Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness – Review

I’m appreciative that Marvel/Disney are trying. After years of complaints about every film feeling homogonous (not to mention poorly lit and obviously shot in a parking lot in Atlanta) they’ve finally done things like allow a director to shoot in natural light (though The Eternals is sort of a fascinating misfire), let a woman lead a film (though Black Widow is entertainingly shoddy at best), and have begun consuming previous franchises in order to expand their own brand by a few extra films (though Spider-Man: No Way Home is more of an ouroboros than a film). The latest offering, the ridiculously-titled Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, began as a Scott Derrickson helmed sequel to his 2016 film. He left the project over creative differences and, in the stunner of stunners, the studio brought in Sam-fuckin’-Raimi to take over. The Evil Dead director made his name in horror, but perhaps the studio was more interested in his take on Spider-Man in 2002. That film made our current movie culture possible and served as a blueprint for most of the MCU’s 28 films.

They may have hired him to produce something similar, but this dude’s made a Sam Raimi movie. For better or for worse this is all him after the first hour.

We pick back up with Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) as he attends the wedding of the love of his life – Christine Palmer (a wildly underutilized Rachel McAdams). During the reception, a commotion arises outside, and the Avenger steps in to save young America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) from a giant space octopus. After Strange and Sorcerer Supreme Wong (Benedict Wong) discover that she can hop between universes, they seek out assistance from Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and things begin to get…uh…multiversal.

It’s very interesting that multiverses are so hot right now, with DC/WB treating their franchise entries as moments across a vast series of realities and Marvel using it to consume. The beautiful, perfect, poignant Everything Everywhere All at Once is another example of our obsession with multiversal reality, one that truly pushes the reality-bending concept to its extremes. Ol’ Doc Strange? He begins looking at the multiverse as a way to find happiness. In a world where things seem worse every day and multiverses are becoming more popular…perhaps we’re just all just looking for a reality in which everything is okay.

The hopping around stretches a thin plot to a knife’s edge, but Sam Raimi’s brand has always been taking this kind of thing and patching it together with chewing gum and paperclips to make something highly entertaining. His most well-loved work, Evil Dead II, is a mixture of slapstick and absolutely disgusting glee in horror, and he brings a lot of that energy to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Cumberbatch looks great in Deadite makeup, a certain chin pops up, and the camera is going buck wild in a way that is only surpassed by Michael Bay with a drone. It’s not a pure Raimi project (no Marvel property will ever truly be allowed to feel completely like the work of a singular artist), but they let him get away with everything from throwing the camera around to family-friendly jump scares.

Raimi’s brought Danny Elfman along with him, which is a great relief after the reign of Michael Giacchino scores at Marvel Studios. While Giacchino is a lazy magpie of an artist, Elfman blends in his own brand of heartfelt and emotional soaring to combat the previous repetitive nonsense. It couples well with Bob Murawski and Tia Nolan’s editing – frenetic and combative to an audience that is used to enough grey stuff you’d think an anthropomorphic candlestick served all of their meals.

This is not going to be for everyone. In fact I think it’s going to piss off a lot of day-to-day Marvel fans; opening-day people, one-movie-a-year people, and those that have to take their kids to everything. It’s not your standard fare, instead more visually challenging and visceral in a way that’s still sort of muted (not to be that guy, but back in my day scary family fare was shit like Poltergeist and that was actually kinda gross compared to this). I had a great time with it despite its ambiguous stakes and reliance on exposition (don’t TELL me an entire universe full of trillions got wiped out because Doctor Strange is sad and horny, SHOW me that) and knowledge of previous tangential material like WandaVision. It’s slipshod and wonky, but 2022 seems to be the year that Marvel is open to allowing a director’s fingerprints to be felt in the film and…I just appreciate that.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is currently in theatres.

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