“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” was directed by Sam Raimi and written by Michael Waldron (under the control of Marvel Studios’ producers). The film follows Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) as he goes on a trippy adventure with America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), a teenager with a mysterious power being hunted across the Multiverse by Wanda/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen).
I’ll start by saying this: I’m sick and tired of Multiverse content. It worked in “Spider-Man: No Way Home” and “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” (which we’ll revisit later), but it’s become so tiresome. Like time travel, the concept of a Multiverse is a messy, chaotic one which is used more as a gimmick than a story device in many instances. The trap which this film falls into is the focus on Multiverse spectacle rather than using the concept to tell a compelling story. “Back to the Future” is a terrific film because it used time travel to tell a heartfelt narrative about a teenager who meets with the younger versions of his parents, eventually improving their relationship and the future of their family. That’s profound. But “Doctor Strange 2” just throws everything it possibly can at the screen, desperately trying to entertain the audience but ultimately ends up being exhausting.
I want to address the defense every blind Marvel fan is giving this film on the Internet, which is that “It’s the first horror movie of the MCU!” And my response is: okay, so what? Just because a film is in a certain genre doesn’t make it good. That’s like saying “Thunder Force” is the best superhero movie because it’s in the comedy genre. “Thunder Force” is a miserable nightmare, and “Doctor Strange 2” is as well (although to a far lesser degree). Plus, the horror in this film wasn’t all that effective anyway. Due to the PG-13 Mickey Mouse restraints, not much was possible. Zombie makeup, jump-scares, and generic music don’t automatically make it scary. I wasn’t scared once — in fact, I was annoyed, because I know that if Raimi was truly let loose and got that R rating, this film likely would have lived up to the hype.
Speaking of Raimi, another defense of this movie is that “Kevin Feige let Raimi loose!” Yeah, nothing says letting a director loose like slapping him in the face with a PG-13 rating, a choppy script unworthy of his talents, and a mandate of extensive 6-week-reshoots in which 60-80% of the movie was altered.
However, that’s not to say that Raimi is perfect. In fact, the film is packed full of moments with utterly misguided direction. There are some truly baffling transitions, obnoxious overuse of cross-dissolves, and a refusal to have actors do another take — many of the scenes come off as rushed first takes sent straight to the editing room floor.
Moving on from the faulty defenses of this movie, let’s discuss the “screenwriting.”
Firstly, Wanda and America Chavez were given ridiculous motivations. Wanda’s motivation is to steal copies of her children (who died in “WandaVision”) from a different universe by crossing through the Multiverse. Firstly, this is a direct rip-off of Kingpin’s motivation in “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.” Marvel’s getting lazy. Secondly, this is stupidly convoluted. Why doesn’t she just make her children all over again? In “WandaVision,” she created them out of nothing but her unexplained magic red witch powers. Just do that again! Why go through all this trouble of becoming a villain who slaughters people?
Then there’s America Chavez, who can only use her power of traveling through the Multiverse when she’s scared. This is ridiculous. For one thing, there are tons of moments throughout the film when she should be shaking with terror from seeing the atrocities taking place around her, but she doesn’t teleport except for one time early on. Secondly, it’s never explained how scared she needs to be in order to travel to another universe. Does she need to be afraid of deadly situations or could small details like thinking she lost her phone also initiate her power? Additionally, how did she even get this power in the first place? You’d think the writers would explain that, but they never do.
All that we’re given to learn about Chavez is a flashback showing when she first used her power, and while I won’t give spoilers away, I will say that the cause of her exhibiting the power is ridiculous and, since she drives the film’s plot, it makes the entire film even more absurd.
Beyond the sloppy character writing, the “script” also has a pacing reminiscent of “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.” Due to the rewrites, reshoots, and editing done by a woodchipper, the film moves so fast in its 2-hour runtime that the story, plot points, exposition, and general character development all fall flat. You don’t have to treat your audience like they have five brain cells. You can write basic character development and put at least some effort into explaining what’s going on. There’s no harm in slowing down either — all stories need downtime.
However, the absolute worst element of this film is the dialogue. With bangers such as “I’m not a monster — I’m a mother” and “Okay book, tell me what to do,” none of the characters feel like actual people. Nobody talks like this. Everyone is spewing out lazy exposition and grueling jokes, so whenever the film actually slows down (which is quite rare), you can’t even enjoy that because you’re distracted by how poorly written the dialogue is.
I do want to mention what I actually did enjoy about this film: Elizabeth Olsen. She killed it. Able to shift from menacing to loving in a matter of seconds, her performance became the much-needed heart of the movie. She was given plenty of dramatic moments, allowing her to demonstrate her phenomenal acting talent. Plus, the film had better CGI than the trailers made it seem. While the visual effects weren’t all flawless, most of them were stunning; some of them almost lived up to the mind-blowing visuals of the original “Doctor Strange,” which is a legitimate achievement.
By the end of “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” I wished I had the power of America Chavez so that I could travel to a universe where this “movie” was never made, and instead we got a proper “Doctor Strange” sequel. There are some elements to love in this film, but it was generally a disappointing and maddening experience that’s currently my third or fourth least favorite MCU film.
Marvel Spider-Man 3’d Sam Raimi — again.