The surgeon superhero Steven Strange is back for his long anticipated direct sequel. A sequel that truly sticks to its namesake. A multiverse hopping trip that feels mad, mysterious and creates a map for the future of Marvel. Helmed by a director that is no novice to the comic book world having directed the original Spider-Man trilogy, but also using this now empty slate of widened opportunities to usher in his own style. Incorporating a horror element and a much darker tone that helped director Sam Raimi find success in his early career.
On paper Sam Raimi seems like a perfect choice to bring new style and flare to the MCU, especially given the recent resurgence of the characters he created some 20 years ago with their appearances in the latest Spider-Man sequel, No Way Home. But in truth, Raimi’s direction appears muddled and a little disconnected and with the recent route the MCU has been going in (with the exception of Spider-Man: No Way Home), the cracks are really starting to appear.
Long gone are the days of the ‘simple’ superhero. Philanthropists creating suits from junk, super serum injected superhero’s and leotard sporting men spiders. We’re knee deep in a phase of extra-terrestrial dominance, mindboggling magic and world destroying witchcraft. With Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) finding himself responsible of a young girl who possesses the unique ability to jump between universes (although not something she can control), Strange must guide himself and America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) through multidimensional time travel in order to be rid of the dark forces that are pursuing her and take her power for themselves.
Ironically for a movie that could truly allow itself to get carried away with imagination, it still feels rather restrained. With the movie’s best moments becoming little more than fan service to appease die hard fans.
One thing I highly rewarded Scott Derrickson’s Doctor Strange (2017) for, was its sharp and overly stylistic visuals. Something that thankfully pours over into this sequel.
Although not reaching the levels of Raimi’s own Evil Dead series, or non MCU Marvel projects such as Deadpool or Blade, this is the bloodiest entry we’ve had in the franchise up to this point. It’s not surprising with Raimi’s love for horror that he’s managed to work it into the Multiverse of Madness, which attempts to really push the boundaries of what has fundamentally been an all audience friendly franchise.
Despite what the title may suggest this doesn’t feel so much of a Doctor Strange film, but more so a Wanda Maximoff one. Played by Elizabeth Olsen, the troubled witch saw a huge increase in the script and character development department after being a background character throughout most of her time in the MCU. But after having a Disney+ show dedicated to her role she quickly become a favourite amongst fans of the franchise and would seemingly finally reach the potential of that from her many appearances in the comics.
That’s not to say that Cumberbatch feels like a fish out of water here. His character is well established at this point and going into this latest phase it’s clear that he will have a huge role to play in the coming events. But beyond some deeper moments – more on his human persona – much of what is written for Strange’s character isn’t far different from what we have already gotten.
There are some great elements to Raimi’s MCU debut. His unusual tone is an interesting but welcoming shift, and it works with the wacky and wide scoped ideas that can come with the character of Strange. His bold and bizarre use of certain shots at times heightened the experience and added more depth to the different scenarios that are at play. Danny Elfman also provides a great score which during one moment is perfectly integrated into a scene.
Sometimes however bold doesn’t always equate to brilliant. Despite some very good ideas and directive decisions being made, there are some that are equally as bad or at the very least distracting. This really feels like an MCU project that has finally given its director creative control and for better or worse the results show that. Through flutters of brilliance there are sadly also moments of pure tedium as it attempts to open a portal to endless opportunities, but then seemingly closes many of them back up again after teasing what could be the future. Phases 1-3 had its ‘endgame’ if you will, in which at some point everything we had seen will come around full circle, and all the characters and stories would end up eventually intertwining, but this current film slate the MCU is going through, doesn’t really seem like it’s building to anything coherently.
Multiverse of Madness had such potential. The return of an esteemed comic book director, a continuation for its lead characters that offers plenty of opportunities and a story that could have gone down many different paths. But the final product we got felt underwhelming in almost every aspect. Where the future of the MCU is going it seems only Kevin Feige knows, but here’s hoping there’s method behind all this madness.