28 films in and the Marvel Cinematic Universe shows no signs of slowing down. From television shows to the continuation of their big screen tentpoles, the saga, which began in 2008 with Iron Man has become one of cinema’s great success stories.
But as we continue into Phase Four of the MCU, a troubling pattern has emerged. You see, away from the brilliant Spider-Man: No Way Home, the other three films released in this phase so far have been underwhelming. Black Widow was a fun origins story for Scarlett Johansson but was forgettable, Shang-Chi was released direct to Disney+ and was just decent and Eternals by all accounts was a bit of a mess.
It’s up to Benedict Cumberbatch’s Stephen Strange and Evil Dead director Sam Raimi then to re-float this listing ship. But does Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness achieve the soaring heights we so desperately want it to?
In Multiverse of Madness, Dr Stephen Strange casts a forbidden spell that opens a portal to the multiverse. However, a terrifying threat emerges that may be too big for his team to handle.
Following on from No Way Home and Wandavision (yes you do need to watch it to fully understand the nuances of what’s going on), Multiverse of Madness has been touted as the MCU’s first “horror movie”. And while that might be pushing things a little far, this 28th entry in the universe features enough of the horror tropes its director is known for to at least make that statement just about passable.
From a casting perspective, Benedict Cumberbatch is his ever reliable self throughout the course of the film, and really does cement himself as the perfect Doctor Strange. One thing Marvel has got spot on is the casting of its leading stars and he is no exception. Rachel MacAdams also returns as love interest Christine, with a larger part here than she had in the previous film and of course no Doctor Strange movie would be complete without Benedict Wong, though his scenes are hampered by some very obvious reshoots.
Much of the movie is dedicated to Elizabeth Olsen’s Wanda Maximoff – and she performs the role beautifully. She’s given a much larger part here than in any of her previous MCU entries and that’s really nice to see, even if some of the story beats she’s involved with are a little incomprehensible at times.
There’s a lot of fun to be had here with some fantastic multiverse visuals and exciting action sequences. One thrilling scene in particular, utilising musical notes as weapons is a highlight of the film and is choreographed beautifully – helped in no small part by Danny Elfman’s absolutely fabulous score which peppers the runtime exquisitely.
That runtime however is a real sticking point. At just 126 minutes, Multiverse of Madness is one of the shortest films in the MCU, and it shows. The film feels choppy and it’s no surprise to this reviewer that director Sam Raimi has recently stated at least 40 minutes of footage was removed from the theatrical release.
It’s this choppy editing and obvious reshoots (hurt by production being shutdown by the pandemic) that stops Multiverse of Madness from achieving the gold standard of Marvel movies. Think Thor: Ragnarok, Spider-Man: Homecoming and Avengers: Infinity War for some of the studio’s best work.
Overall, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a competent addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe that features some lovely visuals and Sam Raimi’s trademark 80s horror camp. Perhaps the greatest compliment I can give is that it doesn’t really feel like a traditional Marvel movie – but those reshoots, incoherent plot and choppy editing really let the side down.