Despite some limitations, there’s plenty of frightening in the Doctor Strange sequel.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022) Review By Mark McPherson
Published on May 11, 2022
Rating 3.5 /5
The Marvel Cinematic Universe launches head-first into the Multiverse with this Doctor Strange sequel. With horror-friendly director Sam Raimi at the helm, this surreal adventure lives up to Strange being a beacon of the bizarre. The Multiverse in this film is portrayed less as an enigma and more as a terrifying place where anything is possible. So much wild stuff occurs within this trippy experience that it nearly loses sight of the central character in this maddening picture loaded with stellar special effects.
Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) returns as the sorcerer who has yet to let go of his ego and regrets. Having recovered from the events of Avengers: Endgame, he’s still trying to get used to the new world he occupies. He has yet to fully recognize Wong (Benedict Wong) as the new sorcerer supreme, having assumed that title when Strange left Earth in Infinity War and blipped out of existence during Endgame. He still hasn’t gotten over romantically losing his love interest Christine (Rachel McAdams), despite how much of a calm face he tries to put on at her wedding to another man.
Before he has time to work out any of those feelings, duty calls. The Multiverse is in trouble and monsters from other dimensions are starting to attack. At the heart of this issue is the mysterious teenager of America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), a girl with the power to open portals to other universes but not of her own control. While she tries to control this power, Strange takes it upon himself to protect her. That might not be possible, however, when faced with the evil intentions of Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), so committed to reaching out to the Multiverse that she’s willing to destroy her own world to get there.
There’s a lot of potential with such a story and only half of it feels tapped. The dynamic between Strange and America could’ve been great, given how well Strange came off in his interactions with Peter Parker in the previous Spider-Man movie. Sadly, we don’t get a whole lot of time for them to have chemistry. There’s a brief conversation at the beginning that is charming but then the brakes come off as the adventure starts. So much is thrown at the screen in the brisk two-hour running time that there’s hardly a moment to breathe. It leads to a clunky bit of exposition in revealing the pathos of both characters more by accident than organically.
The good news is that stylish sequences of Multiverse questing are a lot of fun. The hop and skip through various worlds lead to some trippy visuals and genuine surprises. Yet it almost feels like one sequence, in particular, feels more ordered than experimental. Prepare for a whole scene of cameos with timing placed for the audience to gasp and cheer at which new and familiar Marvel characters will grace the screen.
But hasn’t this staging become commonplace? After Spider-Man: No Way Home, we know that there are plenty of possibilities that any and all Marvel characters could show up in any MCU movie, given Disney’s recent acquisition of Fox-owned Marvel content and their agreement with Sony’s Marvel projects. In one way, it’s refreshing to have that kinda freedom as it makes the films feel as unpredictable as the comics, where anything could happen. In another way, there’s a reliance on such surprise that the cameo scene feels more obligatory than astounding.
Raimi loads up the picture with a lot of his horror trademarks. Tilted camera angles, eerie zooms, and cackling displays of genuine horror pulsate throughout the film. In bits and pieces, there are some amazing scenes of terror where it feels like nobody has plot armor in a tale of dark magic and the Multiverse. Still, I found myself wanting the film to go further and get weirder. It comes close to having that tongue-in-cheek sense of Raimi’s anything-goes horror style, as with one particular cameo that should please Evil Dead fans. But for those hoping this would be the MCU’s first big push into the genre of horror, they may be underwhelmed to see what happens when this film hits the ceiling of the franchise’s limits.
Despite some limitations, there’s plenty of frightening in the Doctor Strange sequel. It could’ve used more character development and certainly a lot more of that Raimi weirdness to feel more than just another MCU movie with a bit of a horror coating. That being said, there’s a handful of scenes that are just eye-popping in their absurdity and creepiness that are going to warrant many rewatches. It’s not Marvel Studios at their best, definitely the studio at their most experimental, daring to tread further rather than stagnate.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.