If you're familiar with Raimi's work — which includes the Evil Dead cult horror franchise as well as the OG Spider-Man trilogy from the early 2000s — then you'll have a certain level of expectations walking into the movie. And, don't worry, they'll be met.
Now, before we get going here, this probably goes without saying, but there are some MILD spoilers ahead. (But, don't worry, I won't be giving away any major plot points or cameos.)
For a refresher, it's been nearly SIX YEARS since the release of the first Doctor Strange movie.
Since then, the Master of the Mystic Arts has appeared in largely supporting roles. He helped out Loki and Thor for a hot minute in Thor: Ragnarok, fought alongside the Avengers in Infinity War and Endgame, and guided (to varying degrees of success) Spider-Man in Spider-Man: No Way Home.
And Multiverse of Madness, for better or worse, requires you to remember what happened with Strange not just in the Avengers films, but also in his first movie. However, the film does its best to remind you what went down. For example, things were not left particularly well with his love interest, Dr. Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams). Like, things were OK, but not great — they weren't together, after all. In fact, Christine reminds him a couple of times throughout Multiverse of Madness that he always "has to be the one holding the knife." 👀
Multiverse of Madness also marks the first time an MCU Disney+ series will be ~required viewing~ for an MCU film. Of course, I'm talking about WandaVision and, more specifically, Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch's evolution on the show.
(TBH, even if you have a base knowledge of what happens on WandaVision, you should be decently set up for what transpires in Multiverse of Madness.)
So, the film opens with a very James Bond-esque action sequence, meaning that we're tossed in, mid-adventure, wondering WHAT the heck is going on, WHERE we are, and WHO we're even watching. (Don't worry, it all gets explained by the end.)
We're introduced to a young girl named America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), who has the power to actually travel between multiverses (she's been to 73 different ones!!). The catch is that she doesn't understand how to control this power. Although Chavez's arrival is the catalyst for the events of the film, her character feels a little underutilized throughout. Obviously, she's being set up for bigger things in future films (or a Disney+ series), but it would've been nice to develop her character a little more.
With Chavez's arrival, Strange and Wong (Benedict Wong) — who's now the Sorcerer Supreme — are called to fight off a giant monster that, as it turns out, was sent to kidnap Chavez.
(Side note: The monster here reminded me A LOT of a certain other monster from DC's The Suicide Squad, which felt a little uninspired and a lot eh...)
Anyway, in order to help Chavez, we learn (in several expository scenes) that Strange must get his hands on the Book of the Vishanti. Strange and Wong don't know much about witchcraft — which they suspect was used to send the monster after Chavez — so they seek out help from someone who does. And, you guessed it, that someone is Wanda Maximoff.
When we last saw Wanda, she'd left behind the chaos and mess she'd created in Westview, New Jersey, for serenity in a mountainside cabin retreat. Nowadays, she spends her time reading from the Darkhold (another ancient book of spells, but like, an evil one) and making tea.
And this is more or less where we find Wanda in the Multiverse of Madness. As it turns out, she's REALLY not over what went down in Westview.
As the story unfolds, we learn she's obsessed with finding an alternate version of herself in another universe where she actually has children. (You see, she knows they exist because she dreams about them.)
TBH, a lot of what plays out with Wanda in Multiverse of Madness is the same stuff — emotionally — that she went through in WandaVision. And she basically channels a lot of THIS energy throughout the movie:
The first half of the film is filled with even more exposition and action — a showdown at the Kamar-Taj, battles over Chavez, more talk about the Book of the Vishanti and the Darkhold, dreamwalking, and of course...plenty of multiverse travel. "Were we PAINT in one universe?" asks Strange.
And if allllllll of this sounds like madness to you so far, well...it is! (I mean, it's in the title after all.)
If I'm being honest, I was actually concerned that this was all the film was going to be: action, action, exposition, action, action. And that's all fine and dandy, but if Marvel wants to breathe new life into the MCU, the first half of the movie was not it.
Luckily, the tone of the film completely shifts midway through. Like the flip of a switch, once the Illuminati show up, things kick into high gear. From this point on it felt like Raimi really let loose. And THANK. GOODNESS.
Raimi is notable for his visual style as a director — he often uses lots of fun camera moves and POVs. The other thing he's oh-so-good at is blending horror with humor. And he does a lot of this in the second half of Multiverse of Madness.
I mean, the way in which some of the characters are killed off will truly make you say, "OH MY GOD." The deaths are somehow all at once creative, shocking, gory, absurd, funny, and yeah...kinda sad (as they should be).
There are also subtle (and stunning) visuals, scenes, and scares that feel straight out of a classic horror film. And I loooooooved that.
Considering the parallels between Raimi's previous work — a book of the dead vs. a book of sins, anyone?! — it makes perfect sense he was hired to direct Multiverse of Madness. He's done the superhero action thing to huge success, and he's also a master of funny horror — why not combine the two?! And that's exactly what this film feels like.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is Marvel's darkest film yet, and for good measure; it low-key feels like a horror film. Don't expect to be watching the movie through your fingers or anything, but I guarantee you'll go, "Oh!" at least a few times.
If you're a lifelong Marvel stan, you've likely already bought your tickets for opening night. If you're a Sam Raimi fan, you're in for a nostalgic treat. And if you're a casual moviegoer who really just wants to know if it's worth it? Yeah, it is. Multiverse of Madness may not be Marvel's greatest film yet, but where it shines is with the fine balance of gore, action, and comedy that Raimi brings to life on the big screen. It's a fun ride, and worthy of a watch.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness opens in theaters May 6, and you can watch the official trailer here:
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