Review: Despite being magic-centered, ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ epically fails to capture Marvel “magic”

*This review contains spoilers for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and WandaVision

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness was advertised as the turning point of Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), the huge film debut of the powerful and visually stunning Multiverse that had only been hinted at in previous MCU films. While the Multiverse was explored in the Disney+ TV series, Loki, we went into this film hoping that it would be approached with more competence. But, we were met with the same sloppy, neglectful writing from Loki in this film.

Our largest problem with this film lies in the complete disregard for the beautifully and carefully crafted character development of Wanda Maximoff.

Through WandaVision, another Marvel Cinematic Universe TV series from Disney+, Wanda’s character was explored on a level much deeper than it had been before. Despite being in the universe for several years, Wanda had never been the main character and struggled for screentime. In WandaVision, however, she was center-stage. Between excellent writing and directing and Elizabeth Olsen’s superb performance, Wanda became one of the most well-rounded and emotionally meaningful characters in the MCU. The series portrayed her journey in discovering where her powers really came from and what she was capable of. Although the series was a great introduction to her identity as The Scarlet Witch, it felt like only the beginning of an epic story yet to come.

Instead, Multiverse of Madness destroyed her character arc by forcing a complex and nuanced character into the overdone, cliché trope of “dark power makes sad lady go crazy and do evil stuff.” The explanation for her sudden turn to complete villainy is explained away by one of two boring plot devices in the film, The Darkhold. It is described to corrupt its users. Fair enough, but depriving fans of Wanda’s journey of being corrupted by a complex dark power source is unforgivable. Elizabeth Olsen has already given one the greatest performances of the MCU in WandaVision, but her cliché character arc and juvenile writing didn’t give her much space to portray the character as well as she had before.

Still, it is important to note that Olsen gave an amazing performance in an otherwise horrible movie. Even given the awful script, she showed an ability to hit real emotional notes and make us care about her character even after her arc had been destroyed. And at the end of this mess of a movie, what happens? She “dies”. Time will tell whether this was a typical, overdone fake death that is too common in the superhero genre, or if her death was real and the most complex character of the MCU has been thrown away for no reason.

The plot of the film was simply not good. Some aspects were intriguing, but the entire story revolves around a book of pure evil (The Darkhold) and a book of pure good (The Book of Vishanti). With so many fascinating directions this movie could have gone in, it is disappointing that one of the MCU’s first big-screen journeys into the Multiverse just plain boring.

The directing of the movie was at some points artfully crafted and incredibly impressive, while other parts felt extraordinarily average. The horror elements actually added a level of depth to the film that we really enjoyed and would love to see more of in future MCU films. Particularly, Wanda’s fight with the Illuminati was not only visually interesting but solidified the film as a horror sub-genre.

The addition of the Illuminati as an organization, as well as all the other cameos of the movie, didn’t serve any purpose other than fan service and honestly didn’t fit in very well. In a movie meant to explore the wonder of the Multiverse, all the fun cameos come from the same universe with no interesting reasons for being in the movie and no real affect on the plot. This left an empty space in the film that didn’t satisfy any Marvel fan that actually cares more about the development of the storylines and characters than some surprise name-dropping.

The sequences were often hard to follow and overstimulating, with no sign of precision or purpose to the chaos. While this could have been an attempt to live up to the “madness” of the title, the story itself never quite achieves that level. With the exception of an impressive and highly creative musical fight scene, it felt like all the elements of each fight were battling for dominance as opposed to flowing and building off of each other. 

From start to finish, the movie was a fight sequence, honestly to a fault. Even with the obvious overuse of the $200 million budget on these fight sequences, they felt more visually underwhelming than Doctor Strange or Avengers: Infinity War, both of which portray some of the best magical visuals of the MCU. The focus of the budget onto the fight scenes was not only wasted, but also deprived other parts, leaving interesting locations like the Gap Junction and Mount Wundagore to  feel less fantastical and more like obvious set pieces.

Doctor Strange has so much potential as a character and has already undergone some development so it’s confusing why this film wasn’t used as a way to further grow that character, especially when a character foil like America Chavez was introduced. An attempt was made to develop their relationship into a Tony Stark and Peter Parker duo, which spectacularly failed and felt forced, almost as forced as Stephen’s relationship with Christine Palmer. Christine became widely irrelevant in the first Doctor Strange. There was no point in bringing her back in this film for a half-attempt at a rekindled relationship that was never fully developed in the first place.

Some of these disappointments could have been forgiven if the film managed to capture the “magic” of marvel. But instead, it was just lame. The script is saturated with bad, cheesy jokes. The characters don’t even feel like character, but instead just vehicles to move the plot forward with lifeless dialogue.

Although the first mid-credits scene clearly sets up another soulless, corporate garbage film for the franchise, the second one ends with a cheesy “It’s over!” line that left us both annoyed and relieved that the mess of a movie was finally finished.

The most impressive people involved in this movie are those who created the trailers. They managed to craft excellent, exciting and intriguing snippets out of a horribly-made cash grab of an MCU movie.

Overall, we highly recommend watching the trailer for this film, but please stop there, avoid the film in theatres and wait for this one to be released on Disney+. Use it as background noise for your family dinner while you prepare for Thor: Love and Thunder.