DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS Review: “The MCU’s Darkest & Most Devastating Film Yet”

Sam Raimi's Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness has arrived, and we were among the first to see it. Come get our thoughts on the Benedict Cumberbatch/Elizabeth Olsen showdown now!

After getting a taste last December with Spider-Man: No Way Home, Marvel Studios unleashes the full force of the vast multiverse in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, taking the Marvel Cinematic Universe to worlds unknown and introducing devastating consequences unlike any our heroes have faced before.

**This review contains mild spoilers for Marvel Studios’ Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness**

What is grief, if not love persevering?

At its core, Multiverse of Madness is about two all-powerful heroes - Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) - processing the grief of love lost, albeit in drastically different ways. The film opens with Strange attending the wedding of his former flame Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), facing the reality of losing her to another man, and we later find Wanda still trying to come to terms with what transpired during WandaVision, where she lost the love of her life as well as her make-believe children.

While Strange understands he can’t change Christine’s decision, Wanda remains heavily in denial about her actions in Westview and has since formulated a dangerous plan that could alter the fate of the entire multiverse forever. The film kicks it into overdrive when she forcibly brings the multiverse-traversing America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) into our MCU and sets the two former allies on a collision course of devastating proportions as one looks to protect while the other seeks to claim the young heroine’s power for their own.

It’s a cat-and-mouse game from here on out as Strange, Chavez, and Wong (Benedict Wong) do everything they can to evade the unstoppable Scarlet Witch, but despite their best efforts, her relentless Terminator-like pursuit eventually becomes nearly impossible to outrun. As her increasingly unhinged actions begin to threaten the entire multiverse, it’s up to Strange to find a way to slow her down before it’s too late. Whether he succeeds is another question entirely…

Director Sam Raimi’s return to comic book movies was widely celebrated across the interwebs when it was announced, and thankfully after a lengthy hiatus, he doesn’t disappoint. He elevates a surprisingly unambitious screenplay with his trademark style and flair for horror. There are so many classic Raimi moments from great character interactions to a familiar cameo to his unique transitions to sweet romance to extremely violent deaths to gruesome horror-comedy, it’s all there and it’s all glorious. From the second the Marvel Studios logo fades away, the film goes from 0 to 160 in an instant and he never lets up. There’s barely any time to think or even process much of what’s happened since there’s still so much going on and even more to come. It’s a return to form for the director, and hopefully only a sign of things to come for Raimi in the MCU.

While it's likely Elizabeth Olsen will (justifiably) receive much of the praise for her explosive performance, this is Benedict Cumberbatch’s movie through and through. He carries the weight of the entire multiverse on his magical shoulders and brings us arguably his strongest performance as Doctor Stephen Strange to date. He still has his arrogant charm, but he’s a different man than the one we met six years ago, as his experiences during Infinity War and No Way Home have transformed him into a far more caring hero - a change in the character Cumberbatch seems to cherish playing. We also see him establish himself as an even more important figure in the grander MCU, so expect bigger and better things down the line for the master of the mystical arts.

You break the rules and become a hero. I do it and I become the enemy. That doesn't seem fair.

Life, more often than not, isn’t fair, and unfortunately for Wanda, she’s been dealt a worse hand than most as she’s constantly been forced to face one heartbreaking loss after another. Throughout her appearances, we’ve seen Wanda lose her parents, her brother, her husband, and her children. Her surrogate Avengers family is gone too, leaving her all alone in this vast multiverse. She’s made every sacrifice and faced more loss than anyone in the MCU has had to endure to this point, and despite all her perseverance, everyone ultimately has a breaking point and she’s reached hers.

Since her debut in Avengers: Age of Ultron, Elizabeth Olsen has constantly been exceptional as Wanda Maxmioff, and she really elevated her portrayal with her Emmy-nominated turn in last year’s WandaVision. Now, with Multiverse of Madness, Olsen steps up once again and delivers the most terrifying performance of them all. There’s no point where you feel like Olsen doesn’t 110% believe Wanda’s actions are justified, even when she’s becoming increasingly unhinged and killing with absolutely no mercy. Wanda's now a full-fledged villain, but every choice she makes is made out of a mother’s love even if it means eternal damnation for everyone else. When Wanda inevitably crosses the point of no return, it’s hard not to still empathize with her plight as all she wants is to be happy and to be with her family, but the price she’s willing to pay leads her on a dark journey where there’s little-to-no chance of redemption. The veteran Raimi really allows Olsen to embrace the Scarlet Witch’s darkness here, and it pays off with one of the MCU’s more tragic story arcs.

From the supporting cast, Benedict Wong was excellent and Xochitl Gomez is a welcome addition to the MCU, while Chiwetel Ejiofor is efficient in limited screen time. My biggest gripe with the previous Doctor Strange (2016) was how the film completely wasted Rachel McAdams, but thankfully, Multiverse of Madness rectifies that egregious oversight by giving her a more than substantial role this time and she completely delivers, proving to be absolutely vital in the film’s inventive third act.

No spoilers, but fans may want to seriously temper their expectations in regards to the much-buzzed-about Illuminati as well as any other surprise cameos. The top secret team does make an impression, but they ultimately leave a lot more to be desired. I will say, however, that Danny Elfman’s score is outstanding and he recreates a classic theme during that pivotal moment between Strange and the Illuminati that’ll have you jumping out of your seat. Hopefully, we get to hear a lot more soon.

After nearly two hours, we're given the long-awaited showdown between Doctor Strange and the Scarlet Witch and it definitely delivers on spectacle. The confrontation is far more intimate than you might be expecting, but thoroughly fitting for this story. It's easily one of the more heartbreaking conclusions to any of the Marvel films and it's hard to predict where things go next as we're left pretty open-ended, and Kevin Feige doesn't tip his hand on whether any Secret Wars are on the way in the not-so-distant future or not. 

As enjoyable as the performances and horror elements are, for a film subtitled, “Multiverse of Madness,” it doesn’t really get particularly crazy with the multiverse. We are teased with different universes, but ultimately only spend time in three and meet fewer variants than we did in No Way Home. It’s a surprisingly straightforward screenplay from Loki ace Michael Waldron, and while he does make a valiant effort to subvert expectations, it’s hard not to feel there were some major revisions along the way. If the same creative team returns for Doctor Strange 3, we’d hope Raimi is more involved with the writing next time.

There are two post-credits scenes, with the first sequence seemingly setting the stage for another huge mystical adventure, but without further context, it’s really hard to get excited about something that may not happen for another three to five years since it is fairly ambiguous. The second is a fun joke tag, a callback to an earlier moment.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is the Marvel Cinematic Universe's darkest and most devastating film yet, boosted by A-list performances from leads Benedict Cumberbatch and Elizabeth Olsen as well as a return to form for legendary Spider-Man director Sam Raimi. The Marvel Cinematic Universe finally embraces the horror genre, with some of its most violent and gruesome moments, enhanced by beautiful character interactions, which all ultimately lead us into an absolutely heartbreaking finale.

Oddly enough, it's the perfect Mother's Day movie, so enjoy yourselves this weekend!

DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS Storyboard Shows Scarlet Witch With Mordo's Decapitated Head
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DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS Storyboard Shows Scarlet Witch With Mordo's Decapitated Head

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