ShareAll sharing options for:Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022) review: Not mad enough!
- Twitter (opens in new window)
- Facebook (opens in new window)
- Reddit (opens in new window)
- Pocket (opens in new window)
- Flipboard (opens in new window)
- Email (opens in new window)
When Benedict Cumberbatch donned the free-thinking cape and adopted the mystic arts in Scott Derrickson’s Doctor Strange, the carefully mapped out business that is the MCU got their most psychedelic film arguably. Proof that bringing in horror-grown filmmakers can up the superhero game (see also: James Wan’s Aquaman and David F. Sandberg’s Shazam) but did we need proof? After all, years back, Evil Dead auteur Sam Raimi already raised the superhero genre to new heights, and now he is back to put his stamp on the MCU and its most funky hero, in one of the most anticipated films of the year, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
The film sees Strange realising the consequences of his heroic sacrifices but when he encounters America Chavez (Xochitl Gómez) – a young woman with uncontrollable Multiverse jumping abilities – he is sent of a journey into the very maddening concept of his role in multiple realities, as he tries to save America from the clutches of an all-powerful force.
Coming hot off the heels of box office saviour Spider-Man: No Way Home, and being the first Marvel to fully embrace the Multiverse after its introduction in the aforementioned, this one had some quite big shoes to fill. Add to this the endless hype, theorising and predictions of the fans, and Raimi’s return to the superhero genre and hopes were high for glory. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness really should have been the greatest entry in the MCU…no question, as it is, it was just a decent one, and that cannot help but be disappointing, especially as all the parts were right there and ready to go. Where No Way Home knew its destination and goals, and needed its concept to generationally gather its elements for audiences of multiple eras, this felt like it should have allowed its full potential to be unleashed but instead compromised with the studio on a mutually beneficial mid-point.
Despite taking things admittedly further than others have gone before in the confines of the Marvel franchise juggernaut (zombies, damned souls, face dicing), Sam Raimi felt like he was not allowed to spread his wings fully and that’s a shame. The direction is great, but the directing of the director is not. The dark, horror-inspired beats were certainly a most welcome factor (in fact they were a saviour) and I loved the deranged visual moments that are conjured here but there should have been more of them, as the film was at its best in these times. In other words, Strange should have been, well, stranger!
When you have a film with Madness in the title and Raimi at the helm, I suppose you set a high bar this could not hope to achieve in such a controlled environment. His vision felt leashed, but when he was let off for bouts of fury, and he was at times, the film approached that next level but the big wigs clearly got nervy and held up the stop sign (there’s even a sly gag about such things in the film).
It may be the first MCU offering ‘reliant’ on Disney+ series knowledge but it’s still very accessible (those who haven’t seen WandaVision, or any Marvel MCU shows can still catch up easy). The much-discussed and theorised cameos were practically all in the trailers and not shocking at all, barring one surprise (but it was still mild). In fact, if anything, where the multiverse element added to Spidey, here it detracts from the good stuff that Raimi is delivering. The action is constant and the film has enough eccentricity to stand out from some of the crowd but it should have soared instead of accepted, and really stuck to the strengths of the creative force on hand.
For all the talk of gore and child-distressing darkness, this never “got out of hand” as promised but just threatened to, which is rather frustrating. Though it says a lot about the talent involved, that it was still an interesting and engaging watch in spite of the messy, tampered with, structure and delivery, with Danny Elfman’s score being an excellent accompaniment and at times quite important to the story (see an inventive fight sequence that brings the music in as a weapon).
Cumberbatch is of course great, and young Gómez also makes a darn good impression but the film belongs to Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda! She is the show stealer and her character transformation – while controversial among many viewers I’m sure – is incredible, with a Carrie-tinged tragic story that had me hooked more than any other and which addressed issues of mental health in some bold yet honest ways. The film ought to have been allowed to dwell on this arc and how it inter-twines with Strange/America, rather than the plot fracturing Multiverse diversions, that ultimately added little. It was far more fascinating seeing broken people, dealing with their emotional and mental pain, that playing “look who’s here now”.
In the end, the two-credits scenes tell the whole story. One is a mid-credits world builder tidbit cog greaser, another a post-credits darkly fun moment with a Raimi regular relishing in its own barminess, and we could have done with more of the latter, rather than the former. Both visions fit into one film better than, say Spider-Man 3, but it could have been more, still an enjoyable watch though, with standout sequences, performances and a welcome horror dimension.
All in all, Sam Raimi proved he can still make a top superhero film (was there any doubt), even if those shackles cut in. Time to cast off the handcuffs Sam, get Liam Neeson and Frances McDormand on the blower, and give us that proper Darkman sequel! Let’s stop f’n around here!!