Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
Directed by Sam Raimi
Written by Michael Waldron
Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Xochitl Gomez, and Benedict Wong
Reber’s Rating: A
Well, after spending some quality time watching Sam Raimi place his stamp of insanity on the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I can happily say that Multiverse of Madness certainly takes the salty aftertaste of Spider-Man: No Way Home out of my mouth.
I said what I said, I didn’t stutter. Look, I was over the moon to see both Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield both make their triumphant return as their Spider-Men. And the film was rousing, a Christmas blockbuster that wrapped a trilogy and paved the way for a more adult Spider-Man. But Jon Watts’ film was wildly uneven, far too comical and loose in some batty dialogue, and lacking substantial dramatic punch up until the last act. That parting shot of the iconic Greek mug – “We Are Happy To Serve You” – as Peter swings out into the Manhattan skyline? Chef’s kiss.
When I saw that Sam Raimi was stepping in for auteur Scott Derrickson, who stepped down to the usual “creative differences” song-and-dance, I knew off the bat what to expect. For a spell, Raimi was playing things kind of straight, keeping his horror roots at bay and directing more commercial affair. After all, his last theatrical film was 2013’s Oz: The Great and Powerful. As much fun and fluff as that Disney flick was, I felt like this wasn’t the Raimi we’d seen prior. Where was the shlock of Evil Dead and Darkman? For seven years, Raimi took time away from the director’s chair to rediscover his passion.
Whatever that break did to make him hungry again, that was sure the trick. Partnered with his master of musical mayhem Danny Elfman, Raimi’s Multiverse of Madness is exactly what we’ve needed in a Marvel Studios film. This is a dark, macabre, frightening, and nightmarish trip into the Multiverse, Raimi’s penchant for dizzying camera flair unleashed in full force, swirled with heart and humor. If 2016’s Doctor Strange was heavily influenced by the legendary Jack Kirby visuals, then the sequel takes root in the comics’ darker side. This is at times grisly and ghastly, with cadaverous character designs and epic battles of the supernatural, yet with an emotional zest nestled at the film’s core.
Raimi, alongside Michael Waldron (Loki), has combined Evil Dead II with your traditional Marvel blockbuster, albeit with changes I’ve longed to see. This is not warm and fuzzy, with Marvel’s penchant for laughs and heartfelt moments. This is very much an adult film, made for those of us who’ve matured since the MCU’s 2008 inception. There’s no yuck-filled dialogue before, during, or after tense clashes. No forced hilarity at times when the characters have their backs against the wall. This is much more a tender film, with characters who’ve been through the ringer and ask themselves if they’re truly happy.
Very much a sequel to 2021’s WandaVision and even 2019’s Avengers: Endgame, we find our core cast struggling mentally but wearing a smile over their dour façade. The running question throughout the film is, “Are you happy?” And, really, that’s a probe we generally lay a thick glaze in our response. Wanda, still very much grieving over the loss of her family, seeks a way to connect with sons Billy and Tommy, even if in a different reality in the vast Multiverse. Strange, asks himself if he’s happy with the choices he’s made – not just with the decision that led to The Snap but also not having Christine in his life, the one who got away. And even young Multiverse-hopping America Chavez, a newcomer to the ever-growing Phase 4 (which still seems trying to find an identity), wears her emotions on her sleeve as she grieves reuniting with her parents.
That’s about it right there, in the above. Wanda wants America’s powers to find a way to unite with Billy and Tommy. In a nutshell, this is as simple as the plot translates. The film’s pacing is relentless, with the right moments to breathe and understand why Strange protects Chavez while Wanda’s influence from the Darkhold muddles her judgments. The balance between horror elements, playing with your mind infused with butchery and spookiness, never strays from another. I have to wonder what the 35 minutes of deleted footage includes from the original cut, but Multiverse of Madness feels like a spiritual companion of Raimi’s Spider-Man 2. (The scenes added from reshoots are painfully obvious, especially when you can see Benedict Wong’s hair change twice within a matter of seconds.)
As we near the film’s denouement, Strange shuffling down a sidewalk and I think about to perform Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man 3 dance (in a cute little nod), I felt like the wait’s been worthwhile. Oh, Multiverse of Madness is not going to be for everyone. As the titles reveal, this is very much a Sam Raimi film and a Kevin Feige production. This is more a personal picture dealing with unrequited grief and the desire to feel fulfillment. I expected absolutely nothing less than a horror-soaked thrill-ride tinged with humor and heart. Sam Raimi’s hungry again and his love for the craft seeps out of every pore of this sequel.
But also – if you get a sense this plays and feels like Army Of Darkness – well, I feel like that’s quite damn alright. Hail to the Sam The King, baby.