Warning: Spoilers ahead for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
marvel’s latest superhero epic, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, has finally arrived in theaters. The universe-hopping sequel has been warmly embraced by fans and mostly praised by critics. Reviews for Sam Raimi’s return to the comic book genre have hailed his direction from him, Danny Elfman’s music, the visual effects, the performances of the cast, John Mathieson’s cinematography, the action sequences, the horror sequences – the list goes on. Just about the only aspect of the film that hasn’t been universally well-received is its screenplay.
Credited to Loki‘s head writer Michael Waldron, this was always going to be a tricky script to pull off. The movie’s USP was the promise of sending the would-be Sorcerer Supreme across a wide variety of parallel universes with interdimensional superhero America Chavez. Waldron’s job was to channel that tantalizing premise into a singular, focused narrative that didn’t make a gimmick out of the inherently gimmicky concept of interdimensional travel. The storytelling in Multiverse of Madness is perfectly fine. The plot has clearly defined stakes, and Waldron does a great job of turning Wanda Maximoff into a full-blown villain and creating a father-daughter dynamic between Strange and Chavez. But, as a whole, the movie never really finds a compelling way to tie everything together.
The plotting is episodic, jumping from multiversal vignette to multiversal vignette without much concern for the overarching storylines. From the moment Chavez arrives on Earth-616 with an octopus demon in tow, Waldron’s script sets a rapid pace that’s constantly throwing new multiversal conflicts at Strange. While this breakneck pacing and the ever-changing stakes live up to the titular “madness,” the emotional throughlines get lost in the fray.
the Doctor Strange sequel has plenty of great individual moments. Strange fights an evil version of himself by throwing musical notes across the room. Wanda decimates the star-studded Earth-838 Illuminati line-up in a delightfully brutal massacre sequence that really hammers home the threat she poses as a villain. The final battle between zombified Doctor Strange and the Darkhold-powered Scarlet Witch could’ve been ripped straight out of an Evil Dead movie. Wanda’s emotional farewell de ella to her sons de ella, recognizing that she terrifies them and giving up the dream of raising them to save them, certainly tugs on the heartstrings. For all of these reasons, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is one of Marvel’s most exciting, entertaining epics to date. But the patchwork script falls short of true greatness, because all these ideas are too disconnected from one another.
Multiverse of Madness struggles to pull off what Spider-Man: No Way Home pulled off so effectively a few months ago. No Way Home sets up a live-action Spider-Verse full of familiar villains, but it remains focused on Tom Holland’s Peter Parker and his journey toward making the biggest sacrifice of his life to save the world. The franchise crossover is a lot of fun, but all the multiversal cameos serve a compelling It’s a Wonderful Life-style fable about second chances. the Doctor Strange sequel is just as fun and full of fan service as No Way Homebut it can’t quite pull that fan service together to develop and resolve a cohesive narrative.
Waldron seemed like a safe bet when Kevin Feige hired him to write the Doctor Strange sequel The movie promised to be a mind-boggling trip across alternate realities and Waldron’s highest-profile writing gig at the time was Rick and Morty, another mind-boggling trip across alternate realities. But the final product draws unfavorable comparisons with Rick and Morty. Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon’s animated hit revolves around interdimensional travel, but the genius of the show is that it never uses parallel universes as a crutch. They just add some gonzo sci-fi flair to the backdrop of a story that’s really about a deeply dysfunctional family trying to do better. In Rick and Morty, the multiversal shenanigans are the dessert and the engaging emotional storytelling is the main course. In Doc Strange 2the multiversal shenanigans are the main course and the emotional beats are more like an appetizer.
There are payoffs at the end of Multiverse of Madness, but they feel tacked on. In the middle of the zombie-versus-witch showdown, the Raimi-est sequence in the movie, Strange tells Chavez she’s been controlling her power de ella all along and, all of a sudden, she’s able to control it. Stephen tells Christine he loves her but couldn’t make a relationship work (in any conceivable reality) because he doesn’t love himself. This is a nice moment of honesty from a typically sardonic superhero, but the movie never shows how he came to that conclusion. There’s a lot to love in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madnessbut the whole is less than the sum of its parts.
MORE: How Spider-Man: No Way Home Follows Up On Far From Home’s Spider-Sense Storyline
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness Review
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