Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness Review

Another MCU “Phase 4” film that, while very entertaining, was clearly a bit of a mess backstage and relied heavily on multiversal cameos to gets pops out of the audience. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness has some merit, don’t get me wrong, but without the warm central performance of Tom Holland this take on the multiverse-crossing shenanigans isn’t quite up to par, though some of the visuals were properly stunning. Let’s take a deeper look anyway because… well, that’s just what I do here…

The film starts with an alternate Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and a girl called America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) running around in an in-between universes dimension trying to reach a book known as the “Book of Vishanti” to stop a demonic entity from getting their hands on America’s innate ability to travel the multiverse at will, a power she has no self-control over. Strange is killed but America and the good Doctor’s body end up in the MCU’s universe, closely followed by Shuma-Gorath of Marvel vs. Capcom fame! (and, well, obviously the comics that came before the games, but to MY eyes it was like seeing an old fighting game character brought to life!) This led the MCU Strange leaving the wedding of his love interest Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) and come to the rescue alongside Wong (Benedict Wong), who is now the Sorcerer Supreme thanks to Strange being dead for five years and all that jazz. They rescue her and Strange recognises her from a dream he’s been having…

Strange and Chavez travel through an … um, jigsaw dimension?

Meanwhile Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) is still where we left her in Wandavision, i.e. her evil alter-ego Scarlett Witch using the demonic book known as the Darkhold to try and find a way to a universe where her two children are alive, after having created them out of thin air during the TV series. Wanda comes across as willing to help Strange when he arrives and asks for it, but it’s soon revealed that the Scarlett Witch has found a universe where her two children live (later recognised as Universe 838) and has other ideas…

That’s the general set up of the film, with Strange and Chavez popping over to different universes trying to avoid the Scarlett Witch. Benedict Cumberbatch and Elizabeth Olsen do a great job as flawed hero and tragic villain respectively, and it’s those two performances that hold the film together as otherwise it’s a bit of a mess. Instead of slowly building to a big finale it feels more like a string of separate ideas that are loosely tied together before the film just ends. I’m also sorry to say I didn’t really connect with America Chavez, she had a very “60s Doctor Who companion” about her story in that her main role throughout the film was to be captured and scream for help, and sadly Ms. Gomez didn’t light the screen on-fire with her acting either.

She’s just a little cross, that’s all. Don’t worry!

Chitwetel Ejiofor does return as Baron Mordo, though as the 838 version of the character, so sadly we got no forward progression from the cliffhanger to the original Doctor Strange film after all these years. While the MCU version of Christine Palmer only gets a small role the 838 version plays a bigger role and a good one, she still has good chemistry with Benedict. Lastly I have to once again mention the special effects, especially the landscapes of various weird dimensions. Even though it was only streaming 4K rather than true 4K the visual quality on Disney Plus was often staggering. It may not have been the best film ever written but it sure was easy on the eyes…

Overall Thoughts:

Quick, somebody call Ryu!

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness isn’t well structured and lacks the heart of the MCU’s previous multiversal cross-over movie, but it does have some stunning set-pieces and imagery plus Benedict Cumberbatch and Elizabeth Olsen do a lot to hold your attention even when the plot doesn’t really exist to do so otherwise. A good night in but I would’ve been disappointed had I paid to go see it in the cinema…

The big spoiler is what was mostly revealed in the trailers, that being Universe 838 have a version of the comic group The Illuminati, one that consists of Mordo along with Professor X (once again played by Patrick Stewart), Captain Carter (played by Hayley Atwell, naturally), a Captain Marvel that’s actually Maria Rambeau (and therefore played by Lashana Lynch), Black Bolt (would you believe once again played by Anson Mount? Who thought they’d actually call back to the Inhumans TV show?!) and finally a version of Reed Richards played by John Krasinski. It was great fun not only seeing this line up of Marvel characters but also a flashback to this group plus Doctor Strange defeating Thanos. Sadly Scarlett Witch appears and kills all of them in quick succession, which… ah well. There are multiple references to two universes colliding causing an Incursion so I’m guessing a version of Secret Wars is on the horizon for the MCU. Should be interesting! (and a good way to get X-Men in the MCU…)

I suppose given this is the spoiler section I could’ve put a picture of the actual Illuminati rather than this vague shadowy sequence from the trailer, but oh well. Better to be safe than sorry, I guess?

There is also a version of Doctor Strange who had gone all evil thanks to using the Darkhold and stood alone in a dying universe (but isn’t the Doctor Strange who did that in the What-If? series…) who has a really fun showdown with “our” Doctor Strange involving musical notes. America naturally gains control over her powers in the nick of time to save everyone by showing the Scarlett Witch what she’d be doing to the version of her children, as well as her alternate self, which breaks the real Wanda through and allows her to stop her own alter-ego and rid the multiverse of the Darkhold. We then get a post-credits tease of new character Clea (played by Charlize Theron), a servant of Dormammu of the Dark Dimension in the comics, and sure enough she invites Strange to that same dimension after talk of him causing an Incursion, but honestly it feels like if you skip this film it won’t make a whole lot of difference to anything. It was certainly lacking that “umph”.

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