Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness: An In-Depth Review

Spoilers Ahead!

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness encapsulated everything I had expected going into the film, disregarding the ravings of those expecting there to be dozens of cameo appearances in a movie only scraping the two hour mark. Acting as an expansion on the concept of the Multiverse that had been introduced in previous projects such as Wandavision, Spider-Man No Way Home, What If and Loki, this contribution very much becomes a story about the devolution of former Avenger, Wanda Maximoff, into the antagonist of this work, the Scarlet Witch; a plot point that supplements the exploration of the Multiverse perfectly.

Catapulting the audience straight into the action, Raimi’s work begins with the immediate introduction of America Chavez, the MCU’s newest hero, alongside the variant Defender Strange, in pursuit of the Book of Vishanti that could counteract the forces of the Darkhold; very much the catalyst for the plot as the film proceeds. After showcasing Chavez’s ability to navigate the Multiverse, despite having no control over this power at this point, the story then cuts to the wedding of Christine Palmer, the love interest of Doctor Strange in the familiar Earth-616 storyline that has formed the crux of the MCU predating this contribution. Within lies my first of a very limited collection of frailties surrounding this movie. The addition of Christine Palmer in this manner, and also as part of the Illuminati later on in the story in my opinion transpires to be one of little significance by the film’s conclusion, and a rather abrupt re-entry into the MCU despite little mention of the character whilst Doctor Strange has been preoccupied with other more pressing issues within other projects, to dote about his failed love life. The temporary reduction of half of Earth’s population during Avengers Infinity War, and the subsequent battle against Thanos in Avengers Endgame come to mind, only to name a couple.

This precedes the first of several action scenes in the form of Doctor Strange and Wong, the Sorcerer Supreme, battling with Gargantos; a large octopus like creature that is in pursuit of Chavez, which we soon discover is under the direction of Wanda, crippled by the study of the Darkhold. After becoming acquainted with Chavez, Strange pursues the assistance of Wanda, whose ulterior motives are swiftly unearthed, and we see the first glimpse of the supposed horror style Raimi was rumoured to implement. Visually, the transition from a tranquil farm into a red, rotting wasteland fuelled by the Darkhold, was one of many visual aspects that signify high points within the film as a whole, with the style of Raimi very much shining through and portraying Marvel’s attempt at a darker take on the story being told. In addition, this is very much a turning point for the audience’s perception of Wanda, marking a transition from the Avenger who fought alongside the likes of Iron Man to defeat Thanos, into the Scarlet Witch, who was prepared to kill the young America Chavez to satiate the bereavement she had been facing due to the loss of her two children; the combination of this villainy and Raimi’s ability to portray horror in such a manner yet another strength of the movie as a whole.

In my opinion, one of the overruling strongpoints of the movie is undeniably the cinematography, accredited to the direction of Sam Raimi. The materialisation of the Scarlet Witch and the subsequent battle that ensued at the sacred Kamar-Taj were a testament to the advanced CGI that has been a mainstay in the MCU throughout recent history, with the shots of Wanda flying around the temple, as well as the conjured shields used to deter her, as usual, proving to be aesthetically pleasing; notwithstanding the picturesque surroundings this battle took place in. However, one of the highlights of this sequence is the mind control of one of Kamar-Taj’s students. Reaching a point of view shot of a student tasked with fortifying the temple, Wanda manages to infiltrate their mind, prompting a chilling shot of the antagonist emerging from behind the frightened man and telling him to run; breaking the shield spell and allowing Wanda to wreak havoc over those who remain. Once again, the influence of Sam Raimi is crystal clear, and the subtle elements of horror are subtle yet effective.

At the conclusion of this battle, in which Wanda overruns Kamar-Taj and forces Chavez once again to use her powers to help herself and Doctor Strange escape, Wong is left alone with Wanda, who had recently disturbingly disfigured herself to reach the band attempting to evade her, seemingly helpless to her superiority. Wong’s seeming weakness is a plot hole that, whether intentional or not, not only undermines the title of Sorcerer Supreme but also the legitimacy of his character. From beginning to end, despite an impressive combat scene against Gargantos, Wong appears to be helpless in the face of danger; not only second best to Wanda, but also in the face of all other foes, boasting seemingly only limited weapons in his arsenal when compared to the power that should accompany his title. Subsequent to the escape of Strange and Chavez, after a nauseating trip through the Multiverse through a nonetheless aesthetically pleasing sequence, the duo are left in a universe in which their search for another variant of Strange leads them only to Mordo, opening the door to what in my opinion was the highlight of the film; the introduction of the Illuminati.

Formed of a culmination of cameos by both variants of characters already introduced to the MCU, alongside new characters, this encounter was captivating, yet did not feel at all forced. Consisting of Mordo, Captain Carter introduced in the What If animated series, Maria Rambeau as a variant of Captain Marvel, and Black Bolt played by Inhumans actor Anson Mount, the cameo appearances did not cease there. Returning to his role beginning in the iteration of the X-Men released in 2000, Patrick Stewart reprised his role as Professor X, however my personal highlight of this assembly was the reveal of John Krasinski as Reed Richards, also known as Mr Fantastic of the Fantastic Four. Other than a silhouette in the trailer that also all-but confirmed the return of Stewart within the film, the frequently fancasted appearance of Krasinski was completely unforeseen, making the A Quiet Place actor’s appearance that little bit more sensational. When compared to the appearances of both Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield in Spider-Man No Way Home, although the nostalgia and anticipation of their respective returns fuelled an animated reaction amongst audiences, the set leaks predating the release of the film had almost confirmed their return, and in contrast, the utter surprise that accompanied the reveal of Krasinski in his updated version of the Fantastic Four uniform made the cameo that bit more enthralling.

Despite the excitement of the introduction of these six heroes, they met their swift demise at the hands of a disgruntled Wanda who had been spiralling increasingly out of control since the outset. The brutal demise of every member of the Illuminati encapsulates the darker path Marvel attempted to take with this film, with the added gore that followed the implosion of Black Bolt’s head, followed by the blooded shield that emerged from the dissection of Captain Carter, additions that were previously unprecedented within the MCU; without doubt one of the reasons why Sam Raimi, renowned for this variety of cinematic shot, was employed by Marvel to spearhead the first instalment of this new direction. In addition, the ease of the Scarlet Witch in obliterating some of the Universe’s most powerful heroes is an effective depiction of the Scarlet Witch's superiority in the hierarchy of power within the MCU. A death that is without doubt worth exploring is that of Professor X, whose abilities give an insight into the true internal struggles Wanda is facing. After infiltrating her mind, Xavier locates Wanda encased in rubble, representing the grasp the Darkhold has established, and as he tries to free her from this bind, a demonic Scarlet Witch emerges from the red mist that encroaches, dismantling the Professor’s head and killing him not only within Wanda’s mind, but also in reality. The chilling appearance of this demon not only symbolises the corruption the Darkhold has provoked, but also provides yet another element of horror, accompanied by cinematography that complimented the situation perfectly.

Further on in the movie, mirroring the Scarlet Witch’s use of the Darkhold to dreamwalk into Universe designated 838 in pursuit of Chavez, Doctor Strange is forced to utilise the powers of the corrupting book to save his newest companion. Following an aesthetically pleasing battle with Sinister Strange that utilised music notes as a form of combat, Strange reanimates the body of Defender Strange concealed at the beginning of the film, and utilises the demons that come to halt his trespass into this other universe to engage in combat with the Scarlet Witch, in a surprising yet welcome twist that adds another dimension to the character, not only adding to the list of fight scenes that were visually pleasing, but also showing the true extent of Strange’s abilities; whether inhabiting his own form or not. Concluding this battle, the amalgamation of America Chavez’s story up to this point can be observed, however in my opinion, when compared to the dark twist Marvel had successfully employed up to this point, the pinnacle of this development seemed slightly cliched and. Despite symbolising a heartwarming moment between Strange and Chavez, supposedly due to the projection of the protagonist’s late sister mentioned earlier in the film onto the young hero, the idea that all she had to do was believe she could control her powers as she was unable to do at any point previously in order to incapacitate Wanda, felt stereotypical and a rushed way to bring the character’s thus far interesting development to its climax.

Nonetheless, the exposure of Wanda to her family in order to tame the darkness she had exuded was an emotive and effective way to bring about the conclusion of the main storyline; the Scarlet Witch had been pursuing Chavez’s powers for the entirety of the movie, desiring the safety of her children, however the realisation of what she had become in pursuit of that goal is an undeniably powerful moment. This provokes Wanda to implode the temple consisting of walls scrawled with the spells of the Darkhold that had tainted her mind; ending the sequence with a shower of rubble and a conspicuous red glow. This begs the question: is this the end of the Scarlet Witch? However, there is no doubt in my mind Wanda Maximoff will return in some form in the not too distant future. Not only was the character’s ‘death’ far too underwhelming for a character of her magnitude within the MCU, but there are far too many opportunities going forward to include the Witch in all her glory, to abruptly stunt her character’s development at this point with any finality.

Subsequent to a sequence at Kamar-Taj, showing Chavez beginning her training under the Sorcerer Supreme, amongst his other students, all seems to be well in the world as Strange returns to the Sanctum Sanctorum in New York. This is short-lived however when, taking an afternoon stroll, a spell of immense pain is followed by the emergence of a third eye on his forehead, identical to that of his variant Sinister Strange. In the Marvel comics, the third eye that appears on Strange’s head is a manifestation of the Eye of Agamotto, a relic that is seen in both the first instalment of Doctor Strange, as well as both Avengers Infinity War and Endgame before being destroyed by Thanos, and reappearing without the Time Stone in Spider-Man No Way Home. In this context however, it is assumed that the eye acts as a window into the soul, whilst also being a link to the dark dimension from which the Darkhold derives its powers; however this in no means forces Earth 616’s Strange into the same bracket as his ‘Sinister’ counterpart after the use of this ungodly apparatus. I believe the purpose of revealing the eye in this manner is to portray an enhancement of Strange’s abilities, mastered following his out of body experience utilising the Darkhold earlier in the movie. I am very interested to see what comes next for Doctor Strange in use of these new found abilities, and the appearance of Clea in the first post credits scene may give a clue as to what comes next for the popular protagonist. Playing the relative of Dormammu in the brief cameo, Charlize Theron tears open a portal to the dark dimension, and with it unleashes a plethora of opportunity for the continuation of the character’s development across the years. Moreover, in accordance with the comics, Clea becomes Doctor Strange’s love interest and eventual wife, so could this be a new chapter in the so far unsuccessful love affairs of Benedict Cumberbatch’s character within later iterations of the franchise? And will this rather underwhelming and seemingly insignificant exploration of Strange’s complicated love for Christine Palmer be the last? We will have to wait and see.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness was without doubt what I would deem a successful experiment by Marvel and Kevin Feige. The direction of Sam Raimi is evident throughout, and the horror elements he brought to the plot were flawless, and also provided some beautiful cinematography that only enhanced the film as a whole. Benedict Cumberbatch and Elizabeth Olsen fulfilled their roles superbly, as is the trend within their appearances in the MCU to date, and Xochitl Gomez’s debut as America Chavez, despite suffering from questionable writing at times, was enjoyable, and I look forward to seeing where Marvel decide to take her character from here. It begs the question, could the Young Avengers be in our midst, with the characters of Kate Bishop, Wiccan, Speed and now America Chavez amongst others all recently established within the MCU? I hope so. Despite how easy it would have been to buy into the audience's demand for a movie that followed the generic Marvel formula, that was far too crowded with needless cameos, I think the introduction of the Illuminati was seamless and effective, and overall under the direction of Sam Raimi the latest instalment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe proved to be everything I had hoped; incorporating effective horror elements with picturesque visuals to fuel a new take on an MCU project. Overall, I would give this film a rating of 7.5 out of 10, as although visually it was breathtaking, and the characters and overall plot were incorporated well, I do believe the writing and overall tempo of the work was slightly rushed in places in pursuit of a fast paced multiversal exploration, that did not quite reach its full potential, and could have been fulfilled more effectively had the pacing of the film been amended. Nonetheless, a very successful venture back into the field of Marvel lore for Sam Raimi, and an undeniable triumph for Kevin Feige going into Thor: Love and Thunder, as well as Black Panther: Wakanda Forever later this year.

By Joe Baker