Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
May 5, 2022
Benedict Cumberbatch, Xochitl Gomez, Elizabeth Olsen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, Rachel McAdams
Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is tasked with stopping the mysterious entity hunting the newly minted multiverse travelling hero America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez). To do so he consults friend and foe alike as the fate of the multiverse hangs in the balance.
Everything, everywhere… Opening up the MCU to the multiverse allows for all sorts of hijinks, in-jokes and new possibilities. But that means homework. And the onus isn’t just on the audience this time. In order to expand it means that the filmmakers feel obliged to include reminders that characters have baggage because they vanished for five years thanks to Thanos, and the easiest way to do that is to say it explicitly. Catch-up moments like this are incredibly tedious to sit through.
Once the paperwork is filed away though, the reins are taken off and director Sam Raimi is turned loose to create his own new visionary work. Well, not quite. The script feels hampered so that it can fit into the overarching multi-film and series spanning narrative, and there is still a tendency to conform to the MCU’s desired aesthetic of the grey-brown sludge palette with noticeable compositing issues.
But when Raimi wrestles control his presence is clearly felt. This fulfils the promise of an MCU spin-on a horror film. For one he injects a huge amount of red into proceedings. Then there is the familiar imagery of contorting bodies, hands and eyes, lots of eyes. Strange and co. travel through haunted houses filled with moving portraits, mirrors and mist. Whispering voices encircle and snarl. Violence and death are more graphically shown onscreen in a way unlike any of the previous twenty-odd films in the series. The camera twists, rolls and lurches in typical Raimi fashion. And there is a sense of playfulness that the director brings with him. Strange’s powers for instance feel more creative. In one standout sequence he duels with notes lifted off of sheet music, offering composer Danny Elfman something interesting to play with. And of course there is a nice Bruce Campbell cameo.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is easily one of the better films in the MCU. Unquestionably, Raimi raises the profile of Feige’s cinematic universe. He may just be a contractor doing a job but his presence is felt in the creepy twists and turns of this outlandish adventure. As the MCU desperately tries to legitimise itself, this proves that simply bringing in an auteur director and putting them on the assembly line isn’t the magic fix it thinks it is.