Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness Review
It's time yet again for the latest Marvel movie du jour. Coming off the heels of Spider-man: No Way Home, we find Dr. Steven Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) having to suffer through witnessing the wedding of his one true love, Dr. Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) to another man in Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. But it isn't long before a new crisis falls into his lap...this time one that involves all of the other multiverses (alternate planes of existence in which other versions of everybody exist) in the universe. When Steven goes to the most powerful Avenger he knows for help, Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen), he discovers the shocking truth that she might be behind all of it. As Marty McFly would say "Wow, this is heavy!"
Full disclosure, I've never actually seen the first Dr. Strange movie. I was never all that interested in the character, and wouldn't have been interested in this film either if it weren't for one person: Sam Raimi. Hearing the announcement that Sam Raimi would be returning to direct his first superhero movie since the Spider-man trilogy had my attention, then subsequently learning that this movie would even be borderline horror piqued my interest even more. I was cautiously optimistic that I would enjoy this film more than the average Marvel movie. For the most part, I'd say that turned out to be mostly true...even if the film is a bit messy overall.
As with any Marvel movie, the list of pre-requisites of what you need to have seen before watching the latest film is getting longer and longer. This time, the list of essential viewing even includes a limited tv series, WandaVision to be able to follow along. If the last thing you saw Elizabeth Olsen's Wanda Maximoff in was Avengers: Endgame you'll be mighty confused by her motivations in this film. Marvel constantly bets on their audience being superfans who consume every ounce of content they put out, and I'm sure for the most part they're correct. But it's definitely getting harder to keep up and that's sure to be a complaint going forward.
Even with WandaVision as a bridge to Wanda's actions, as well as Elizabeth Olsen doing her darndest to sell it, it's really hard to buy the abrupt jump to supervillain here. Again, that's not for lack of Olsen trying because she's very good. I think she just happens to be let down by a somewhat convoluted script. I've never really loved Benedict Cumberbatch in this role (opinions being based on his appearances in Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: End Game, and Spider-man No Way Home, since as I previously mentioned I never saw his first film), but I did enjoy him more here, particularly when gets to go full horror Sam Raimi in the final act.
Throughout the course of Multiverse of Madness, you can see the wrestle between Sam Raimi as a hired gun for Marvel, and the moments where his distinct directorial style gets to sneak in. The parts I enjoyed most, were the moments that felt the most Raimi. Having loved not only his Spider-man films, but I'm also a huge lover of Drag Me to Hell and his Evil Dead trilogy, so when the movie leans into its horror side I was delighted. Wanda feels like a Terminator-type villain, impossible to stop and hopeless to even compete against. But luckily Raimi has some tricks up his sleeve in creatively attempting a fair fight.
Aside from its iffy writing, the biggest thing Multiverse of Madness has to overcome (and fails to do so), is that it's not nearly as good or creative as another movie about multiverses that came out within a month of it. Though it's not fair to compare because one is a part of the biggest franchise on earth, and the other is a small independent film, it's hard not to judge Multiverse of Madness against the far superior Everything, Everywhere, All At Once. Hard not to come off as a bit basic next to its imaginativeness, but maybe a few more surprise cameos would have done the trick. Just kidding.
Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is far from the strongest entry in the Marvel franchise, but I couldn't help but like it a little more than usual just for the Sam Raimi of it all.