The much-anticipated sequel to Doctor Strange has finally arrived, offering a mind-bending look into the MCU’s expansive Multiverse. Directed by Sam Raimi, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness expands significantly on ideas introduced in previous MCU movies and shows, and also introduces new and exciting elements into cinema’s biggest franchise.
Reprising their roles from Doctor Strange are Benedict Cumberbatch, Benedict Wong, Rachel McAdams, and Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Multiverse of Madness also heavily features Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch and Xochitl Gomez as America Chavez.
From here on, spoilers for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
The trailers for the film offered a reasonable indication of what action Doctor Strange 2 would offer, but – as always with the movies of the MCU – a great deal was kept back. This made for a handful of twists that could be classed as various degrees of shocking: from Wanda’s somewhat predictable villainous turn to multiple potentially massive hints at the MCU’s future heroes.
The Multiversal introduction of Patrick Stewart’s Professor Xavier was no great surprise, nor was Hayley Atwell’s Captain Carter (as her shield was seen in one trailer), but John Krasinski’s Mister Fantastic was a triumphant moment, making the long-time fan casting a reality. Though it’s currently unclear whether he will reprise the role as the MCU’s official version of Reed Richards in the upcoming Fantastic Four movie, his appearance was one of the film’s best reveals, despite being a relatively minor moment.
Therein lies the biggest problem with Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. The general narrative thrust of the film rests solely with characters already well-established within the MCU, and its ideas are ones already established in both Spider-Man: No Way Home and What If…, making it feel far less original than it probably should. Though Cumberbatch, Olsen, and Gomez all deliver sound performances, the story spun by Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness simply doesn’t feel as exciting as it could.
However, Doctor Strange 2 does expand the MCU significantly, and opens the gateway for the continuation of its Multiverse-spanning narrative moving forward. This alone doesn’t make it a good film, however, meaning that its narrative weaknesses need shoring up by excellent filmmaking.
Luckily, Sam Raimi’s direction and Danny Elfman’s score elevate the film. Through various subtle visual Easter eggs and nods to various other properties, Raimi establishes Doctor Strange 2 as a thoroughly well-made film. In addition, Elfman’s score is note perfect, with musical stabs lending added credence to the film’s occasional vibes of existential horror, and one particularly magical battle being fought with actual musical notes particularly well-realized.
All in all, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a relatively disappointing film, but only because its potential is so evident. With greatness flashing through every so often, its a film that simply doesn’t shine whatsoever, and conjures a vague sense of dissatisfaction. This is ultimate down to the writing alone, as so many other aspects of the film are good, but it makes the film far less enjoyable than it deserved to be.
Summary: Despite multiple instances of fan service and a number of moments designed to tease the expansion of the MCU, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness feels strangely unoriginal, providing a relatively disappointing experience even in the midst of an objectively well-made film.
Highlights: The brief exploration of Earth-838 introduces a number of characters into the live-action MCU that are incredibly exciting, only to abruptly rip it way in a cruel act of subversion that speaks to Raimi’s skill as a filmmaker.