There’s a lot of things I’d like to say to you as a reader to set you up for what to expect from Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, like a brief summary of its plot or a quick rundown of the previous films that connect with this one; however, it has reached the point in the Marvel Cinematic Universe where such rundowns are pointless – this universe is so wide and expansive that you simply can’t watch this film without seeing well over 30+ pieces of MCU content out there. All I can do is examine where this film stands within the Marvel catalog; whether it fits correctly and whether it expands upon its characters and world in the right ways. Or perhaps more importantly, is Marvel providing audiences with something engaging enough to tickle their brains and let loose the serotonin?
With that said, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness has a lot to live up to, especially given the fact that it is following up from the roaring success that was Spider-Man: No Way Home – a film that similarly dealt with multiverse shenanigans in its storyline much like this. The largest and perhaps most daunting expectation that Multiverse of Madness has lies in the word madness; a term boldly touted in gothic font in the film’s title. And so, the question upon my lips before seeing this film naturally was “will this live up to its name?“.
Well, Marvel Studios approach to success was to employ the help of renowned director Sam Raimi to confront this audacious task; a creative with extensive experience within the superhero genre and even more within horror. Seems like a recipe for success, right? Well, if we’ve learnt anything from last year’s blunder, Eternals (2021), it’s that success is never guaranteed, despite how renowned the director may be. So, with all this cheap anticipation out the way, did this film succeed? Did it live up to its name? For me, yes – but not in the ways I expected.
The one thing to understand about this film is that yes, it is structurally flawed. One could describe it as “all gas and no brakes“, with no chill regarding its pacing. This film hastily throws you into the action without much of a safety net or any pleasantries to get you reacquainted with established characters or even new ones. There are arguments to be made that this film falters in its character development and justifications for their motivations – the rushed pace does not help. As such, these flaws may result in an exhausting experience for those who are seeking Marvel’s tried and true structure. With that said, for every inconsistency and structural crack in this film – there’s a Sam Raimi moment to help mend it.
Like James Gunn is to Guardians of the Galaxy or Taika Waititi is to his Thor films; there’s a clear and distinct Sam Raimi style injected in here that feels wholly him. Though, ironically, almost none of it stems from his Spider-Man films, but rather, his horror. Undoubtedly his Evil Dead films play a momentous stylistic role in Multiverse of Madness, with brief yet frequent moments that feel uniquely their own thing when seen within an MCU format. In fact, these scenes felt so deeply removed from the MCU’s philosophy on how to shoot a scene that I found myself shocked in the same way I did at the first episode of WandaVision. This is ultimately one of the largest tonal departures an MCU property has done yet – it was certainly the most violent, spooky, and cinematically personable Marvel Studios film I’ve ever seen.
So for those who seek coherency within the MCU, you may come out feeling short changed, as this is a fairly incoherent story that feels unmistakably rushed; almost as though a whole 25 minutes were cut out *wink wink*. However, those who simply seek raw Raimi-isms shall not be disappointed, as this is the closest you’ll ever get to seeing Evil Dead made by Disney. If there’s anything I would guess with some degree of confidence, it’s that Sam Raimi has pushed Marvel Studios as far as they’ll allow him to go without forcing this film into the horror genre or being slapped with an R-rating. Raimi’s voice is screaming to be heard in this film and I loved every minute that contained those moments. Will it jive with everyone? No. Does the story structure make a whole lot of sense? No. But I for one was enamoured by the visual, stylistic, and tonal decisions made by Raimi – these were enough to convince me this film lived up to its name.