Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness: Sam Raimi is back, baby
To a guy named Stephen Strange, the former Sorcerer Supreme is actually a pretty normal person with at least a few normal issues: he’s bad at relationships and only a little better with kids, and he’s kind of an asshole. As we noted in our spoiler-free review of the film, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness isn’t really here to change viewers’ opinion of the guy. Like his comic book counterpart, Doctor Strange is most effectively used as a tour guide to places and creatures that wouldn’t or couldn’t exist in another story.
Multiverse of Madness is quite successful in this regard, but its focus on strange new worlds ultimately means there are two stars competing for attention in Multiverse of Madness, and neither of them is Doctor Strange. The first is the Marvel Cinematic Universe itself and the jigsaw puzzle pieces that fans have extensive access to every time Marvel adds a new movie to its blockbuster tapestry. The second is director Sam Raimi, who returns from a nearly decade-long absence from cinema to deliver the MCU’s scariest film. There’s nothing wrong with viewers showing up for Multiverse of Madness for the first reason, to continue the story of the MCU and see what it offers this time. But Raimi is the star that really makes the film shine.
[Ed. note: Basic plot setup spoilers for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness follow, but one of those plot setup elements goes beyond what’s seen in the trailers.]
Raimi’s highly acclaimed and highly successful Spider-Man trilogy films are by far the most popular entries in his filmography. But before he helped invent the modern era of superhero cinema, Raimi’s calling card was horror. His Evil Dead trilogy and his return in 2009 drag me to hell establish his unique sensibilities as a director with an inventiveness and visual panache that feels both old and new, and the films themselves are a fun mix of gross, funny and just the right amount of wickedness. Yet in a career that spans more than 40 years, Raimi’s horror styles have largely been limited to low-budget fare. He never had the opportunity to graft his vision of horror cinema onto a blockbuster, or get his hands on a blockbuster horror budget. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madnessand the Marvel Cinematic Universe it’s set in might be the most unlikely place to look for Raimi-style gonzo horror, but it’s absolutely there.
Marketing has obscured the real villain of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, but after about 20 minutes of quick setup, the film’s true threat becomes clear: Wanda Maximoff, now fully embracing her role as Scarlet Witch. Following the events of Disney Plus’ MCU series Wanda Vision, Wanda has obtained the Darkhold, a grimoire of black magic, and intends to use it to travel to a universe where her children – fiction evoked by her grief in Wanda Vision – are real. For this, she wants to steal the power of America Chavez, a girl from another universe with the unique ability to travel the entire multiverse. The problem is, she can’t control it, and for most of Multiverse of MadnessDoctor Strange and America are on the run through other universes while Wanda tracks them down.
Turning Wanda into a multiversal boogeyman is where the Sam Raimi of it all starts to shine, like Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness becomes one of the most visually exciting movies in the MCU. Raimi’s trademark flourishes on screen: disembodied hands appear from unlikely places, the camera takes on the perspective of ghostly specters, the dead walk again, and ghouls nip at our heroes’ heels.
The Raimi-filling scenes are a powerful reminder of just how much fun the Marvel Cinematic Universe can be whenever its filmmakers’ idiosyncrasies are allowed to shine through. Multiverse of Madness is not a complete Sam Raimi film – the screenplay by Michael Waldron has a ground of MCU lore to tear apart, and there are even more scenes of magical lasers shooting at each other that horror fans might love. But the stylistic flair that Raimi brings provides respite from all the magical flying CG explosions in a way that establishes the characters. Wanda Maximoff is not only capable of crimson energy blasts and mass illusion: she truly has mastered the most disturbing powers of the multiverse. Doctor Strange doesn’t just conjure up orange versions of physical weapons, he harnesses forbidden, arguably immoral forces, in an attempt to save the day.
strange doctor in the multiverse of madness is ultimately too fast-paced and superficial a film to fully grapple with the implications of Wanda’s powers. The substance of Doctor Strange’s conflict with her is why his use of the forbidden arts is evil, when his is necessary, but the movie loses interest in that question as soon as it asks it. Still, Raimi’s display of these powers and the forces that respond to them make it one of the MCU’s most thrilling comic book-style endeavors. It’s weird, colorful, and scary enough to scare kids, the same way a budding comic book fan might be scared off by a comic he had no way of knowing he was. not ready.
None of this is meant to diminish the story’s fun, multi-versal twists, but all the cameos and reveals are ultimately cotton candy. It’s a pleasure to see every guest appearance Multiverse of Madness has in store, but the movie also has a built-in release for every surprise that pops up on screen. With the exception of America Chavez, nothing Multiverse of Madness showcases used windups in a way that’s clearly destined to continue into the future of the MCU. Anyone approaching this movie from the perspective that it’s meant to be a monumental, life-changing episode of the status quo in the MCU’s mega-history may be disappointed.
Anyone who’s just here to see Raimi turn his usual ghoulish scary shows and gleeful body horror into a big-budget show, on the other hand, will get the payoff they’ve been waiting for. The madness is the important part here, not the multiverse. And we’re so lucky that this is the part that Sam Raimi excels at.
strange doctor in the multiverse of madness is in theaters now.