by Rob DiCristino
I’m going to talk about things that happen in this movie. If that’s a spoiler to you, then you’ve been warned.
Modern superhero cinema history is full of big moments: Captain America wields Mjolnir. Spider-Man meets the Spider-Men. The Flash enters the speed force (apparently). They’re all fun and exciting, sure, but few have been as consequential as Doctor Strange’s decision to hand the time stone over to Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War. Believing that galactic catastrophe was inevitable, the Sorcerer Supreme elected to play the long game, to trust that the Mad Titan’s reckoning would come only after Earth’s Mightiest Heroes faced the true gravity of their failure. Thanos’ defeat vindicated Strange in the end, but while the lives lost in the Snap were eventually restored, their absence took its toll: Those who survived were forced to process unimaginable grief and loss. Those who returned from the dust began uncomfortable journeys back to a world that had left them behind. There’s no doubt that Strange’s decision saved the universe, but wasn’t it also presumptuous? Arrogant? Selfish? It’s hard not to wonder: What if there had been another way?Sam Raimi’s triumphant return to the Marvel universe he helped build with his 2000s Spider-Man trilogy. The adventure begins when Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) attends the wedding of former flame Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams, wasted slightly less here than in the first film). Keeping a stiff upper lip — “I am happy,” he tells Palmer, though she knows better — Strange springs into action when a space monster bursts through a portal in pursuit of the mysterious young America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez). After dispatching the monster, Strange and Wong (Benedict Wong) discover that Chavez has the ability to travel through the multiverse, a power that her universe’s Doctor Strange tried to steal for himself. Our Strange soon learns that Chavez’s attackers are commanded by witchcraft, not sorcery, which leads him to Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), who is still licking her wounds after the loss of her family in Westview.
Wanda’s rage has only grown in the months since her artificial world came tumbling down, but with Chavez’s power, she believes that she can find a universe in which her children are still alive, a place where they can be together forever. As Wanda lays siege to Kamar-Taj in an attempt to capture her, Chavez inadvertently sends Strange hurtling through the multiverse to an alternate New York City where Karl Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is Sorcerer Supreme, Palmer is a genius scientist working for the Baxter Foundation (!!), and Doctor Strange fell in the battle against Thanos. Mordo, fully aware of the multiverse, captures Strange and brings him before the Illuminati, a council of this universe’s most powerful heroes. Though Strange insists that he must be freed to stop Wanda, the Illuminati reveal that their Strange wasn’t really a fallen hero, but instead an ambitious lunatic corrupted by dark magic. With Wanda closing in, Strange must prove that he can tame his own lust for power and save infinite universes from certain destruction.its predecessor, Multiverse of Madness is a colorful, kaleidoscopic, and at times terrifying adventure that mercifully trades the MCU’s trademark postmodern snark for full-throated, unabashed, Steve Ditko wonder. Raimi and screenwriter Michael Waldron (Rick & Morty, Loki) abandon the Diet Tony Stark mold of previous incarnations and let the good doctor live up to his name, giving Cumberbatch ample opportunities to go broad, bold, and — in one hilariously audacious bit — full zombie. He’s having about as much fun as the starchy Oscar nominee can muster, but no one is going bigger than Olsen, who is finally able to play Wanda as a cackling villain after years of patient character evolution. Strange and Chavez move the plot, but this is Wanda’s story: Using a technique called “dreamwalking,” the Scarlet Witch is able to possess the minds of other Wandas who are still raising the children who were taken from her. These body-hopping moments are genuinely horrifying and unlike anything else in the MCU.
Which brings us to Sam Raimi, whose announced return to the superhero world sparked as much trepidation as it did excitement. Would the old master rise above studio meddling and deliver a true vision, or would the commercial demands of an interconnected universe force him to compromise? The result is overwhelmingly positive, as Multiverse of Madness is unequivocally a Sam Raimi film. The director’s visual tapestry is here — the zooms are snapped and the angles are canted — but his real contributions lay in the film’s tone, energy, and characterization: Unlike the litany of directors bending over backwards to make the MCU cool and ironic, Raimi leans into the delightful, the wondrous, and — most importantly — the fun. This is a fun movie! It’s full of wizards and witches and rock monsters and zombies and ghouls! Ghouls! There’s a universe where everyone is made of paint! Sheet music is used as a magical weapon! Though it fits comfortably in the established MCU, Multiverse is every bit as earnest and brazen as Evil Dead or Spider-Man.