Alex is a School of Visual Arts graduate with a passion for media, writing and animation. He writes reviews for film, television, and games.
MCU and the Multiverse
When one thinks of the multiverse theory, there is an infinite amount of creative possibilities. In recent years, Marvel has taken interest in that theory and expanded the realms of their reality with alternative ones. While Sony has newfound fame for Spider-Man swinging across different dimensions both animated and live-action, Marvel Studios experimented with their own take on the multiverse, primarily with the Disney+ exclusive series Loki and What If…? Even with Disney’s acquisition of 20th Century Fox, fans have been speculating high chances that former Marvel properties would get the cinematic redemption they deserve upon the multiverse theory.
There are two distinctive individuals that would take on that challenge: Doctor Stephen Strange and filmmaker Sam Raimi. With little to no experience with the comics, I found both Doctor Strange and the 2016 film to be a fascinating and surreal addition to the MCU with mind-blowing visual effects and a top-notch performance by Benedict Cumberbatch. As for Sam Raimi, this will be his grand return to directing superhero movies. Previously, Raimi directed the first live-action Spider-Man trilogy. Though campy in nature, they were a ton of fun to watch with good action, dated yet impressive special effects, and memorable characters.
As the marketing continued, more fans have been theorizing what this multiverse would throw at them, including elements/connections to certain Marvel television series and unexpected cameos. Now, that we have entered into the “multiverse of madness,” how was it?
Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) must travel across the multiverse to protect a young girl (Xochitl Gomez) while avoiding Wanda Maxinoff (Elizabeth Olsen).
A Dark and Supernatural Journey
Conceptually speaking, traveling across different universes can be fun and expansive in worldbuilding. While the visuals deliver that promise on their part, the story comes with horror and a supernatural twist.
For those that have been living under a rock, Sam Raimi was known for directing horror films with a hint of comedy, especially with the Evil Dead. His direction was a smart and clever choice for a plot revolving around the Mystic Arts. The story continues the life of Doctor Stephen Strange and his responsibilities in controlling magic. On the one hand, casting a spell would enhance and improve the user's expertise during a dire situation. However, the results would lead to both emotional and violent consequences whether it is costing one's sanity or leaving a high body count under desperation. In other words, casting magic can be dangerous in the wrong hands. This is, by far, the darkest film in the Phase Four series. Thankfully, the tone does balance well with humor. While we get the typical Marvel dialogue, there is selective use of slapstick and visual gags. Not to mention some callbacks to the first film.
On a side note, this movie is known to have connections across many Marvel television series related to the multiverse theory, besides being a sequel to Doctor Strange. For fans, there is plenty of references, cameos, and surprises that will make them have a fun time. For newcomers, there's a high chance that they will be lost and confused.
The only issue I have with the sequel is its pacing, particularly with its first act. While I generally don't mind straightforward stories, the antagonist is revealed too early than expected. It was probably intentional due to being a continuous arc of that certain character after a series of events that fans already know. Plus, do not expect many universes to appear since this is a character-driven story, which I'll talk about soon.
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The title itself does not lie and this story is thrilling enough to make you scared and laugh at the same time.
Infinite Visuals of Magic and Horror
One of the most memorable aspects of the first Doctor Strange is the special effects regarding the magic spells and the Mirror Dimension which displays dynamic action sequences and optical illusions. Granted, these elements are present in the sequel and are impressive as before. However, that type of magic is an appetizer when compared to the main course.
As expected, the sequel visually expands the Mystic Arts while incorporating the multiverse theory. The main highlight is the "dream walking" spell where the user from one universe can possess a body of an alternate version of that same user...whether alive or dead. There is also a creative magic fight scene involving musical notes, thanks to the powerful score composed by collaborator Danny Elfman.
Even though there aren't many universes present in this film, there are a couple that stands out in terms of their worldbuilding. One involves an alternate futuristic-looking reality where you walk under red traffic lights, unique vendor food (i.e. pizza balls) that is free, and it is protected by a new team other than the Avengers. Sometimes, two universes can collide if both realities collapse, resulting in an "incursion." There is one scene where Strange and America rapidly travel through many universes with different art styles in a visually humorous manner.
Knowing this is a Sam Raimi picture, he knows exactly how to make a movie look scary with his signature cinematography (i.e. jump scares and dutch angles), which is considered a homage to the Evil Dead movies. Even when something looks horrifying, there is an inventive usage for it during the climax. To top it off, the action scenes are fun yet intense at the same time where some of the kills are creatively brutally. These examples include a giant monster's eye getting pulled off or a person getting killed via telepathy. Doctor Strange can be, no pun intended, magical to watch, but the visual effects team cranked up their efforts to make this an endless eye-candy experience.
Complex Yet Sympathetic Characters
As previously stated, the sequel acts more as a character-driven story than taking full advantage of numerous universes. However, with these characters, their emotional struggles and payoffs carry this movie and connect to the multiverse theory more than one may assume. This will be a difficult subject to talk about since some of the characters have arcs that are connected to previous Marvel movies and shows. So, I'll do my best to describe them as simply as I can without spoiling them.
Beginning with our titular character, Doctor Strange resumes his duties protecting the New York Sanctum while secretly yearning for his old life. He faces his ultimate challenge yet when we meet our newest addition to the cast, America Chavez. She is a young teenager whose power to travel between dimensions is constantly hunted by those that seek it. Strange then consults his fellow Avenger Wanda Maxinoff/Scarlet Witch where her new witchcraft powers have changed for either better or worse. Supreme Sorcerer Wong remains a supportive ally and enjoyable as he was before. As for Christine Palmer and the returning Karl Mordo, while we don't see much of them in this universe, their roles are much more significant in the other universes we visit. In fact, the most interesting factor that benefits the multiverse theory is the different versions of key characters and how they will affect the heroes on their journey. The cameos range from familiar faces to planted seeds for future projects, including one veteran actor from a past film trilogy as the funniest surprise yet.
The key that helps us become emotionally attached to these characters is the performances. Benedict Cumberbatch retains his character's brilliancy but also explores deeply how much his action is for the "greater good" in varying versions. Xochitl Gomez is likable and has the potential to appear in future films. Rachael Adams' character has more subtle and believable chemistry with Strange than in the first film. Out of her all performances, Elizabeth Olsen has the most tragic yet saddest emotional arc throughout the movie. The multiverse can be full of different versions of the same characters, but analyzing these versions will make audiences connect more than meets the eye.
It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World of Fun
In conclusion, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is an abundant horror yet fun thrill ride. It appropriately dwells on the dangerous side of magic, thanks to Sam Raimi's style, visionary spells that will enchant or delight you, conflicting yet connective characters, and audience-pleasing cameos. Still, the only setbacks that hinder the adventure with a rushed beginning and a lack of many universes. For MCU and Sam Raimi fans, it is a must-see. There will be moments when this movie would get frightening for younger children, so parental guidance is preferred. It's only a matter of time in what direction where the multiverse theory may go. But, with everything displayed, there will always be endless possibilities on what is on the other side of this universe.