“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” does not bore or entertain me much as another mundane Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) product. Sure, there are occasional moments of interest, but the movie is also limited by not only numerous previous MCU products but also whatever will come during next several years, and watching it accordingly felt like a homework to me rather than real fun and entertainment.
The story begins at the point not long after the finale of “Spider-Man: No Way Home” (2021), and we soon see Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) preparing for attending the wedding of his former girlfriend Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams). Although he still has some feelings toward her, Strange is willing to congratulate her nonetheless, and she surely appreciates that when they later come to have a little private conversation.
However, something quite serious suddenly happens right at that point, so Strange has to come forward for saving the day as usual, and that is how he encounters a young mysterious woman named America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez). Although she does not trust Strange much at first for an understandable reason, she has no choice but to trust Strange and his close colleague Wong (Benedict Wong), and she tells them about her very urgent circumstance. Besides being a singular entity among the infinite number of universes out there, Chavez is actually capable of opening portals among them, but she still cannot control her power that well, and there is a certain powerful figure quite determined to snatch and then exploit Chavez’s power for attaining a certain personal goal.
Because the trailer of the movie does not reveal much, I should be discreet about describing the main antagonist of the film, but I think you may easily guess about that figure in question if you remember what was briefly shown at the very end of “Spider-Man: No Way Home” – or if you watched two recent MCU TV miniseries. Although I did not watch either of these two MCU TV miniseries, I did not have much problem in following the story despite some holes and gaps to be filled supposedly via these two MCU TV miniseries, so you will probably not need to check them out right now before watching the movie.
Anyway, Strange, Wong, and a bunch of members of their organization try to stop the main villain of the movie, but, not so surprisingly, they are soon overwhelmed by the villain’s enormous power, which is incidentally based on a certain ancient book of dark magic. For fighting against the villain’s powerful dark magic, Strange comes to search for another kind of ancient magic book along with Chavez, and her special power certainly helps them a bit as they bounce from one alternative universe to another.
The movie provides some amusement as briskly shuffling a number of different moods and styles during this part, but the resulting sense of fun is quickly dissipated as Strange and several other main characters continue to fight against their mighty opponent as before. Just like any other MCU products, we are served with lots of CGI action scenes, but many of them feel curiously bland and unimpressive, and we are just pushed toward the expected climax while not getting much fun or excitement.
This is all the more disappointing because the movie happens to be directed by Sam Raimi, who gave us not only the Evil Dead trilogy but also that old Spider-Man trilogy in the 2000s. Here in this movie, he seems to be a merely hired director as he was once in “Oz the Great and Powerful” (2013), without having much chance to go wild or imaginative. The only consolation for us is that he attempts a bit during the climax part at least, and, though I do not dare to spoil your entertainment here, I can assure you that you will be delighted a little if you have fondly remembered the Evil Dead trilogy like I have.
In case of Benedict Cumberbatch and several other main cast members in the film, they try as much as possible, though not all of them are as successful as intended. Cumberbatch easily slips into his familiar role, and he has some fun with playing several different versions of his character along the story, but the movie does not allow him to go further with that as busily juggling so many things in the story. While I was entertained to see Benedict Wong, Elizabeth Olsen, Rachel McAdams, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Michael Stuhlbarg, they are simply required to fill their respective spots as demanded, and Xochitl Gomez is unfortunately stuck with her thankless role, though I believe she has enough pluck and presence for whatever she will do next in those possible sequels to follow.
Overall, “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is not a total waste of time thanks to some good moments to be appreciated, but it still merely functions as a perfunctory opening to whatever will come next from MCU, and I am dissatisfied with how its mighty franchise prevents Raimi from wielding more wildness and personality. Compared to how the concept of multiverse is so entertainingly explored and utilized in “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse” (2018), the movie feels mediocre to say the least, and it is also one or two steps down from “Spider-Man: No Way Home”. As a matter of fact, my mind is already ready to move on while not remembering much, and I can only hope that I will be a bit more entertained by next MCU products to come.