Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is not a Doctor Strange movie. In essence, the movie is about the echo and ripple after trauma occurs. The plot of this latest Marvel Cinematic Universe film centers around the fact that Doctor Strange is attending the wedding of his friend Christine and lies to her about being happy. From there, he is introduced to a woman named America Chavez, who can travel between universes and is trying to escape a major evil threat. I won’t say who or what that threat is, but I can suggest that the Scarlet Witch has something to do with it.
I have a deep love for films that are meditations on grief or trauma. I love seeing how writers and directors explore that idea. In the case of Doctor Strange, his trauma is essentially a combination of not finding love in his life and the loss of his sister. This proves that long before he gained any powers, he was trying to be the protector. In reality, that only pushed those he cared about most away. It’s definitely sobering sitting in the audience learning that fact. When we retreat into ourselves, we keep thinking about the damage we could do to other people, ignoring the damage we’re doing to ourselves.
That is the constant struggle that Stephen Strange is up against. Benedict Cumberbatch does an excellent job portraying the pathos behind the arrogance of Stephen Strange in this sequel. However, the real standout of the movie is Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff. There is a real weight to her performance, the only problem being that we’ve seen her do it before under similar story circumstances. If any audience member has watched the limited TV series Wandaision, they will have some idea of what I’m referring to.
There is a level of flash and spectacle in this film thanks to the direction by Sam Raimi. Raimi has continually shown he is a great director not just by the visual flair he provides in his movies but also by how he can tell a human story with either a large ensemble or a very small cast. The visual storytelling of this film is where it really truly stands out. There is a fight scene in a dark part of the multiverse that I would love to see more of in future Marvel movies. Additionally, this is Wanda Maximoff’s magnum opus. Every spare bit of visual flair is dedicated to giving as many movie and television lovers the broadest possible range of the power and scope of the Scarlet Witch. Those action pieces are unmissable, but the same cannot be said for Doctor Strange.
Are there surprises in this film? Absolutely. Is it the scale that everyone was hoping for? Not at all. The Marvel team knows just how to whet the audience’s appetite enough to keep them curious about what’s coming in future phases. None of this makes it a good movie. It’s a decent story supported by solid visuals about people making a different set of choices to better themselves. Some make those choices more gradual than others. This film is a reminder that just because you experienced trauma and grief doesn’t mean that the pain doesn’t echo. The film asks us to be okay with that echo and let the main characters work through it. While that’s all perfectly acceptable, it does feel like territory the audience has already been through once or twice in this case.
I’ve taken a while to actually talk about the film’s other main lead America Chavez played by Xochitl Gomez. Her performance is fine. I can’t begrudge someone who doesn’t get too much character growth to work with. She is the equivalent of the helpful sidekick with superpowers going through some significant trauma. It’s up to Doctor Strange to help her work past it and learn the value of her skills. She can be a great actress, but in this case, she needs much stronger material to work from. Her parents in the film are LGBTQ+, and while that is a great step forward for such a major movie studio, very little is done to highlight how that should be the norm. I find this thoroughly disappointing from a studio and an industry that has made its ethos about acceptance of all people.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is not one of those trips I would take more than once because there are not enough weird or strange occurrences taking place for it to create a lasting memory in my mind. While others may feel differently, they may just process trauma and grief differently. As long as audience members found a positive way forward after seeing this viewing experience, I honestly can’t be upset at any success it may garner. After all, we are all a little strange.