Basically: A smorgasbord of Marvel!
It happened, the Marvel Cinematic Multiverse busted open and all kinds of Marvel everything flooded out. I mean “everything, everywhere, all at once” as multiverses are known to do. While I won’t spoil anything for you, we have various versions of Strange, the great America Chavez, Marvel Zombies, mystical tomes x tombs, failed love, regret in magnitude, What If…?, Mordo, remixed cephalopod villains, the Illuminati, and every kind of quantum reality your devious little mind can conceive of, but envisioned by Sam Raimi, so it’s pretty and creepy, [gasping for air] with a bunch of Scarlet Witch sprinkled on top to keep it juicy.
Thanks, y’all, that’s my time. I’m out… Just kidding, of course, there’s more.
Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is having nightmares and when you’ve seen 14,000,604 terrifying ways the universe could end, your bad dreams are kind of terrible. But are these visions merely his fears playing out after many hard days? Or is something scarier happening like when your one Caribbean Auntie dreams that your thieving boyfriend is going to clean out your apartment and leave only a half-eaten roti in the fridge? That’s why we watch the movie!
One thing we do know: America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez)—both making their first appearance in the MCU—needs help and Doctor Strange is one of a very small group of individuals (currently on the payroll) who can lend a hand. This leads him to an apple orchard where he asks Wanda Maximoff for help (Elizabeth Olsen), which leads to a lone wolf and cub type of adventure (it always works) that is firmly planted in everything you’ve learned about the MCU up-to-date. Most recently the What If…? and WandaVision series on Disney+. You’re going to need those in your repertoire in order to keep up.
With that said, the entire movie is a spoiler. So rather than tell you what happens let’s talk about the ways director Raimi infuses this film with his particular penchant for “darkness.” Many of my critic-friends will tell you it has horror elements but, for me, Multiverse of Madness is far more of an occult vision—from a Cthulhu analog to mystical tombs of great and terrible power, to rune magic and dalliances in necromancy, to golems made of ancient stone. I mean, y’all, if that ain’t a feast of the occult then…well, it just is, isn’t it? And Raimi imbues his vision with a certain kind of visual hypnotism that keeps you swaying with wide eyes as you watch how bad things can truly get when the Darkhold is involved and our desires outweigh our humanity.
Storytelling wise the movie is enthralling although a bit overstuffed, with plotlines and fan service bursting out of every seam. It can be a bit much but comic book readers are going to have a good time spotting all the easter eggs and fans of the MCU will likely buckle, put their hands in the air, and scream with glee around every curve and head-spinning loop.
Beyond the visuals, what works best about this movie is its themes. Learning to let go will test even the strongest heroes, and regret can be debilitating, as are the crimes of the past. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness unravels these feelings and stitches them back together in a pleasing narrative that is ultimately satisfying (even while you push back from the table feeling like your mind just ate way too much). That’s a smorgasbord for ya’.
In the End: This is a highly enjoyable movie that spirals a little bit out of control and the audience is going to love getting dizzy.
BTW: Wong (Benedict Wong) has always been the Sorcerer Supreme of our hearts.