A first-class Elizabeth Olsen and striking visuals can only do so much for Sam Raimi’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Despite a darker tone, the film suffers from too many drivers behind the wheel which predictably leaves it uneven.
Benedict Cumberbatch stars as the titular doctor. Following the events of Spider-Man: No Way Home, Strange encounters America Chavez (Xochitil Gomez), a young woman who can access different parts of the Multiverse at will. Realizing witchcraft is involved, Strange recruits Wanda Maximoff (Olsen) to investigate.
Together, along with Wong (Benedict Wong) and Chavez, Strange attempts to understand the Multiverse and try to understand the chaos involved. I won’t spoil anything here, just know that the plot involves jumping across universes to alternate realities with different characters.
Marvel films can run into an issue with a director. While the Marvel machine has intentions beyond the scope of this one film, the director might not have the same intentions or care to explore those themes. Unfortunately, the two still must come together. I do believe Raimi will tell you he made the movie he wanted to make, but it still feels like the studio stipulated certain aspects and characters needed to have certain touchpoints. The film works the best when Raimi’s horror sensibilities take over. When the MCU plot mechanics are at work, it’s less successful.
Cumberbatch gets to stretch a bit with Strange, portraying multiple versions of the same character across universes. He’s still on cruise control, but the characterization works, so it never comes across as phoning it in. Olsen, on the other hand, nails every bit of complexity, anger, and sadness of Wanda. Following this film and WandaVision, Olsen has dug so much deeper on this character that what was on the page. The full context of her character is explained and she comes across as one of the most sympathetic characters in the MCU.
Visually, Raimi does as much as he can, but it turns into the usual CGI spectacle you’d expect. This is what these films are, and it shouldn’t be surprising at this point. Chavez’s universe-jumping powers give the film a real chance to have some fun, which provides the best visual sequences.
Despite landing in the lower-tier of Marvel films, there is always something to applaud. Olsen’s terrific performance and Raimi’s horror sensibilities lift it higher than it should be. Sometimes, I wish Marvel would let the director they hired do what they want to do without strings attached.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is now playing in theaters.