There is a lot to enjoy and even more to question in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Sam Raimi's inaugural MCU entry is brisk, messy, and campy genre fare that feels caught between studio-mandated story beats and its director's love for intimate horror. The result - a reasonably diverting superhero flick that never fully taps into Raimi's morbid imagination.
The first third of Multiverse of Madness is one of the roughest opening acts of any MCU instalment to date. It's unfocused, overly serious, and devoid of humour and feeling. Raimi's visual style is as distinct and absorbing as ever; it's the screenplay that suffers. Multiverse of Madness is, unfortunately, a wide step in the wrong direction. Writer Michael Waldron (Loki) has a bad habit of breezing through gut-punch-y character beats simply to get to the next moment, resulting in an impatient story that feels too perfunctory and careless for viewers to ever get emotionally invested. Even heavy-hitters such as Elizabeth Olsen's Scarlet Witch fail to impress. The introduction of Xochitl Gomez's America Chavez is equally underwhelming.
That said, Waldron does a commendable job with his set-ups and payoffs. Doctor Strange's character arc is made clear early on, and the thrust of the story carries the Avenger to a sweet resolution. The “Doctor Strange” part of the title is the only aspect that feels sufficiently explored. It's the “Multiverse” and “Madness” sections that feel the most incompatible with Marvel's formula.
With those points in mind, it pains us to say that Multiverse of Madness falls far short of its potential. It's a confounding mishmash of Raimi's signature B-movie aesthetic and Marvel Studios' proclivity for pop and polish. Everything about its monsters - from the ropey multiversal demon in its opening scene to the shrieking wights wriggling free of Strange's dilated pupils - evoke its director's best, most twisted indulgences, but Marvel's continuity-conscious parameters sadly keep him from wandering even further into his wheelhouse.