While COVID-19 slowed it down momentarily, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is once again firing on all cylinders. Following on the heels of Spider-Man: No Way Home’s massive success, Doctor Strange in The Multiverse of Madness set some of its own box office marks. That’s pretty impressive for a sequel to a movie for what’s essentially a B-level comic book character. But The Multiverse of Madness is a Doctor Strange sequel in title only. Let’s face it – this is a sequel to several intellectual properties. It also marks the return of Sam Raimi to superhero moviemaking. Though it’s made a lot of money, Marvel’s first true foray into horror territory didn’t exactly marvel critics.
Since helping Spider-Man saved the world from a multi-versal catastrophe, the same nightmare has haunted Doctor Stephen Strange- a demon chasing a different version of himself and a young girl. But the arrival of a one-eyed demon – and the same young girl – at Christine Palmer’s wedding convinces Doctor Strange his nightmares are real. The girl, America Chavez, has the power to travel across the multiverse. And someone wants that power even if it costs the girl her life.
Doctor Strange in The Multiverse of Madness At Its Best When the MCU Gives Sam Raimi Creative License
For a movie that tops out at just over two hours, Doctor Strange in The Multiverse of Madness rarely lags. Director Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead, Drag Me To Hell) makes a welcome return to Marvel moviemaking. Not surprisingly, Raimi introduces the MCU’s first real taste of horror elements. And when Marvel gives Raimi some creative license, The Multiverse of Madness feels pretty fresh for the 28th chapter in a sprawling movie franchise. Plenty of Raimi quirks find their way into the movie – and they’re often the best part. Yes, Bruce Campbell makes a quick appearance. Though it’s not The Evil Dead, Raimi seamlessly slips in some dark horror and body imagery into the MCU. If there’s a standout scene, it’s the wonderfully creative musical note battle between Doctor Strange and Sinister Strange.
While Raimi does a better job balancing these demands than some past Marvel efforts, they’re still the weakest parts of the movie.
Yet a common problem prevents Doctor Strange in The Multiverse of Madness from hitting its full potential. How many times have we seen acclaimed filmmakers step behind the camera for Marvel only to see the mega-studio put them on a leash? Chloé Zhao’s Eternals looked different from anything we had previously seen in the MCU – until the big CGI set-pieces kicked in. Similar criticisms were levelled at the very good Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. And Raimi needs to check off the same prerequisites. While Raimi does a better job balancing these demands than some past Marvel efforts, they’re still the weakest parts of the movie. With so much CGI chaos, it’s not surprising that some effects underwhelm, lacking the rich detail of, say, The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Doctor Strange in The Multiverse of Madness Buckles Under Its Multiverse of Story Obligations
At this point, we’ve heard that Marvel has (and is) doing something never done before in movies, ad nauseum. And it’s quite true. Doctor Strange in the Madness of the Multiverse is the 28th movie in a shared universe that continues to grow with television miniseries joining each new cinematic entry. But cracks are forming under the sheer weight of the Marvel-verse’s connected storytelling. To fully appreciate Raimi’s sequel, it’s not enough to have watched Doctor Strange’s introduction way back in 2016. There’s no less than at least five other Marvel properties one needs to brush up on, which includes Spider-Man: No Way Home and the WandaVision series. If you want to catch some of the sequel’s Easter Eggs, it probably wouldn’t hurt to watch the What If series, too. That’s a lot of homework for a trip to the cineplex.
But cracks are forming under the sheer weight of the Marvel-verse’s connected storytelling.
Ironically, Doctor Strange In The Multiverse of Madness is a busy movie defined by a threadbare story. Writer Michael Waldron lays out the movie’s driving dilemma almost immediately. What follows are a series of bullet points substituting for satisfying arcs. Benedict Cumberbatch owns the Doctor Strange role just as much as RDJ embodied Tony Stark. But Waldron’s story puts Cumberbatch in the background of a movie that also needs to give time to Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlett Witch, newcomer Xochiti Gomez’s America Chavez, and a returning Rachel McAdams (Red Eye). Is it nice to see John Krasinski and Patrick Stewart appear in the MCU? Absolutely. But one gets the impression that the story was unnecessarily burdened to get what are essentially extended cameos shoehorned into an already busy movie.
Sam Raimi Adds Enough Creative Spark to Marvel’s Massive Marketing Machine
One has to wonder when the Marvel machine will start to buckle under its own weight. This isn’t to say that Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness misses the mark. As expected, Raimi delivers a visually thrilling and generally satisfying entry to Marvel’s Phase 4. When The Multiverse of Madness allows Raimi some creative freedom it’s creative, lively, and a nice introduction of light horror to the Marvel-verse. Given it’s also another chapter in a sprawling shared university, Raimi’s obligated to include big CGI-action scenes, Easter Eggs, and connections to past and future intellectual properties. Overall, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a fun and consequential follow-up to Spider-Man: No Way Home.