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Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (spoiler-free review)

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Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is the first horror film, or at least the first film with horror elements, in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Some of the Marvel’s younger fans may be disappointed: unlike most of the films in the MCU, this is unsuitable for children.  That said, it is great to see Marvel experimenting with different themes and storytelling styles, rather than relying on previous narrative techniques.

America Chavez (played by Xochitl Gomez) heralds the impending destruction of the multiverse and it is down to Doctor Stephen Strange (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) to stop the incursions, before all of reality is destroyed.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Stephen Strange in Marvel Studios’ DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.

Compared with the previous MCU film Eternals, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is more firmly rooted in the MCU.  Although not essential, it is worth first watching the What If…? and WandaVision Marvel shows, as well as – to a lesser extent – Spiderman: No Way Home.  There are dozens of call-backs and references, which make Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness a delight for fans of the Marvel films.

The multiverse elements mean this is a film that will be best watched at the cinema.  In one memorable scene, the characters are dragged into a series of parallel realities. The director, Sam Raimi, here embraces the lunacy of multiple realities, creating a visually stunning sequence.  The sound design is also exemplary.  There is a fantastic use of music throughout the film and subtle chords are used to underscore key character moments.

(L-R): Rachel McAdams as Dr. Christine Palmer, Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Stephen Strange, and Xochitl Gomez as America Chavez in Marvel Studios’ DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.

Whilst this film predominantly focuses on Doctor Strange, Wanda Maximoff (played by Elizabeth Olsen) plays just as important a role.  Although Doctor Strange drives the plot forward, there is only minor exploration of his character.  Instead, it is Maximoff who has the most pronounced character arc throughout the film and it is here that Olsen truly shines, giving one of her greatest performances as Maximoff, portraying her raw anguish and grief.

A consequence of the focus on Maximoff is that the character of Chavez is underused; until the final act, she mostly utilised for exposition.  Nonetheless, Gomez is impressive, despite the limitations of her role.  By comparison, Wong (played by Benedict Wong) has evolved from being the comedy sidekick in the previous Doctor Strange film into a role more fitting for the sorcerer supreme.

Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff in Marvel Studios’ DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.

Raimi was the perfect director for this film.  The horror tropes fit well with his background (such as The Evil Dead films), and the multiverse elements suit his directorial style.  There are lots of disconcerting camera angles and rapid zooming in on faces. Having directed Darkman in 1990, he also had experience with the superhero/horror genre.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness embraces the sheer craziness of parallel realities to create a rollercoaster ride of a film.  As a consequence, the narrative is unevenly paced and does not delve as deeply as it could into the nature of the multiverse.  That said, this is still a fantastic film that needs to be seen at the cinema in order to be fully appreciated.

Peter Ray Allison
Peter Ray Allisonhttp://www.peterallison.net
Science Fiction: the final frontier. These are the articles of the freelance journalist Peter Ray Allison. His continuing mission: to explore strange new realms of fiction, to seek out new genres and new visions of the future, to boldly geek where no one has geeked before.

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