Marvel Studios has made it clear that they’re intent on using their cinematic universe to explore the multiverse farther and farther without stopping any time soon. The latest film to do so is Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. With the special effects extravaganza that the first Doctor Strange film was and how high expectations were after Doctor Strange’s prominent appearance in Spider-Man: No Way Home, this sequel has a lot to live up to. Does Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness meet the heights of many MCU movies that came before, or should it be banished to a different timeline? Let’s search on to find out.
Spoilers for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness are ahead.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness isn’t afraid to get dark. Many of the tones and imagery are reminiscent of dark fantasy tales like The Black Cauldron. There are even some things in the film that are actually quite frightening. This is a nice change for the MCU and offers elements yet to be seen in the franchise. Plus, horror is a fun genre to mix in with the fantasy and superhero themes of Doctor Strange.
Like its predecessor, this movie is chock full of outstanding special effects. They’re on par with the effects of the first Doctor Strange, which is far from a bad thing. They do stand out here, though, where a lot of the visuals are especially cool. Using the spectacular effects to bring giant tentacle monsters to life or capes made out of spirits from the underworld feel real is both genuinely impressive and offers awesome imagery that’s just plain fun to look at.
There are a couple of character arcs throughout the film that are well thought-out and rather satisfying when they reach full development. Christine tells Doctor Strange early on that he’s “always the one who needs to be holding the knife,” meaning that he wants everything to be up to him and doesn’t let anyone else have time to take on responsibilities or have time in the spotlight. This is followed up by him leaving her wedding to fight a monster that Wong quickly shows up to fight anyway. By the end of the film, instead of forcing himself to find a way to save the day, he encourages America Chavez to gain the confidence she needs to stop the Darkhold-enchanted Scarlet Witch and allows Wanda to make the right decision to make up for her actions. Plus, America’s arc of gaining self confidence and learning to control her powers receives just as much payoff.
The filmmakers accomplished the difficult feat of introducing the audience to quite a few new rules to this cinematic universe and having them be quick and easy to understand. These new rules are genuinely interesting concepts as well. For instance, our dreams are actually us seeing into the lives of different versions of ourselves in other universes, and some magic users are able to “dream walk” or take control of their other-universe selves like puppets. These ideas are extremely creative, and never feel too confusing.
This movie also features some of the most exciting fight sequences in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The hand-to-hand fight between Doctor Strange and Mordo is exceptionally well-choreographed. The battle against the giant tentacle monster was absolutely riveting (superheroes should fight giant monsters more often), and then there’s the music note fight. The music note fight is one of the most creative action sequences to appear in a superhero film with the notes playing music as they’re launched across the screen by magic. It was nothing short of brilliant.
This is one of the darker movies in the MCU, and it works as such. There are times, however, where the typical “MCU humor” bleeds through a bit too much. Sure, some decent laughs are offered up, but the timing of certain jokes could have been better. Immediately after having a character bury their own corpse may not be the best time to make a joke about running naked from a clown. The darkness is good and the humor is good, but they do cause tonal shifts that feel like whiplash at times. They blend well enough for most of the movie, but definitely not all of it.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a direct sequel to one movie, but is also a part of a shared universe of over 25 movies and TV series. This means that there’s quite a lot of required viewing to understand a shred of what’s going on. If you’re caught up on all those movies and shows, then it’s quite enjoyable. Otherwise, this would be a confusing moviegoing experience.
Doctor Strange and America Chavez receive fantastic arcs in the story. Wanda, however, not as much. Her arc isn’t necessarily bad, but it does feel a bit exaggerated. Yes, she is under the influence of the Darkhold, it’s unclear which decisions are her own and which are because of the Darkhold. Plus, it feels excessive to make her the literal villain of the film after seeing her help the Avengers for seven years. She’s clearly hurting, and seeing the pain of a parent who lost their kids is powerful, but some bits of it in the storytelling is a little forced. If we saw the effects of the Darkhold prior to this, maybe things would have felt more organic.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a dark, twisted, fantastical breath of fresh air for the MCU. It introduces new ideas while still feeling connected to other Marvel films. It’s certainly not without some hiccups along the way. Some of the writing could have overall been smoother. Outside of those, though, it’s incredibly fun. It’s hard not to enjoy seeing a sorcerer possess a corpse of himself to become a magical zombie with a cape made out of spirits, music notes being weaponized, or the creative mechanics of the multiverse. It’s an overall exciting ride that brings dark fantasy elements into a superhero franchise to make something unique.