Review | “Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” falls short of potential


Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Press Kit

Poster for “Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.”

By Katelyn Kruszewski, Staff Writer

The best part of Marvel’s newest film is the villain. Contrary to popular belief, the antagonist can be an audience member’s favorite character.

Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” released May 6, follows Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), who has recently cast a forbidden spell that opens the multiverse. Dr. Strange aims to protect teen America Chavez (Xochitil Gomez), a young anomaly who has the power to jump through the multiverse. Our villain is introduced as an old friend and former superhero Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen). The action/horror movie challenges the thin line between good and evil.

Marvel fans are familiar with Wanda Maximoff. The fictional witch was the leading protagonist of the spin-off series “WandaVision”. Wanda has endured great losses within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, including but not limited to the loss of her brother, husband and children. 

Throughout various MCU films, audience members watch as this loveable, naive character falls in love and loses everything in the battle against the villain Thanos. Thanos seeks to gain power with the infinity stones. In “Infinity War”, Wanda uses her magic to destroy the mind infinity stone which is attached to her love interest, Vision. The action ultimately results in Vision’s death. But Thanos reverses time, and Wanda watches as Thanos kills Vision to obtain the stone, effectively making Wanda’s sacrifice meaningless.

Wanda’s character takes a turn to the dark side in the spin-off series when she mind controls and enslaves a small town to create a false reality in which she is happy with Vision and her two children. Wanda’s character arc begs the question of how far one is willing to go to achieve happiness, a common theme of the new “Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.” 

Actress Elizabeth Olsen scared me to death throughout this film. Wanda’s behavior is psychotic and irrational, and she is willing to kill anyone to get her sons back — including the lost and fearful America Chavez. One scene in particular includes Wanda on a total rampage, killing superheroes in an alternate reality. In this scene, Wanda dons a simple white sweater and jeans. Half her face is covered in blood and she walks barefoot. Wanda’s blatant disregard for rationality as she kills these characters demonstrates her descent into madness.

As we watch Wanda kill thousands and create false realities, audiences are greeted with a side comparison of everything that Dr. Strange has lost as well.

Elizabeth Olsen plays Wanda Maximoff in “Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.” (Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Press Kit )

The movie begins with a scene showing Dr. Strange attending his former love interest Christine’s wedding. In an intimate moment, Christine asks him during the reception whether or not he is happy as a superhero and with his life. The celebration and answer is interrupted with a monster running rampant outside of the reception. The monster is seen chasing a teenager, Marvel’s newest superhero America Chavez.

The film has been characterized as a horror movie rather than the traditional Marvel action. The movie includes jump scares as well as overtly violent and gory CGI effects, such as a corpse version of Dr. Strange and a bloodied Wanda Maximoff. While the effects are interesting, they only further aid in taking away from the plotline. The effect of the gore is unsettling and at times too unreal. Despite the building of strong character arcs and stories, the Marvel film falls short in favor of this “fear factor.”

Despite strong themes of moral questioning, the film effects interfere with the characters and created plots. The film features an assortment of beloved superheroes from a variety of comic books and spin-off series including Charles Xavier, Black Bolt, Captain Carter, Captain Marvel, Mr. Fantastic, and Mordo. The presence of these characters is pure fan service, as each one has a total of five minutes of screen time before they are killed off by the movie’s villain.

The stories of Dr. Strange and Wanda Maximoff are well-developed and engaging. I thoroughly enjoyed watching their moral debates regarding superhero life and happiness. Additionally, I was excited to see the introduction of new superhero America Chavez. America’s introduction begins an exciting beginning to a new phase of Marvel that is comic book accurate and paves the way for “Young Avengers” in a next phase. But the MCU tries too hard to be a step ahead of their next big hit rather than focusing on the well-developed plotlines it has already curated.

The problem I have with the film is the cameo appearances. For avid Marvel fans, it’s exciting to spot characters from other films, series and original comic books. But these cameo characters were immediately killed off. Rather than having an exciting buildup, their storylines are cut short for shock factor. The result of killing these characters is limiting and gives the movie a rushed feeling.

The best character in the “Multiverse of Madness” is Wanda Maximoff. Wanda’s story comes full circle and parallels the journey of Dr. Strange in a beautiful way. Trying to make this movie a hit horror feature, though, detracts from Dr. Strange’s story. By focusing on future Marvel movies, the film loses the power of its curated characters and rushes important themes in favor of fan service.