Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness is about Stephen Strange, the former Sorcerer Supreme of Earth and Avenger, who finds himself at an impasse when he has to pick up the pieces of the life he missed out on for the five years when he didn't exist (sorry if you haven't been paying attention to the Marvel movies of the last five years, even this synopsis will get confusing). He is suddenly thrust into multiversal shenanigans (again), when a young multiversal traveller, America Chavez, lands on his doorstep seeking help. The film stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Xochitl Gomez, and Benedict Wong. The film is directed by Sam Raimi and written by Michael Waldron.
Tepid. That's my feeling about the original Doctor Strange film and tepid is how I remain about this branch of the franchise after watching Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Even worse than an origin story, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness feels like a bridge, or a filler episode. It's some information you need in order to better appreciate the films coming down the line. It's not it's own complete story, or even really a strong piece of the Doctor Strange story, though he is the focal character and holds half the emotional heft.
What works in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is what works in Doctor Strange, it's really exciting to look at. The visual effects when they interact with the real world can lag, but when they're on their own, they can really hum. America Chavez's powers especially are an exciting visual. She can create star shaped portals through which she and other matter can travel to a completely different universe. Even the magic got an upgrade visually with weird things in place of just fancy lights. There's a scene where music is pulled off a page and weaponized and battled with.
Sam Raimi's visual flair has always been for the weird, the grotesque, and the body horror. He delivers with magic that uses the whole body and eyeballs that pop in more ways than one. Though, in the midst of his horror sensibilities, Raimi and cinematographer John Mathieson create some epic superhero action. Their best move being the intense scene when one character enters the mind of an other. The camera and us enter from the person's eye. That scene also has an incredible minimalist design to the space. Production designer Charles Wood and his team create some truly epic physical spaces for people to interact with.
What thoroughly doesn't work in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is that the filmmakers decided that the intriguing growth and potential Wanda Maximoff showed in her limited series Wandavision wasn't worth exploring any further. She simply becomes a villain with a one track mind. What's worse is that while she poses a great threat to the multiverse, she's cast aside, to their detriment, by the group of heroes Doctor Strange encounters when he and America are ripped into a new universe. It's a giant step back for the character and a strange choice given that Mordo, who hates Strange, has already been established as wanting to take Strange down, and would relish using the Darkhold, Kang, who was introduced in the series Loki, and even Strange himself, who in the animated What If... series does something like this and becomes corrupted, would all have been infinitely better choices. Why destroy a character that had so much potential on a one note and, frankly, entirely sexist motivation?
I like the idea of the shared Marvel universe, but the idea now seems that these aren't solo adventures anymore. These films have to have characters mashed into one another and present new, broad pieces of a larger puzzle, rather than tell a good story from beginning to end and film to film. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is fine if you're a completist, but if you just want a great story that has emotional heft, shenanigans and what ifs about a multiverse, go and see Everything Everywhere All at Once instead. I can't recommend this for the casual viewer, it's likely your head will explode with questions after the first half an hour. This is one only for the die hards.