DIRECTOR: Sam Raimi

CAST: Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, Xochitl Gomez, Michael Stuhlbarg, Rachel McAdams, Patrick Stewart, Topo Wresniwiro, Mark Anthony Brighton, Julian Hilliard, Jett Klyne

RUNNING TIME: 126 mins

CERTIFICATE: 12A

BASICALLY…: Doctor Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) encounters terrifying foes from other universes…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

While the concept of the multiverse, and along with it the opportunity to introduce or re-introduce other popular heroes yet to be seen in the MCU, is the main selling point for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, it’s also a homecoming for one of Marvel’s pioneering directors. Sam Raimi is, of course, revered by many for being the director of the first three pre-MCU Spider-Man movies with Tobey Maguire, and his return to Marvel territory – filling in for previous Doctor Strange director Scott Derrickson, who remains as an executive producer – is very much welcome, but what’s more exciting is that the Raimi vision we’re getting here is much closer to his horror roots than anyone might be expecting.

Yes, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is the closest we’ve come yet to a Marvel horror movie, and a Sam Raimi one at that, so if you know anything about the director’s madcap style then you are already aware you’re in for a crazy, energetic and surprisingly intense ride. Plus, it’s a fun new entry with a ton of cool surprises and visuals to delight plenty of Marvel fans.

In this one, Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is still doing his magical thing – albeit no longer as the Sorcerer Supreme, which has now been passed to his ally Wong (Benedict Wong) – and pining for his now-married former love, Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams). One day, he encounters a teen named America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), who has the uncontrollable power to travel across the multiverse, and is being pursued by demons intent on using her powers. As it turns out, they’re being controlled by former Avenger Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) who, after the events of WandaVision, has fully embraced her role as the Scarlet Witch and is desperate to be reunited with her sons Billy and Tommy (Julian Hilliard and Jett Klyne respectively) in another universe, using the Darkhold book of evil spells to fulfil her needs. It is now up to Strange and his friends to protect Chavez from Wanda, which requires a trip to more than one universe where they encounter some surprising faces, both old and new (but don’t worry: no spoilers in this review).

Hiring a horror director like Sam Raimi was a smart choice, because this script – by Loki creator Michael Waldron – leans harder into horror elements than other Marvel movies have yet done. Of course, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness can’t go too scary on account of the younger fanbase, but that doesn’t stop the movie from displaying a level of intensity that gives it the edge of something like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, where the imagery and surprisingly gruesome moments of violence just teeters on the edge of family-friendly and full-blown adult fare. As a slightly (but not too much so) spoilery example, there’s a scene in this movie where several people are brutally killed in one fell swoop, with one having the back of their head imploding, another shredded to pieces, while another is (presumably, since we don’t see it on-screen) sliced in half. For a major blockbuster, let alone a Marvel one, it’s really quite shocking stuff, and Raimi takes such pleasure in pushing the limits of what he can and can’t do in this cinematic multiverse, racking up the intensity while also keeping it within specific guidelines. Despite the latter, it’s easy to tell that this is a Sam Raimi movie, with several of his stylistic trademarks – crazed close-up camera shots, comic book-style inserts over other scenes and characters, and of course a cameo by Bruce Campbell – very much on the checklist.

What Marvel often does so well is that, despite everything going on around them, their films are still very much about their title characters, and in this case Doctor Strange is first and foremost the main focus. Cumberbatch has definitely grown into the role since his 2016 debut (even his American accent, once distractingly fake, now sounds a lot more natural), and here he gets the strong chance to wrestle with several of his character’s insecurities, found in more than just one version of him here. His growing bond with America Chavez, played by formidable newcomer Xochitl Gomez, also helps to ground the mystical hero, even though at times the young character feels more like a living, breathing MacGuffin than an actual character, which is by no means the fault of the actress but more of a script that doesn’t know what to do with her for the most part. Elsewhere, Elizabeth Olsen follows up on her strong turn in WandaVision with a great villainous role where she revels in being delightfully campy, but also rather intimidating; she is legitimately terrifying in certain scenes, especially when we’ve seen so much of this character’s tragic journey over the course of many movies prior, so you can – to a point – understand why she’s taken the path she has done.

Overall, it’s an entertaining movie, with lots of fun action (some of which is highly inventive, like using musical notes as formidable weapons at one point), weird and out-there creepy imagery that’s pure Raimi, and some cool surprises for Marvel fans to go nuts over. It isn’t perfect, for sometimes the film can lose some of its focus during some effects-heavy sequences, some character turns feel a little random, and not all of the usual Marvel comedy works. However, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is perfectly fine with just being what it is, that being a weird and occasionally intense trip to other dimensions that continue to offer more and more opportunities to an ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Don’t expect more of the multiverse to be explored, though, in the next couple of Marvel movies and TV shows on the immediate horizon (unless there’s a secret multiverse plot in the upcoming Thor: Love and Thunder or Ms. Marvel that the trailers aren’t showing). Besides, after the madness of this movie, it’s best to give it some rest before we dive further into it.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a fun and suitably strange trip into other dimensions, which director Sam Raimi tinges with an enjoyable and refreshingly intense hint of horror, and gives long-standing characters like Wanda Maximoff plenty of interesting new things to do, while also pleasing fans in other surprise ways.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is now showing in cinemas nationwide – click here to find a screening near you!

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