The future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe hinges on a sequel to Doctor Strange. Even the magic wielder’s biggest fans couldn’t have predicted that in 2016. But here we are, six years later, with the fate of the multiverse hanging in the balance. And Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is the only one who can save it.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness spoiler-free review
As with any modern Marvel movie, it’s difficult to discuss the plot without spoiling anything. As such, I will once again do my best to thread the needle.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a direct follow-up to Spider-Man: No Way Home and the second standalone adventure for Stephen Strange. Scott Derrickson, who wrote and directed the original Doctor Strange, was set to return for the sequel, but ended up leaving in 2020 due to creative differences. Sam Raimi took over directing duties while Loki writer and producer Michael Waldron stepped in to write the screenplay.
Fresh off of helping Spider-Man send a group of multiversal beings back to their universes, Stephen attempts to reckon with his own past by attending the wedding of his ex-girlfriend Christine Palmer, who we last saw in What If…? on Disney Plus.
Just as Stephen is clearing the air with Christine, all hell breaks loose outside. An unfamiliar young girl is being chased through the streets of Manhattan by a giant, tentacled monster, prompting Stephen to leave the reception and save the girl. He finds out that her name is America Chavez, and she’s quite literally not of this world.
This starts Strange on one of the most unique MCU adventures to date.
Miss America and the Scarlet Witch
One of the highlights of the movie is the introduction of Xochitl Gomez as America Chavez. She has the same youthful energy as Tom Holland’s Peter Parker, but much wilder powers. She slots in perfectly alongside Strange and Wong, giving Strange someone else to protect now that Spider-Man has been forgotten after No Way Home.
Unfortunately, though Multiverse of Madness gives America plenty to do, it also fails Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) spectacularly. There were so many paths for Marvel to take after the events of WandaVision. At long last, the MCU’s most underserved Avenger was a fleshed-out, three-dimensional character. Multiverse of Madness pays off the story WandaVision told, but nullifies so much of the character development that the show achieved.
That’s not to say that Olsen doesn’t give it her all. She fully embodies the role that the movie gives her, and it does feel like a sensible next step from WandaVision. It just also feels like the least interesting direction Marvel could have gone with her character.
Cameos and side characters
For the most part, the movie revolves around Doctor Strange, Wong, America Chavez, Wanda Maximoff, and Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams). McAdams hadn’t appeared in any Marvel movies since the first Doctor Strange, but she’s given a chance to shine here. Marvel does not always know what to do with its non-superpowered characters. But Christine ends up being just as vital to Stephen’s quest to save the multiverse as his emotional journey.
As the movie takes place in multiple realities, it opens the door to unlimited possibilities for cameos. Marvel and director Sam Raimi take full advantage of this throughout, giving comic book fans plenty to chew on. Providing you aren’t completely spoiled beforehand, there will be moments that will send your mind reeling. I found the cameos to be slightly distracting, but that didn’t make them any less entertaining.
Raimi takes the reins
Ultimately, what stands out most about Multiverse of Madness is that Sam Raimi was given the freedom to make the movie that he wanted to make. This is easily one of the strangest, scariest, and most violent MCU movies to date.
The last act in particular leans further into horror than anything else we’ve seen in the MCU. Raimi’s sensibilities mesh surprisingly well with a Doctor Strange story, and the moments in this sequel when he is able to let loose are the movie’s best.
Multiverse of Madness is not the strongest entry in Phase 4 of the MCU, nor is it the weakest. Cumberbatch gives yet another stellar performance and Raimi sets his character up for even bigger adventures to come. In the end, the highs are incredibly high, but the lows are rather low. Nevertheless, it’s a worthy, eminently watchable entry into the MCU canon.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness hits theaters on May 6th, 2022.