Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)
Written by Michael Waldron
Directed by Sam Raimi
When you hire Sam Raimi, you better be prepared to let him do what he does best. This is not something commonly found in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a seemingly never-ending series of loud, bland commercials for upcoming movies which are also commercials for upcoming films. However, there’s no doubting Multiverse of Madness or MoM is set up to tease Marvelites with the Multiverse and its long-term effects on the MCU. There is a clear cameo that has been teased in the trailers and commercials and more to be seen in the picture, but those just don’t entice me anymore. I want a good movie with a complete arc and well-written characters. Thank god for Raimi, who gives us just that.
Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) has some feelings about his former lover Dr. Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), as she is getting married. His personal lamentations are cut short when a sizeable octopus-like demon appears in New York City. The being is hunting for America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), a metahuman from another universe who’s power is to open star-shaped doors between realities. Someone is pursuing America, and she needs the help of Doctor Strange. He quickly realizes he’s dealing with a threat beyond his scope and seeks the aid of an expert in the dark arts, the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). Things escalate out of control until our heroes are hurtling through strange yet familiar worlds. Wong (Benedict Wong) holds down the fort in the central universe while Strange and his friends find themselves facing the legacy of his counterparts in other worlds.
I can happily report that Sam Raimi infused so much of his personal style into this film. It may not be apparent at first, but it is undoubtedly his movie by the third act. That doesn’t mean he’s flooded it with the type of cartoon gore we expect; instead, he’s tempered his personal tastes to fit within the MCU framework. This is one of the most graphic Marvel movies relative to the others. There’s a death scene where someone’s brain is imploded from within, and we can see their skull cave in. For a Marvel flick, that’s some hardcore shit. For Raimi fans, it’s like an anvil falling on Wile E. Coyote.
Raimi also knows he will have to flood the screen with garish CGI, so at least make it interesting. One of the things he does to make this happen is to cut frames out of a horde of digital demons, causing them to resemble stop-motion animation. They eventually become a living demon-cape for our protagonist in a moment that had me grinning ear to ear. The villain of the picture is also presented terrifyingly. I suspect the kiddies excited to see superheroes will be crying in their seats during some moments. Marvelous.
I have always loved Raimi’s comic book-inspired films (Darkman, the Spider-Man series) because of his full embrace and love of the genre. He was the nerdy kid reading early Marvel books off the rack, so he imbues those movies with the feel of classic comics. The opening sequence here feels like it could happen in the same universe as Tobey’s Spidey, colorful & exciting, unconcerned with fan service. This is an adventure story about superheroes, and so it should provide numerous thrills & chills.
I loved the presence of signature Raimi cinematography, switching point of view to see the events through the villain’s eyes, allowing the audience to experience a sort of free-flowing state of horror. It was those moments when the camera suddenly zooms in and tilts to a Dutch angle that you know things will get good. In addition, Raimi gets a cameo for his old pal Bruce Campbell as a highly memorable “pizza balls” vendor. I’ve seen some fans referring to this as The Evil Dead 4, and while it does lean heavily into the horror and witchy elements, it’s still a Marvel movie intended to exist as visual popcorn.
I don’t hesitate to say this is the most I’ve enjoyed a Marvel movie in quite a while, possibly ever. MoM should exemplify why Marvel should allow directors with very distinct styles to leave their mark on the films. It’s dull to watch visually uninteresting over-produced special effects, aside from Taikia Waititi or James Gunn’s contributions. Hand these movies over to people who actually love the source material the characters come from and/or know not to take it so seriously and that they shouldn’t require watching a dozen other movies to be enjoyed. Multiverse of Madness is far from perfect, but it is an excellent reminder of what a fantastic filmmaker Sam Raimi has always been.