- Movie Rating -

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)

| May 7, 2022

I don’t know, I guess I expected something else from Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.  Even as many fans and critics around me seem to be cooling on this whole MCU business – this is the 28th film – I have steadfastly remained loyal (although “Moonknight” did test my limits).  What disappoints me about this new Strange is the way in which it promises something it doesn’t seem willing to deliver.  It’s title suggests a jaunt through the multiverse in which the characters meet and interact with varying versions of themselves much like Spider-Man: No Way Home and, of course, the Oscar-winning Into the Spider-verse.  But that’s not this movie.  The multiverse is merely a vague template for a confusing and often creepy horror show that bids more to Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead series than to the MCU. 

Now, don’t get me wrong, I like Raimi’s stuff, but he’s more of a visual artist than a storyteller.  There’s nothing wrong with adding his familiar touches – there’s a book of evil, some flying zombie wombats, and those scenes of people talking to their evil doppelgangers.  The problem is that it is all bound up in a movie that, over and over, wants to stop to explain itself.  We keep getting information dumps about magic powers, magical talismans, forbidden landscapes and what it takes to stop evil from overtaking the world.  After a while, you just want to movie to stop explaining itself and get on with it.

There’s a lot to be spoiled here, so I’ll try to tread lightly.

The story begins with Dr. Steven Strange attending the wedding of his former love Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams).  She’s getting married, but not to him.  Who is she marrying?  Well, I’m not sure, we never see a groom – for a second I assumed that she might be one of those weirdos who legally marries herself.  Either way, she’s not marrying Steven and he’s bummed about it.  But yearning for a lost love will have to wait because per the usual there’s a ruckus in the streets.  A giant octopus-eyeball thing is smashing cars and tenement buildings while onlookers reach for their phones.  I hope they have good batteries on their devices because this scene goes on and on and on.

The point of interest for the giant octopus-eyeball thing is that it has been chasing a young girl named America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) across dimensions.  Strange and his buddy Wong (Benedict Wong) rescue the girl and – through a volley of confusing exposition – learn that she has the ability to traverse different universes but she cannot control it.  This magic is something beyond the studies of Strange and Wong and so they suspect that a bit of witchcraft may have been involved. 

With that, they look up Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olson) who hasn’t entirely left her experiences in WestView behind.  She, you see, is under the spell of something called “The Dark Hold” and it will wrench the universe in twain.  Why?  Well, if you saw her show on Disney+ then you can probably guess.

That, basically, creates the overarching storyline of this movie.  What is promised to be a fun whip through the multiverse turns out to be one long closing chapter to “WandaVision” but it’s not a fun ride, or an entirely coherent one.  There must have been pages and pages explaining this plot that are as convoluted as listening to the characters explain it to each other.  It is a headache to follow.  By the third act, I didn’t care.  When Zombie Strange was being attacked by Black Wispy Flying Skeleton Wombats and the walls of The Palace of Forbidden Whatever were starting to crumble, I had checked out.

I don’t know, maybe I was just dazzled by the meta-creative jolt of No Way Home and I was hoping for something with that kind of creative energy.  I was looking forward to the twisty universe-bending of something like Into the Spider-Verse.  There is promise.  There is a scene early on that got me excited as America and Strange fall quickly through various multiverse, one in which they are animated and another in which they are made of paint.  This was exciting and it briefly gave me a jolt of what I was after.  But it was not to last.

I didn’t enjoy this movie, but I appreciate the folks behind the MCU largely because they take risks.  That was the magic behind No Way Home and “WandaVision” and “Loki.”  They were willing to be about something the surprised us, and even when they weren’t entirely successful, you felt the effort of the producers wanting to do more than just tread safe waters.  I felt some of that in Multiverse of Madness.  I sensed that they wanted to let Raimi be the Sam Raimi that we all know.  They wanted to let him tap into his horror roots and see what came out the other side.  The problem is that the result is a jumbled mess.  You can appreciate what you’re seeing but you want to magic of a well-told story.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.