Review by C.J. Bunce
Director Sam Raimi was constrained by the comic books with his three Spider-Man movies, but Kevin Fiege and Marvel Studios let him unleash everything for his latest superhero movie, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. The result is fantastic, the most ambitious crossover mash-up and blend of comic book characters to hit the screen since X-Men: Days of Future Past. Loki writer Michael Waldron was the right choice to create this seamless masterpiece of twisty storytelling, and adding music by Batman 1989’s Danny Elfman is the icing on a (dark, funny, horror-themed) cake.
Finally, the multitudes get to witness the madness of the multiverse for themselves–the film arrived this week on Disney+. Is it the best Marvel Studios ensemble movie yet? (spoilers ahead)
If you’re not counting the best superhero ensemble movie ever, Sony’s X-Men: Days of Future Past–then yes. And it even gives that film a run for its money.
Equal part Wanda Maximoff aka Scarlet Witch story and equal part Doctor Strange story, Marvel continues to pinpoint perfect titles for its films. Why not simply Marvel’s Multiverse of Madness? Beyond the title there’s surprisingly little to quibble with. Multiverse of Madness is a blockbuster film with everything a comic book fan could want, especially lots of superheroes from different corners of the Marvel Comics.
Resolution for Wanda Maximoff. One of the most powerful characters in Marvel Comics needed a worthy story of her own. Elizabeth Olsen’s ill-fated Wanda played a role in the Thanos’ Snap as critical to the Infinity Stone story as anyone, and her loss was probably the most poignant. WandaVision didn’t seem to fit into the MCU, until this movie’s events played out. Yes, she gets a similar exit as Black Widow, joining Iron Man and Vision, but at least with the story Marvel wrote for her it always seemed to be her destiny. This is the most like the Scarlet Witch of the comics that audiences have had a chance to see.
The Doctor Strange from the comics is back. The first Doctor Strange movie and Strange’s role in the Infinity War began to set up what was once the fringe side of Marvel Comics–Strange isn’t a typical superhero, but part of the fantasy and supernatural realm of the comics titles. Benedict Cumberbatch’s Strange seemed a different character altogether in Spider-Man: No Way Home, almost daft and less than competent, letting a teenager get the better of him. So it’s refreshing to see the smart, savvy, magician back, accompanied by his great cloak and some of Marvel’s–and Disney’s–finest visual effects.
The X-Men arrive in the MCU. Patrick Stewart’s Charles Xavier arriving in this fashion, as head of the Illuminati (a fairly recent creation in the comics from 2005), is a perfect entrance for the X-Men into Marvel Studios’ films. It’s time for the ultimate crossover. Get on with it, Marvel and Disney!
The Fantastic Four arrive in the MCU. Oh, why couldn’t Raimi have let his favorite go-to, chisel-faced leading man Bruce Campbell play the cameo for Reed Richards? Ioan Gruffudd returning as Reed Richards would have been far more fun than John Krasinski, too, but having Reed show up at all is great fun, and another reason to get fans excited for another try at the famous foursome–and its eagerly awaited missing superhero from the movies and TV, Namor–who in the comics is a key leader of the Illuminati, so the stage is set.
Maria Rambeau is vindicated. Why needlessly kill off Lashanda Lynch’s character in WandaVision unless you’re going to give her the opportunity to be the most powerful character in the universe? As 838’s Captain Marvel, fans got to see a glimpse of another great superheroine in action.
Peggy as Captain Britain is as great as it sounds. Hayley Atwell as Captain Peggy Carter (not technically the Captain Britain of the comics but it’s what we all think, right?) was always a great idea, but seeing her in What If in animated form wasn’t enough. The spitting badass superheroine to replace Captain America has arrived!
The Inhumans series is vindicated. We now know how awesome Anson Mount is because of his Strange New Worlds character, but in the lead of the short-lived Inhumans TV series as Black Bolt Mount didn’t get the chance to shine, and most consider the series a flop. Instead of brushing the characters aside this was a great way to see Black Bolt again and give him another chance, even if he doesn’t fare so well in the 838 universe.
Secondary characters never get a chance to shine like this. Rachel McAdams’ Dr. Christine Palmer was just Doctor Strange’s love interest before this movie, but here writer Michael Waldron made an important shift, giving her more knowledge than Strange, making her a singular multiverse expert he may be able to turn to again. With her red hair you’ve got to wonder if at least one script draft had her become the Scarlet Witch of her universe.
The best visual effects superhero sequence since Quicksilver played “Time in a Bottle.” The musical note fantasy battle between Doctor Strange and “Sinister Strange” is straight out of both Warner Brothers cartoons and the most bizarre comics page layouts of Jack Kirby, lifted from the page and beautifully realized. Backed with classical tracks from Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, the battle may be Sam Raimi’s and Danny Elfman’s finest scene work ever.
The next young hero enters the MCU. She enters the story as a manifestation of the future, quite similar to X-Men Blink, Sunspot, and Warpath in X-Men: Days of Future Past. With Xochitl Gomez’s America Chavez, another new face is added to the quickly building next generation pantheon of potential Avengers, following Tom Holland’s Spider-Man, Hailee Steinfeld’s Hawkeye, Iman Vellani’s Ms. Marvel, Into the Spider-verse’s Miles Morales and Spider-Gwen, Florence Pugh’s Black Widow, and if we’re lucky, Dafne Keen’s X23/Laura in Logan. If you figure in a new Black Panther leader, Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man, Evangeline Lilly’s Wasp, and the soon coming Tatiana Maslany’s She-Hulk and Natalie Portman’s Thor, MCU fans have much to look forward to with so many first generation Avengers exiting the series.
The story is better than anything yet in the MCU, digging into dreams and multiverses with attempts to explain its supernatural elements much better than the convoluted efforts of Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame, and the other Avengers team-up movies. It’s even better at pulling Doctor Strange off the comics page than the first Doctor Strange movie, which remains as one of the MCU’s top films.
But questions remain, a necessary thing for a lengthy multi-film narrative like the Marvel movies. What about the multiverse characters of the Loki series? Where do the events of this film tie-in to the multiverse missteps of Spider-Man: No Way Home?
Benedict Wong as Wong, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mordo, and Michael Stuhlbarg all found their place in this story, with Wong in particular getting some of the best shared comedy moments with Strange. Raimi has a surprisingly soft touch blending his zombie and gore past into the MCU. Who knew Cumberbatch would make such a great zombie in makeup?
Directed by Sam Raimi, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness only arrived in theaters last month and is now streaming on Disney+. It’s also available on physical home media here at Amazon. Don’t miss the MCU’s biggest and best crossover movie.