By Juan Calvillo
Marvel’s “Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness” is a beautiful and fantastical addition to the comic book movie genre that takes a mild dive into dense emotional issues. There is a preface to this review when it comes to the movie’s content. Viewers are strongly recommended to watch Disney+’s “WandaVision” TV show before watching “Multiverse of Madness.” The show brings an enormous amount of context and dives deeper than the movie when it comes to why certain events transpire in the film as they do.
Typically, Marvel movies leak information before their release. In this instance, very little is known about who will pop up except those who have been revealed in trailers. The film’s villain has been kept under wraps since the first trailer dropped and the movie does a fun job with the villain’s reveal. The villain’s reasons for the war they instigate with the magical heroes of the film is direct and clear cut.
“Multiverse of Madness” comes on the heels of the stellar reception of “Spider-man: No Way Home” and furthers Marvel’s flirtation with their take on the idea of the multiverse. In comic books, and in the hypothesis of some in the scientific community, there is a multiverse of universes and each has its own versions of the same people in them. While these are the same people in each universe, they all differ in sometimes slight and sometimes enormous ways. The crux of the movie’s plot relies heavily on this very notion.
America Chavez, Stephen Strange and Wanda Maximoff are all part of a multiversal search for a special magic book that gives the wielder the solution to any problem. The trio battle alternate versions of the heroes and other magical and non-magical foes through different universes all to find the book and use it to help protect Chavez from the villains pursuing her. The adventure goes full tilt with action but has character-building moments for both the antagonists and protagonists.
Benedict Cumberbatch reprises his role as Strange in the film. Cumberbatch has perfected the no-nonsense master of the mystic arts in this film. He is dismissive, cocky, funny and caring throughout the film. Cumberbatch also gets the chance, due to the multiverse having different iterations of his character, to stretch his acting muscles with a few darker versions of Strange. His real talent is creating a moment that starts with one of these perspectives but ends in a totally different arena of the emotional spectrum. This is best shown in his interactions with Xochitl Gomez’s character, Chavez. Gomez is a breath of fresh Latina air in a series that has limited diversity with characters. The scenes where she speaks Spanish are funny and show her character’s tendency to be defiant. Gomez is the breakout star in this film and her character work shows that she can do deep and thoughtful moments just as easily as she can do comedy. She is great in the moments she plays off Cumberbatch, with the only issue being that there aren’t more of them.
Elizabeth Olsen is heads-and-tails the dramatic back bone of the movie. Olsen’s acting prowess is right at home showing how she has embraced the emotionally complex, disillusioned and broken character that is Maximoff. The losses Maximoff has endured throughout the character’s time in the Marvel cinematic universe are varied and include the deaths of her love Vision and brother Pietro Maximoff. What is most impressive is how Olsen has become adept at showing the hollowness her character has come to feel while, due to the different versions of herself in other universes, also showing how blissfully happy her character could be if things were different.
Rounding out the cast are Rachel McAdams reprising her role of Christine Palmer, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Karl Mordo and Benedict Wong as the current sorcerer supreme, Wong. Ejiofor is entertaining as one of the variants of Mordo who appeared in the original Doctor Strange. His air of superiority and disdain for Cumberbatch’s character is spot on. Unfortunately the limited use of all three of these actors never lets any of them be a highlight in the film.
Each character and actor has their own moment in the film, the aforementioned Ejiofor has a fun exchange with Cumberbatch, Wong still delivers every line in the best deadpan in the Marvel cinematic universe and McAdams gives emotional weight to the relationship between Strange and Palmer. Their relationship is one of the things that seems to hang around Strange’s mind when the idea of different outcomes and different endings is discussed in connection to the multitude of different universes.
One of the highlights of the film is the art and direction. Artistically, the costumers and special effects wizards outdid themselves. Given that there are so many variations of each character, the task must have been monumental for each to have a different alternate costume and style. Despite that, the level of detail in the different forms of the titular characters was impressive. The stand out of course being the different versions of Strange mostly due to the fact that the costumes are intricate and reflect the character’s personalities.
Director Sam Raimi, director of “Evil Dead” and the Tobey McGuire “Spider-Man” movies, knocked the movie out of the park. His fingerprint is on every inch of the movie. From the creation of the monsters and demons that plague the heroes, to the types of shots that bring out the insanity that viewers would assume accompanies multiversal travel, Raimi does not disappoint. This also leads to another aspect that is new to the Marvel cinematic universe. “Multiverse of Madness” embraces its horror side when it comes to its monsters and villain. This doesn’t mean the movie is a horror film, but it doesn’t shy away from being scary.
“Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness” is a fun film filled with beautiful special effects, and poignant moments of character growth for almost every character. The movie is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, frightening images and some language. “Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness” opened Friday.