Marvels’ master of the mystic arts returns for a universe hopping adventure. But is this a return to form for the MCU? The Doctor will see you now
Doctor Strange in the multiverse of madness is the follow up to the much-loved fan favourite original from 2016, Doctor Strange. While it has taken more than six years to get to us, there has been no shortage of the Doctor on the big screen, as he has appeared or cameoed in most of the biggest MCU releases since then, cumulating in the recent box office smash ‘Spiderman: No way Home’
Benedict Cumberbatch returns as everyone’s favourite yet slightly arrogant ‘master of the mystic arts’ – Steven Strange. Despite his obvious skills, he is not the ‘Sorcerer Supreme’, that is a position held by Wong (Benedict Wong). This is due to the fact that Strange was ‘dusted’ for five years following Thanos’ snap.
If this makes no sense to you it’s because like all films and TV shows set in the Marvel Universe, they follow the same storyline and events, so missing one or two films (or TV shows) doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be completely lost, but there will definitely be gaps in your understanding of ongoing events.
For Marvel fans, this didn’t used to be too much of a problem, as even casual comic book fans made sure they watched the latest Marvel movie. But since the inception of Disney plus, the ambition became to integrate the TV shows as well. Which means if you don’t have Disney plus, you are now missing vital parts and backgrounds to the stories told on film.
With past movies, this hasn’t been that important, but this is the first time it seems like it is essential. ‘The Multiverse of Madness’ co-stars Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen). This is not a cameo or a guest appearance. Her story is intrinsic to this film. While you could still enjoy the film without having watched the Disney plus series ‘WandaVision’, you may not have the same investment or understanding of the stakes involved. You’ll be missing a lot of the emotional motivation behind Wandas actions. Depending on your view, you may find this unfair if you don’t have or plan to get Disney Plus.
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‘Dr Strange and the Multiverse of Madness’ finds us months after the events of Spiderman No Way Home. Strange in dealing with the aftermath of his decisions and trying to get back to his normal life. A side note, one of the main differences between Marvel and DC is the importance of secret identities. In DC, they are closely guarded secrets but within the MCU, other than Spiderman, all the other heroes are well known to the people of New York, which is one way their films always have a different slightly lighter tone. You regularly find MCU heroes being followed or asked for selfies!
Strange encounters America Chavez, played by newcomer Xochitl Gomez, on the run from demonic monsters. She has the ability to travel between universes, though she hasn’t mastered it yet. They team up together and alongside Wong, begin their multiverse adventure to find answers as to who is after America and her powers. The film brings back other characters from the original including Dr Stranges long time love interest Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) and Chiwetel Ejiofor as his friend turned rival Karl Mordo
Sam Raimi stepped in as director after the original director Scott Derrickson stepped aside due to creative differences. Raimi, who is best known for directing the original Spider-man trilogy actually has a background in horror having spearheaded the evil dead franchise and also the 1990s neo noir superhero thriller ‘ Darkman’. He promised to inject some of that horror into this movie and went as far as bringing along his long time evil dead collaborator Bruce Campbell for a special cameo.
The horror elements were very present, from zombies to evil spirits and many homages to classic horror tropes. There isn’t really blood or guts but there are a few jump scares. It definitely earns its 12A rating and might be a bit frightening in places for younger children. Unfortunately, the nice horror touches in the film are countered by the dodgy monster CGI which is fast becoming a trademark of MCU films.
Marvel haven’t had the best run in their post ‘Avengers’ era. While ‘Shang Chi’ was well received, it didn’t spark the excitement Disney were hoping for. ‘The Eternals’ also failed to ignite a fire for a new super team in the MCU. Spiderman No Way Home was a monster hit for Marvel and Sony, but some have said that was due in great part to fan service, so they attempt to replicate that here. But while that relied on bringing back characters whom fans already knew and loved from the past, Multiverse of Madness tries to excite fans with hopes for Marvels future, by highlighting the first MCU appearances for some fan requested characters.
If you have managed to stay off the Internet and avoid spoilers regarding the cameos, then congratulations. As this is a spoiler free review, I won’t be revealing who appears but it’s safe to say there are one or two surprises that reflect Disney now flexing its ownership of Fox studios and the host of Marvel characters previously under the control of Fox. It’s safe to say that some of your favourite comic book movies from the nineties will be getting reboots sooner than expected.
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Dr Strange and the Multiverse of Madness manages to bring a lot of fun and familiarity to the screen. The characters are as likable as ever (even with the sometimes-cheesy dialogue) and the effects on a whole are decent’ bar the CGI for the silly looking Octopus monsters. The movie does still somehow feel a bit convoluted, a bit of a mishmash, where a lot has been thrown at the screen to see what sticks. So, while its still action packed and enjoyable, it somehow still underwhelms.
And while this is supposed to be a Doctor Strange movie, it’s much more about Wanda’s story and her journey. Maybe it should have been called ‘WandaStrange’! Elizabeth Olsen’s character definitely steals the show, with bigger emotional stakes. This makes it a shame for anyone going to watch this not having seen the ‘WandaVision’ Disney plus show. Benedict Cumberbatch stays in his lane which at times almost makes him feel like a passenger in his own movie
After a few missteps, Marvel have got some of their mojo back but are still lacking the Midas touch they seemed to have a few years ago, as this is definitely not a runaway hit. Maybe after over 25 films, Kevin Feige has finally run out of steam? Marvel hope they can recreate the success of the earlier phases, with the likes of Iron-man and Captain America but the truth is, that special ‘Avengers’ moment in time may be gone forever. Next up this July is Thor: Love and Thunder, which is directed by Taika Waititi and brings back another original avenger to hand over to his replacement.
The last Thor was a huge fan favourite, due to its shift from the typical action adventure of the Marvel movies towards comedy and slapstick and it remains to be seen if the sequel will have the same effect this time round. Until then, ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ brings fun, big fights, a few scares, some dodgy monster CGI and lots of old school fan service but also feels like just another bridge to get them to their next movie.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is in Cinemas now