Directors don’t come much more distinctive than Sam Raimi. The Evil Dead, Spider-Man and Drag Me To Hell auteur has a toolbox of flairs and flourishes that imbue his movies with an unmistakable essence.
How does this fit in with the highly successful Marvel formula, which all so often quashes such idiosyncrasies out of its directors?
For those keeping track, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness follows on from both the Avengers movies for the titular Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and the excellent Disney series WandaVision.
The latter, for its flaws, showcased Elizabeth Olsen’s range as Wanda Maximoff / Scarlett Witch was allowed the space to explore the damaging effects of grief and trauma.
It certainly helps to have watched WandaVision first, if only to remind yourself that Wanda does indeed have some depth. Multiverse of Madness, for all its horror-infused bombast, lets the character down.
The events of WandaVision have left her in an obsessive fervour, seeking reconciliation with those lost to her no matter what the cost.
Following on from a saturnine character treatise is obviously hard to work into a blockbuster movie, yet despite Olsen wringing every drop of humanity out of her scenes (which she does admirably) one can’t help but puff out ones cheeks at the devolution to stock ‘motherly mania’ for her character.
She isn’t the only one let down by the script: there is also everyone else. Newcomer America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) is a walking plot device never afforded the time to develop. Strange, freed from his origin story and weight of universe halving decisions, really is little more than a vehicle for action here.
Sure there is the lost love (Rachel McAdams getting a little more to do this time around – although sadly not recounting her ‘Oh no, he died!’ killer line from Game Night), and defending all of reality and whatnot, but it feels rather perfunctory.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness Official Trailer
Is Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness Worth Watching?
So that’s the plot and characterisation soundly criticised but, you know what? Multiverse of Madness is still a delirious chaos that wrestles free from the shackles of standard Marvel fare to overflow with character once the plodding first act is dispensed with.
The movie is full of unusual framing, fluctuating camera angles and effects, plus the kind of transitions that can’t help but wring a smile out of your face.
Whilst the ‘why’ of what’s going on struggles to find that human connection, the ‘how’ is rarely short of connecting with your eyes and shoving your brain through multiple dimensions.
It’s a visual treat that still throws gloriously mad ideas at the screen even in the dying moments. We may catch only glimpses of what bizarre oddities the multiverse may contain (like a universe where everyone is made of paint, for example), but the ability to play with various versions of the same character is never passed up.
Raimi shows little restraint in delighting to make this movie the most overly horror infused Marvel movie yet. Arguably super violent affairs such as The Boys and Invincible have had an impact.
A major Marvel movie can never get near how destructively blood soaked those shows were, but Raimi (an originator of OTT B movie gore) certainly picks up that baton and strains to drag it as far forward as he can. The result is a series of ‘urrgh!’ moments I certainly never expected to see.
Overly simple conclusion time. Did I enjoy Multiverse of Madness? Yes. The Sam Raimi-ness of it was a delightful twist on the stock Marvel approach and definitive director visions are always to be encouraged.
Do I think Multiverse of Madness is a *good* film. No. The Sam Raimi-ness of it reduced characters to cartoonesque purveyors of plot pushing, once again leaving Wanda without agency beyond reacting to her relationships to men or children.
So, to summarise. The movie was enjoyably Sam Raimi aside from all the really Sam Raimi parts. Let’s be thankful there was no talking goat this time (don’t ask) and enjoy the blood soaked roller coaster, blind corners and all.
Words by Mike Record