Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness spoiler free review
No spoilers here.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is quite possibly the most aggressively comic book inspired movies I've ever seen. What I mean by that is that it largely relies on insane visuals and whacky concept rather than the depth of its story. But I don't think it would have worked any other way. For some characters you might prefer a film that has a fully grounded and intricately written story, take The Batman for example, but I would argue that ridiculously powerful characters like Doctor Strange and the Scarlet Witch don't really work so well when used in that way. So if what you're looking for is something that's going to progress the story of the wider-MCU in any meaningful way then this movie probably isn't going to do that for you, but if you want to see a high-octane whacky adventure through the multiverse you'll leave the cinema extremely happy.
The Sam Raimi characteristics are abundantly clear in this movie, both visually and tonally. This might sound obvious, but a major problem with the MCU is that there are very very few examples of a director's distinct style being allowed to show through and it has definitely been a major talking point in recent years. Directors have turned down Marvel movies in the past due to the fact that they wouldn't really get any say in how the movie gets made, the most major example I can think of is Edgar Wright stepping down from Ant Man back saying, "I wanted to make a Marvel movie, but they didn't want me to make an Edgar Wright movie". While it isn't a horror movie there are definitely elements of the classic Raimi horror style that we've seen so many times in the past in movies like The Evil Dead and Drag Me to Hell. It obviously also feels very similar at points to his Spider-Man movies althought that's mostly just in its cinematography more than anything else.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that this movie wasn't just a ridiculous cameo fest. Sure there are cameos, some extremely great ones at that, but they don't come at the expense of anything else. I, like many others, worried that this movie would just become a vessel for cameo after cameo but really they're mostly limited to one scene. I won't go into who's in it aside from Captain Carter and Professor X but I was surprised to see some heavily rumoured or talked about cameos that never happened.
The villain is great for the most part, although a little inconsistent in their motives and power level. Scarlet Witch is back and she's as powerful as ever, but only when it suits. It is made very clear throughout the film that she can completely rewrite reality but for some frustrating reason she never does. Without spoiling it I can't say too much more than this. What I will say though is that it's incredibly satisfying to get an MCU villain that has had some substantial build up beforehand. I know we've had Bucky, Loki, Crossbones, and Thanos but at best they were just side characters before being main villains. Scarlet Witch is the first MCU villain who has had their own movie/show about them and it absolutely pays off. If anything I just felt that she was too powerful to be believable, she could literally just turn Doctor Strange into a piece of paper if she wanted to but never does, why not?
Doctor Strange himself is exactly what we've come to expect, he's a bit of a dick with a slightly jarring American accent. He's another character who is much more powerful than he's ever allowed to be in this movie. Why doesn't he just keep doing that thing where he uses portals to cut people in half? Overall though Benedict Cumberbatch's performance was easily the best we've seen yet in the MCU, he's managed to turn Stephen Strange into a character who could very likely be the face of the MCU for the next ten years and that's no small feat.
Xochitl Gomez did a great job as America Chavez, a character that I think deserves some sort of spin-off (maybe a Rick and Morty style multiverse adventure on Disney+). Chavez has the ability to jump between universes which is a power that Wanda Maximoff wants for herself. She doesn't have huge amounts to do for the most part in this one but she's easily one of the best sidekicks in the MCU to date.
Finally, the visuals are great and are a definite improvement on the recent offerings from the Marvel universe. In recent movies the CGI has been inconsistent at best (looking at you Flash Thompson in No Way Home), but Multiverse of Madness returns it to full form and I would go as far as to say that it might be one of the best looking Marvel movies full stop. The various multiverse locations all look great, the magic looks as good as ever (America Chavez's portals are super cool), and the CGI creatures all look fantastic too. There are some really visually interesting non-CGI elements too, the best example being the brief moment that the picture turns into what looks like a 2:3 aspect ratio, touches like this are something Raimi has always been so good at and absolutely help to set this apart from the other MCU entries.
All in all Multiverse of Madness is a pretty solid movie, it isn't the massive event that some might have hoped for but it is an extremely solid solo outing for Doctor Strange and it tees the multiverse saga up quite nicely for what's to come. I wasn't blown away by the story and it doesn't really change anything for the MCU as a whole, but it has some great moments and is definitely one of the better MCU solo movies. I can't really say much more without spoiling it, but we will be covering it in full spoiler detail on the podcast next week so look out for that one. I'm giving Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness a 7 out of 10, it didn't grip me quite as much as Moon Knight but it's still great fun.