Marvel’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is the latest Marvel Cinematic Universe outing to feature one of Marvel’s “old guard,” something that is becoming a bit of a rarity these days. Following the events of the first Doctor Strange and Spider-Man: No Way Home, as well as Disney+’s WandaVision and Marvel’s What If?, The Multiverse of Madness is a culmination of recent small-screen efforts and a promise of what is yet to come, but thanks to director Sam Raimi, the film offers a twisted take on the superhero trope that infuses comic book and B-movie elements with good old fashioned scares.
There isn’t a moment to rest as Madness keeps you on your toes for the entirety of its two-hour runtime. Shorter than most superhero films these days but with a hell of a lot more to unpack, the film doesn’t give its audience a second to stop and smell the multiverse flowers. Almost immediately we are introduced to America Chavez, who is running for her life with a ponytailed version of Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch). Played by Xochitl Gomez, the pint-sized inter-dimensional teen ass-kicker is one of the most powerful heroes in Marvel Comics, but as this is her debut, she is still unable to handle her massive talents as of yet. This poses quite a problem for the good Doctor as she quickly becomes a target for Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), the former Avenger and current Scarlet Witch who has spent a recent sabbatical becoming one of the MCU’s most formidable villains.
For Maximoff, the events of WandaVision are still somewhat fresh. Not quite healed from the pain of losing her love Vision and her magically-assembled children, she has been spending her downtime reading the Darkhold, aka the Book of the Damned, a malignant tome that can debauch any reader. It has slowly been corrupting Wanda as she fixates on finding the children she conjured in her fabricated Westview life. Unfortunately for Chavez, she appears to be the key to Wanda’s happiness, and the Witch’s determination to find a way back to her boys will complete her transformation to Marvel succubus.
What starts off as normal Marvel fare quickly becomes a glorious hellscape fit for any sci-fi aficionado or Fangoria fan, all thanks to the delightfully depraved efforts of Raimi. The movie takes a definitive shift in its tone and you can almost physically feel Raimi reaching down into his bag of tricks and pulling out a fake Shemp or a 1973 Oldsmobile Delta. Longtime fans of the helmer’s work will no doubt be keeping score for his usual tropes. (Bruce Campbell? Check. Projectile cam? Check) Admirers of Evil Dead II will be smiling ear-to-ear as an undead Doctor Strange battles the Scarlet Witch or when Wanda eviscerates her way through dozens of wizards and handfuls of heroes alike in a bewitched bloodbath the MCU has never seen.
Though the film never becomes a full-on horror movie, Raimi sprinkles in all the little Deadite tricks he’s learned over the years, creating a monstrosity of a movie experience that mixes in dark magic with his Drag Me to Hell aesthetic. In one particular scene where our heroes are being chased by a vexed Wanda, the movie turns a corner and becomes absolutely chilling.
Cumberbatch and Gomez play well off each other as the seasoned vet showing the newbie the ropes, similar to what we recently saw with Disney+’s Hawkeye. Their dynamic is fun to watch, but Olsen steals the show. Without her friends, her family, her Vision, or her children, Wanda has become a husk of what she was. Watching her kill her way through dozens of innocents as a means to achieve her goals, it is understood that she is no longer a mere villain nor an Avenger gone awry. She is a monster, pure and simple. Her transformation from hero to hellion is spellbinding.
Thanks to the marvelous Madness of Mr. Raimi, it appears that all of the Disney+ binging has led to this moment: a big screen payoff that ties up storylines while laying the foundation for future MCU development (hello, Secret Wars). Madness just happens to do it with a little depravity mixed in for good measure. This is the thanks we get for doing our homework: an action-adventure superhero movie with horror movie elements featuring the all-out insanity we’ve come to expect from Raimi. Does it always stick the landing? No. But it’s a hell of a great time anyway. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is abstract and absurd, but that’s what makes it an enchanting installment in the Marvel Universe. The end result is a scary sci-fi epic that projects the MCU in a new direction.