Doctor Strange: That’s So Raimi Edition
If I had to choose one word (aside from “entertaining”) to sum up many of the recent Marvel Cinematic Universe installments it would be “formulaic.” Except for ‘Eternals.’ The word for that is “boring.” I’m certain I’m not alone on Team Marvel Should Shake Things Up a Bit.
And if you want shake things up a bit, there are few directors out there better for the job than Sam Raimi, the sometimes genius mind behind ‘The Evil Dead’ franchise (genius), ‘Oz the Great and Powerful’ (non-genius), and ‘Drag Me to Hell’ (genius). Raimi, of course, also has previous superhero/Marvel experience, albeit for Sony Pictures, as the director of the Tobey Maguire-led ‘Spider-Man’ trilogy.
However, while the original Spidey trilogy feels like a comic book leaping off the page, Raimi and Marvel’s latest effort, ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,’ feels more like the time I had too many edibles in a Vegas casino and sought refuge from the noise and bright lights of the casino floor in a noisy and bright casino men’s room.
Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Stephen Strange in Marvel Studios' ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.’ (Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.)
Raimi goes full Raimi on ‘Multiverse,’ with jump scares, never ending chaos, a shocking amount of brutal (but still PG-13) deaths, juvenile humor at just the right times, and visuals that under the right circumstances would send me sprinting for the inviting, sticky floors, and broken hand dryers of a movie theater bathroom.
But by the time that “holy crap, Sam Raimi got to make a Sam Rami movie in the MCU” moment hits you, it morphs into “OK, maybe that’s a bit too much Raimi for the MCU.” For me it happened right around the time I realized the chaos, deaths, jokes, and crazy visuals were masking a rather pedestrian story that feels more like a vehicle for introducing new pieces to the MCU puzzle than it does a cohesive story about Doctor Strange.
‘Madness’ finds Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) doing sorcerer things in the aftermath of ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home.’ While attending a formal event, Strange springs into action, alongside Wong (Benedict Wong), to rescue a young from the clutches of a cycloptic land mollusk.
The girl, who also appeared in Strange’s dream the night before, turns out to be America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), a wise-cracking, universe-hopping teenager that’s being chased throughout the multiverse by a malevolent force utilizing witchcraft so powerful that Strange and Wong aren’t sure their own powers can tame it.
Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff in Marvel Studios' ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.’ (Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.)
Knowing they need backup, Strange reaches out to the one person he knows that might be powerful enough to help him ward off the evil – Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen). When things don’t go exactly to plan, Strange and America are forced to travel the multiverse searching for allies and weapons to win their battle and save all of reality.
First things first. If you want to be able to follow ‘Multiverse,’ you’ve got some homework to do first. If you haven’t watched ‘Wandavision’ and ‘No Way Home,’ you’re gonna have a bad time. There’s extra credit for ‘What If...?’ and ‘Loki.’ But, of course, to fully understand the background on those, you’ll probably need to watch the rest of the MCU from the beginning. That project, however, aside from the first two, can wait until after you watch ‘Multiverse.’
Xochitl Gomez as America Chavez in Marvel Studios' ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.’ (Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.)
With that out of the way, lets get to our stars. As is par for the course, Cumberbatch and Olsen are excellent in their long-time roles, but it feels like their abilities are severely underutilized in driving the story, with Raimi instead using his old tricks as the primary device. Wong is as entertaining as ever, Rachel McAdams returns as Christine Palmer, and the cameos (that cover both MCU and Raimi devotees) are out of this world. My only question with the cast is Gomez.
America bursts into Strange’s world with the charm and subtlety of a downwind dumpster fire, before finally becoming somewhat endearing. And the thing is I don’t know if that’s on Gomez or the script. I’m all for new, lesser-known characters in the MCU, so my hope is that it’s a script issue and not an overshadowed by more experienced, and tremendously talented castmates.
A scene from Marvel Studios' ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.’ (Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.)
‘Multiverse,’ maybe more than any of its MCU predecessors, takes on the personality of its director, breaking free from the franchise mold. But like I said, after a while (about the midpoint) the uniquity wears off and you’re left with a Marvel horror movie whose MPAA rating doesn’t allow for the gore that is at the heart of Raimi’s best work.
This, however, is not Raimi’s best work. It’s good, completely watchable and enjoyable, and I can absolutely see it growing on me and moving up my list of MCU favorites. Kudos for not going cookie cutter, but there’s a fine line between “different” and “unrecognizable” from the rest of the franchise, and ‘Multiverse’ crosses that line by the time before the third act begins.
It’s fun and it’s different, but it might be a little too much Raimi and not enough Marvel.
★★★ of ★★★★★