Certified critic on Rotten Tomatoes. Member of the Houston Film Critics Society. Also writes for Bounding Into Comics and GeeksHaveGame.
The Stuff Dreams are Made of
Even with all of the universe jumping and Sam Raimi being able to add his filmmaking trademarks, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a bit too formulaic for its own good. Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) has been having dreams of a different version of himself dying while seeking a mythical book known as The Book of Ashanti. In his dream, Strange encounters America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), a young girl with the uncontrollable power of universe jumping.
But then, Strange meets America in his universe and learns that dreams are actually us seeing different versions of ourselves in different universes. Still blinded by the events in WandaVision, Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) intends to capture America and utilize her universe jumping ability to reunite with the children she created with magic.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness relies on what feels like a simplistic storyline to drive what is essentially the MCU’s first horror film. Strange really only seems driven to protect America because he dreamed about her and Wanda Maximoff has only turned evil because there’s suddenly this very thin line between being a mother and becoming a monster. The film features the wisecracking humor you’ve come to expect from superhero films along with the fate of the world—and possibly every other world—at stake.
The Oldest Trick in the Book of the Damned
The most refreshing moments of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness are the moments that you can tell Raimi had a hand in writing, directing, or having some sort of input. This is Raimi’s first directorial gig since 2013’s Oz The Great and Powerful and it becomes quite obvious that audiences have missed his work. The Shuma Gorath sequence (renamed Gargantos for trademark purposes) is outstanding. Doctor Strange, Wong, and America battling a giant one eyed octopus is something so awesome that it kind of writes itself. Not only is it the film’s first big action sequence, but you can see a lot of Doctor Octopus and Spider-Man 2 influences as Gargantos destroys skyscrapers and gets his tentacles chopped off. The slicing of the bus as it’s thrown at Doctor Strange and America is also legitimately one of the coolest moments of the film.
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There is a ton of homage to Evil Dead and Drag Me to Hell buried within the film. The final 20 minutes are overflowing with concepts seemingly pulled from classic Sam Raimi films. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness revolves around a Book of the Damned, not unlike the Necronomicon. There are at least two major eyeball gags and a ridiculous amount of burning candles. Like most Sam Raimi films, his sense of humor tends to be corny and the heartfelt moments always seem a bit overexaggerated. These elements are in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and they're the moments that allow the film to stand out from the 28 other films in the MCU.
Strange saves America from Scarlet Witch by knocking her and himself into her own star shaped portal that sees them both falling through multiple universes. It’s a gloriously disorienting sequence, but incredibly similar to not only what we saw in the first Doctor Strange film, but also the 700 space jumps in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. This film is meant to open the door even further when it comes to the cosmic side of the MCU and now the horror side of it, as well. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is not Spider-Man: No Way Home. There are not a ton of nostalgic cameos sprinkled throughout the film. There’s one sequence that combines fan speculation and other universes, but there aren’t a lot of hidden cameos, as was speculated.
A Loud-Mouthed Braggart From Another Universe
What is perhaps most interesting about this superhero sequel is that Stephen Strange is still learning to be more humble. His only play during Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame ended up costing half of the universe five years of their lives is still weighing heavily on his mind. He also still loves Christine (Rachel McAdams), despite the fact that she’s moved on and struggles with whether he’s happy or not. Throughout the film he’s constantly compared to the Doctor Strange of that universe, and yet the film goes out of its way to show that this Doctor Strange is different. He will break the rules if he has to, but he will only do so when it’s the only option.
With so many alternate universes, it was only a matter of time before Doctor Strange would have to fight himself. The war Strange has with the Darkhold-obsessed version of himself in the second half of the film does some really intriguing stuff with musical notes. He's essentially riffing on Chuck Jones' animated short, “High Note,” from 1960, as well as the battle or reactionary element found in video games like Dance Dance Revolution and Guitar Hero. It’s an unusual fight that seems to be inspired solely by Strange bumping into a piano during the magical brawl.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is dark, silly, and fan pleasing. The film is at is most bewitching when Sam Raimi can let his horror roots be showcased. It will satisfy horror and superhero film fans alike, but would have and could have been even better if Raimi was allowed to dive even further into the horror genre.
Please note: There are two after-credits sequences, and the second one is so absurdly on the nose for Sam Raimi, that it may be the most entertaining part of the film.
© 2022 Chris Sawin