After dealing with a kid and his antics in Spider-Man: No Way Home, the universe, albeit an alternate one, presents another in the form of America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) for Dr Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to save. But unlike last time, it is not the spells that go wrong but fates, destinies, timelines, and unfortunately, even the film at places.
After WandaVision, Wanda Maximoff (a brilliant Elizabeth Olsen) is in possession of The Darkhold, also known as the Book of the Damned and has turned into the Scarlet Witch. Believing that Chavez’s ability to travel between dimensions is the only way she could reunite with her sons she “created” during the events of WandaVision, Wanda has to get through Strange to nab Chavez’s powers.
As probably the first MCU film to take into consideration the events of the series, WandaVision, and even a bit of What If...?, the Multiverse of Madness (MOM) has much source material to process and turn into a story that also needs to propel forward the franchise, which is at the mid point of Phase Four. While it does the former in a style, what it regurgitates as the plot doesn’t put the pedal to the metal when it comes to carrying the franchise forward.
The film seems to tick all the right boxes: a strong protagonist, a stronger antagonist, a new character to take things forward, enough scenarios for Strange to deliver deadpan one-liners, representation in regard to race and sexuality... But is that all enough? Where MOM fails is with the emotions. Unlike WandaVision, which brilliantly showcased Wanda going through different stages of grief, MOM is content to typecast her as the witch willing to go to any lengths to make her fantasy a reality.
While it is good to see more of Wong (Benedict Wong), the film offers almost nothing for Chiwetel Ejiofor who returns as the conflicted Karl Mordo. Chavez, one of the strongest characters in the Marvel comics, is reduced to a teenager-on-the-run with no sense of control over her powers. The best moment of the film, apart from the stunning action set-pieces filled with CG wonders, is when we get introduced to characters we don’t expect to see. However, it is just a short sequence that feels more like a flex by the studio than any real attempt to forge a serious connection.
Director Sam Raimi starts the film with a flashy conglomeration of an origin story of Chavez, the grief of Wanda, and strange things being done by Strange. It is only about an hour into the film when this film becomes what it truly wants to be: crazier, sillier, and surprisingly, scarier, like the many versions of Strange. Perhaps with a more surprising ending, this might just have been a stellar comeback for Raimi after nine years.
This film, after all, has the best of Doctor Strange as well as trademark touches of a director whose filmography includes outstanding superhero films like Darkman and the Spider-Man films, and brilliant horror like in The Evil Dead films. His repertoire results in a Marvel film with good jumpscares, a corpse coming back to life with the symbolic shot of a hand rising out from a grave, and a bloodied villain slowly chasing the good guys. And then, there’s Strange who tries to find inner peace by tackling outer-worldly issues, a role Cumberbatch pulls off with ease.
The film picks style over substance and you see it in its choice to focus on the visuals, not so much on the writing. And so, it ends up somewhere in between a true-blue Marvel film and an intriguing Sam Raimi directorial. That is the thing about magic, isn’t it? When it doesn’t blow your mind, you feel more disappointed than you probably should.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong
Director: Sam Raimi