Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness directed by Sam Raimi is Marvel’s first live-action foray into the horror genre.
Starring Benedict Cumberbatch in the titular role, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a visual joy to behold.
Tying together threads across the Marvel Cinematic Universe, first established in WandaVision, and later developed with Spider-Man: No Way Home.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness attempts to succinctly summarise the mind-warping concept of multiple parallel universes.
Every idea, every dream, and every possibility is real somewhere, somehow.
And this is no different than in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
With Doctor Steven Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) waking, tormented from a nightmarish dream where he sacrificed a child, America Chavez, under false protection from a demon, Strange is faced with his reality: loneliness.
Attending Christine’s wedding where she marries another, Strange is torn between seeking redemption from his love, and the conflict on a multi-universal scale.
However, where this film falters is in its delivery of themes.
Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) is marketed to be the anti-hero of Scarlett Witch, the grieving mother who warped her reality to create two children as a coping mechanism after the loss of Vision (Paul Bettany) from the series WandaVision.
Though, after realising Billy (Julian Hilliard) and Tommy (Jett Klyne), her two children, were nothing but an illusion, and tied to the falsehood of Westview, Wanda claimed the Darkhold from fellow witch Agatha Harkness to seek out retribution and to once more become a mother.
What works out fantastically here is how director Sam Raimi returns to the Marvel Cinematic Universe for the first time in over twenty years since his Spider-Man trilogy with Tobey Maguire and flexes his growth and directorial experience.
The Evil Dead director is also best known for horror, and when pitting two magicians tormented with dark magic against one another, who better to lean into the gore.
As such Raimi is given free rein to showcase his love for impalings, eye-bursting, cleaving and ghoulish nightmares, making me question how close to the line the film got to receiving a higher band of certification.
Over the years fans have criticised Disney, the parent company of Marvel, for playing it safe. Punches not landing, violence feeling tame, and the intensity not reaching its maximum.
Ironically, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness falls foul to the same trap.
While it does triumphantly showcase the wonder of adding gravitas to scenes, there are times in which I felt as though Raimi was pulling his punches.
For instance, handheld camera shots that attempt to replicate The Evil Dead’s earlier success instead present closer to The Peep Show than it does The Blair Witch.
In part, I pin this down to the family-friendly requirement from the Studio, and therefore the inclusion of America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez). For a film that attempts to be a darker, grittier film to stand in their portfolio, Chavez’s inclusion tones down the film considerably.
Rather, Gomez’s Disney Channel tone would feel more akin to Ms. Marvel set for release later this year, rather than this depiction of trauma, and showcasing the horrors a mother will go through for her children.
Similarly, for a studio responsible for some of the best visual effects, there were, at times, slight differences between the high-level production audiences have expected over the years and a quality that feels as though taken from an early 2000s Robert Rodriguez film.
Though, to give the film credit, when every element of the film pieces together synchronously, it does so masterfully.
For a film penned under Cumberbatch’s role, it is in fact Olsen who steals the show as a grieving parent, turned to darkness in the hopes of manipulating the multiverse to retrieve her children – even if the same premise was used in Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse.
Similarly, there are two sequences that stand out above the rest.
One involves the meta visualisation of Danny Elfman’s score, and the other is a fight scene taking place at the British Museum – making it the second Marvel Studios story to be set at the Museum this year.
The imperialism location is instead reskinned and the fight that ensues in the foyer will leave fans gleefully delighted with the possibility of how the Marvel Cinematic Universe will grow.
However, one concern of mine was that there are two more Marvel movies this year due for release, Thor: Love and Thunder, and Black Panther II.
There are also six additional series set for Disney+ release later this year.
With Marvel Studios weaving so many epic threads, I worry that they are tying themselves into a knot of confusion.
For instance, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness grasps at threads previously created, spinning them into a multiversal new yarn.
Reintroducing characters forgotten from a failed series; those who received both fan and critical acclaim with their involvement in the Disney+ TV series What If…?; and a character long rumoured to be appearing portrayed by a fan-favourite.
Where Marvel found success was when they told one concise story across the years, with each story standing on its own two feet all climaxing with Avengers: Endgame.
Now, each film feels incomplete from the whole, unless every piece of media is absorbed, understood, analysed, or referenced back to later.
Marvel Studios now expect fans to have knowledge of the Multiverse, Celestials, the Kree, Mutants, magic, sorcerer, and Egyptian Gods as if every casual viewer is a lifetime subscriber to the Marvel comic books.
In all honesty, Marvel Studios needs to stop. Take stock, and try to tell a small story in a big way. It’s why Hawkeye was received so well.
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