By Bradley Lane
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is the most profitable film franchise in cinema history and for better or for worse, it is here to stay. So then, with the 10-year culmination of the MCU ending in 2019 with Avengers Endgame, the question becomes, where will they go from here? A noticeable trend in the MCU films released since Endgame is that a lot of them have come from previously acclaimed directors like the Oscar-winning Chloé Zhao and now with the Multiverse of Madness, horror auteur Sam Raimi. So, it seems, Disney is trying to lend the MCU some artistic and critical respect by looking to established directors for its newer films. Unfortunately, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness just serves to prove that even a stylistic powerhouse like Raimi can’t break out of the MCU formula.
This particular film will be notable in the larger cannon of the MCU for its exploration of the titular multiverse, previously introduced with last year’s Spider-Man: No Way Home. The events of the film begin when America Chavez, an interdimensional traveler, crash lands in the Marvel universe that all other films before this have taken place and meets Doctor Strange. Together Strange and America must team up to travel the multiverse in order to stop the demonic force that seeks to steal America’s interdimensional powers and, in the process, kill her.
Sam Raimi made his name in horror directing such classics as The Evil Dead and The Evil Dead 2, Darkman, and more recently, Drag Me to Hell. Despite these dark violent horror films, it was Raimi that proved superhero films could be massively popular and profitable with his Spiderman trilogy in the mid-2000s. With this in mind he seems like an obvious choice for a modern superhero film, but what limits him most in the Multiverse of Madness is the long-standing formula each of the movies in the MCU must adhere to in order to sustain a franchise for an indefinite future. If you’ve ever seen an MCU film in the past 15 years you know exactly what to expect from Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
The largest stamp Raimi puts on his outing in the Marvel film cannon is his over-the-top violence and visual experimentation. The violence is certainly the most pronounced of any Marvel film so far but never feels unnecessary and Raimi’s use of compositing and slick editing feels fresh in a genre begging for new ideas. However, these moments of creativity feel locked in a story determined to sideline the only interesting aspects present. The fun uses of editing or unexpected character beats that make the film special are buried under a mountain of boring CGI ladened conflicts, obvious corporate mandated story beats and obligatory fan service cameos that only serve to distract from what make Raimi a special director to begin with.
In terms of superhero fare, you could do a lot worse than Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. However, if Marvel wants to remain relevant or get the critical approval they clearly desire, this film makes clear that they need to start taking real risks and letting the people behind the camera make their own movies without the weight of the Disney mega-corporation stifling their output. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is currently only in theaters. – 3/5 stars