With the release of the newest Marvel Cinematic Universe installment, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, the verdict remains, the lower budgeted A24 film released collectively by Daniels two months prior, Everything Everywhere All at Once is the better multiverse story. Daniels accomplished what Sam Raimi, who took over for Scott Derrickson after he stepped away due to “creative differences”, and Michael Waldron (who wrote the Disney + series Loki) couldn’t – embracing the weird and absurd universes while putting them on a pedestal above the more normal ones. In the middle of this 126-minute film, the briefest montage of teased universes our heroes are transported through showcases the potential but never amounts to much beyond it.
If you haven’t seen Everything Everywhere All at Once yet, do yourself a favor.
To say a missed opportunity of having the second half of this film be in the paint universe or the animated one or even the one with dinosaurs roaming free (possible Savage Land) is an understatement. Instead, the universes that are explored are like earth 616 – normal and uninspiring. An infinite number of universes to explore and Multiverse of Madness plays it safe well within the realm of the greater MCU. And within each universe the characters all have the same underlying relationship with one another.
Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), though we only see him interact with one other version of himself is still the same arrogant, lonely, corruptible, and self-indulgent sorcerer that we know across the multiverse – he pretends to be happy in the presence of his ex, Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), who none of the Stephen’s and Christine’s ever figure out how to be together, and still looks for ways to justify his actions as good intentioned as they may be. Other universe versions of Christine or Karl Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) will never get past their prejudices of their version of Strange. Earth 616’s Strange could be better than Steve Rogers, or whomever wields the shield, and he would still be second guessed.
If there was ever another time to use the Spider-Man pointing to other versions of himself meme – Doctor Strange fits that meme like a glove.
Michael Waldron, who penned the script doesn’t quite follow the expectations of taking the story after the events that ended with Loki season 1. Due in part of the shakeup of Derrickson stepping away and the script being re-tooled plus the pandemic changing the release order. In that final episode of Loki, Sylvie kills He Who Remains, a descendent of Kang the Conqueror which causes multiverses to split off the main timeline. Instead, Waldron writes Multiverse of Madness as a collection of follow-ups to several different stories mismatched and stitched together. One of which is significantly watered down from its comics counterpart. After the events of Wandavision, Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) has become the Scarlet Witch on the hunt to save her children under the influence of the Darkhold in another universe.
Sounds a lot like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and the KingPin’s motivation. Wanda has transformed from a hero who stopped Thanos to complete evil. No transition period. If this be her destiny. Besides being a sequel to Wandavision, Multiverse of Madness is a Doctor Strange sequel with a gap of 6 years between the two films along with a sequel to Avengers: Endgame. In MCU time, 6 years is an eternity. Three snaps and billions of lives were affected since the two films. Strange isn’t even the Sorcerer Supreme – Wong (Benedict Wong) is, since he wasn’t blipped away in that 5-year span.
Because Multiverse of Madness features a convoluted series of events from the opening frame to the final climactic defeat, it’s impossible to keep up with where Raimi wants to focus his film. One particular scene that every MCU fan was dying to see adds no narrative value to the overall film – it’s more of a distraction to show the deep pockets Disney has. Full of signature horror-esque elements, the horror aspect of this sequel works really well within the frame of the narrative. Body horror, jump scares and gruesome deaths galore – and they all dazzle. Glad to see the Marvel formula inject a bit of horror into it. The opening action sequence even features another kaiju level threat that’s only stopped by poking out the eye. Does anyone remember The Suicide Squad and Starro last year?
The same way Quentin Tarantino loves feet, Raimi loves death by eye stabbing.
Compared to the aforementioned Everything Everywhere, the multiverse aspect is written as a convenience tool. The MCU now possess a character that can travel universes – America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) and she doesn’t even have control of her powers, yet. Just imagine the fire power she can go find when the next Big Bad comes to stake their claim for the universe. America serves as Wanda’s endgame to finding her boys Billy and Tommy (Julian Hilliard & Jett Klyne). Here Wanda is a bull in a China shop – once she sees red, there is no single character aside from Vision that can stop her from getting what she wants. The last time we saw Wanda, the character was full of remorse for holding an entire town hostage as she dealt with the grief of her dead Vision.
Aside from how one dimensional the characters are written and portrayed – a huge step back from the progress made in previous films and series, the performances are the films anchor. Top to bottom the ensemble cast looks comfortable in their roles, even the newcomers. But above all Elizabeth Olsen shines the brightest – this universe needs more of her Scarlet Witch. If the characters were given more of a heartbeat instead of going through the motions, all of the divisiveness would disappear but the fact that the script is a complete mess, echo’s the cracks in the foundation that has followed from Moon Knight and other incomplete series.
If not for the brief exposition on America – her character lacks the characterization to gravitate towards. She just exists.
For 13 years Marvel Studios has looked in complete control, sitting firmly in the driver’s seat. With each new installment, the success grows, and Feige is looked at like the heir apparent. Phase 4, after starting off strong on the coat tails of the Infinity Saga, has been suffering from being pulled in too many directions. With one shared cinematic universe, it’s a lot to ask of fans to watch it all especially with the Disney + series. If one of the series is skipped – an impactful plotline or character can cause a whirlwind of confusion. Multiverse of Madness commands a solid knowledge base of minimum 2 series and at least phase 2 and 3.
It’s the ambition of the story that holds Multiverse of Madness back. Coming in at a hair over 2 hours, disorganized pacing shoots this film in the foot that tries to keep picking up speed. Featuring questionable at times effects of superimposed transitions, Raimi is stuck in the early 2000’s making a 2022 comic book film. The saving grace happens to be the performances from Elizabeth Olsen, Benedict Wong, who has a bigger presence (thankfully, we can always use more Benedict Wong), and Benedict Cumberbatch. Multiverse of Madness is full of Raimi and his directing style – some of it being truly dazzling to experience in the MCU.
Written By: Michael Waldron
Directed By: Sam Raimi
Music By: Danny Elfman
Cinematography: John Mathieson
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, Xochitl Gomez, Rachel McAdams
Release Date: May 6, 2022
Running Time: 2 Hours 6 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 75%
Based On: Doctor Strange created by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko