Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022, Sam Raimi)

Doctor Strange and the Maddening Mouthfuls of Multiverses is barely a sequel to the original Doctor Strange outing, which is fine; the original was six years ago, and star Benedict Cumberbatch has gotten more mileage out of his non-solo appearances. However, given it’s a sequel to the Disney Plus show, “WandaVision,” which was a deliberate, thoughtful examination of the trauma Elizabeth Olsen (second-billed in Multiverse) experienced as an MCU character… it’s not great they (they being screenwriter Michael Waldron, who did not write “WandaVision” because it was well-written) turn Olsen into a one-to-two note supervillain here. She’s a Disney villain, right down to how calling herself a “witch” means she’s bad now.

Olsen’s performance is, you know, excellent. No notes. She’s terrific. It’s a bad part, but it’s good acting.

Cumberbatch starts the movie dreaming about a ponytailed version of himself fighting a monster alongside teenager Xochitl Gomez. Then he goes to ex-girlfriend Rachel McAdams’s wedding to someone else, who the movie never actually introduces because it’d require too much writing. Instead, a giant one-eyed octopus monster invades New York City, and Cumberbatch has to save the day. In doing so, he discovers the monster’s after Gomez, who isn’t a figment of his unconscious, but rather a real teenage girl who’s spent her life accidentally jumping from universe to universe. And someone’s after her.

Benedict Wong, who’s taken over Cumberbatch’s job as Earth’s sorcerer supreme since the Avengers movies, also shows up to fight the monster. So pretty soon, they’re all sitting around to talk multiverses. Wong and Cumberbatch are funny together, and they decide they’re going to help Gomez with the demons pursuing her.

Cumberbatch has the great idea to ask Olsen for help, only to discover she’s actually the evil stepmother. Sorry, supervillain.

There are some big action set pieces, but then it’s off to the multiverse for Gomez and Cumberbatch while Wong’s trying to stop Olsen on Earth. Regular MCU Earth. Doesn’t go great for Wong.

Olsen’s trying to steal Gomez’s multiverse jumping power so she can find a universe where her sons are real (she made them out of magic on “WandaVision”). Also, dreams are views into other universes, which seems like it should be important but isn’t.

There are some big and not-so-big cameos along the way, but most of the movie is pragmatically setting up the finale to be as contained as possible. See, it turns out Gomez jumps to the universe most likely to quickly hurry plots along, so if you need to get to a universe populated by Marvel heroes from alternate realities (or franchises), Gomez’s on it. She and Cumberbatch also pick up a variation of McAdams along the way, so while McAdams has a lot to do in the movie, it’s all busy work and emotional labor for Cumberbatch (who she doesn’t even know, not really).

Of the action set pieces, only a few are inventive. Well, one, actually. There are some other okay ones, but only one is anything special. The rest are a combination of good CGI and decent humor. Primarily because of Gomez, Wong, and McAdams. Cumberbatch plays well off the actors who can do the humor better. Olsen doesn’t get any humor; she just gets to turn the internal turmoil and suffering to eleven with no payoff.

Despite all the cameos, Multiverse avoids bringing back anyone to give Olsen an arc. And since all the cameos are otherworldly—other-universey—they don’t carry any emotional heft, though there’s an excellent joke for one of the cameos. And the acting on them’s not bad, especially the most fantastic of them.

Raimi’s direction is fine. He’ll occasionally show more enthusiasm than the baseline, which is pretty rote. Of course, it doesn’t help he’s apparently disinterested in all the world-building in the second act, but considering it’s all fluff… he’s not wrong.

The movie doesn’t overstay its welcome, which is good, even if it means the finale just reveals they didn’t actually do an arc for Gomez (instead treating her as an accessory for Cumberbatch). Multiverse takes an incomplete on character development overall, promising next time maybe Cumberbatch will grow a little.

Okay music from Danny Elfman, decent photography from John Mathieson (except in the cameo-heavy part of act two, where some setting appears to be off with the cameras), and excellent production design from Charles Wood. Even when the setting’s incredibly obvious, Wood makes it unique.

Multiverse only runs a couple hours, but because it’s truncated. With an actual first act, it’d add on at least another twenty minutes. It’s almost like they should’ve just done it as a TV series, though more Waldron writing wouldn’t do anyone any favors.

It’s mostly middling, with some good performances and solid filmmaking. Given how much the film disses Olsen’s efforts for the overall franchise, hopefully, she can escape any sequels, prequels, sidequels, or spin-offs.

2 Comments

  1. Vernon W

    We’ll, it took a few years, but a Marvel films have finally become dull. While Raimi’s touch visually is here(loved the one eyed octopus), it all seems point A to point B execution. Also, the Wandavision series did a nice job of reintroducing her to the universe, now she’s pretty much a one note pony villian, a sad fate for could of been an interesting character under Olsen. I think I’m done with all of the cinema, except for the Spiderman efforts, which despite sequels, still seems to be able to hold its magic.

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