Our disappointment to learn that Scott Derrickson would not be directing Stephen Strange’s second solo adventure outweighed our excitement to discover that his replacement was Sam Raimi. Many know this director for the Spider-Man trilogy starring Tobey Maguire, but we remember him mainly for the Evil Dead horror film series. But we were still worried. Marvel and Disney said goodbye to Derrickson over “creative differences.” Would they respect Raimi’s vision in what was described as the first horror film in the UCM? In this review of Doctor Strange in the multiverse of madness, let’s find out in this review.
After his reappearance in the ‘ blip, ‘Stephen’s life is not the same. Not only did he lose his position as Sorcerer Supreme, but his beloved Christine is getting married to another man. But there is no time for regrets. After confronting a strange “giant one-eyed octopus” legally distinct from Shuma-Gorath, he meets America Chavez. This teenage girl claims to be able to travel between universes and is pursued by strange demons who desire her power. Protecting this girl will lead Doctor Strange to discover the madness of the multiverse.
The word ‘multiverse’ is the key to this film. When this concept was introduced in the Loki series, we thought it would be an excuse for references and ‘crossovers’ like we saw in Spider-Man: No Way Home. While there is some of that, this new movie shows that they will take advantage of the multiverse to develop exciting narratives.
As we saw in the previews, Stephen will encounter other (variant) versions of himself and other familiar characters from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Just as it happened when we saw the previous Spider-Man movie, the audience reacted with excitement to the cameos and surprises. But what’s really important is how it uses the idea of the “other lives we live” to reflect what both Doctor Strange and Scarlet Witch have become.
We can’t deny that, despite his charisma, Strange is not a likable person. In the previous films, he proved to be a self-centered, domineering egomaniac who always has to have things his own way. The multiverse of madness pits this character against the perception others have of him and challenges him to become someone better. It’s a good idea for character development, but it proves ineffective. It’s clear from the start that Stephen is on a path of self-improvement and behaves differently than in previous films. If there is a significant change, it is only noticeable in relatively simple details, such as the decision whether or not to bow to Wong, the new Sorcerer Supreme.
Wanda’s evolution in Doctor Strange in the Madness multiverse turns out to be much more radical. Our beloved Scarlet Witch is still very much affected by the loss of her family and the events of WandaVision. The Darkhold has set her on a dangerous path, and we see her more unleashed and powerful than ever. Elizabeth Olsen does a fantastic job showing the darker side of Wanda and building the character on what we saw in the Disney+ series. She makes the film entirely her own when she’s on-screen and overshadows Benedict Cumberbatch himself, but it’s safe to say that many character fans won’t be happy with where she’s headed.
If we haven’t talked more about America Chavez, it’s not because we didn’t like her. The young actress Xochitl Gomez does an excellent job, and we see in her the seed of the great and daring comic book character. The problem is that the script doesn’t give her much to do. America spends a good part of the movie turned into a damsel in distress or plot exposition element. The worst is when the plot forces an “emotional and personal” way to justify why Stephen is sacrificing so much for her. It’s clear to us that this is just her introduction and that in the future, we’ll see her shine when she stars in her own movie, series, or as part of the Young Avengers. But at the moment, it’s a bit disappointing.
Let’s put aside the cast and talk about the director. We gladly confirm that, as promised, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is the first horror movie in the UCM. Sam Raimi did a fantastic job of it. At first, it may seem like just another superhero movie with some of the surreal, psychedelic imagery of the previous film. Still, halfway through the story, its more macabre side comes out. There is a moment when it practically becomes a slasher movie with the most potent killer in the world. From that moment on, we have the appearance of monsters, zombies, souls in pain, and a level of violence that we had not seen before in a Marvel Studios movie.
We don’t know what the “creative differences” were that led Scott Derrickson to abandon the project, but it’s clear that the studio let Sam Raimi have his way. It’s not just the horror elements, but we see several characters die in brutal ways that draw gasps of surprise from the audience. We were also happy to see the director revive many stylistic elements that made the Infernal Possession films special. We got point-of-view shots of the monsters, altered perceptions, dramatic close-ups, and other details that will bring a smile to fans of the director.
We also liked how imaginative some of the action moments are. They don’t surpass the psychedelic, kaleidoscopic showdowns of the previous film, but they harness the magic in fun ways. Special mention for the curious “musical battle.”
We end this review by concluding that Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a highly entertaining film that is very much worth your time. If you only watch Marvel movies for the references, surprises, and cameos, you will be more than satisfied. You’ll also enjoy a mid-credits scene that portends an exciting future for the character. But this movie is much more than that. The horror elements, perfectly integrated by Sam Raimi, prove that superhero stories are still very flexible when mixing with other genres. Finally, it keeps us in love with these characters even when they continue down paths we wouldn’t wish for them.
Although the Marvel Cinematic Universe has shown some weak spots in the last couple of years, it is still solid and presents excellent stories and characters. Some believe that it has run its course and that superhero films should go away, but we want to see what else they can do.