I’m a huge Sam Raimi fan. “Evil Dead”, “Darkman” and “Spiderman 2” are some of my favorite films across genres for many years. You can see flashes of Raimi throughout Marvel’s new film DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS. But I was left wanting more Raimi and less Disney by the end of this enjoyable but flawed entry in the Marvel series.
Benedict Cumberbatch is reliably great as Strange, realizing that his actions in “Spiderman No Way Home” have opened cracks in our universe. Terror and threats of every kind start spilling into our world.
Teenager America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) also pops into our realm, telling Strange that the battles he is dreaming about every night are not dreams, but real happenings in other universes. She needs his help.
Strange realizes that the best person he can reach out to is Wanda Maximoff/The Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). After the happenings of “Wandavision” she seems to be recovering. When Strange visits her and asks for her help, events spin out of control and the movie finds Strange, Chavez and multiple allies pulled into an ever-tumbling series of alternate universes cascading into and away from our own.
What Raimi gets right is some of those worlds. I loved the unique visual and aural experiences in each. Each is unique and for the most part, fascinating.
But Raimi seems to struggle with tone, flying more clumsily from comedy to horror than he did in “Evil Dead” or “Army of Darkness”. There are some shocking moments within and some of the most graphic and shocking violence we’ve seen in a Marvel film.
There are also some excellent surprises, none of which I’ll spoil here.
Characters from other film series, some beloved and played by actors you know, pop up and deliver some great moments. There are also some shocking characters involved, played by new actors that are welcome faces to the Marvel universe. But the film never lingers long enough in some of its more pleasurable moments for real payoff.
I feel bad for anyone coming to this film without seeing ‘WandaVision” on Disney+. It’s a great series and a clever showcase for Olsen as Wanda/The Scarlett Witch. She’s terrific here, delivering some of the most adult moments in the series, along with some of the most heartbreaking. If I had not seen that series, I would have been lost on many of the key plot points in this adventure.
Raimi does manage to weave Zombies into the plot in a major way, surely scaring the hell out of some of the younger audience members. Raimi and George Romero are our cinema zombie experts, and he’s in fine form with a long dead Strange taking part in the action-packed climax.
Benedict Wong is always a welcome presence as Wong, this guy is in every Marvel entry!
Rachel McAdams is back as Strange’s ex, Dr. Christine Palmer. She’s given a lot to do and delivers in every iteration of her character.
It’s all enjoyable but feels a little routine. I expected more from Raimi in his first film in nearly a decade.
He does deliver big laughs when Doctor Strange puts a spell on an annoying NYC hot dog vendor. Raimi regular Bruce Campbell is hilarious and manages to get even bigger laughs in the final post credit scene.
Speaking of post-credit scenes, another one introduces a big star in a teaser scene for the next Doctor Strange film. Rather than being excited I felt some level of fatigue as yet another star driven character was introduced to this ever expanding universe. How many damn people can I keep track of? LOL
Interesting and enjoyable, DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS is the first Marvel horror film. After the brilliance of ‘Spiderman: No Way Home” it’s hard to call it anything but a middle ground Marvel film. Let’s call it a B-. Cumberbatch and this cast demand at least that mark, even if their director couldn’t quite find his typical sure footing.