Director: Sam Raimi
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Elizabeth Olsen, Benedict Wong, Xochitl Gomez, Michael Stühlbarg, Rachel McAdams
Runtime: 2 hrs 6 mins
Released By: Walt Disney
Opening Day: 4 May 2022
Synopsis: In Marvel Studios’ “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” the MCU unlocks the Multiverse and pushes its boundaries further than ever before. Journey into the unknown with Doctor Strange, who, with the help of mystical allies both old and new, traverses the mind-bending and dangerous alternate realities of the Multiverse to confront a mysterious new adversary.
[Warning! Contains Spoilers!]
Continuing the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s dizzying exploration of parallel realities, ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ opens with a chaotic sequence in which a pony-tailed Doctor Strange leaps across floating rock fragments with a young woman in a star-spangled jean jacket from a raging, fiery demon. It won’t be long before the girl named America (Xochitl Gomez) tells Strange that she is being hunted by someone who wants her singular ability of leaping across universes.
In similar universe-hopping mode, those hoping to pick up immediately where this next MCU chapter begins would do well to spend a couple of hours prior with the Disney+ series ‘WandaVision’, given how that had set up the character arc of Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and her transformation into the Scarlet Witch. For those who need a refresher, it would suffice to say that Wanda’s fantasy of a happy family life had shattered, setting up her tragi-villainous turn here as an all-powerful sorcerer of dark magic bent on acquiring America’s powers in order to be reunited with her two twin boys, who are alive in every other dimension than the one she is currently stuck on. As writer Michael Waldron (of the Disney+ series ‘Loki’) would have it, she will learn the heart-breaking way that there is no easy way of finding happiness in a parallel self.
The battle between Strange and Wanda for America will unfold across several universes: in the present, Strange will team up with his former sidekick turned Sorcerer Supreme Wong (Benedict Wong) to fend off the giant octopus creature Gargantos in the streets of lower Manhattan as well as a brutal attack on the sorcerer stronghold Kamar-Taj; in an alternate New York City where ‘green means stop and red means go’, Strange will encounter his old frenemy Baron Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and a council of superheroes known as the Illuminati; and last but not least, in a shattered reality following an incursion, Strange will encounter a vengeful doppelganger who had made use of the same malevolent book known as the Darkhold which Wanda had mastered to enrich her extraordinary powers.
Like the last ‘Spider-Man’, it should come as no surprise that ‘Multiverse of Madness’ uses the same universe-hopping conceit to bring back some familiar fan favourites. It is unavoidably messy narrative-wise, skimming over logic and coherence to frog-hop from one set-piece to another, not least when the action unfolds across parallel universes at the same time to eventually converge in one at the same point in time. And yet as exhausting as it is, there is no denying the energy and inventiveness of the inter-dimensional enterprise, thanks to the imagination and wackiness of director Sam Raimi.
Returning to the MCU fold after close to two decades away, Raimi (of the Tobey Maguire ‘Spider-Man’ trilogy) jumps at the opportunity of imprinting his gonzo style of filmmaking. Within the requisite CGI-heavy fights are visually stunning shots comprising dizzying zooms, tilting angles and jump-scares, as well as deliriously gonzo touches including black wraith-like undead and a rotting zombie-like Strange that Raimi-heads would be proud of. Oh yes, Raimi forges his own distinct brand of weird irreverence into the altered states and Far East mysticism of the Doctor Strange property, and without giving too much away, we’d say to keep a lookout for a magical duel where two Stranges duel by shooting musical notes at each other as an example of what Raimi has brought to the fold.
Yet it isn’t just spectacle that Raimi finds in the material, it is also introspection. We find Strange here still grappling with his decision to enable Thanos’ snap in ‘Avengers: Infinity War’, and coming to terms with how he will never be able to be with the love of his life Christine (Rachel McAdams); likewise, Wanda finds herself in the same dilemma of not being able to find happiness with the ones she loves, and that which drives her current take-no-prisoners existence. In between the set-pieces, Cumberbatch and Olsen both discover new ways to elevate their respective characters emotionally, and it is in their humanism that we are able to identify with how we are all in our own ways trying to find the strength to get by without necessarily having the privilege of being with the people we love.
So unhinged though it may seem, there is really method to the madness which you’ll find in this characteristic MCU entry. The MCU faithful will cheer its numerous call-backs, and whoop at the possibilities teased, including an unmissable mid-credits scene. Those familiar with Raimi will enjoy how he has brought his brand of dark, terrifying storytelling to this movie, filling out a haunted house with creativity and eccentricity. And those simply looking for a summer Marvel blockbuster will at least be grateful that it isn’t yet another cookie-cutter ‘Avengers’ retread, demonstrating Marvel’s derring-do at advancing the MCU in surprisingly auteur-driven ways. It’ll leave your head spinning all right, but you’ll be hard pressed to find another MCU entry as idiosyncratically entertaining.
(All sorts of weird, wacky and wonderful, this latest inter-dimensional Marvel outing is cheer for the MCU faithful, delight for fans of director Sam Raimi, and idiosyncratic entertainment for everyone else)
Review by Gabriel Chong