[Review] Doctor Strange In the Multiverse of Madness is dark, trippy, and fantastical fun

By Jessica Durston - 9 May 2022

Arts and Culture
  • Film screengrabs sourced from YouTube trailer

    Film screengrabs sourced from YouTube trailer

Swindon Link’s Jessica Durston was invited to a charity screening of the sequel to Marvel’s Doctor Strange at Cineworld’s Regent Circus theatre.

  • Film screengrabs sourced from YouTube trailer

    Film screengrabs sourced from YouTube trailer

Prior to the screening, I had seen differing critical opinions of ‘Doctor Strange In the Multiverse of Madness’ – not all of them good. I thought back to viewing the first feature back in 2016, and I must admit, I do not remember being all that impressed.

I felt the plot seemed an afterthought and that the lavish visual effects were the main draw for the viewer – a style over substance sort of deal. After entering the cinema this month with low expectations for the follow-up, I am pleased to confirm that the second film in the franchise does more to whet the appetite for substance.

‘In the Multiverse of Madness’ is back following Dr Stephen Strange years after the chaos that Thanos attempted and partially succeeded to inflict upon the world. Strange meets America Chavez, a young woman who has the ability to travel through the multiverse and hop from universe to universe. The only problem is – she is not quite in control of this great power and she must work together with Strange and Wong to ensure it is not taken from her and placed into the wrong hands.

The pair hopscotch through different universes battling enemies and playing the most dangerous game of cat and mouse they could imagine; all whilst trying to figure out how to save America’s neck, and the universe, from the clutches of evil.

As Strange travels with Chavez across different universes, he is faced with different versions of himself. This idea of confrontation with one’s own self adds a different layer to the usual good vs evil battle. Stephen Strange has to face all these different facets of himself and see what they are capable of in other universes.

He is forced to look at his capacity for good and for evil, and to pick himself apart from an outside perspective that is not available to the average person. The characters that travel and see themselves in a different light recognise the morals and personal qualities that are important to them. Their true selves become evident after both inner battles and physical battles, which makes for interesting viewing.

The Benedict dream team (Cumberbatch and Wong) both reprise their roles as the titular character and his trusty friend and Sorcerer Supreme, Wong.  Their onscreen chemistry is good and believable, and I have no real complaints as far as they are concerned.

Elizabeth Olsen is back as Wanda Maximoff and shines in the role, just as she has done previously. I was glad to see her on the big screen in a full-length feature this time.

Xochitl Gomez - only sixteen years of age - really impresses in her breakout role as America Chavez. She does not feel like a throwaway character whatsoever and I’m sure her acting career will take an upswing following this feature.

Furthermore, the film’s visual/special effects are unequivocally stunning. I cannot argue that the many creative, mind-bending sequences where Strange and the other characters transcend across different universes, are anything but amazing. Regardless of whether the film can again be deemed a vehicle for showcasing how far said special effects have come, I was sucked right into the spell-binding action this time around.

Spell-binding is the key word here too as Wanda or Scarlet Witch takes on the role of the villainous anti-hero, and the feature revolves around dark magic, spell books and witchcraft. The focus on magic was different and provided an engaging and slightly more unique Marvel movie as a result.

The themes of evil magic and witchcraft also allowed for director Sam Raimi to do what he does best, and bring a touch of horror to the production. Audiences can expect a darker and more supernatural take on a superhero movie with this sequel.

I was pleased to see the return of the Scarlet Witch after finishing the Disney+ series ‘Wandavision.’ It was delightful to see another powerful female super-antagonist because you really cannot have enough of them – by my recollection, there has not been another noteworthy female villain since Hela who appeared in ‘Thor: Ragnarok.’

As the film introduced Wanda again and made her motivations for the remainder of the movie evident, I was concerned she was present to do nothing more than provide the classic ‘women scorned’ trope. Thankfully the turn the film’s ending takes rectified any complaints I had.

I believe I should also take a moment to deliver a warning – audience members should really ensure they have watched this series beforehand to avoid spoilers, along with ‘Avengers Endgame’, ‘Spiderman No Way Home’, and of course, the first ‘Doctor Strange’ movie.

Failing to do some Marvel universe catch-up may mean your enjoyment experience could be cut in half as you will be turning to the person next to you asking ‘What’s going on?’, ‘Who’s Thanos?’, ‘What’s the multiverse?’ and ‘Why does Benedict Cumberbatch sound so funny?’

Okay so maybe nobody can answer that last question – but his accent does seem to have improved since his first appearance in the role.

This second instalment of Doctor Strange works to tie previous Marvel features together, and consolidate their storylines for the audience members. I feel the scriptwriting team have done a wonderful job to both link films that came before this 2022 feature, and to set viewers up for another Doctor Strange movie. This does mean, however, that in order to follow everything and make all the necessary links, the viewer must ensure they are present and attentive throughout.

The feature is called ‘Madness of the Multiverse’ for a reason, and there are several plotlines to follow with different characters on different personal missions, taking place in different universes. The narrative shifts between universes frequently. If you are tired before attending your showing, I would recommend a tactical coffee shot or three – naps could earn you confusion due to gaps in the plot.

‘In the Madness of the Multiverse’ also contains two post-credit scenes for the hardcore fans to devour, muse upon, and argue over until the next feature’s release.

Moreover, the music for the film is provided by the genius that is Danny Elfman. Parts of the score are rousing and beautiful. One particular scene sees Doctor Strange using sheet music and musical instruments themselves as a weapon, by pulling musical notes from them and attacking an enemy. The collaboration between the visual effects department and the members of the orchestra providing the instruments’ sounds was most impressive. This fight sequence with a twist was a stand-out for me personally.

The costume and hair department have also stepped up their game for this new flick. Doctor Strange and Scarlet Witch each have a noticeable new-and-improved look, with cool and sleek wigs and updated superhero get-up.

Although the visual appearances of the characters may have changed slightly, the core markers of a Marvel movie remain present and unaltered within the film. You still have your good vs evil battles, comedy quips demonstrating the sense of humour Marvel is recognisable for by now, numerous spectacular action sequences, a Stan Lee cameo (and perhaps appearances from a few others in the Marvel universe), moral dilemmas, and the reliance on teamwork to help save the day. What more could you ask for?

All in all I was pleasantly surprised by this sequel after not rating the first feature very highly. Raimi’s fun and fast-paced direction provided that extra je ne sais quoi for me, and I find myself now recommending people visit their local cinema.

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