Marvel had to do make some bold and gutsy choices to keep things interesting after culminating the first three phases of its cinematic universe action with the supersized superhero spectaculars Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame.
Finally giving Black Widow her own movie, introducing Shang-Chi and entrusting arthouse auteur Chloé Zhao with Eternals were all strong choices, if not necessarily universe-altering. Then along came three Spideys as Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Peter Parker (Tom Holland) tampered with the multiverse in the winter smash Spider-Man: No Way Home.
If No Way Home pried open the multiverse, though, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness — the MCU’s 28th movie — brings the sledgehammer. And it brings the “strange” in spades.
Early reactions proclaim the movie as the strangest, weirdest, wildest and grossest Marvel movie yet.
“It’s certainly the darkest and scariest, in comparisons to the others,” Cumberbatch says in a recent interview with Yahoo Entertainment (watch above). “And I think possibly the maddest as well. There’s just so much exploding in this film. Characters and storylines and everything the multiverse can throw as potential narratives.”
“It creates a very exciting time,” agrees Elizabeth Olsen, who reprises her role as Wanda Maximoff — now fully transitioned into Scarlet Witch — in the wake of Disney+’s streaming hit WandaVision.
A major reason the film is also being called the darkest and scariest MCU entry yet — what Marvel mastermind Kevin Feige once described as the studio’s first horror movie — starts and stops with its director, Sam Raimi. Though the filmmaker famously helmed the original Spider-Man trilogy from 2002-2007, he’s equally beloved for his raucous horror-comedy stylings in the Evil Dead movies and one-offs like Drag Me to Hell.
“I thought that the first movie was so well made,” says Raimi, who replaced Doctor Strange (2016) director Scott Derrickson for the follow-up. “Both Benedict Cumberbatch's performance an [Scott Derrickson’s direction of] the visual effects were really cool, but mostly I love the character of Doctor Strange. He's really an interesting superhero. He doesn't just catch the bad guys. He works on a cosmic scale, protecting Earth and our universe against mysterious, magical threats.”
In Multiverse of Madness, that involves traveling into other dimensions and encountering alternate versions of himself to protect America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), a mysterious teenage girl with the unheard-of power to move through the multiverse — a power that’s coveted by some evil forces (no spoilers).
It all makes for some mind-bending mythology, so Cumberbatch forgives you if you can’t always grasp every fine detail of the multiverse.
“Just go for the ride,” he says. “The logic loops are tricky. And I think, especially making these films, you get into a lot of relay races. You're basically another link in the chain — the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a big, one-line story. So how that fits in, how that shifts — we had to take in WandaVision and Loki and then Spider-Man: No Way Home as well. So the only thing that really didn't change in this was the title, and everything else was constantly evolving.”
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness opens Friday.
— Video produced by Anne Lilburn and edited by John Santo
Watch the trailer: