Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness was the latest MCU to hit the big screen, and, as of June 22, is now available to stream on Disney+. When it originally premiered it theaters, the Sam Raimi- directed movie was met with generally positive reviews, with particular praise being aimed at the new direction Raimi took an otherwise typical MCU movie. Infusing elements of horror, vibrant colors, and even practical effects, Doctor Strange 2 was a visual treat for MCU audiences.
The MCU has heretofore been noted — praised by some, criticized by others — for having a specific Marvel Studios formula that its catalog of movies adheres to. While not necessarily a bad thing, this formula can make it predictable how characters will develop, how the plot moves forward, what the tone is more or less certain to be, and, overall, what the film will look like. Though a formula is necessary when managing multiple interconnected franchises, as outlined by The Guardian, the MCU formula is arguably a contributor of what’s known as “superhero fatigue” and the idea that all Marvel movies look the same.
Like Eternals and, to an extent, Thor: Ragnarok, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness strays from the MCU formula, offering fans of the franchise something that feels fresh and new. This is ultimately a good thing, especially as Marvel Studios is currently planning the next ten years of MCU movies. Here’s why.
The Main Villain is an Avenger
One of the main differences in Doctor Strange 2 and other additions to the MCU is that the main villain is an Avenger, something which is unique when compared to the usual formula. In Multiverse of Madness, that the Scarlet Witch is responsible for sending multiversal monsters after America Chavez. This comes after a typical Avengers movie set-up wherein one hero — Stephen, in this case — seeks help from a fellow hero. Of course, this partnership quickly fizzles as Wanda reveals her stance on the matter at hand. It’s a departure from the way most MCU movies introduce an entirely new character as the villain of a film, which ultimately makes things more interesting: Wanda has been a mainstay of the MCU since the Infinity Saga, so audiences have seen her growth and mistakes; no time is wasted in bringing a villain’s backstory to the film.
Exploration of the Multiverse
The MCU’s multiverse has been teased with past projects like WandaVision, Loki, What If…? and Spider-Man: No Way Home. However, Doctor Strange 2 was the first to actually bring main-timeline characters and the audience into other universes. Indeed, Multiverse of Madness changes the concept of the multiverse being restricted to plot devices or far-away situations. With the inclusion of The Illuminati, the film opened the door to boundless opportunities for future MCU stories; we saw first-hand just how different each universe is and, more importantly, the events that led to their formations.
Darker Characters Than Previous Movies
Wanda’s character is much darker than previous films in the MCU as we see that she is much more complex than any central character we have been introduced to before. We see that she has been studying the cursed Darkhold before she becomes a villain. From there, she tries to kill a child, slaughters Kamar-Taj sorcerers, and murders fan favorites from the franchise. More significantly, her reign of terror is linked to her grief, which is much more complex of an explanation for evil than previous entries to the franchise.
Horror is a Key Theme
The MCU has produced films in the past that have explored different subgenres outside the prototypical superhero movie mold — Captain America: The Winter Soldier had elements of a political thriller, and Thor: Ragnarok pivoted the Thor franchise towards comedic territory — but Doctor Strange 2 is effectively the franchise’s first foray into horror. Per CinemaBlend, this step into new generic territory allowed for a different and exciting perspective on the characters we’ve grown familiar with. For instance, the way in which Wanda slaughters The Illuminati, in addition to being a horrific sequence, punctuated both the Darkhold’s influence on her and just how desperately she wants to be with her kids. In this way, Wanda Maximoff quickly becomes one of the most threatening and disturbing villains we have seen on screen.
Sam Raimi Brings A New Style
Sam Raimi was a surprising choice to become involved with the MCU, and although many fans were excited, there was some skepticism towards the way he would change the film from that which Marvel fans were used to. It’s clear that he was able to exert creative control as we can see his stamp of originality throughout the film, bringing a fresh feel to the franchise.
The film divided critics in some respects, however, they were mostly in agreement that Raimi had a positive impact on the franchise and created a unique MCU addition. The visuals are stunning, the style sometimes moves into the region of camp, and he combines intense horror with relieving humor in a style that feels different from that which we have seen before. What Raimi proves is that creative risks and differences can, in fact, be a good thing in a franchise that’s so faithful to its own formula.