Marvel Studios has been teasing horror elements in the Marvel Cinematic Universe for a while now, and it all culminates in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Directed by legendary horror story teller Sam Raimi (Evil Dead), the Doctor Strange sequel wastes little time in throwing the audience into an intensely brutal epic that is sure to reverberate through the MCU for years to come.
Featuring standout performances by Benedict Cumberbatch, Xochitl Gomez and Wanda Maximoff herself, Elizabeth Olson, Multiverse of Madness is one of the most chilling, thrilling and compelling superhero films ever.
Marvel Studios’ Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness premieres in theaters May 6th! Mild spoilers below!
In Marvel Studios’ “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” the MCU unlocks the Multiverse and pushes its boundaries further than ever before. Journey into the unknown with Doctor Strange, who, with the help of mystical allies both old and new, traverses the mind-bending and dangerous alternate realities of the Multiverse to confront a mysterious new adversary.
“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, Xochitl Gomez, with Michael Stühlbarg, and Rachel McAdams.
The film is directed by Sam Raimi, and Kevin Feige is the producer. Louis D’Esposito, Victoria Alonso, Eric Hauserman Carroll, Scott Derrickson and Jamie Christopher serve as executive producers. The screenplay was written by Michael Waldron.
Multiverse of Madness is an absolute thrill ride with genuinely creepy and startling moments. While it doesn’t necessarily have the kind of gore that’s the hallmark of the horror genre, it certainly shares the same DNA, with a constant suspense and intensity that drives the film. From the opening scene to the closing credits, the film is fast paced and gives audiences some of the most jaw dropping, eye covering and heart wrenching scenes we’ve seen in the MCU.
Raimi does an incredible job of seeding emotions and humor into the relentlessness of the story. There aren’t many quiet moments, but when we do get them, they’re impactful and memorable. This is very much a Raimi film and his vision seems perfectly suited for the mystical world of Marvel.
In many ways, this Doctor Strange film is also a sequel to the Disney+ series WandaVision. The film catches up with Wanda Maximoff not long after the events of the series, and takes the character’s story to its natural next progression. Wanda’s uniquely emotional and painful journey, as well as Olson’s consistently resonant performances, have made Wanda into one of the most popular figures in the MCU. This film may be Olson’s best performance as Wanda yet, as she takes the character through a range of emotions and experiences rarely seen in superhero films. You both fear, and fear for, Wanda. While her fans will undoubtedly enjoy seeing Wanda again, the way her story unfolds might be frustrating, depending on where you expected Wanda’s path to lead after the events of WandaVision. It’s challenging to discuss Wanda’s arc in this film without spoilers, but what’s important is that Olson really delivers and Wanda is again one of the most fascinatingly complex characters in the MCU.
It’s important to note that as excellent as Olson’s performance is, Benedict Cumberbatch isn’t overshadowed. Indeed, they’re essentially co-stars. Cumberbatch brings his trademark wit and charm to the role, which are necessary to add some levity to an otherwise dark story. He seems born to play the role, and here we get to see a Stephen Strange who is, at the same time, very comfortable being an adored superhero and very uncomfortable being a vulnerable person. Strange as a character is more relatable and likable in this film. It’s easy to overlook Cumberbatch in favor of Olson here, but that would be a mistake. Strange is constantly juggling humor with a tinge of darkness. The hero that this story needs to save the day, but fraught with the potential to become something even worse in the process. It’s not often that the story’s protagonist could reasonably turn into the story’s antagonist at any moment.
Xochitl Gomez as America Chavez is a breath of fresh air for the Marvel universe. Her natural charisma and infectious joyfulness are on full display and she adds a youthful exuberance that has primarily been reserved for Peter Parker in the MCU. It’s not America’s story however, and while she’s critically important to the overall plot of the film, much of her story remains to be told. For this film’s purpose, American Chavez is successfully introduced into the universe and audiences can look forward to her own stories going forward.
The film is beautifully shot. Save for a few visual effects that could have been a little smoother, the overall look of this very ambitious film is an achievement on itself. Even by Marvel standards, this story takes audiences to so many varied settings, climates, and of course, universes, that it would have been forgivable if some of the visuals were sub-par. Thankfully, Marvel took very few shortcuts in ensuring that the film lived up to its multiversal title.
This is easily Marvel’s most violent film. The only other Marvel related property that is comparable to the visceral brutality is the 2017 film Logan. There is always some question as to whether a Marvel project is appropriate for kids, and as a parent myself I fully appreciate how different kids can be. However, this is probably the first Marvel film that is almost conclusively not for kids.
Finally, the fan service elements are likely to be controversial and depend heavily on one’s expectations. We’re in an era where every Marvel story carries anticipated of twists and surprise appearances. This film checks those boxes, but in ways that may not be what fans think. I caution any viewer from going into the film focused too heavily on those fan service elements and the long-term implications for the MCU. If Marvel Studios has proven anything over its cinematic reign, it’s that the fan theories rarely hit the mark and are never the focus of the plot. Manage your expectations accordingly.
More than a decade into the MCU, the world is nearly inaccessible for new viewers. The amount of lore and background one needs to know to fully appreciate Multiverse of Madness is considerable. At a minimum, audiences need to have watched the first Doctor Strange (understandable), nine episodes of WandaVision (which itself requires some pre-existing knowledge) and nine episodes of the animated series What If…?. That’s more than a substantial investment just to have a foundational grasp of this story. The well placed fan service will fall completely flat to someone who doesn’t know more about the MCU, as well as several other Marvel related stories. It’s a continually growing issue that Marvel Studios has to wrestle with – does it cater to the hardcore fans or does it welcome new audiences? The previous four films in Phase Four (Black Widow, Shang-Chi, Eternals and Spider-Man: No Way Home) have been mostly digestible for novice viewers. Multiverse of Madness is not.
Beyond the density of the story, two fan favorite actors and characters, Benedict Wong as Wong and Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mordo, are once again underutilized. Both Wong and Ejiofor are fantastic actors with presence and charisma, and yet both are too often overlooked in this franchise. Wong, at the very least, carries the title of the Sorcerer Supreme, which places him in a position of respect and authority in universe. He does get more to do than the first film, which is an embarrassingly low bar considering all he did in that film was provide comic relief. Here, Wong finally gets in on the action and certainly has some highlights, but ultimately is sidelined in favor of Strange, Wanda and even America. Wong, who has appeared in numerous Marvel films since his first appearance, is a delightful character and Benedict Wong routinely makes the most out of very little. One hopes that there might be greater opportunities for Wong to be given the spotlight he deserves in the future.
As for Ejiofor, who plays Strange’s comic book arch nemesis, he once again plays the secondary antagonist. Marvel could be playing the long game with Mordo, slowly depicting his evolution into what could eventually be Strange’s primary villain, but the character’s development has been far from compelling. Everyone knows where Mordo is supposed to end up, but it’s not clear if anyone cares to see it at this point.
Considering their respective talents and popularity, it remains disappointing to see Wong and Ejiofor wasted.
Marvel has done an admirable job injecting its universe with a much needed boost in diversity in recent years. With Doctor Strange, the diversity is notable but the film ultimately focuses on Stephen Strange and Wanda Maximoff. Around those two characters, there are many people of color in the background and in supporting roles, including the aforementioned Wong and Mordo. But again, neither are given the material they deserve, falling instead into the sidekick trope that many diverse characters are reduced to.
The introduction of American Chavez represents the long past due representation for the Latinx community, and it is nice to see her speak a few lines in Spanish (with subtitles) with both Strange and Wong in different scenes.
Thankfully, this film isn’t plagued by the white-washing in the first Doctor Strange with the change of the Ancient One from an Asian character in comics to one played by Tilda Swinton.
THE RATING – 5/5 Pocky
Ron is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of POC Culture. He is a big believer in the power and impact of pop culture and the importance of representation in media.