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Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (Spoiler Free) Review

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
Courtesy of Marvel Studios
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With more than 30 movies and television shows, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has grown to an immense amount of content. In the newest Marvel offering, Sam Raimi has put his unique horror-themed style to “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.” It’s a nonstop, mind-bending thrill ride that barely pauses to breathe between fantastical set pieces and well-choreographed action sequences. It opens the door to countless possibilities for the MCU’s future but also tells a layered story about how we handle the regrets that exist inside us all. Unfortunately, the latest chapter is a darker, more violent story that may not be appropriate for all ages, so keep that in mind when choosing the next family trip to the theater. Otherwise, buckle up: You’re in for quite a ride.

Our story begins with our newest hero America Chavez (played by newcomer Xochitl Gomez) on the run from fantastical creatures that are trying to steal her multiverse jumping powers. She accidentally finds herself in the MCU universe, and we’re off to the races. The character of America Chavez is a breath of fresh air as a plucky universe hopping adventurer that you can’t help but root for. She has good comedy chops and a delightful presence whenever on screen. Chavez pulls on your heart strings while still carrying some high-level action scenes in her own right. I, for one, can’t wait to see her appear in more MCU content.

DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS
Courtesy of Marvel Studios/Courtesy of Marvel Studios
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Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Stephen Strange in Marvel Studios' DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.

From here, Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Wong (Benedict Wong) take it upon themselves to protect America and save her from her pursuers. Cumberbatch and Wong are back bringing a welcome, “buddy cop” chemistry that you love to see in these movies. Even in severe danger, their dialogue flows like a fine wine that feels like they’ve been friends for years. Cumberbatch, when on his own, struggles a bit when it comes to bringing the emotion but it’s a small quibble for what’s otherwise a great performance. Together, they protect and follow America on a psychedelic journey that reaches far into the limits of the imagination.

Elizabeth Olsen is also back playing Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch, last seen in her Disney+ series WandaVision. This is as much of a Scarlet Witch movie as it is a Doctor Strange movie, as we continue the story arc filled with regret and frustration that left off at the end of her TV series. Here, she expands her search for her children that only existed in her dreams and joins in on the multiversal exploits to find them. Olsen is fantastic, bringing a dark and painful performance to a flawed character. She’s given room to play outside of her normal characterization, and she uses every bit of space to stretch out the part to great heights. She’s made the Wanda role her own and grown it in some fascinating ways. Her unbridled rage and fearsome dedication are unlike any other MCU character to date.

Rachel McAdams and Chiwetel Ejiofor return in supporting roles as Dr. Christine Palmer and Baron Mordo, respectively from the first Doctor Strange film. McAdams continues as the driver for Strange, being the “one that got away.” On the other hand, Ejiofor is hardly used and barely recognizable from the Mordo of the previous film. Both characters are used purely as McGuffins to tie Strange to his past and push the others forward, often feeling tacked on. When the main theme of the story seems to be regret, it’s easy to point to McAdams’ character, but I question whether a love story was the best way to reflect this in Strange.

DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS
Courtesy of Marvel Studios/Courtesy of Marvel Studios
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Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff in Marvel Studios' DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.

Sam Rami has crafted a visually stunning action film and expands into some genuine horror as well. The story has some early twists that recontextualize some of the characters but continues the surprises throughout. What’s more of a surprise, though, is the rating of the movie. It’s PG-13 and earns every bit of it by increasing the brutality and pushing the film into a heavy horror aspect. Don’t get me wrong: The horror themes were effective in a way that reflects Sam Rami’s roots in the best way. Some scenes even invoke 1984’s “The Terminator.” On the other hand, the gore and violence felt unearned and uncomfortable in a franchise that has largely been for family audiences. It’s expected that eventually these movies would have to grow into a more serious tone, but the extent here was a little more over the top than what could be perceived as necessary.

Despite the visceral nature of the action involved, it’s used to tell a largely compelling story of the effects of regret on individuals. Some look for answers, desperate to correct past wrongs, while others deflect to avoid real issues. Regardless, our characters go on a rollercoaster odyssey that is like no other while learning that whatever universe you travel to, there’s no running from past regrets. The story is a powerful one and opens up the possibilities of a wider MCU that is exciting and bewildering. There is infinite potential that is best exemplified in some exciting cameos that recall “Spiderman: No Way Home.” The potential leaves you wanting more – now more than ever.

DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS
Courtesy of Marvel Studios/Courtesy of Marvel Studios
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(L-R): Rachel McAdams as Dr. Christine Palmer, Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Stephen Strange, and Xochitl Gomez as America Chavez in Marvel Studios' DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.

Although “Multiverse of Madness” has stunning visuals and effects, they’re not entirely consistent. There are times when the CGI was very apparent, diluting the illusion of the fantastical. The creatures were rendered with such love and care that it was disappointing to see humans CGI’d poorly. The same goes for the locales. Every universe felt diverse and interesting, but the background quality took a dip when during some of the more serious character driven scenes, within some heavy green screen apparent. I wouldn’t call it outright bad, but it was enough to take me out of the moment briefly. Additionally, some of the costume design felt clumsy to the degree of a Spirit Halloween store. These complaints are few and far between, though, in what is an unreal journey of discovery that will leave audiences in awe and wonder.

The MCU has expanded its borders previously into space and now into the endless possibilities of multiverses with “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.” The film builds upon all of the previous MCU history and pushes gleefully into the unknown. There is an expectation that the audience will have previous knowledge of several previous films and Disney+ series, so you’d better do your homework. Otherwise, this new entry into the Marvel films is a wild ride with unpredictable twists and turns that provides only brief respites to breathe in between brutal action. The new character of America Chavez is a welcome addition, and our well-known characters are given satisfying story arcs that surprise and delight. By the time credits roll, no character is left the same, and I’m interested to see where they go next.

DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS
Courtesy of Marvel Studios/Courtesy of Marvel Studios
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On left: Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Stephen Strange in Marvel Studios' DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.

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