For the first time in I don’t know how long, a Marvel movie has a distinct style.
“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” follows Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) as he tries to save reality and a young girl (Xochitl Gomez) from an enemy that threatens to destroy multiple universes. Elizabeth Olsen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Rachel McAdams also star.
This is the 28th installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and at this point you either jumped ship or are accepting that you’ll forever be along for the ride. I think the current Phase 4 has been mostly a success, with “Spider-Man: No Way Home” being a standout and “Black Widow” and “Shang-Chi” both being solid films that just don’t quite stick the landing (“Eternals” tried something new and it didn’t really work). The sequel to “Doctor Strange” (a film I didn’t love) sees Sam Raimi, known for directing the original “Spider-Man” trilogy and “Evil Dead” series, take the reigns from Scott Derrickson and deliver a very fun, sometimes frightening MCU romp.
One of my biggest complaints with the MCU films from the past five years or so is they have no real unique style or flavor (outside the first 90% of “Black Panther”). They all share the same color palette and shot-reverse-shots, partnered with the giant CGI climax. While “Multiverse of Madness” certainly has its moments of Marvelness, Sam Raimi’s fingerprints are all over it. The twisty camera, the horror elements, the campy humor instead of quips, this is such a different move for Marvel and I really appreciate that they (mostly) let Raimi cook in the kitchen uninterrupted.
This film is by-far the gnarliest of the MCU, but we’d expect nothing less from Raimi. Characters get decapitated, impaled, eviscerated, and torn apart from the inside; I loved every second of it. There is one shot that was terrifying and comical all at once, a feat few directors other than Raimi could pull off. Most of this film plays out like the operating room scene from “Spider-Man 2,” and it’s just the adrenaline shot in the arm the MCU needed.
When he first stepped on the scene in 2016, most people shrugged at Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange as a vanilla wannabe Tony Stark. But after his “master plan” came to fruition in “Endgame,” suddenly he’s a fan favorite (the comic relief roles in “Thor: Ragnarok” and “No Way Home” didn’t hurt, either). Cumberbatch is solid here, he’s really not asked to do much heavy lifting or explore new arcs, but I do think they’ve done a good job redeeming his character for the audience.
The real star of the show, however, is Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch. I think she gives a genuinely great performance–and not just by comic book movie standards–full of rage, pain, and confusion. Really love what they did with her character here.
There are a few fun cameos (though less than rumors the past six months would lead one to expect), one which was in the trailer and another on the poster, but the others managed to stay hush to me. Your level of enjoyment from them will depend on your knowledge of Marvel lore and MCU casting history, but I really liked what we were given.
“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” may be a bit of a mess, but it’s a Sam Raimi mess. The plot is pretty simple yet somehow convoluted, and the ending is a tad rushed. Still, full of trippy visuals, good performances, and welcome horror elements, this was an incredibly fun way to kick off summer movie season 2022.
Critics Rating: 8/10
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