Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)

126 min. Director: Sam Raimi. Cast: Rachel McAdams, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Elizabeth Olsen, Benedict Wong, Michael Stuhlbarg, Xochitl Gomez.


For enthusiasts of Scott Derrickson's Doctor Strange, Sam Raimi's sequel Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness requires a bit of a mental adjustment. First, there's the unpleasantness around Derrickson being jettisoned from the sequel over creative differences; then, there's a the tonal shift you get from Raimi's fun-loving film-nerd approach. It took me a second viewing to better appreciate the craft of Raimi's sequel and to get past expectations established by the Doctor Strange franchise opener.

The Marvel overlords attend to honoring, developing, and paying off what's come before, while teasing possible futures for the MCU; that's par for the Marvel course. But producer Kevin Feige knows what he hired his replacement director for, and the production, to a large extent and endearingly, lets Raimi be Raimi, with plenty of flourishes you wouldn’t see in any other Marvel movie. The film also represents a legit comeback for Raimi, who hasn't directed a feature since 2017's would-be Disney blockbuster Oz the Great and Powerful. He meets the moment with the good ol' Raimi dynamism and winking movie-love savvy.

The plot concerns a multiverse breach that introduces multiverse traveler America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez from Netflix's The Baby-Sitters Club). With Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Sorcerer Supreme Wong (Benedict Wong), Chavez must learn to harness her power and use it or lose it to other interested parties corrupted by a mystical text called the Darkhold. Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) enters the building with the issues that arose in Disney+'s limited series WandaVision still unresolved, which promises a return of her not-so-nice alter ego the Scarlet Witch.

I’m all for America, whose character is well-written, but not so much for Gomez, an adequate but Disney-ish casting choice (in fact, her open face would make her a perfect animation model, but in live action she lacks the requisite conviction). I won't get into which other franchise characters return, but the returning players pull their weight, and the multiverse angle allows for a big fan-service sequence with old, new, and differing iterations of established Marvel screen characters. In story terms, that sequence and the larger question of who Doctor Strange is across the universes amusingly raise the issue of why our MCU—numbered Earth-616—is the one the films choose to follow; could it be that our heroes have more character and are just better at their jobs than their disappointing counterparts in other universes?

While this horror-themed sequel was always going to bring a different tone, Raimi's Doctor Strange movie compares to Derrickson's somewhat like Tim Burton's Batman compares to Matt Reeves' The Batman. Despite divergent tones, both approaches are valid and entertaining interpretations of the material, conjuring memories of what Tom Cruise did with an array of directors for his Mission: Impossible franchise.

In itself and as a part of the MCU, Multiverse of Madness represents a massive storytelling experiment. For starters, it's an action-comedy-drama-horror picture. It can be dopey, clunky and uneven, but it never lets up for a minute, with a propulsive narrative that at times taps into the multiple-climax rhythms of a cliffhanger serial: it’s new-school technology delivering old-school fun, with a dash of personal-growth character development to avoid being utterly irrelevant.

Despite being credited solely to Michael Waldron, the script does feel like it was written by committee. That's not necessarily a bad thing: one assumes the MCU must be run like the Supernatural writing room was for two decades: teams of writers working under the aegis of "show runner" Feige to kick around ideas and fan-friendly team-ups and character cameos to garnish an individual film's story structure. Bring Raimi into that mix, and you have a Doctor Strange story that sprinkles on a little H.P. Lovecraft, a lot of E.C. Comics, a few PG-13 horror-movie theatrics, and of course Bruce Campbell, baby.

If this is another episode of the long-running Marvel series, it's also one that skillfully but frustratingly rehashes WandaVision for its primary emotional thrust. It's fun and a completely engrossing story, but such a fast-paced CGI visual-effects orgy that it can be a bit hard to get your footing, and the effects typically lack the real-world weight to make you forget you’re watching CGI-painted backdrops or CGI demons. Per Marvel house style, Multiverse of Madness sports consistently snappy, witty dialogue, with added goofy gags and Three Stooges zaniness courtesy of Raimi.

Your mileage may vary when it comes to Raimi's style, which extends to an orchestral Danny Elfman score that's at times cornily old-old-fashioned (orchestrations in the vein of Bernard Hermann) and at times merely old-fashioned (‘80s or ‘90s touches like guitar stings). Speaking of music, there's at one point a "music fight," such a fun idea and what feels like Raimi’s magic-movie nod to the rightfully famous 1940 Disney cartoon “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” I don’t see the tempest in a teapot that was a complaint about the film being too scary. Apart from being quite tame, I doubt any eight-year-old or above would get traumatized by Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. More likely it’ll blow open their creativity.

Disney's 4K UHD presentation is so sharply detailed in picture and sound that it dazzles in the extreme, especially in a home theater equipped with robust surround sound. Vivid and nuanced color representation adds to the film's at times video-game-y look, with some environments too green-screen-y and digital-painted to feel like real places. So, is anything, the picture quality is too good, which ain't a bad problem to have for your 4K releases.

Bonus features include an audio commentary by Sam Raimi, Richie Palmer, and Michael Waldron, the 11-minute featurette "Constructing the Multiverse," the 3.5-minute "Introducing America Chavez" (1080p, 3:29), the 5-minute, Raimi-centric featurette "Method to the Madness" (1080p, 5:02), a 2.5-minute gag reel, and three deleted scenes totaling three minutes: "A Great Team," "It's Not Permanent," and "Pizza Poppa."

Aspect ratios: 2160p

Number of discs: 2

Audio: Dolby Atmos, Dolby TrueHD 7.1

Street date: 7/26/2022


Review gear:

  • Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
  • Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
  • Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
  • Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
  • Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
  • Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer