Review: ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’

Latest Marvel film balances genre-blending bizarreness with a deeply human narrative

Benedict Cumberbatch returns as Doctor Strange in a mind-bending sequel.
Credit: 
Supplied by Marvel

From opening with a pony-tailed Benedict Cumberbatch outrunning a fire demon to closing with a third eye appearing on the titular superhero’s forehead, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is one of the weirdest entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

Sam Raimi’s MCU directorial debut is a melange of mind-melting visual effects, signature Marvel panache, and multiverse messiness. It’s light-hearted, at moments ridiculous, and sometimes downright terrifying. Yet, at its heart, the film is profoundly human, exploring what makes people truly happy and whether they can find what they want after it’s been lost.

With that said, the film can be nonsensical and goofy. In one universe, audiences are introduced to an alternate Avengers called the Illuminati, fronted by a Reed Richards who is played by John Krasinski of The Office fame.

This is one of many times where Doctor Strange does not hesitate to drive its audience into multiverse-induced inertia. Where the film succeeds is in exploring the realities of different universes through a remarkably human lens.

The film’s narrative examines choice, fantasy, happiness and regret—effectively grounding what is an otherwise ludicrous film. Doctor Strange should be applauded for balancing horror-inspired bizarreness with tender moments of quiet introspection.

This is made possible in part by Elizabeth Olson. She delivers a standout performance as Scarlet Witch, the film’s villain, selling herself as a sympathetic, even tragic figure. Her journey fleshes out the broader MCU while delivering an affecting story of love and loss.

The movie’s dark visuals are equally noteworthy. Strange dabbles in forbidden magic and possesses a horrifying zombified version of himself from an alternate universe. Scarlet Witch is genuinely terrifying, with action scenes reminiscent of a slasher film.

Thankfully, Raimi’s signature horror touches aren’t just window dressing: they amplify characters’ motivations and arcs. The film is intensely stylish without being gratuitous.

Unfortunately, an underlying sense of restraint holds the film back from being spectacular. For all its creative visuals, the movie seems hesitant to alienate the casual MCU fanbase with true weirdness. It sticks a bit too closely to the tried-but-true Marvel formula.

Yet, as the film’s universe-jumping presents endless possibilities, Doctor Strange forces its characters and audience to consider their happiness when letting go of what could have been. Ultimately, although perhaps a little messy, the film is a dazzling story of how people pursue happiness and the lengths they’ll go to erase regret.

Everyone has messed up and felt paralyzing regret. This relatability is what Marvel does best: tell human stories through characters with incredibly inhuman abilities.

Amongst the menagerie of CGI and the multiverse, Doctor Strange evocatively communicates a story of supremely powerful sorcerers and universe wanderers. It’s an impressive bit of juggling from Marvel in what is a highly original film, but its reluctance to break the Marvel mould prevents Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness from being truly mad.

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