“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” – It’s not complicated.
We’ve seen the multiverse coming to the MCU for quite a while. It all started when the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) taught us about the multiverse in Doctor Strange. We get another glimpse of it in Avengers Endgame, when the Ancient One explained to Hulk those schisms in the timeline could lead to multiple, alternate timelines or universes. It’s possible the quantum realm in Ant-Man is one of those universes. We get more hints at it in Avengers: Infinity War when Doctor Strange tells Tony Stark that he looked at over fourteen million timelines to find one where they defeated Thanos. The point is all of the phase four MCU films and shows have been pointing us toward the multiverse, especially Loki and Spider-Man: No Way Home, the latter of which very much operates as the prologue to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
On that note, please don’t listen to the crotchety critics that say you need to do a bunch of homework to enjoy Multiverse of Madness (or any MCU movie, for that matter). You don’t. Some people love to complain about there being too much to follow in the MCU – as if the MCU being rich in content is somehow a bad thing – which makes it hard to understand the movies. That’s like picking up book four of the Harry Potter series, then complaining that you don’t know who all these kids and teachers are and that you don’t get the references to past things. Of course you don’t. But you can still understand and enjoy the story in that book, even if you don’t what the Marauder’s map is.
Multiverse of Madness is really easy to follow, even if you have never seen an MCU film or show. There’s a wizard. He knows magic and is the good guy. There’s a witch. She’s knows magic and is the bad guy. There are an infinite number of parallel universes and they are going to travel to some of them. Wizard must stop witch from doing bad thing. The end. It really is that easy – no studying required.
For folks who have even a passing familiarity with the MCU or saw the movie poster, you know the wizard is Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and the witch is Wanda, a.k.a. Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). You’ll also recognize returning characters Wong (Benedict Wong), Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), and Christine (Rachel McAdams) from the first Doctor Strange. The one important new character is America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), who can open portals to any world in the multiverse. If there is anything else you should know it’s that Wanda had a psychotic break when Vision died (in Infinity War), and, after mentally torturing the town of Westview (in Wandavision) and conjuring herself two fake children, retreated to a secluded cabin to master the magic described in the book called the Darkhold. Having lost Vision and the imagined kids, Wanda is hellbent on finding a way to be with versions of her kids that do actually exist in other universes.
For folks who know way too much about the MCU and are also comic book nerds, there’s a lot to take in during Multiverse. With every new entry in the MCU, we get more and more call outs and tie-ins to previous chapters, plus hints at things still to come. Multiverse is positively brimming with all of those things, especially the hints at the future. A couple of these reveals had the audience clapping and myself exclaiming “holy shit, holy shit, HOLY SHIT!!” As I am 100% MCU nerd and 0% comic book nerd, I still haven’t the faintest idea where all of phase four is leading us. Especially after the mid-credit scene, where I found myself exclaiming “whoa, fuck, really?!”
Clearly, I’m doing my best to avoid spoiling anything for you, so let’s talk about the aesthetics of the film. Marvel Studios and head Marvel producer/president Kevin Feige have done an excellent job over the years of hiring directors and giving them a lot of leeway with their particular styles. Multiverse has a very distinct style from what we’re used to, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. When the credits rolled and I saw “directed by Sam Raimi,” it all clicked. Multiverse will remind you of Evil Dead, Spider-Man, and an acid trip, but still feel very much like an MCU movie. In retrospect, Raimi seems ideal for a movie like Multiverse. There is a bit of gruesomeness, psychedelics, some very slight camp, and humor, all movie traits that Raimi excels at. If some of the camera angles and techniques don’t scream Raimi, a couple of multiverses we get a peek at do. The best part is that Raimi has MCU money, so he gets to do special effects that don’t involve rubber and corn syrup. Though, that also would have been a funny universe.
Whether you are a very casual moviegoer or a hardcore superhero dork, you are going to enjoy Multiverse. If you like long, slow-burning storylines, you’re good. If you like Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel McAdams, or Elizabeth Olsen, you’re good. If you really just like Cumberbatch, you’re good. If you like fun, trippy movies, you’re good. If you like magic, you’re good. If you just want to be entertained by a big, bright, loud blockbuster, you’re good. If you like comic books, you’re going to explode. It’s that simple.
Rating: Don’t ask for any money back, in this universe or any other universe.