If it’s not clear by now, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has fully embraced the multiverse. Loki, WandaVision, Spider-Man: No Way Home (which isn’t an MCU movie, but c’mon)… they’ve made it clear that the only way to expand the MCU after the universe-sized threat that was Thanos is to go even bigger. Which brings us to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, in which the famed sorcerer travels across the many facets of the Marvel multiverse.
It’s a Marvel movie, so you know what that means. But this one has the added potential of being directed by Sam Raimi, director of such classics as Evil Dead and Army of Darkness — and oh yeah, the original Spider-Man trilogy starring Tobey Maguire. (Scott Derrickson, who directed the first Doctor Strange movie, is onboard as an executive producer.)
The first Doctor Strange movie surprisingly affecting and thought-provoking — read my review on Christ and Pop Culture — so I have some hope for this movie, especially after the underwhelming Eternals. Will Raimi inject some fresh blood into the MCU, or will it just be more of the same from Hollywood’s biggest blockbuster machine?
Hoai-Tran Bui, “Refreshingly cornball in a way that Marvel rarely is”
The Multiverse of Madness hits the ground running and never once stops, which is in equal turns exhausting and industrious. It’s here that you can feel that Marvel machine at work, Loki scribe Michael Waldron’s script hitting all the plot points and exposition with ruthless efficiency, in a frenzied pace that could almost be admirable in how it doesn’t wait for the audience to catch up. But as the movie starts to settle into a rhythm, something else catches up: the Raimi of it all.
David Ehrlich, “Sam Raimi just saved the MCU from itself”
Slowly, gradually, and then with great enthusiasm, what begins as a staid tale of people hurling CGI at larger pieces of CGI while yammering on about whatever new thing is threatening all existence evolves into something less familiar: A violent, wacky, drag-me-to-several-different-hells at once funhouse of a film that makes good on the reckoning Chiwetel Ejiofor promised at the end of the original by cutting away the safety net that previous installments of the MCU have tried to pretend wasn’t there.
Eric Francisco, “Plunges the MCU to scary new depths”
Multiverse of Madness is delightful, unhinged commercial art that is as complex as the multiverse itself. It’s thoughtful as it is stylish, as icy as it is effervescent. With equal parts grace and gore that pushes the PG-13 rating it’s saddled to its limits, Multiverse ascends above Marvel’s most obvious limits as a blockbuster factory by placing focus on the man at the center — and the piercing daemonic eyes staring back at them.
Owen Gleiberman, “A head-trip sequel that’s both entertaining and exhausting”
It’s a movie set in several universes at once, and it keeps shooting off into ever more insane dimensions of alternate reality. Its story doesn’t develop so much as it multiplies. In theory, this should multiply the fun, though that’s not necessarily the way it works out. Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness is a ride, a head trip, a CGI horror jam, a what-is-reality Marvel brainteaser and, at moments, a bit of an ordeal. It’s a somewhat engaging mess, but a mess all the same.
Leah Greenblatt, “The loopiest, bloodiest Marvel movie yet”
In a movie that already contains multitudes, finding a throughline can feel like reaching for a rope swing in the dark; characters are grounded in urgent emotional intimacy one moment, and throwing bolts of CG lightning at demon-octopi the next. Chavez, as the girl the fate of all this relies on, is plucky and smart, but too broadly drawn to really register as her own distinct person rather than a carefully market-tested symbol. (More than once, someone says “We have to save America!” straight-faced.) In many ways, Strange is a mess, and probably 20 minutes too long at two hours (which in Marvel math, is still practically a haiku). It’s rarely boring though, and even down to the last obligatory post-credit scenes Raimi forges his own weird, irreverent magic, a far-out method in the Madness.
Steven D. Greydanus, “Takes the franchise’s magical themes to some disturbingly dark places”
I know I didn’t see the WandaVision series, which is definitely prerequisite viewing for Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness. Seriously: The entire plot of Multiverse of Madness flows directly from WandaVision, which, for me, made watching Multiverse of Madness feel not entirely unlike watching Avengers: Endgame without seeing Infinity War, know what I mean? If you’ve seen these movies, I’m pretty sure you get my drift; if you haven’t seen them, I’m positive you get my drift.
J Hurtado, “Sam Raimi puts his stamp on the MCU with style”
Those of us who have become wary of the Marvel juggernaut but find the Raimi connection intriguing will be rewarded in the Multiverse of Madness. I’m certainly no Marvel fanboy… but I will happily concede that Raimi has absolutely made this film his own, complete with wonky camera angles and dutch crash zooms. That doesn’t even bring the incredibly fun surprise appearances in the alternate universes, cartoonish musical battles, Evil Strange flying zombie attacks, or the shocking amount of visceral gore into account.
Germain Lussier, “The weirdest, grossest movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date”
Overall though, while Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness has a whole lot going on from scene to scene and even shot to shot, the parts that shine help save the whole. Nothing in the movie is bad, necessarily — there’s just so much going on that you are never quite sure what the movie is trying to say, if anything. Even the story feels prohibitively stretched out at times. But those Sam Raimi horror touches, and a killer, maybe MCU best, performance from Elizabeth Olsen make the ride well worth taking. You’ll never be bored watching Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness but, on the off chance you are, just wait five minutes. Something absolutely batshit is surely right around the corner.
Susana Polo, “Sam Raimi tries to find the hero inside a particularly difficult MCU protagonist”
Raimi’s cinematic wizardry lends loads of dazzle to the pack of references and callbacks that make up a large part of the film’s middle. But strip away all the sparks, and Multiverse of Madness is simply leaning on the same cross-referential thrill-of-recognition joy-button that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been frantically pressing for more than a decade now, designed to elicit huge gasps from die-hard fans, while sending everyone else to the Google search bar on their phones.
Rodrigo Perez, “A thrilling, but shallow ride of frights”
With all its sprints to jump into a new dimension, Multiverse Of Madness can be maddeningly frenetic, with little room for character development or growth. Still, at its best, it’s a movie about our desperate need for control and how desperately we spin out when we can’t control our destiny. Strange is no stranger to rewriting futures, tampering with reality, and the dangers of playing god, so much of this works well thematically. Strange 2 is also about the various ways we self-deceive ourselves to cope, the consequences of our choices, and a myriad number of dubious moral justification for questionable actions. When Strange breaks the rules, he’s a hero, and when Wanda bends the playbook, she’s the pariah, and this unfair hypocrisy is definitely unpacked.
Charles Pulliam-Moore, “Gets lost in a tangle of fan service and half-baked ideas”
With magic now even more fully on the narrative table, Multiverse of Madness is able to get much more imaginative and cerebral in its depictions of monsters, and many of the whimsical enchantments that defined early Doctor Strange comics like the Flames of the Faltine and the Icy Tendrils of Ikthalon. Because this is still a Marvel Studios production, however, Multiverse of Madness’ more fantastical battle sequences involving magic do have a way of getting too busy for their own good. It’s important to note that despite its Marvel-esque stylistic sensibilities, Multiverse of Madness is also very much a Sam Raimi film in which the director’s unmistakable personal tastes rush to the forefront in moments that feel like Marvel gave him the clear to get really wild and into his specific brand of messed up.
Brian Tallerico, “Never develops its own identity and depth”
Multiverse of Madness is a film that constantly pushes back against its own possibilities. It’s got a plot that could have creatively surprised viewers over and over with new variations on the very concept of a world with heroes in it and a director willing to go there. But it’s very clearly a product of a content machine, fighting against its own self-interests because it’s scared to alienate any of the millions of potential viewers. The sense that these movies only feign interest in being “strange” when they’re about as normal as can be makes them all the more frustrating. Both WandaVision and Loki took more creative risks. Significantly.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness arrives in theaters on May 6. Watch the trailer below.