When I first heard the title for the sequel to 2016’s Doctor Strange—which I thoroughly enjoyed despite knowing absolutely nothing about the superhero sorcerer (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) going in—my first thought was, “Hmm. They couldn’t have come up with anything better than that?”
But I was still psyched to see it, especially because as you read this I’m running around the Avengers Campus at Disney California Adventure Park in Anaheim, California. When I was there last fall, one of my favorite things was a show that Doctor Strange (well, a cast member who looks exactly like him) puts on in the evening that is really cool. I figured the movie would get me even more hyped up for my trip. Alas, I was wrong.
Unfortunately, I did not like Multiverse of Madness. I found it to be quite the boring mess, and I don’t think that’s because it’s already the third multiverse-centric movie I’ve seen in the past 5 months. Ironically, I felt bored because director Sam Raimi and writer Michael Waldron were throwing absolutely everything and everyone into the mix to keep it from being boring. But the result was a plot that was hard to follow and even harder to care about.
It’s a shame, because a new character, America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) has great potential. She’s introduced as a girl who can somehow travel across the multiverse, but she doesn’t know how to control her power yet, so she only finds herself whizzing between alternate timelines when she’s afraid or angry. There’s an amazing, amazing scene where she and Strange are tussling with each other while simultaneously flying across different worlds that we get to glimpse for a few seconds. And it was cool. America and Strange made entirely out of paint? Give me more! Even though Everything Everywhere All at Once has a similar scene that’s superior, I still wanted MoM to live up to the weirdness of its title and focus on its core characters grappling with alternate universes.
Instead, America and her abilities were drastically overshadowed by all the chaos that came with Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Strange fighting each other. Why were they fighting? Why is Scarlet Witch in this movie? Because Wanda, who conjured up children for herself in the Disney+ series WandaVision, became convinced those kids actually existed somewhere in the multiverse, and she wanted to force America to help her find them in generally evil and violent ways. This means that if you haven’t seen WandaVision on Disney+, you won’t get the full emotional scope of what’s going on with Wanda, and I think that’s kind of crappy. I did watch WandaVision and was still confused as to how Wanda could let Scarlet Witch turn into that level of villain.
Then while all of this going on you’ve got Strange pining away for his ex-fiancée (Rachel McAdams), and it was just tired. I sense no chemistry between them, so I wish that entire subplot had been taken out.
On the bright side, there are some fun cameos for fans who follow MCU rumors and casting gossip. And while I actually found some of the CGI and effects underwhelming, there is a really amazing sequence later in the movie where Raimi’s horror roots helped treat us to a, um, different version of Strange who gets a sinister new cloak while some really creepy creatures are fighting Scarlet Witch. There are other Strange-franchise-centric characters in on the action as well, including Sorcerer Supreme Wong (Benedict Wong) and Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor). I have no qualms about any of the cast—they were each individually excellent—but they couldn’t overcome the messiness of Waldron’s screenplay. Waldron wrote six episodes of the Disney+ series Loki, which I loved, but he lost his mojo with this film.
It’s unfortunate but true: Spider-Man: No Way Home and Everything Everywhere All at Once set the multiverse bar extraordinarily high for moviegoers over the past few months, and Multiverse of Madness didn’t come close to touching it. If you’re planning to see it, I hope I’ve lowered your expectations enough that you enjoy it more than I did!