Film Review – “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is Even More Wild Than You Would Expect

We have reached a point now where every new film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is very highly anticipated. Fans eagerly await the next installment in the series, whether it be an introduction of a new character or a sequel for a character we already love. And yet, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness just felt different.

Matched perhaps only by Spider-Man: No Way Home, the Doctor Strange sequel promised excitement and surprises hitherto undreamt of. And with some incredible characters, an absolutely wild story and more surprises than you can shake even the most magical of sticks at, it delivers on those promises in a huge way.

The first takeaway from this film is its pacing. It moves fast. The film’s title promises madness and it wastes no time getting into that madness. There is a bit of a tonal shift later in the movie, which we’ll get into a bit more, but in the early going, it feels like the 28th film in a franchise, just dialed up to 11. If you haven’t seen those previous 27 films, or at least a select few, and some Disney+ series, it will only take a few minutes for you to be completely lost.

That could be looked at as a negative for some, but for the vast majority of those who will be seeing this film, it might hit as more of a positive. Many of us have seen and loved these films and series and don’t necessarily need to be caught up. And for those fans, getting right into the story is perfect.

The biggest challenge for a film about the multiverse, I think, is giving it personal stakes. Marvel Comics often struggle with this issue as some of their bigger, cosmic stories get to be too big and we lose sight of why anything matters in that universe. Doctor Strange keeps the spotlight on these characters we know and love and makes it about them rather than those cosmic consequences. That keeps the fans emotionally invested which is so important in a film like this.

Fans of director Sam Raimi are going to find a lot to like about this film as well, as it eventually gets to a point where his influence is right in your face. It showcases a similar vibe to that of some of his beloved films, including Spider-Man. Not only is it action-packed and dramatic in a way Marvel films have been in the past, but it’s also a bit wacky and tongue in cheek in a way, which works for a film that sees a sorcerer (remember, no hat, not a wizard) jumping around different universes.

The real reason that can work though is the incredible performances from this amazing cast. Marvel has built up quite a stable of actors over the years and this film showcases some of its best. The stars deserve the spotlight of course, but there are so many others in this film, whom I will not name here, who also deserve a lot of credit for their great performances.

It goes without saying, but Benedict Cumberbatch is great as always. During this film’s press junket over the weekend, he was asked about Strange being a career-defining character for him, and he simply said “he’s on a journey” with the character. Well, this was a huge step in that journey and there are a lot of fans who will hope the journey never ends. Whether or not Strange is career-defining for Cumberbatch, he is the only actor who will ever be able to play Strange quite like this.

It wasn’t just the returning characters in the spotlight in this sequel though. Xochitl Gomez, who portrays America Chavez, steals the show. Marvel has seen a bit of a youth movement lately, gathering some great young talent and Gomez fits that mold perfectly. She is certainly a star in the making. Get it? Star?

The real star of this film though is without a doubt Elizabeth Olsen. Coming off of WandaVision, in which she gave such a powerful and moving performance, Olsen managed to up the ante in this film. Olsen mentioned that she looks at her job as though her objective is to defend the perspective of her character. With how much Wanda has been through in her MCU run, she has a lot to work with and she once again gives a performance that will leave fans with broken hearts for Wanda.

When this film was first announced, Kevin Feige billed it as Marvel’s first horror film. You might think they wouldn’t really be willing to push the envelope and will keep it much closer to a family film. You would be wrong. Spider-Man isn’t the only Raimi film from which Multiverse of Madness draws inspiration. The director’s horror chops are very much on display and this movie is legitimately creepy. There are some seriously terrifying moments. It’s not so intense that those who avoid horror altogether will need to skip it, but it is at least worth thinking about before bringing young children to see it.

Of course, with the introduction of horror and some of that aforementioned tongue-in-cheek nature, this film does have some kind of cheesy moments. It won’t be for everyone, but again, fans of Raimi’s films are really going to enjoy that. It wasn’t frequent enough to create a problem in my opinion, but there were certainly some groans and mistimed laughs throughout the audience.

One of the big things that has fans in a frenzy as they wait to see this film is the surprises that have been rumored for some time and even teased in trailers. Without giving anything away, I will say that no matter what it is you’re expecting, this film will deliver more surprises. And more importantly, those surprises work within the confines of this story. Granted, the plot device of the multiverse makes that less of a challenge than it seems, but still, this movie could have gotten unwieldy with too many surprise characters thrown in and they avoided that. But again, there are still plenty of surprises in there.

Really, this movie was everything Marvel fans could have wanted. So often, MCU films leave something to be desired for comics fans who just want to get excited about the details they know and love. This film delivers on that in a big way, with so many references to Marvel Comics stories spread throughout. And it’s not just comic fans that will get excited, but I won’t say any more on that front.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is one of the best Marvel movies ever made. It’s going to be divisive for a number of reasons. Whether it’s the horror elements of the silly Raimi nature of it at times, people will find things not to like about this film. But when it’s all said and done, it’s going to be an incredibly important film for the bigger picture in the MCU and it gives fans so much to be excited about. This film does things that no Marvel film has ever done before and you’re going to have to see it to believe it.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness will come to theaters on May 6.

Mike Mack
Mack is the Editorial Director for Marvel and ESPN content and he has covered comic cons, theme park events, video game showcases and other fun events. He is a fan of theme parks, sports, movies, Marvel Comics and is a self-proclaimed "nerd."