Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is unlike any other Marvel movie. Many could have guessed that thanks to Sam Raimi directing. The godfather of the Marvel movie in some respects as the director of the original Spider-Man trilogy, Raimi returns to direct Benedict Cumberbatch in the, well, strangest Dr. Strange movie yet. Armed with tricks of the trade that took low-budget horror movies like Evil Dead to another level, it may also be the best Doctor Strange movie yet, though not as good as other Marvel movies.
This film is truly peculiar, opening with another version of Doctor Strange and the new superhero America (Xochitl Gomez) attempting to avoid death from a scary monster. Eventually, we come to learn what the threat is, which is how Marvel’s 616 Dr. Strange gets pulled into things. Along the way, undead makeup, demons of all sorts, and plenty of clever magical abilities are unfurled to save not just the universe, but the multiverse.
What this movie gets right is the horror aspects, which is unsurprising given horror is Raimi’s forte. Special effects, camera work, and some jump scares all amount to a movie that feels like it’s trying to make your skin crawl. Evil Dead staples are littered throughout the film, which gives it a handheld camera feel. That is if you can look past the super detailed CGI. There are legit scary moments that will frighten young children and may get you to spill your soda in the movie theater.
Those horror aspects translate to some truly weird stuff too. That’s what this movie gets so right in regards to Doctor Strange. He’s supposed to be weird, or at least traverse the weird. We get that and it works beautifully. The magic being done is also quite different, like in one scene using musical notes. You can tell the creative team put a lot of thought into how the spells look and how they are cast.
Unfortunately for this movie, it’s pulling double duty in introducing America, which will seem like a mystery to anyone who hasn’t read her comics. Generally, we get an understanding of her powers and what she’s fighting for–to find her moms–but she’s mostly just a teenage kid who has some spunk. She’s the McGuffin in the film, which doesn’t help character development. She ends up serving as a character that’s kind of just there in most scenes.
Another failing of the film is Stephen Strange and his character. He’s not very fun and hasn’t been in most of these films. He’s a curmudgeon most of the time and while his ego has dissipated since his first film, he’s tolerable at best. Sure, you want him to save the day and he certainly is a great hero, but he’s also lacking in charm and charisma.
He’s also fighting for some rather light reasons, like the fact that he lost his girlfriend in his universe. He seems to pine throughout the movie for her, but the dude needs to let go. It’s evident the filmmakers realized this at some point as later in the film we learn of another loss of his. It helps humanize him, but it also feels like it was added last minute.
Fans of the much-hyped cameos in a multiversal story should be fairly entertained. Similar to America, it might be difficult for non-comics fans to gather who is who and why they matter. Seeing some major heroes from the Marvel comics in their costumes is a real trip, but they’re also rather underutilized. They serve a purpose–to supply more action and raise the stakes–but they could have been any character reducing them to novelties.
Finally, there is Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) who plays a major role in the film. Olsen does a heck of a job and she will frighten you. We’ve never seen her so powerful, and while WandaVision made us commiserate with her, the ending of that show doesn’t seem to add up to where we find her here. To say there’s a bit of character assassination is an understatement. If you’ve never connected with her and don’t mind how she’s used you’ll probably enjoy her here. Sadly though, as a fan of her character over the years and in WandaVision, it’s hard to not feel disappointed in how she’s used here.
Sam Raimi has made a good film, but Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness isn’t a great Marvel movie. That’s because it never quite blends the excellent horror elements with the superheroics. America sort of ends up being just there while the narrative doesn’t really change or grow Dr. Strange’s character. Is it also because Marvel films have done a better job combining action, CGI, and heartfelt storytelling all in one? Likely, but hell, it’s still a fun ride when all is said and done. It may not be the best Marvel movie, but it’s certainly the best Doctor Strange movie especially since it ends on a promise that things are going to get even weirder.
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