«Doctor Strange 2» – sheer madness!

Luca Fontana
Zurich, on 04.05.2022
Translation: Katherine Martin

«Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness» may be one of the most anticipated Marvel movies in recent years. The film is, in fact, bonkers. But it also blows some of its potential. Too bad, coming from a director like Sam Raimi.

First things first: my review contains no spoilers. Any information stated here is featured in trailers that have already been released.


If «Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness» is anything, it’s a film of many sequels. There’s «Doctor Strange» – alright, fine, that was an obvious one. But there’s also «Spider-Man: No Way Home», «Loki» and ... don’t worry, I won’t reveal anything else. Spoilers, etc. etc. The multidimensional project is being shouldered by director Sam Raimi. Ring any bells? That’s because Raimi was the one who brought «Spider-Man» to cinemas in 2002.

Why does that matter? Because «Spider-Man» heralded the start of a 20-year-and-counting superhero reign over the world of cinema. Sure, there was «Blade» in 1998, then «X-Men» two years later. They doubtlessly paved the way. But comic book adaptions were still a niche genre. It wasn’t until Sam Raimi’s «Spider-Man» that they went mainstream.

Now, two decades later, Raimi has returned to Marvel – a move his fans were hotly anticipating. And yes, the movie has Raimi’s fingerprints on it. But they’re fainter than I’d hoped.

Here’s what «Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness» is all about

There multiverse exists – and it’s dangerous. In the centre of it all, we have young America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), who’s endowed with the gift of being able to jump between its realities – the only one who can do so, in fact. Dark, unknown forces who want to steal her gift for their own ends then begin to stir.

Fortunately, while flitting between realities, Chavez happens to run into the most powerful wizard on Earth – Earth 616, that is: Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch). He wants to protect Chavez and find out who’s after her. Strange enlists the help of the Scarlet Witch, Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olson) – the only individual who might be stronger than him.

It’s like Christmas came early ... but for whom exactly?

A strange sensation creeps through me after watching «Multiverse of Madness». It’s as if Christmas has arrived, bringing every possible gift along with it – just not the ones I’d put on my wish list. That doesn’t make it a bad Christmas. Presents are great, after all. But ... I’m a little disappointed nonetheless.

«That bad, huh?»

«No, but…»

No, but. You’ll read that phrase in this review pretty often. Let’s start with the director, Sam Raimi. He cut his moviemaking teeth in the horror genre. His iconic and equally brutal «Evil Dead» trilogy is unforgettable. Ever since its unexpected success, Bruce Campbell, who played the lead role in the films, has been given a cameo in virtually every Sam Raimi movie. He’s said to be a good luck charm – in «Multiverse of Madness» too.

Raimi’s roots in the horror genre are what I was most looking forward to about «Multiverse of Madness». After all, they’re apparent in all of his other films – even in the child-friendly «Spider-Man 2». For instance, remember the scene where surgeons try to separate Doctor Otto Octavius’s tentacles from his back? That’s pure horror. It almost strays into body horror territory.

That’s exactly what I wanted to see in «Multiverse of Madness». But I got far less than I bargained for. Okay fine, it does have a couple of fairly whacky scenes. But it never gets as scary as in the video above. Only just scarier than we’re accustomed to in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). With such a low bar, though, that’s nothing to get excited about. Which is why I find the initial reactions to the film particularly surprising. One tweet reads: «It goes fully horror – jump scares, body horror, and a smattering of diabolical kills». I’ve no idea what these people watched. In my opinion, there’s more hype than truth to these comments.

Another example is the screenwriter Michael Waldron. It’s no coincidence that he’s the one getting to continue the story of «Doctor Strange» along with Raimi. In fact, Waldron actually wrote the brilliant «Loki» series, where the multiverse appeared for the first time. Parallel universes, that is. Or different realities. Scientific comic book mumbo jumbo, basically.

The book of ... Vash ... Vashan ... Vishan ... ti? Ach, never mind. In any case, the book is important.
The book of ... Vash ... Vashan ... Vishan ... ti? Ach, never mind. In any case, the book is important.
Marvel Studios

Alrighty then, Waldron knows his stuff, I think to myself. He knows how to play around with the concept. And he does just that – sometimes even insanely well. Just on the big screen and with a heck of a lot more money than with «Loki». Then comes the third act. The reality-spanning threads that had been spun before are hastily tied together. Everything is far too hurried, including the development of some characters. The film also ends very abruptly. After the press screening, I had an extremely puzzled «huh?» expression on my face while the credits were rolling.

Marvel’s «Eternals» was the last movie to manage that.

The Multiverse of Madness is truly insane

«Eternals» ... oh dear. I really [ripped the movie to shreds] [/page/eternals-the-most-boring-marvel-film-of-all-time-21630) when it was released. Before there are any misunderstandings, I like «Multiverse of Madness». I even prefer it to «Spider-Man: No Way Home», even though I totally disagree with some of Raimi and Waldron’s decisions.

Buuuut

«Multiverse of Madness» is seriously fun right from the word go. It kicks off with a huge action scene, followed by another one immediately afterwards. Then another. Octopuses scramble around on skyscrapers, portals open. There are invasions. There are sieges. Wizards fight demons – and who knows what else. «Multiverse of Madness» is completely unrestrained. Drawing on anything and everything. Stylish, playful and on the brink of being a visual extravaganza, it’s as if Raimi wanted to live up to the «Madness» in the film’s title.

The images do have a bit of Raimi’s «Evil Dead» or «Drag Me to Hell» in them.
The images do have a bit of Raimi’s «Evil Dead» or «Drag Me to Hell» in them.

‘Nuff said. But there’s a danger in that, too. As a character in the film says, «In the multiverse, every disease has a cure and every problem has a solution». It could well have been a quote from Marvel’s management; the MCU itself has now become part of the «Multiverse of Madness». That’s exciting because then, no fan theory is too crazy to be plausible. It does, however, sap the movie of all its tension. After all, does anything really have meaning anymore if anything is possible? Every twist of fate could be reversed at any time by journeying across dimensions. What’s missing are real consequences – the setbacks.

The feeling, in fact, that not every problem has a solution.

Cumberbatch and Olsen carry the film

Nevertheless, the unabashed penchant for brutal action, never-ending fan service and cameo appearances that Marvel has demonstrated since «No Way Home» still prevails. And somewhere amongst it all, Raimi still manages to find space for his characters. Kind of. They don’t get much in the way of development. Like I said, everything happens a little too fast, especially towards the end. But Raimi does have his two main actors, who do a lot with the little room they’re given: Benedict Cumberbatch and Elizabeth Olsen.

I could watch Cumberbatch forever as Doctor Strange. Nobody is more believable as the slightly arrogant yet mostly amiable «Master of the Mystic Arts» than Cumberbatch. Strange is asked again and again, «Are you happy?» – especially in the first act. Just as Toby Maguire’s Peter Parker once did in «Spider-Man 2», Strange is constantly fighting an internal battle between what’s best for him, and what’s best for the greater good. Strange, as the surgeon he once was, is constantly trying to fend off emotions – something Cumberbatch portrays perfectly.

Elizabeth Olsen’s potential has been completely wasted in the MCU so far. «Multiverse of Madness» changes that.
Elizabeth Olsen’s potential has been completely wasted in the MCU so far. «Multiverse of Madness» changes that.
Marvel Studios

Elizabeth Olsen’s Wanda Maximoff is equally impressive. She gets much more screen time than the trailers indicated. With that, Olsen’s acting talent finally gets the appreciation it deserves on the big screen. No wonder. There’s got to be plenty of Scarlet Witch comic lore in the movie, which I’ve already unravelled for you here. It fits in wonderfully. While Strange is rational and pragmatic, Wanda provides the emotional counterpoint that drives things forward. After all, nothing is more formative than the pain of a mother who’s lost her children.

Verdict: fleeting fun – no more, no less

«Multiverse of Madness» isn’t my favourite film. And yet, I like it. It’s probably because every time I watch it, I discover something new. As a comic book fan, I take particular pleasure in the fan service, cross-references, Easter eggs and cameos.

Nope, it definitely won’t bore you. The action bonanza is exceptional, with Cumberbatch and Olsen a boon to the movie. And Raimi’s lowkey dark influences do the franchise good, even if I’d hoped for far more Raimi-esque horror. Sure, his fingerprints are on it, but they’re not as evident as James Gunn’s were on «Guardians of the Galaxy» or Taika Waititi’s on «Thor: Ragnarok».

Instead, «Multiverse of Madness» feels a bit like eating a hamburger from a big-name fast food chain: spectacularly delicious while you’re indulging in it, but quickly forgotten once you’re done with it.


«Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness» has been in cinemas since May 4. Runtime: 126 minutes. Age rating: 12/10.

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I'm an outdoorsy guy and enjoy sports that push me to the limit – now that’s what I call comfort zone! But I'm also about curling up in an armchair with books about ugly intrigue and sinister kingkillers. Being an avid cinema-goer, I’ve been known to rave about film scores for hours on end. I’ve always wanted to say: «I am Groot.» 


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