After the divisive Spider-Man 3, Sam Raimi planned to film a Spider-Man 4 to wrap up the franchise cleanly. Unfortunately, Sony had other plans and decided to reboot the franchise, leaving Sam Raimi to his own devices. Fast forward a decade or so and Raimi was asked to return to the superhero genre to film Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. While it is safe to say that the Doctor Strange sequel is a Marvel movie, it has more in common with Raimi’s Evil Dead movies than other Marvel properties.
Stephen Strange (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) is attending Christine Palmer’s (played by Rachel McAdams) wedding when an interdimensional creature is chasing after a young girl that turns out to be America Chavez (played by Xochitl Gomez). Chavez is a multiverse-hopping superhero running from a demon that wants her powers. Getting all the help Strange can to protect America Chavez, he turns to Wanda Maximoff (played by Elizabeth Olsen) who is in self-imposed exile after the events of Westview. It turns out however, that Wanda is the one after America in order to find a universe to be with her children. Now knowing that Strange, Wong (played by Benedict Wong), and Chavez are up against the Scarlet Witch, they must get her to see the light before getting America’s powers.
It’s a shame that Sam Raimi was screwed over by Sony during the production of Spider-Man 3. While the film is certainly enjoyable, it still is the weakest of Raimi’s Spider-Man Trilogy. When it was announced that Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness was undergoing reshoots, I was afraid that history would repeat itself. Fortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Unlike the first film, Multiverse of Madness doesn’t follow the typical MCU formula. Raimi truly made the film his own, adding in many of his signature horror elements and even references from his Spider-Man movies. For example, during the battle between Gargantos and Doctor Strange, the entire fight was very reminiscent of the fight between Doctor Octopus and Spider-Man from Spider-Man 2. Additionally, Raimi makes use of the “zombie vision” angle several times, a clear homage to his work on the Evil Dead movies. But what Raimi film would be complete without a cameo from Bruce Campbell? And he brings his signature wit and humor you’d expect!
One thing that I expected going into this film was fan service. However, I didn’t expect the level of fan service present. While it didn’t quite have the same effect on me as Spider-Man: No Way Home did, it did give us the introduction of the Illuminati. The Illuminati, consisting of Baron Mordo, Black Bolt, Captain Marvel, Captain Carter, Charles Xavier (with Patrick Stewart reprising his role) and Reed Richards. Not only is Reed Richards played by fan-favorite John Krasinski, but the Baxter Institute was name-dropped, confirming the Fantastic Four. Additionally, one of the coolest superheroes from the Marvel comics, Black Bolt, is done justice after a crappy introduction in the largely-forgotten MCU show Inhumans. While the multiverse aspect is not nearly done as well as Everything Everywhere All at Once, it does open the door for an infinite number of possibilities, in addition to officially introducing fans to the world of mutants and Inhumans.
Despite the film containing splendid performances and scenes of fan service, it does have its issues, primarily with its pacing. The first act really throws us into the action while simultaneously introducing us to America Chavez. Speaking of Chavez, the film at times feels more like Wanda or America’s story rather than Stephen’s. I found myself caring more about their story than Stephen’s and when it does return to Stephen, I found myself getting a bit bored. However, the film never strays away from its focus and still manages to balance its convoluted storytelling. Additionally, while the film’s MCU-style humor was a bit much at times, it felt a bit more natural compared to its predecessor. I wished we got more of Raimi’s typical style of humor, but the film is ultimately part of the MCU and I shouldn’t complain too much.
Speaking of Elizabeth Olsen and Xochitl Gomez, they give the best performances of the film. During Wanda’s more villainous turn as Scarlet Witch, Olsen puts all of Wanda’s grief and pain front and center. We can sympathize with her motivations to hurt America and also see how the Darkhold corrupts the best of intentions. It hurts to see a fan-favorite go to the dark side, especially when it is done in an extremely frightening and tragic manner. And of course our introduction to Xochitl Gomez as America Chavez was more of a scene-stealer than I initially anticipated. She brought all the character traits I expect from a coming-of-age superhero arc, in addition to an endearing form of charisma to the role. Gomez is a welcomed newcomer to the MCU and I can’t wait to see what more she brings to Chavez!
When we say this movie is not your typical Marvel movie, I mean does not feel like a Marvel movie. It has the Marvel logo, but it is closer to a horror movie, complete with jump scares, an eerie atmosphere and nightmare-inducing visuals. Such is the case almost any time Scarlet Witch is on screen. When Wanda invades Kamar-Taj to take America, she invades and nearly takes Chavez in such a horrific manner that I thought for a moment I was watching The Exorcist. Raimi’s roots in horror are on full display, as he introduces the MCU to an uncharted direction.
Initial reviews of Multiverse of Madness were rather lukewarm, with many complaining that it didn't follow the typical MCU formula. A lot of MCU films in Phase 4 are beginning to shift away from what we previously are familiar with, and I think that this is probably for the best. Who wants to watch a film where you can predict everything? As Phase 4 issues out more diverse films, the MCU hopefully will begin to evolve into a more mature form of entertainment that’s not afraid to take risks and go all in. By the end of the day, filmmaking is an evolving art form and will continue to grow into something greater.
Co-Written by: Noah Kloss