Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a straight horror film, no doubt, which is both a good thing and a bad thing. While Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, and Xochitl Gomez all stand out, there are problems. It takes forever for things to get going, and depending on how much you like horror films, you may not be on board for the second half.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is A Straight Horror Film
While Marvel always said that this Doctor Strange film would be a horror film, nobody will be prepared for just how far it leans into the genre. This is a Sam Raimi horror film through and through, with many winks and nods to his previous work strewn about. That is bound to turn off more people than Kevin Feige thinks it will, as there are multiple killings, grotesque imagery, and jump scares galore. It was shocking just how close to that edge they walked, and somewhere there is an R-rated cut of this film that would do gangbuster business if they ever released it.
Once again, Cumberbatch proves to be an inspired choice for Strange. You just want to punch him in that smug face so much sometimes, but damn, is he good. He's an asshole, in all the best ways. Opposite of that, America Chavez is a welcome addition to the MCU, as wide-eyed as most of us were when this all started and learning to get her feet under her as she goes. Come for the Raimi-ness, stay for the fun friendship that Strange and America form. Also on top of her game is Elizabeth Olsen as an insane, and outright villain version of Wanda Maximoff. There will be a great discourse on her role here, but no matter how you feel about that, there is no denying that she commands your attention whenever she is on screen.
So, with all that going for it, the first hour will leave you scratching your head. For all the promise the title holds, there is very little Multiverse-ing that goes down. When it does, we get it in a passing glance that is much more interesting than the worlds we actually spend time in. The first twenty minutes of the film are a disjointed mess of terrible expositional dialogue that will make your eyes glaze over. And then there is that Wanda stuff… no spoilers here, though this weekend will see some interesting conversations happening. Also: good luck understanding anything happening if you didn't watch WandaVision on Disney+. This is the first time the shows and films have really fed into each other to this degree, and some in the theater won't be able to follow along.
When Raimi turns the horror dial to 11 however, the film really takes off. There is some really fun stuff that goes down, and we fans of the dark side of the Marvel universe get to play around for once in the sandbox and it is a blast. There are some surprises as well, though be sure to check your expectations at the door as you walk in. Yes, this is a multiverse, and the characters who you think would show up from speculation may be there, but the most out-there rumored characters do not. Calm down, people. One appearance above all others will get people talking though.
Doctor Strange's first outing was a game-changer for visual storytelling in the MCU, and for his second outing he brings the macabre side of Marvel out into the light. It would have been a more cohesive and fun time had this been the story, minus the multiverse. As it stands, however, this uneven entry in the MCU does just enough right to keep your attention and put the faintest of smiles on your face.