Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness has been released into theaters and is sure to dominate the weekend box office, but is it a worthy successor to the mantle of the Sorcerer Supreme? I have now seen the film, so here’s my review.
It is difficult to judge Doctor Strange 2: Multiverse Boogaloo on its MCU merits – sure, it’s the sequel to 2016’s Doctor Strange, and we’ve seen the Good Doctor in several MCU films since then – but with “new” director Sam Raimi at the helm for the Multiverse of Madness, most connections to the Marvel cinematic universe seem an afterthought. Instead, we are taken on a wholly Raimi-esque traipse through various horror tropes as the director rehashes his greatest hits and then collects his paycheck.
Remember when film auteur Edgar Wright was attached to write and direct Ant-Man, but then he dropped out due to creative differences and then Kevin Feige broke out his director rolodex, flipped around for a bit, and then settled on Peyton Reed as the director? No disrespect to Reed (Ant-Man is fine), but that’s exactly what DSITMOM feels like: it really seems like when Doctor Strange director Scott Derrickson dropped out (again, due to “creative differences), Feige started throwing darts at names and somehow Raimi, whose most recent theatrical release came out nine years ago, ended up with an MCU gig.
Anyone with even a passing interest in horror films, or film history in general, will make note of Sam Raimi’s career: his Evil Dead franchise is legendary and of course he was at the helm for the Tobey Maquire Spider-Man films with Sony. Sam Raimi has had nearly a near-40-year career as a writer, director, producer, and actor and has his hands on lots of projects dating back to the 70’s – his credentials are hard to challenge. As a director, Raimi has a style all his own and a signature stable of tricks that are practically named after him: he loves to pull his camera in close to characters’ faces, run his lenses through plate glass windows, jog around a bit to get that “shakey cam” footage, and get the camera down low and tilt it to the side to show that things are “getting weird.” These tricks worked really well with The Evil Dead. In 1981, that film was pants-shittingly scary, but by the time the sequel came out in 1987, Raimi had decided to lean fully into the self-aware humor that came with the universe he’d created. By the the Army of Darkness came out in 1992, Raimi had committed fully to his brand of high-end schlock:
Is this good and funny? ABSOLUTELY! But I’m sorry to say that what worked in 1992 for a horror/comedy doesn’t work in 2022, and for this Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a rare MCU miss of multiversal proportions and it’s almost exclusively the fault of Sam Raimi. Simply put, Raimi’s film sensibilities just feel antiquated and old-school, especially in a franchise like the MCU that is brimming with young, innovative talent. The Raimi-isms on display in this 30-year-old trailer – the low angles, the close-up shots, the flying camera, the whip zooms – all appear in DSITMOM and I just couldn’t help but be distracted by them during the film. Take a look at this fun video featuring other Raimi-isms:
Lots of these appear in the Multiverse of Madness, including the eyeball gag! Other Raimi-isms to appear:
- A creepy book with an ancient, forbidden spell
- Bruce Campbell (eye roll)
Put down your pitchforks, Army of Darkness nerds! With lots of early screening reviews hitting Twitter in the last few days, I keep seeing things like “Don’t worry, Sam Raimi fans” and “this has Raimi’s fingerprints all over it” and that’s the problem: this is a Sam Raimi film, not an MCU film. It’s campy. It’s schlocky. It’s self-important. It’s got Raimi’s fingerprints all over it. Like, I get it, you’ve got to have Bruce Campbell in all of your movies, but it’s disconcerting and it takes me out of the experience! During Campbell’s cameo, half of the theater was puzzled as to why the other half was pointing at the screen and laughing as if they’re just trying to let everyone else know that they get the joke. Nerds take great pride in their unique knowledge (trust me, I started a website called Nerd Nexus) but let’s not pretend like you’re the only person in on the joke.
Another noteworthy tweet that Giant Freakin Robot picked up and published was this one:
#DoctorStrange Multiverse of Madness was a comic book fever dream. This is by far the Best Directed MCU film. Sam Raimi awed me with his incredible style and visual flare. The action set pieces blew me away & Elizabeth Olsen’s #ScarlettWitch was a force to be reckon with. pic.twitter.com/PrbmnwNeeo
— Duane Miller (@Cinemaniac94) May 3, 2022
Excuse me, what? “By far the Best Directed MCU film??” Shoutout to @Cinemaniac94 and all his 4000+ but let’s not confuse “Best Directed” with “Noticeable Direction” – with Raimi’s handprints all over this thing, it’s hard not to notice him, which detracts from the film. The director trademarks pulled me out of the film rather than helped me slide into the universe. Another think that pulled me out of the film? How 50% of the film was shot on what appeared to be a 50ft x 50ft soundstage and it felt like a soundstage. I’m serious, it was barely above sitcom quality – there are two or three scenes that take place on rooftops and I couldn’t help but think “WOW that is a skinny building” while the greenscreen was practically visible in the background. I’m sorry, but that’s the director and the art department’s fault. Also at fault there? The very bad, no good, 2005-ass CGI. The opening sequence that introduces America Chavez was horrid to look at and the direction of it was even worse – ponytail Doctor Strange and America hopped around on some asteroids and the wirework in front of a green screen was Wuxia-level bad. You could almost imagine Raimi directing Cumberbatch and newcomer Xochitl Gomez as they dangled on their wires: “Aaaand, action…Okay now Benedict, just kinda spin there and we’ll move the camera around a bit…yeah, that’s it…another spin, buddy…okay, we got it. Let’s get lunch.”
My anti-Raimi-isms aside, I have no idea how this film fits into the larger MCU – as you’ve probably heard, there are numerous cameos from new and old (and, uh, different) characters, but nearly all of them feel self-contained inside of their own universe that won’t necessarily have an affect on the 616 Universe (that’s what it’s called), so it’s kind of a fake-out. Don’t get too stoked! Regarding the titular multiverse, I’d have to go back and check but I think they really only go to one other universe beside 616 – sure, there’s a single sequence where Strange and America sorta fly through a bunch of other ones (including the Paint Universe and also Animated Universe) but it’s a stretch to call this film “multiverse hopping.” Was it well-written? Eh, maybe. I will say that nothing in the writing particularly struck me as weird or hokey, and there were a few reasonable callbacks and nods. It didn’t get too cute with itself, but there were perhaps a few undercooked thoughts (uh, demons?) that seemed wedged in just to achieve Sam Raimi-levels of creepy/weird.
As many have said before me, Elizabeth Olson is scene stealing as Wanda, and Wong is fun as always. Rachel McAdams’ Christine Palmer is merely there and the typically superb McAdams is essentially wasted with nothing to really do in this film (and her wig is awful). Xochitl Gomez as America Chavez isn’t quite a revelation, but I could see her being an integral part of the MCU going forward and she has good energy – the one significant problem I have with her in this film, again, seems like it falls on Raimi: watch America in the background of scenes – she’s always standing there exactly like this:
Seriously! Does she not know what to do with her hands?!? I get that she is perhaps inexperienced as an actor, but isn’t it the director’s job to, ya know, direct his actors on set? To handle blocking? Maybe put people in their places? Perhaps watch dailies on-set and say to Xochitl Gomez, “yo, ya know what? On this take, maybe try moving around a bit or, ya know, pull a Brad Pitt in Ocean’s Eleven and have a sandwich in your hand.” DIRECT YOUR ACTORS, RAIMI!!!
I am left with lots of questions after seeing Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, including “was there nobody else we could find?” and “where do we go from here” and “so like, is XXXXXXXXX dead now?” It’s clear that Marvel Studios are leaning heavily into the Multiverse concept having now used it in multiple films/series (Loki, Spider-Man: No Way Home, What If…), but without any through-line, I’m left wondering how it’s all connected, if at all. Are they leading us towards an introduction to the oft-rumored MCU introduction of the X-Men? Are they setting up a single multiversal bad guy, something like this phase’s Thanos? I don’t have any answers, and after seeing Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, I actually find myself slightly doubting the MCU’s direction and ability to provide those answers.
Don’t believe the hype that’s floating around out there #online – DSITMOM is a deeply flawed film full of old tricks, bland CGI, boring performances (aside from Elizabeth Olson), and heavy-handed magical shenanigan’s. I give this film a 4/10 and I hope that Marvel locks it up and gets back to the focused, cohesive, selfless filmmaking that’s made them their billions.
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