Benedict Cumberbatch returns for the Sam Raimi-directed Marvel Cinematic Universe film Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. While it makes for a fairly fun (and surprisingly horrifying) Raimi film, Daniel Rutledge expresses why this MCU entry proved to be a rather dull experience for him in his spoiler-free review.
I got really caught up in the Infinity Saga and cared a lot about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but I care very little about the infinite Marvel cinematic universes. The franchise’s introduction of the multiverse has opened it up to increasingly lazy storytelling, meaningless stakes and less compelling movies. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is the most multiverse-centric Marvel movie yet and that’s a big part of what makes it one of the weakest, despite being a fairly fun Sam Raimi movie.
I won’t spoil anything in this review, but it shouldn’t be a surprise that there are the sorts of surprises that the multiverse makes possible that made Spider-Man: No Way Home such a hit. The trailers have already given away that there are multiple Dr Stranges. But what does that mean for other Marvel properties? If a character is brought in from another movie or TV show into this one through the hand-waving of the multiverse, then quickly killed off, does that matter at all in their other universe? Probably not. And when it barely matters in this movie, you have to wonder why it was included anyway, beyond the brief moment of enjoyable audience recognition.
The caution used when Avengers: Endgame brought in time travel as a storytelling device appears to be absent with how this series is now using the multiverse. I still don’t know what the rules of the multiverse are and they seem to change so much nothing ever really matters. More and more it looks to be making death—and fates worse than death—irrelevant. As for how lazy the storytelling gets with it, well, one scene has two central characters pop into another universe that has ‘memory buttons’ they step on to play their ‘key memory’ as a video for everyone around them and we the viewers to see. You kind of have to admire the balls of taking such a shortcut.
This is also the worst example yet of an MCU film requiring you to have a lot of prior knowledge to understand or care about much of what’s going on in it. If you haven’t seen WandaVision, everything about Wanda in this movie will go over your head. The basics are she cares a lot about two children, but who they are and why she cares about them so much she transforms into an entirely unrecognizable version of who she was in every previous film is not explained. There are also a fair few other characters and bits of lore thrown in that confuse rather than explain, taking away rather than adding. Unless you’re a hardcore Marvel student, this makes the movie really hard to enjoy on a story level as a standalone piece.
But look, some people won’t care much about the story or the stakes in a comic book movie about a wizard, right? If you want to see people fighting other people and big CGI monsters with all kinds of cool-looking magic, you get that for nearly two hours solid here. There are also plenty of great Raimi visual flourishes and his horror roots are hugely obvious in many scenes. It might actually be too scary for little kids, even showing more drippy blood than you usually get in a non-R-rated movie.
While there are no memorable action sequences to speak of, I did enjoy some of the magical combat. Benedict Cumberbatch is as charming as ever in the lead role and some of the supporting cast members are also endearing, especially newcomer Xochitl Gomez. But the convoluted narrative about multiple MacGuffins and multiple universes that only make sense if you’ve seen every MCU TV show and film prior all added up to a rather dull experience for me.