Sam Raimi’s second shot at a Marvel franchise is a lesson in style over substance
By Diana Beechener
After stopping several realities from bleeding into each other, Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch: Spider-Man: No Way Home) thought he was done with the multiverse. He’s proven wrong when America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez: The Babysitter’s Club) bursts into New York with a monster following her.
It seems America is being chased through every universe by an entity hoping to take her powers. Doctor Strange must take on super-powered foes and dimensional shifts if he has any hope of saving her.
That’s as much as I’m legally allowed to tell you about the plot of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness without risking Mickey Mouse showing up at my door with a court order.
Luckily for the mouse, and for you, dear reader, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is best enjoyed when you know as little about the plot as possible. Yes, there are the typical movie character references you’ve come to expect in Marvel films, some humdinger cameos that will have people shouting (stay through the credits for two teaser scenes), and there’s even a few plot twists that make this one of the more unexpected entries in the MCU oeuvre.
The reason for this isn’t the writing—that’s as convoluted as ever. It’s not even the performances, which range in quality. The real reason Doctor Strange stands out from the pack is it’s the best Sam Raimi movie in well over a decade. Raimi, who came to fame with his hilarious and gruesome horror movies, has often been stifled by big studio productions. When he made the three Spider-Manmovies starring Tobey Maguire, his cinematic flair was stripped from most of the films, leaving only slick action movie fare.
That’s not the case in Doctor Strange, which features the sort of wacky sensibility and flamboyant style that made Raimi’s early work so darn watchable. It made this critic wonder how much fun the original Spider-Man franchise could have been had the studio taken their foot from Raimi’s neck. For the Raimi aficionado, there’s plenty to enjoy from eye close-ups, to whip pans and hand-held zooms. The camera is frenetic and fun. Raimi’s typical lickety-split filmmaking keeps the film moving even when the plot stalls.
This is also a movie that feels a little more adult than past entries. There’s some gnarly kills for a movie under the MCU umbrella. For those that are gore-averse, fear not, the grisly details aren’t shown, but the implications of what happened are shocking for a franchise that shies away from carnage.
Though there’s a lot of fancy filmmaking, there are still some story points that continue to take the magic away from Doctor Strange. The series still has no idea what to do with Christine (Rachel McAdams: What If…?), who has no chemistry with Cumberbatch’s Strange and no real reason to keep showing up in these movies. The same can be said for Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Mordo, who is utterly wasted.
While the romantic subplot of Doctor Strange flops, the chemistry between Cumberbatch and Gomez is fantastic. The two have a snippy rapport that builds to real sentiment as they work together. And of course, Cumberbatch is at his best when he’s verbally sparring with Sorcerer Supreme Wong (Benedict Wong: Spider-Man: No Way Home).
If you’re a Marvel completist, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is essential viewing. It ushers in some fascinating possibilities for the MCU and offers a surprisingly fresh take on what has become rote storytelling. If you’re a Sam Raimi completist, it’s also worth buying a ticket, so you can try to figure out how he managed to sneak what is essentially an Evil Dead movie into the MCU.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is exclusively in theaters
Good Superhero Fodder * PG-13* 126 mins.