REVIEW – “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness”

Crashing into the Marvel Cinematic Universe as colorfully and bombastically as James Gunn did back in 2014 for Guardians of the Galaxy, Sam Raimi helms his first film of the genre since 2007’s Spider-Man 3 with Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness – an admittedly messy but nonetheless distinct, wacky, and exhilarating experience that feels like a Sam Raimi film through and through. However, when I say it feels like a Raimi film, I less-so mean that it feels like one of his Spider-Man films from the early Marvel days but instead feels more akin to one of his classic horror films like Evil Dead or even Darkman. If Chloe Zhao’s Eternals and Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok were indicators that the MCU is comfortable with directors running away with a project with their own distinct style, Multiverse of Madness proves that these films can still feel entirely unique and soulful when given the right director who is passionate about the project.

How does one even try to sum-up the general plot of Multiverse of Madness while also being vague for those warry of spoilers? I have no idea! In the most general sense, the film picks up sometime after Spider-Man: No Way Home where Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) is still.. mostly doing his usual, Doctor Strange thing – except that he’s no longer the Sorcerer Supreme now that Wong (Benedict Wong) has taken over the mantle ever since Thanos snapped his fingers back in Infinity War, and Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) is now getting married and has seemingly moved on from him. America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), a teenager who has the power to jump between multiverses, finds him right in the middle of all this as she desperately needs guidance as a mysterious threat has thrown her into the 616-Universe that we’re familiar with.

You think that’s a lot? The film also picks up with Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) slightly after the events of WandaVision, as she is left with no children or husband. This sends her on a dangerous path to trying to find her children somewhere in the vast multiverse.. and that’s where her and Strange collide, paving way for the rest of the film. The dynamic between Olsen and Cumberbatch is dynamite; seeing two Avengers actually at odds with one-another in a legitimate way that has dire consequences to not only their relationship but the greater MCU as we know it. The stakes are genuinely high and you feel it every single time they fight in this film. Cumberbatch delivers a more vulnerable and morally fractured performance as Strange this time around that worked really well for me, and Olsen absolutely goes for it once again; completely doubling down on the scariest elements of her character to deliver some truly frightening sequences that show both her almighty power and her vulnerability as a character who has lost so damn’ much.

Xochitl Gomez, Benedict Wong, and a whole bunch of others that I would never dare spoiling help make this is a genuinely well-rounded ensemble. And it’s impressive how large the cast is, and yet, even when this already large cast still has to play different variants of the same characters, it still feels like a surprisingly simple and effective story for a majority of the lead players. Sure, the multiverse mechanics can get a bit confusing if you’re not well-versed in your Marvel lingo, but the general character arcs and dynamics are resoundingly simplistic in a way that isn’t regressive but surprisingly refreshing for a film that has such a vast scale. All of the universe jumping and special appearances all feel in-service to the larger story about Strange and Wanda, and that is a genuinely impressive feat that writer Michael Waldron (Loki) pulls off.

However, it’s really Raimi’s direction that is the star of this film. In each and every frame, it feels like it is entirely his vision. There are so many moments throughout the film where I felt genuine shock that the Disney machine let him deliver something either so wacky and colorful or genuinely dark and disturbing. Does this sometime clash with what we’ve come to know from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and could it divide the more casual of fans that go to see it? Sure. But even when Multiverse of Madness is at its most messy, it is operating more creatively and interestingly than nearly anything else that the studio has turned out before. Raimi brings both his horror sensibilities and experience with large-scale blockbusters to play here and makes for one of the most unique and entertaining Marvel films to date.


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