"Never take off the mask."
"Never take off the mask."

Unmasked: “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness”

Let’s get right into the action – Doctor Strange is probably one of my favourite heroes in the MCU and to me one of the strongest origin stories in the franchise was exactly his. Therefore it should be no secret that the long discussed sequel of his story was one of my most awaited productions in Phase 4 of the universe and honestly no speculations, advertisements or whatever else which could’ve crossed your mind could convince me not to watch it. Add to that the fact that the director’s chair this time is taken by no other than Sam Raimi himself, whose influence on my connection to the cinema I have already mentioned in the Spider-Man review, as well as all the mini-series which we’ve seen in the last two years coming out from Marvel and which have more or less turned into a canon for the franchise, serving either as separate solo origin stories or as a setup for what is yet to happen.

So let’s start straight from the things you should know about “Doctor Strange 2” (I’ll call it like that for short). Obviously all of you should already be aware of the multiverse even if you have skipped some of the Marvel stuff that has come out recently outside of the cinemas but in case you’re not, there’s nothing to worry about. Raimi’s film is, logically, somewhat of a sequel to “Doctor Strange” but is more a direct continuation of the mini-series “WandaVision” and despite that it can be looked at as a separate single entity since, even though it explains the multiverse quite in a rush, it also gives a clear idea of what’s going on and what you can expect from here onwards. As I already mentioned, Raimi is sitting behind the camera this time who replaces the director of the first movie – Scott Derrickson, and this can be seen in each shot of the movie, but more about this later on. The main characters are also back and are a bit expanded with some experience and youth as we can see from some of the more and some of the not-so-much expected appearances but that’s something that we will also discuss later in the review.

Strange Episode 1: Strange Menace
Strange Episode 2: Attack of the Zombies

But enough with the generic information, let’s talk about the real things. In this sense I think it’s fair to take a look at a movie of such calibre the way it deserves – in several different dimensions. That’s why I announce to you the “Multiverse of Martos” (God, I hope this never becomes a reality) where you will see and hear a few viewpoints on the different aspects of the movies from my alter egos. I present to you Marto-2149 (a die-hard comics fan, i.e. a zombie), Marto-838 (a regular fan, i.e. an average guy) and Marto-616 (a wannabe reviewer, i.e. me). Hint: If you haven’t figured it out already, the thoughts of the latter are what I actually think about the movie but some of the things also overlap with the other two’s views. And since, typically for a multiverse, things already got out of hand, let’s talk business.

Strange Episode 3: The Revenge of the Illuminati
Strange Episode 4: A New Malice

Marto-2149

Directing

Some directing choices definitely won’t appeal to the more hardcore fans, especially when having in mind all the speculations and teasers that have flooded the internet before the movie’s premiere. The leaked information for about 40 minutes of screen time that have been cut definitely implies how much extra content has been considered and bearing in mind that we’re talking about a “multiverse”, it was obvious to expect a bit more of fan service than what we’ve seen.

Plot

As it should already be clear from the written above, the lack of some of the most widely discussed characters and cameos will be felt by the fans and many of them will most likely be disappointed. Most of them will also not like the fact that even the ones they did show had a very short appearance which was overshadowed by the main characters. And since we mentioned the main ones, at times the movie didn’t feel like a “Doctor Strange 2” but rather than a solo movie of the “Scarlet Witch” in which Strange just happened to be there by some coincidence, similar to “Spider-Man: No Way Home”.

Wanda herself went through quite a drastic change from the way we’ve been used to seeing her and even with the context that “WandaVision” has given about what, why and how things have happened, this switch from an avenger to an antihero will still feel like quite a quick and even unnecessary turnaround for some people. There were moments where there was also too much of that constant nagging of LGBTQ+ and the need to always have such a character, in this case – America Chavez.

Cast

Talking about the cast there is no way that it wouldn’t spin around the cameos topic again since they were the movie’s strongest weapon. There were, however, not as many as we expected and those that were there didn’t really have enough opportunities to shine with something great – the hope is still alive though that this will happen in future movies, even though not in the way they were shown here.

Some of the people also won’t approve of some characters that have already secured their spot in upcoming movies such as America, simply because the girl is still 16 after all and is just making her first steps into the big cinema but her role is actually quite important. The truth is that Olsen and Cumberbatch carry this movie on their shoulders (more like with their hands as the magic comes from there after all) with all their personalities and even strong supporting performances from Wong and McAdams can’t completely wipe the feeling of a bit rushed and not entirely developed story.

Visual

Visually the movie looked stunning – the jumping from a universe to universe wasn’t annoying for the eye, the battles were filled with tons of magic, flying objects, portals and beautiful effects and the horror elements were quite reserved and not that tense but provided quite an exquisite movie taste.

Sound

The soundtrack is amazing, not gonna lie. The collaboration between Sam Raimi and Danny Elfman apparently hasn’t changed in recent years and the work of the latter on previous MCU productions is a good indicator that he knows how to spin the sound of a superhero movie to such quality.

Marto-838

Directing

Keeping in mind that Raimi hasn’t dealt with comics cinema since his last “Spider-Man”, which was not among the most memorable ones, “Doctor Strange 2” is more or less an achievement for him when we know what expectations and scales this project brings with itself. We also shouldn’t forget that not every new movie in MCU should be a crossover event, especially when it bears the name of a specific hero and not something like “Avengers” or “X-Men”. In this sense, personally for me Raimi tells an impressive and different enough story to give the movie and its heroes their necessary identity.

Plot

From a plot perspective the movie definitely did not shine as far as star castings and surprises are concerned but to me it surely seemed quite logical and intriguing. I’m even pleased that some of the cameos that were strongly speculated didn’t happen. For some others the screen time was justified, even though it was shorter, since the idea was more to introduce them within the MCU rather than give them a full-blooded and well-developed character.

Elizabeth Olsen’s transition was perhaps a bit spontaneous and confusing for people that have only watched the trailers but on the other hand we saw from Wanda completely different characters as well which differed not only in the costumes and the make-up but also in the behaviour. The change of costumes, by the way, was a pretty nice touch and even on that level we could already see the changes in her mood.

Cast

There’s no doubt that Olsen and Cumberbatch steal the show here too where the actress does it even more than expected. This is not necessarily a bad thing – for Wanda it’s quite the opposite, Elizabeth Olsen proved with this movie to likely be the strongest and best presented female character in MCU so far. You can easily check her performances until now and see her amazing progress from “Age of Ultron” onwards. The same can be said about Benedict Cumberbatch whose hero hasn’t missed a major movie with lots of heroes brought together since he first showed up and whose own movies are also not to be missed.

Xochitl Gomez, on the other hand, contrary to all the criticisms, makes an extremely strong debut in a Hollywood blockbuster and that’s on the still quite early age of 16 which is an achievement that 90% of the youth can only be jealous of and which means that the bright future lies ahead of her. I’m sure that with the help of her experienced colleagues or even the new ones that will ride the same wave as her, she will manage to eventually prove herself as one of the more memorable Marvel superheroes.

Visual

Each reality the heroes went through, no matter if we saw it for a split second, was very well built and had its own unique identity. The colours were overflowing but the nuances of the Scarlet Witch definitely were prevailing and each one of her clashes with another character was a feast for the senses.

Sound

The surround sound is in perfect balance with what’s happening on screen and even the darker tones help with outlining the sense of madness that adds additional suspense and also conveniently hides within the title of the movie itself.

Marto-616

Directing

The movie’s plot development, the pinch of horror and the way of capturing certain scenes are extremely typical for those who recognize Raimi’s creativity and it’s clearly visible that this is his movie. The good news is that he certainly had the freedom to do the film his own way and this is apparent in every single shot. The even better news is that despite the cut extra minutes I wasn’t left with the impression of an incomplete story, having in mind too that these changes won’t be left forgotten but will most likely find their place in future iterations.

Plot

As I already hinted above and you’ve probably also seen in the viewpoints on the left, the plot is definitely one of the most discussed and polar topics of the movie. And yes, there definitely were some inconsistent things here and there, in the illuminati’s lines at the very least, as well as in some weaker attempts for introducing a sense of humour in otherwise darker scenes. Despite that we saw several reincarnations of Strange, some expected and now confirmed or already well-known heroes (who, I hope, won’t be left to be cameos only) and quite a lot of references to other movies, be it past or future ones.

The main driver of the plot in the face of America Chavez also felt like a good hit, especially when having in mind that Marvel have been keeping on going towards the direction of the “young avengers” for some movies (and series) now and we slowly start to see them gathering up which is definitely healthy for the franchise, especially when some of the acclaimed and loved superstars are already not a part of it.

Cast

Without going into any further unnecessary details, at times it definitely felt like Olsen’s character was overpowering Cumberbatch’s one not only as a purely magical superhero but also with acting presence. This doesn’t mean, though, that I was left with the feeling that Strange is a secondary character in his own movie and even though we didn’t see such a development in his character, for me the actor remains to be one of the most stable and convincing superstars in the current MCU.

The rest of the cast, even with rather secondary roles indeed, also contribute with decent performances and manage to further develop and to some extent build on their characters.

Visual

I was left quite impressed by the visuals, the costumes and the make-up and how clear, for example, the transformations of Olsen from Wanda into the Scarlet Witch and of Cumberbatch in his different reincarnations were. The PG-13 rating was stretched to the maximum and in some scenes there were even more brutal and bloody moments which is impressive for a movie with such category. Every single shot from the different universes was frameworthy which cannot be said about too many movies in general.

Sound

The music is surely on a high level for the franchise and it can be seen that even though a single person mainly worked on it, more people have actually composed it. Add to that the symphonies from Bach and Beethoven and you get one of the most original ana outstanding audio-visual 1-on-1 battles that Strange and his alter ego could have delivered.

Strange Episode 5: The Defenders Strike Back
Strange Episode 6: The Return of the Animated

If I have to somehow sum up everything so far and take the most important bits from what’s been said by my three Me-s above, I can conclude a few things about “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness”:

  • The movie is not entirely related to the multiverse or even a full-blooded Doctor Strange movie as far as he’s concerned but despite that is pretty solid and achieves all the goals it sets for itself.
  • And yes, these goals were a bit misleading having in mind all the videos and information which has been speculated with and whose absence in the actual movie led to a lot of criticism from the fans. Still, for me Raimi has had quite a clear idea of what he wants to do and how to do it and the results are there – a top solo movie which is not overfilled with details that could shift the focus from the actual acting characters.
  • On the other hand it’s filled with effects, both audio and visual ones and since I also watched it in 4D there were such that affected other senses as well – in this aspect the movie is a spectacle and definitely deserves your visit to the movie salon.
  • The cameos and the references were not the “madness” they were expected to be but for me they were sufficient and these 40 minutes that have been removed from here on purpose will definitely be scattered accordingly across the connected and future franchises.
  • The preceding (and potential following) series to this movie are now almost obligatory, especially “WandaVision” and “Loki”, at least because they give much more context about what’s exactly happening but also because they’re actually worth watching. Not to mention the fact that the movie borrows a lot of ideas from my favourite “What If” episode and the coolest thing is that it actually manages to properly develop them in the live action version.
  • The bonus scenes are two, stay at least for the first one (the second one is an absolute troll Marvel style) – the future of Strange, at least as far as it’s not related to other (known and main) heroes’ but to his own, definitely shapes up to be quite intriguing.

Maybe I’m missing something else but I honestly think that everything written above should be enough to give you an idea of what to expect and, in case you’ve already seen it, what I expected and saw. In the end, many put an end to the Marvel universe after “Endgame” but in reality Phase 4 is only beginning to expand and has already gained quite a momentum and personally I can’t wait to see what direction the MCU will take in the future. And considering that Kevin Feige and co. have already planned the franchise for at least the next 10 years (and who knows how much they will keep on going) and that not only are newer and newer comic books with different ideas and vision coming out every day but also adapted ones are being joined to the extended movie universe of Marvel, I have no doubt that we, the fans of such cinema, won’t stop having reasons to watch and enjoy such productions.

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