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What's the big deal?
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse Of Madness is an action adventure fantasy film released in 2022 and is the sequel to 2016's Doctor Strange. The 28th entry in Marvel's Cinematic Universe (MCU), the film sees the former Sorcerer Supreme thrown into conflict against a variety of foes - many of whom are alarmingly familiar - as he protects a mysterious young girl with incredible powers. The film stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olson, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, Xochitl Gomez and Rachel McAdams and was directed by Sam Raimi. Filming was interrupted due to the global pandemic in late 2020 and saw Raimi replace the director of the first film Scott Derrickson, introducing more horror elements and offering a continuation of Wanda Maximoff's story following the TV series WandaVision. The film received a mostly positive response from critics who applauded Raimi's direction, the film's visual flair and Olson's performance but criticism was levelled at the story. At the time of writing, the film has earned a global total of $954 million and is the second biggest film of the year behind Top Gun: Maverick.
What's it about?
After dreaming about failing to save a young girl from a demon in an intergalactic dimension, Stephen Strange is forced to abandon the wedding of his lost love Christine Palmer to deal with a bizarre crisis on the streets of New York. Another hideous creature has emerged and is pursuing America Chavez, the girl Strange saw in his dream. Together with the help of the new Sorcerer Supreme and his former valet Wong, Strange defeats the creature and immediately demands answers from the girl. Chavez explains that she is being pursued by numerous demons as she has the ability to unwittingly travel across the multiverse - parallel dimensions to our own universe where things are often a little different.
Realising that the demons have witchcraft runes on them, Strange consults with Wanda Maximoff who is living in exile following the incident at Westview, New Jersey (see WandaVision for details). However, it turns out that Wanda has been reading the Darkhold - an ancient and powerful spell book that slowly corrupts the user's mind - and plans to use America's power to travel across the multiverse to be reunited with the children she has lost. As Wanda becomes the all-powerful Scarlet Witch, Strange realises that even he cannot hope to prevent America from Wanda's deadly ambitions...
What's to like?
The first film, I felt, was a serviceable if slightly off-beat introduction to the character which deals with lots of mystical mumbo-jumbo and some pretty trippy visuals. But this follow-up is anything but pedestrian. Raimi's deep affinity for horror serves the film well here with some disturbing visual tricks, plenty of nods to some classic horror films and some truly macabre scenes as the film goes on. Of course, this isn't Raimi going full-throttle (this is no Evil Dead obviously) but this is arguably Marvel's darkest and definitely its most visceral film so far. The rating may be 12A but I might think twice about taking my kids to see this... well, if I had any.
Cumberbatch portrays a more conflicted Strange this time around, one who is confident in his abilities but unfulfilled and troubled in his personal life. It gives the movie a more interesting protagonist than before and gives us the most understated character development seen in a MCU film since Iron Man 3. But personally, the film belongs to Olson whose own character has been torn apart by grief and rebuilt in a dark, twisted mirror image. WandaVision wasn't for everyone but I really admired it - as someone who has lost their love of their life far too soon, I understood Wanda's desire to do anything in her power to be reunited with them and live out a fantasy life. Seeing this version of Wanda turning to the dark side but still kinda justified in her actions, it set the film up for an intriguing showdown.
As welcome as it is to see newer faces join the MCU, the film offers plenty to callbacks to other earlier films and even other franchises altogether. I will say that I don't think the film made the most of the multiverse concept besides a few trippy sequences briefly showcasing life in other realities but regardless, it gives long-time fans of the MCU hope that anything is literally possible going forward. Unfortunately, I wanted more - I'm not seeing where Phase 4 of the films is going or what is being established unlike the first phase which was clearly gearing up towards Avengers Assemble. As it is, this second Doctor Strange film is an improvement on the first but it sits uneasily alongside its more family-friendly stablemates. Credit for trying to be something different though as the MCU is in grave danger of feeling too repetitive these days.
- Raimi was reluctant to return to superhero movies after the critical backlash that his last effort, Spider-Man 3, received in 2007 after studio interference from Sony. However, he did enjoy the first Doctor Strange film and was already a fan of the character. It was only after his agent contacted him about directing this film that he decided to try again.
- Raimi had already included references to the character of Doctor Strange in his Spider-Man trilogy: the pizza parlour where Peter Parker works is on Bleecker Street which is the same location as Strange's Sanctum Santorum and J. Jonah Jameson dismisses the proposed Dr Strange title for Otto Octavius, saying that it's already been taken. In fact, the opening battle between Chavez and the Gargantos demon takes place on the side of the same building where Spider-Man and Doc Ock fought in Spider-Man 2.
- This marks the first time that a MCU film has appeared within the horror genre which also makes it the highest earning horror film in history so far.
- Doctor Strange discussing the tragic loss of his sister mirrors that of Raimi himself, whose older brother Sander also accidentally drowned at the age of 15. Raimi credits his brother for introducing him to the Spider-Man comics, sparking a life-long love affair.
What's not to like?
As you might expect from a film set across multiple universes, the film's narrative becomes bogged down in muddy waters as you quickly lose track of who is who and where they came from. The film deals with some pretty intense themes such as Wanda's overwhelming grief, the perception and nature of reality and the possibility of alternative universes but it does so in a light and inconsequential way. Wanda is the undoubted baddie of the film but I felt conflicted about her - I certainly wasn't booing her and in some ways, I wanted her to succeed. As for who the film is supposed to be about, Strange still feels like an under-written character to me. He's still dropping one-liners and witty dialogue in the typical Tony Stark-fashion but we don't really ever get a glimpse of the man behind the bravado. At times, he feels a bit of a douche such as not bowing to Wong when they first meet despite Wong's elevated status.
Like I said, the film doesn't make the most of its multiverse concept. In theory, this film could have been absolutely insane - we could have seen an animated Strange (we briefly do), a film set underwater, a sepia-toned noir-inspired thriller (Marvel, if you're reading this then make this happen please!) or a futuristic utopia that wouldn't have looked out of place in a Guardians Of The Galaxy film. This film could have been anything and it just feels too conventional for my liking. Sure, the jump-scares and horror tropes do make it feel different from other Marvel movies but the narrative and tone feel a little bit safe, if I'm honest. The film teases you into thinking you will be treated by some genuinely imaginative and ground-breaking action but instead, it's more of the same CG-enhanced nonsense including a surreal sequence involving musical instruments that felt gimmicky. Lastly, I was a little disappointed in Gomez as Chavez - nothing wrong with her performance but she's not used as much as you hoped she would. Fortunately, I'm sure that we will see much more of her again in future.
Should I watch it?
This second Doctor Strange movie is a real curiosity, feeling a bit more adult and challenging than other MCU films but not enough to satisfy grown-up viewers. Raimi's direction and style give the film a gruesome and in-your-face aesthetic that suits the material and Chavez is a welcome addition to an ever-growing and increasingly diverse cast. It also serves as a fitting addition to Wanda's storyline which I have enjoyed immensely. But shouldn't the good doctor be taking the plaudits instead? This feels more like a Scarlet Witch film than a Doctor Strange one and once again, highlights Marvel's reluctance to have a female leading their own story.
Great For: fans of the first film, redeeming the career of legendary directors, opening up possibilities for the MCU going forward
Not So Great For: younger viewers, the easily spooked, the easily distracted
What else should I watch?
The fourth phase of Marvel's relentless bombarding of releases has proved decidedly mixed thus far, at least as far as the films go. Highlights include the third of the current crop of Spider-Man movies, No Way Home, and the underrated Shang-Chi and the Legend Of The Ten Rings but we've also seen the disappointing and long overdue Black Widow and the frankly boring Eternals. Much of Marvel's recent output has been moved to television, no doubt at the insistence of parent company Disney so the likes of WandaVision, Loki, Hawkeye and the forthcoming She-Hulk will sadly be missed by anyone not subscribing to their streaming service. But the films keep coming as the recent Thor: Love And Thunder will probably remain as popular as the rest of the films.
Sam Raimi is, for my money, one of the most underrated filmmakers in the industry. Forever linked with his ground-breaking Evil Dead series, Raimi emerged alongside the Coen brothers in the Eighties as one of the best independent filmmakers of his generation and has continued to deliver as a director and writer. In 1990, he created his own superhero Darkman which gave Liam Neeson his first starring role in an action movie and following this up with his third and final entry in the Evil Dead series, Army Of Darkness. His first two Spider-Man films are often cited as some of the best superhero movies ever made (Spider-Man 2 is my favourite) while Drag Me To Hell saw him return to his horror roots to spectacular effect. He also helped turn Bruce Campbell into a star, cameoing in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse Of Madness as an unfortunate pizza seller.
Dr Stephen Strange
Wanda Maximoff / Scarlet Witch
Release Date (UK)
5th May, 2022
Action, Adventure, Horror, Superhero
© 2022 Benjamin Cox