Doctor Strange In The Multiverse of Madness (2022)

MAY 5, 2022



OK, with few exceptions, I've seen all the Marvel movies on opening weekend, either because I liked/loved those characters or I just feared spoilers. But even if I hated the first one (I didn't, in fact it's probably on the upper half of my rankings if I were to try) I would have been out ASAP for Doctor Strange In The Multiverse of Madness, because it was the first new movie from the GOAT Sam Raimi in nearly a decade. And I didn't like that one (Oz), so it was the first since Drag Me To Hell (2009!) that I had a chance of enjoying. It's insane to me to think that it's been 13 years since I last enjoyed a Sam Raimi movie - that's longer than the gap from Evil Dead 2 to For Love of the Game!

Anyway, it doesn't take too long for the film to announce itself as a Raimi one. There's a bit relatively early with the same kind of canted angles and zooms that became something of a calling card, and zooms into people's eyes and that sort of thing - anyone who says the MCU machine is generic and that the filmmakers' voice is missing should shut up after this one (even more interesting when you consider that Raimi was not the original director, with the first film's Scott Derrickson bowing out during pre-production for reasons unknown, making it even more likely that this might end up feeling anonymous). And then in the second half it goes all out, with full own swirling demonic (and talking!) skeletons, zombies, the Classic (!), etc. Hell, the plot even revolves around a spellbook containing dark magic. There's more of his style on display in this "Marvel movie" than there is in some of his other films where much less was riding on its success.

(I'm not going to get into major spoilers, but I am assuming you've seen the trailers. If not - tread lightly!)

And yeah, it does kinda sorta qualify as horror, at least in the same way that Army of Darkness does. Both films are adventure/fantasy blends with heavy supernatural tones and a few scary bits, so I think it's fair to include here (plus I've done too many "FTP" articles in a row and wanted to do something meatier!). The plot is as much of a sequel to WandaVision as it is to Doctor Strange (more on that soon), with Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) realizing she can be united with her children in one of the many parallel universes but needs access to them to get there, and the key to that is America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), who has the power to jump between them only doesn't know how to control it. So Strange basically gets caught in the middle, trying to protect America while also hoping to save his former friend/ally from becoming an unredeemable monster.

So how does that make it horror? Well Strange first encounters America when she's on the run from a giant eyeball monster, and later Wanda uses some kind of magic nonsense that essentially melts people (not too gory, but "gooey" enough for a PG-13 movie that six year olds are likely to be watching). As she gets more crazed, she uses more violent means - one major character is sliced in half! She also makes like Samara at one point, climbing all jerkily out of a reflective surface, and later when she tries to possess another universe's (normal) Wanda, it's played as a straight up Insidious/Conjuring kind of scene. Benedict Cumberbatch gets to play multiple versions of Strange, and one of them is evil (again, this was in the trailer), which might scare younger viewers when their hero is suddenly "being mean." And then as mentioned, demons and zombies enter the mix, though I can't get into specifics without spoilers so you'll just have to trust me. I mean, if we allow Captain America 2 to count as a spy thriller and Logan as a western, I think it's more than fair to call this a horror movie, at least when stacked against the others (and, again, Raimi's own genre-mashup Army of Darkness).

It also satisfies as another cog in the Marvel machine, with some world building, references to other films (Strange talks about his recent adventure with Spider-Man), and - of course - a mid credits scene that adds a new actor/character to the mix. We are also treated to what may be the debut of a major Marvel player who has been sidelined thus far in the MCU, though given the multiverse concept it's not necessarily the one who will be getting their own movie later. And yes, as the trailers gave away, Patrick Stewart shows up as you know who, a scene that still packed a punch despite the advance spoiler (it's helped by a particular music cue that older fans will cream over). The multiverse stuff isn't as deep as you might think given that it's in the title (honestly, Spider-Man did a better job of fleshing out the possibilities, since most of its use here isn't about tying in other iterations of these characters), but I think that's a good thing. Otherwise it'd threaten to make Strange a supporting player in his own movie, but Raimi and writer Michael Waldron (who was the guru behind the Loki show) manage to find that balance.

Where it does kind of lack, however, is in the "trippy visual" department, which was one of the calling cards of the first film. I toyed with actually going to see this in 3D, and I'm glad I ultimately opted for 2D (especially since my left contact was bugging me the entire time, goddamnit) as there was only really one big sequence that would have been fun to watch with the added immersion (you've seen a snippet in the trailer, when Strange's face is turning into blocks - it's part of a montage of him and America rapidly traveling through several universes). Strange's powers here are more of the "make a shield" or "wave my hands around and pull something out of nowhere" variety, without any of the city warping kinda stuff that was seen throughout the first film (though there is an out of nowhere bit involving sheet music that, for me, made up for it, but I know will have some people whining almost as much as they do about "emo Peter"). So if that was a big part of the first film's appeal for you, you might be disappointed to see it more or less replaced with the horror elements. Likewise, Chiwetel Ejiofor does return as Mordo, but in a variant form that is still an ally, so his promise as a Big Bad at the end of Strange 1 remains unfulfilled for now.

The other thing that might disappoint folks is that you really probably should watch WandaVision, as Wanda's character won't really make sense to you if the last you saw her was at the end of Endgame. The movie wastes no time with turning her into a villain; I thought it'd be a mid-movie shift but nope, Strange goes to her for help once he realizes witchcraft might be involved, and within the same conversation realizes she's actually the one who is trying to get America's powers (which will kill her) in the first place. And her whole thing is about her kids, who, of course, didn't exist in the previous MCU movies. It won't be incomprehensible or anything, but the movie sure does assume you've seen them and spends little time recapping WandaVision's storyline for those who may have missed it, which might be a constant distraction when you're used to Wanda being on the good side of things. Ultimately, it's kind of weird that if you're a Raimi fan who isn't Marvel-versed and want to have context for what you're about to see, it's probably more important to watch WandaVision and No Way Home than it is to watch the first Doctor Strange movie.

Otherwise, it's a blast. It's not too long (just over two hours including the credits), so that's a relief as these things have been getting a bit too demanding of our free time lately (No Way Home was 2.5 hrs, and Eternals was even longer), and has plenty of action and spectacle to go along with all the mumbo jumbo. There's even time for character work; Strange's relationship with Christine (Rachel McAdams) has a throughline with a rather sweet denouement, and even though she spends most of the movie trying to kill our heroes, they still find time to humanize Wanda when necessary. I'm sure some folks will be let down that Strange doesn't visit a multiverse with Nic Cage's Ghost Rider or something like that (i.e. the people who seem to think that a Marvel movie/show's only value is what it's promising for the next one) but if you are a fan of the enterprise as a whole I think you'll be pleased to see more flavors being added to the mix. And if you're a Raimi fan, I can't imagine how you'd walk out disappointed after seeing him do his thing with what appears to be a blank check - and yes, he does bring the *other* BC along for the ride.

What say you?

P.S. Danny Elfman's score is quite good, but there's a quick part where it sounds like he is aping Christopher Young's Hellraiser-y kind of compositions, which I truly hope is an intentional little joke about his break with Raimi (spurned by Raimi wanting Elfman to make music that sounded like Young's) which led to Young composing Spider-Man 3 and Drag Me To Hell. Since they have obviously patched things up (Elfman did Oz too), I like to think they laugh about it now. It's about a minute into track 19 ("Stranger Things Will Happen") on the score release, you tell me if I'm crazy.


  1. I felt like Raimi restrained himself in order to fall within the left and right limits of Disney/Fan expectations, and not in a bad way. He had an assignment and split the difference* on what Disney and the Fans wanted. Yet it was gruesome enough to let the fans know to is a Raimi film, and there is probably an unrated version this that will never show up on Disney+. Sidebar: is Strange a knock off Green Lantern now?

    *I'm not ashamed of that pun.

  2. I'm a longtime fan of both Dr. Strange comics and Raimi movies and I agree that it did not disappoint in either department. Like the first film, Strange overcomes obstacles in ways that are true to his character, rather than just 'punching harder'. And the whole multiverse thing allowed Raimi to have fun and add a sense of danger without having to wear kid gloves with all the characters introduced.
    Oh, and the music note thing - loved it! One of the things that attracted me to the Strange comics was the fun and interesting visuals the artists have drawing magic. The music note thing hits that target right in the bullseye for me.

  3. Spoiler, maybe. I keep wondering if the other Wanda's children were real or created by magic. There's no sign of a father and they seem a bit too good to be true.


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