Film Review: ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ suffers under weight of expectations

When Doctor Strange accidentally opened up the MCU multiverse attempting to help a distraught Peter Parker in “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” he opened up a can of worms that would reverb into the release of Marvel’s newest release, “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.”

Fan-favorite surprise cameos in “No Way Home,” paired with fan expectations set by such Disney+ shows as “WandaVision” and “Loki,” the newest Doctor Strange film, directed by horror icon Sam Raimi (original Spiderman trilogy as well), struggles to get out of the shadow of expectations the buildup created. Instead, fans get a horror-esque jump through the multiverse that pertains more to Scarlet Witch and Doctor Strange, than any other character in the MCU.

When Dr. Stephen Strange (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) casts a forbidden spell that opens a portal to the multiverse, a threat emerges that may be too big for his team to handle. The resulting conflict pits the most powerful Avenger, Scarlet Witch (played by Elizabeth Olsen), against the Good Doctor in a battle for the life of newcomer, America Chavez (played by Xochitl Gomez). 

After seeing it the first time after a few cocktails and an edible, I left the theater unsure if I truly enjoyed the film or fell victim to the weight of expectation. It’s easy for me to want to see what I want to see in the film, same as many fans, and it resulted in me waiting and waiting for characters and multiverse incursions that never came. That was my fault. When I screened it a second time, without expectations (but still after a cocktail and an edible), I found myself enjoying the film far more than the first time.

Maybe it was the lack of audience applause for the little cameos and shoutouts, or perhaps it was simply being free of expectations, but this movie grades out as a top 10 MCU film. Not the best, but certainly not the worst.

Cumberbatch is his usual arrogant self as Strange and Wanda, aka The Scarlet Witch, is still as broken as ever dealing with the loss of her lover Vision and the disappearance of her imaginary children she created during the events of “WandaVision.” Olsen gives such heart to Wanda’s break into walking that fine line between good and evil. The road to Hell is always paved with the best intentions and Wanda seems to fall prey to this more than most, making her very dangerous. 

Gomez, in her first appearance as a multiverse traveller with interesting powers, shines as a bright light in what is a dark world.

Raimi brings the usual trademarks of his work, especially the “Evil Dead” franchise. His gift for creating truly horrific or suspenseful images  is on full display once The Scarlet Witch breaks bad. Whether it’s the POV shot or the contorting body that crackles, Raimi created the MCU’s first true horror film. The visuals are excellent, and the inevitable appearance of Bruce Campbell has his fingerprints all over the project.

Yes, there are spoiler-worthy cameos when Strange meets the multiverse’s protectors, “The Illuminati” so I will not give those away but fans of the 20th Century Fox Marvel universe (now owned by Disney) will certainly be happy. I personally was waiting for Nic Cage to make an appearance.

While I was disappointed we didn’t get any Loki/Kang the Conquerer connections, we know these two are looming large as the MCU moves towards what most of us assume is going to be a massive “Secret Wars” trilogy down the line.

All in all, I enjoyed “MoM,” cleverly released on Mother’s Day weekend with such acronyms. Once I threw off the expectations, and no longer had to worry about which MCU characters would make appearances, I was able to enjoy the film as it was intended. Few directors could push back against the weight of expectation but Raimi is one of them.

Raimi delivers a fun installment into the MCU and continues to set up the next phase of films that will resume with “Thor: Love and Thunder”  (July 8) and “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” (Nov. 11), as well as upcoming Marvel Disney+ series, “Ms Marvel,” “She-Hulk” and whatever “The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special” is going to be. 

The key is to throw away the expectations, and allow the film to live and breathe on its own. If you can, I’m sure you’ll thoroughly enjoy “Doctor Strange” as we await Taika Waititi’s newest Thor this summer. I mean, it could easily be much worse…ask Dr. Michael Morbius.

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