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DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS review

DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS is directed by Sam Raimi. The film stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, Xochitl Gomez, and Rachel McAdams, and a musical score by Danny Elfman. It’s the 28th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Following past events in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that have unraveled the fabric that holds dimensions and universes together, Doctor Stephen Strange has taken it upon himself to write past wrongs alongside fellow sorcerer Wong. In his battles against multiverse villains, Strange meets America Chavez, a mysterious girl from another universe with the ability to open portals between the universes she can't yet control. Scarlet Witch, troubled by past events and an inability to live in the universe she desires, seeks to take Chavez’s powers for herself, even at the cost of the girl’s life. Will Strange and company succeed in protecting Chavez, and is there any chance to bring back Scarlet Witch’s sanity?

The MCU is huge now. There’s no denying that. So big, in fact, that there are multiple universes colliding! MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS is the latest in an increasingly large series of films – so large, in fact, it’ll have crossed over 30 films by the end of 2022! After being shown up in other characters’ and AVENGERS films since his solo debut in 2016, Stephen Strange finally gets a new solo adventure, even if much of it still features crossovers with characters from other parts of the MCU (or should I start calling that the MCM, Marvel Cinematic Multiverse?) Stephen’s second solo outing is regularly intense and gripping, thanks to the welcomed presence of director Sam Raimi, who replaces previous DOCTOR STRANGE solo film director Scott Derrickson. While the multiverse travel and exploration is a bit more limited than I would’ve liked and there are a few too many moments that scream out “fan service” (I have no doubt crowded showing of this movie will be filled with uproarious applause), overall it’s another solid adventure in the MCU, letting these characters and this growing universe/multiverse shine brightly.

If there’s one place the MCU succeeds above all others, it’s casting. Any skepticism people have about casing choices in these movies is quickly undone (remember back when everyone was upset that Robert Downey, Jr., was cast as Iron Man?) Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Stephen Strange is genius casting, giving us a man who has grown far more humble from his conceited and arrogant beginnings in 2016’s origin story. It’s been great to see this character grow in stature and become more selfless and responsible over the years, and it truly comes full circle in his second and latest solo adventure. This is a character with abilities that light up the screen and are a truly entertaining spectacle, but Stephen remains a three-dimensional character who has regrets for his past and a duty to do the right thing, even if it means putting himself on the line.

Back and entertaining as ever is Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch. This is the role that truly let the younger Olsen come out from the shadows of her sisters, making a name for herself and then some. As one of the most conflicted characters in the MCU, something we’ve seen demonstrated beautifully in past films as well as the recent WANDAVISION TV series on Disney+, she’s played both the hero and the villain, and seeing it culminate in this film’s disastrous events and goings-on doesn’t disappoint. I have no reservations in saying this is, by far, her best performance in the MCU, creating a suitable threat but still never quite losing sight of her humanity and loving side beneath it all, with consequences for all involved.

The other major highlight in the film’s casting, of course, is newcomer Xochitl Gomez, who plays the young America Chavez. While we’ve certainly had young characters in the MCU before, it’s great to get a conflicted one who has powers but doesn’t quite yet realize her place in the ongoing multiverse conflict. Spunky and witty, this young lady steals the show, giving us memorable one-liners but also a vulnerability that many a character in action-adventure spectacles lack. I look forward to seeing her in future MCU productions. You will too after you see this film.

The returning cast includes plenty of other familiar faces as well, including Rachel McAdams and Chiwetel Ejiofor, reprising their roles as Dr. Christine Palmer and Baron Mordo, respectively. Plenty of other old and new faces pop up, including some major fanservice surprises that’ll have theaters roaring loudly with cheers and applause (absolutely no spoilers on that end here, though). It is nice to see that the film does, in part, play into the previously released Disney+ TV series. You certainly don’t need to have seen them to enjoy this film, but you’ll appreciate it all the more if you have.

One thing I greatly appreciate is how Sam Raimi leaves his mark all over the film. This is the man who’d previously given us series like DARKMAN, EVIL DEAD, and of course, his trilogy of SPIDER-MAN films. At times, MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS feels like a horror movie, with its ghouls, spirits, and undead beings (would you expect anything less from the man who brought us EVIL DEAD?) Even its opening sequences feature some pretty wild and bizarre monsters, at least one of whom meets a suitably gruesome end (well, as gruesome as you can get in a PG-13 movie anyhow). And of course, having Raimi in the director’s chair means a certain actor will inevitably cameo in the movie. Again, no spoilers, though.

As much as I loved MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS, I won’t deny that its scope is too limited given the title of the film. Tons of universes are teased in the movie, but traveling between them is frustratingly limited. We get teases of other interesting dimensions, but not much more, though I have no doubt this isn’t the last we’ve seen of hopping across the multiverse in the MCU. And those fanservice moments, as much as the fanboy in me got giddy and excited, they ultimately don’t amount to much and feel like just that – fanservice. One can’t help but wonder just how necessary those moments were, enjoyable and exciting as they were for this longtime fan.

DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS is an intense MCU epic that borderlines on horror at times, succeeding because of its expert casting and a director who clearly has the time of his life once again directing Marvel characters. If you’re a fan, it’s unlikely you’ll be disappointed by what’s to be had here. It feels like ever MCU movie these days has to one-up the previous one, but is that a bad thing when these attempts are mostly successful? Highly recommended!

Oh, and there’s a mid-credits scene and a post-credits scene. So don’t leave the theater early.

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