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Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness Review: Marvel & Raimi Fans Will Feel Right at Home

Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness
Photo Credit: Marvel Studios

James Wan had this to say about directing the seventh Fast and Furious movie: 

This belongs to Neil Moritz, this belongs to Universal Studios, this belongs to Vin [Diesel] and all the cast, but they were very cool as well. They wanted my voice….this is the analogy I use: the sandbox is there already, you come into it and I say, ‘Okay I know I need to play within the sandbox, but hopefully the sandcastle that I get to build is mine.’

Doctor Strange In The Multiverse of Madness is very much Marvel’s sandbox — it has the requisite Marvel quippy humor, heavy CG, fan service, cameos, etc. — but Raimi’s spooky sandcastle checks off all these boxes in his own way. 

Excluding an awkward, 10 minute segment involving “The Illuminati” that occurs around the halfway point, the film is quickly-paced and fat free. For all the multiverse traveling shenanigans, Raimi and writer Michael Waldron don’t lose focus of the core story: newcomer American Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) is being pursued by Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) for her ability to travel the multiverse, and Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is the only one who can protect her. 

Being his $200 million return to horror, the scope of the massive budget allows Raimi to accomplish things he never had in the genre. However, as a pioneer of low budget horror, Raimi’s cinematic imagination was never restricted by budget, and his top-to-bottom cinematic imagination is in full force. Enjoyable as they may be, a fair share of Marvel movies save the “cinematic imagination” for swooping CG camera movements and do little else. In Multiverse of Madness, you don’t know if your disorientation or terror comes from some previously unimagined technology or the simple power of a cut. 

Yes, the VFX allows for magnificent images like a contorted Wanda emerging from a reflection, like Samara from The Ring, but in that same scene, the disorienting value of a simple cut is equally embraced. In a montage, Wanda uses her witchy powers to search for her prize. When the film cuts to Strange, it’s so disorienting you don’t know if he’s taken Wanda to another room, dimension, or even inside his mind. Turns out, he just walked into the same room as her. Simple moments like this are a testament to the power of proper cinematic imagination. 

Before getting into one of the film’s greatest strengths, a qualifier must be made: Wanda’s motive for being a villain won’t work for everyone. The woman loses her mind and puts the multiverse at risk because she wants to be a mom, so criticisms of misogyny will not be unfounded, but it’d be remiss to deny just how much scary fun Olsen and Raimi have with the character. Wanda and Raimi’s style are so in tune, so synchronized, they’re a match made in heaven. Olsen has clearly wanted to show this side of Wanda for ages, and Raimi is the right mind to uncover it. 

One scene in particular stands out, where the Scarlet Witch’s soul is traversing the multiverse. As she wanders the house, looking for her possessee, Wanda’s perspective is captured from Raimi’s famed deadite POV from his Evil Dead trilogy. She disorients her victim through an the boundless ocean in a teacup and the horror of one’s reflection. The deadite camera and eventual breaking the fourth wall as the possessing Wanda looks directly into the camera are a testament to the film’s extraordinary emphasis on eyesight, the prospect of seeing and being seen, and the horrifying autonomy that comes with it. In a later scene, when a character (a cameo which will not be spoiled) is brought into someone’s mind, this character seems lost. When their eyes briefly meet the eyes of the audience, as the possessing Wanda did, we briefly think this character has the upper hand. When they continue to scan the room, we realize our eyes only just happened to meet, and hope of that upper hand is lost. 

Of course, as delightful as Olsen’s characterization and Raimi’s imagination are, this is still a Doctor Strange movie, and proper investment in the film will hinge on proper investment in the protagonist. While the dialogue can get thematically heavy handed, Strange’s arc is as simple as it is compelling. Most superhero films, like Avengers: Endgame or the first Doctor Strange, establish a romantic relationship as The Ultimate Good that the protagonist must sacrifice so they can be The Ultimate Hero. Indeed, the film arguably calls back to Raimi’s Spider-Man 2, where MJ is engaged to marry someone else, something Peter must accept for the greater good. 

But while Spider-Man 2 subverts that by having MJ call off the wedding and choose to be with Peter, MoM subverts this differently. When Strange attends his former beau Christine’s (Rachel McAdams) wedding, he gives her that tried and true pitch of how he had to give up their romance for the greater good. Christine (respectfully) shuts this down by telling him they would never have worked out anyway. It’s a compelling scene, and progresses Strange’s arc of arrogance by unraveling a new form of arrogance. Strange learned to sacrifice his personal wants in the first Doctor Strange, and MoM teaches him that there’s arrogance he can easily fall into: self-absorption by way of self-sacrifice. 

There are potentially compelling correlations to be made between Strange’s arcs in these films and the freedom of a filmmaker like Sam Raimi working for this new Marvel. The Ancient One’s words from the first film, where she tells Strange that you cannot beat a river into submission, that he must accept its current, feel as relevant as ever with Sam Raimi’s latest sandcastle in Marvel’s sandbox. That’s too much to be said in these final paragraphs, but it cannot go unsaid that, as willingly as Raimi submits to these tropes, this doesn’t mean everyone will. Fans of Raimi who loathe Marvel should proceed with caution. They may very well enjoy this movie as a Raimi influenced outlier, but they might see just another Marvel movie with Raimi coating. 

This review can’t promise whether or not those viewers will enjoy Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness (though it hopes they do). But, if nothing else, fans of both Marvel and Raimi will feel right at home.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is now playing in theaters nationwide.



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