Cert – 12, Run-time – 2 hours 6 minutes, Director – Sam Raimi
After encountering a young girl (Xochitl Gomez) who can travel across the multiverse, Dr Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) finds himself travelling through various universes to stop the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) from destroying them.
If Spider-Man: No Way Home was the ignition for the latest set of expansions within the Marvel Cinematic Universe then there’s no denying that Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness is the explosion that will lead to the effect. As the title, and previous films, would suggest this sees Benedict Cumberbatch’s spellcasting hero travelling across the ranges of the multiverse as he attempts to protect the universe-jumping America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) from capture. However, hunting her is the darkening force of the Scarlet Witch, AKA Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen). Her power travels across the various different universes – most of which are explored in a quick sequence, which does leave you wanting to spend more time in the more visually amusing concepts – and threatens to destroy them, with the chance of them beginning to somehow crash into each other.
While not the villainous leading figure of the piece, in the way that Thanos was in Avengers: Infinity War, Wanda certainly gets a fair deal of screen-time throughout this film. It likely comes as an effect of everything that has been built up to for her so far within the MCU, and in some ways this brings a slight level of confliction to the character. She’s being posed as the antagonistic figure of the piece, however with everything that has come beforehand in mind there are, of course, sympathetic leanings which occasionally conflict or get in the way with the moments that want to solely pose her as a villainous threat consumed by her own pain, and interactions with dark forces that have begun to consumer her. Such dark forces are played with throughout the film, particularly as an element for the base of the narrative, and certainly bring about a slight Sam Raimi style, as the director returns to that role on the big screen for the first time in nearly ten years.
Multiverse Of Madness comes with many of the distinct Raimi tropes, including an excellent Bruce Campbell cameo. It’s unmistakeably been directed by him. This helps lean into one or two of the more horror related elements as well. While not a horror film itself there are hints and tones of the genre dotted here and there throughout the film, particularly the more fluid second half, which act as a point of interest, even if you do wish they were more up front and slightly bolder. You can occasionally feel the Marvel reins being pulled in during such moments. Perhaps for now it’s the studio further experimenting with genres in their films, or what they can play with in the future when it comes to the plans set out for their next phases – Kevin Feige has said he’s planning the next ten years for the studio.
If this film is a launching pad of sorts, or as mentioned earlier the explosion to lead to the effect, then it certainly feels like it at times. Much of the first half of the film feels very expositional and as if it’s simply acting as build-up to more things to come outside of itself. When working with the various different characters and the locations they find themselves in – alongside Strange, Chavez and Wanda we also spend some time with girl-that-got-away Christine (Rachel McAdams, with a bit more to do this time around) and legendary Sorcerer Supreme Wong (Benedict Wong) – there’s a lot of jumping back and forth, providing and eventually quite jumbled feel to things. It causes certain moments – including one particularly major sequence – to strike a wavering tone that feels almost uncertain of itself; is it supposed to be an intense piece of dramatic action or more along the lines of something in James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad?
Yet, much of this appears to arrive as the multiverse is still being explored in the first half of the film. Once things calm down, somewhat, and begin to focus more on the core targets of the film, instead of expanding certain elements and planting seeds for future films, there’s more to enjoy within the better flow that picks up. There’s more enjoyment to be found within certain scenes as there’s less jumping between characters and locations, particularly in the same sequence when we’ve had some longer moments just before. Generally as the film progresses and begins to become more concerned with its narrative and directly progressing things it finds itself working to a much stronger degree to when it moves from place to place in quick succession. There may still be some flaws present, but for the most part there’s an enjoyable nature to the slight madness that the multiverse has to offer, particularly when it comes to the spell-based action that’s on display. Further helped by the directorial style of Sam Raimi, even if some of his and screenwriter Michael Waldron’s ideas do occasionally feel reined in. As the film travels along its various courses things come together and begin to flow with more ease. Keeping you in place and making for a better, less chaotic, time within the apparent multiverse of madness.
While it might occasionally feel conflicted and reined in, particularly in the jumpy first half, there’s still a fair deal to like and enjoy about Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness. Using the spells and magic effectively in action sequences there’s gradually a better flow, and therefore sense of engagement, to things.