Reel Thoughts: ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ is campy fun, but also underwhelming


Illustration by Eliana Storkamp

“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is not quite the ambitious tale the film’s marketing suggested, but it still delivers an ample dose of Sam Raimi’s signature campiness.

Pavan Acharya, Reporter

Sam Raimi’s “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is a film with an identity crisis.

The 28th movie in the sprawling Marvel Cinematic Universe can’t decide whether it is a character-focused flick or a multiversal odyssey featuring a plethora of juicy cameos. It tries to do both, but it just ends up with mixed results. To quote an evil Doctor Strange variant from the film’s official teaser, “Things just got out of hand.”

In the film, Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) travels through the multiverse to protect America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), a young girl with extraordinary transportive powers, from a mysterious threat. In the multiverse, Doctor Strange encounters a variety of characters, some new and others familiar, including an evil version of himself.

Although “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” has its share of problems, Raimi’s artful direction is not one of them. In most Marvel films, the studio’s desires typically hamper the director’s artistic vision. I am happy to report this was not the case with this sequel.

Raimi hasn’t directed a film since 2013, but he does not skip a beat with this newest MCU installation. “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is easily the most-stylized film in the MCU canon, combining Raimi’s signature campiness with some very disturbing horror elements. Frankly, I wonder how much Disney had to pay off the Motion Picture Association to ensure its newest MCU movie got a PG-13 rating. That being said, do not take the kids to watch “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.”

Along with being the rare MCU film not suitable for kids, it is also niche in a variety of other ways. In order to fully understand the film, viewers will have to at least watch the first “Doctor Strange,” “Avengers: Endgame,” “WandaVision” and “Spider-Man: No Way Home.”

For this reason, the film is not accessible to the average movie-going audience. In the past, Marvel created stories anyone could enjoy. However, it now seems like cracks are starting to show, and some MCU content has become too specialized except for the hardcore fans. But as a hardcore MCU fan myself, my problems with the film lie elsewhere.

The use of the multiverse in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is, frankly, underwhelming. Marketing teased the film would be the first true look inside the Marvel multiverse, but the film doesn’t include the promised variety. Instead, the sequel tries to simultaneously tell character-driven stories about Doctor Strange and Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) within the context of the multiverse. It’s a challenging task not even Raimi could pull off.

Raimi has proven he can deliver character-driven superhero dramas like “Spider-Man 2” with Tobey Maguire. However, there is simply too much going on in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” to properly convey character development. The film has some great ideas for developing Strange’s character, but these character-focused ideas are constantly competing for attention with the multiversal setting.

“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is an entertaining film, aimed toward die-hard MCU fans, but it winds up falling flat. The film’s significant ambitions are held back by the desire to tell both a character-driven story and a multiversal odyssey. As a result, “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” winds up being an entertaining mess of plot with a pinch of missed potential.

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Twitter: @PavanAcharya02

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