Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness — A tangled trip
Mo' portals mo' problems.
Benedict Cumberbatch's return as the master of the mystic arts presents a fork in the road
for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). On one side, the allure of expansion, to continue
growing the already massive universe, blowing it up like a balloon until it's so inflated not
even an IMAX screen can contain it; and on the other side, a dead-end, a chance to stop,
breathe, and rebuild. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness toes the former, for better
and for worse. While a few surprising cameos may get hearts racing, the lasting effect
does more harm than good. It makes one thing crystal clear: Marvel’s secret sauce is losing its flavor.
Until now, the flashy action, well-timed quips, and ever-growing cast of powerful heroes and
villains have kept fans foaming at the mouth. And while this is still relatively true, recent films and tv shows have lacked the steady build-up that was so evident in the Infinity Saga. Multiverse of Madness, from start to finish, feels like a never-ending second act, where the non-contextualized conflict just builds and builds but ultimately leads to no satisfying conclusion. What's worse, there's very little indication as to where the MCU is going from here and why we, as the fans, should be excited for what's to come.
The problem is that Multiverse of Madness doesn't earn what it introduces. It opens the door to some really cool concepts but doesn't explain what they mean or why we should care about them. Instead, it basks in the afterglow of Spider-Man: No Way Home (2022) and Avengers: Endgame (2019) the same way a teenager might hang close to their cool older brother in order to get into a college party. It feels out of place, underwhelming, and rarely during its 2-hour runtime does it establish itself as the clear next rung on the MCU ladder.
Unfortunately, this leads to a significant problem with the film's core cast. While the title might feature Doctor Strange, he plays tug-of-war with Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) over whose movie it really is. There's no clear winner, and the constant back and forth makes the otherwise three-dimensional characters feel unusually flat. Just another knot in the tangled adventure being told.
That said, praise where praise is due: Multiverse of Madness is the first MCU film to truly look and feel separate from its 27 brothers and sisters. Sam Raimi's touch of horror and gothic darkness adds a whole new artistic layer to the series that's entirely unique, even if it comes off a tad heavy handed at times. There's one sequence about midway through where Wanda learns to manipulate the mirror dimension, and the visuals for it are wild, to say the least.
Additionally, Gomez as America Chavez might be one of the best castings to come out of the MCU in years. She portrays the dimension-traveling superhero with a profound level of confidence, effortlessly mixing childlike innocence with heartache. She may not be the star of the film, but her introduction is by far the strongest. We'll be seeing a lot more of her in the future, that's for sure.
- Final Thoughts -
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness starts out at a sprint, slows to a jog, and then trips over itself before falling to the ground and losing all momentum. The unique horror flair might allow for it to stand out from previous MCU hits, but its bloated and tangled narrative does little to push the series forward in a meaningful and exciting direction.
(Doctor Strange image courtesy of Marvel)