.

In the end, Strange learns to live with the decision he made in “Avengers” Infinity War” while also learning to work with others like America and Wong. He also learns that he doesn’t have to conform with the perceptions other people have of him, and that he can find happiness outside of being with a now-married Christine. The final scene of the movie shows an upbeat Strange walking in New York City before seemingly going insane, but in a classic Raimi move, the mid-credit scene reveals that all is well and that Strange is able to live with breaking the rules in the finale. It also reveals a new character that Strange has a deep connection to in the comics, as they embark on a new adventure into the Dark Dimension from the first film.

This film caters to fans of the MCU and other Marvel properties. While it doesn’t have the dozens of cameos from other Marvel properties that die-hard fans were hoping for, it still proves to be a unique entry to the large franchise. My main issue is that the film doesn’t fully lean into the infinite possibilities of the multiverse.

The main characters only spend extended amounts of time in two alternate universes. The film was marketed as a multiversal adventure, which it was, but when compared to the other recent multiverse MCU movie, “Spider-Man: No Way Home”, “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” falls a bit short. I wouldn’t have wanted it to be overflowed with cameos from other Marvel properties, but I would have liked to have seen more interesting and diverse alternate universes that aren’t just a different color scheme to the main MCU universe.

Had this film came out before the new “Spider-Man”, I would have probably enjoyed its alternate universes more, but “Spider-Man: No Way Home” really made it feel like the alternate universes truly were different from the main MCU universe by bringing in completely different versions of Spider-Man and his villains. The histories and characters of those universes are completely different from that of the history in the MCU, whereas the histories and characters of the universes in “Doctor Strange” are just slight alterations of the existing MCU universe.

Overall, I enjoyed the story arcs for the main characters and Sam Raimi’s direction of this otherwise slightly disappointing entry in the MCU. At the moment, I would give the film a solid 7/10, but that could change as Marvel releases more entries of Phase 4 of the MCU and beyond.

About the reviewer:
Caiden is an avid fan of anything “Star Wars”, Marvel, and DC. He has been a fan of the MCU for over a decade and watches almost every project in the franchise. He enjoys when a superhero film or TV show breaks the typical mold of the genre. He especially enjoys magic-using characters such as Marvel’s Doctor Strange and DC’s Zatanna because of the unique ways the director can capture their reality-altering powers on the big screen. He plans to keep up on future Marvel projects as he heads off to college next year.