'Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness': Sam Raimi Breathes New Life into the MCU
One of the most common criticisms lobbed at the Marvel Cinematic Universe is how similar a lot of the films are. While some of the earlier entries in the franchise stood apart from each other a little in terms of their direction and style, most of Marvel's recent output has felt very samey. They tend to have a similar look, style, and structure, largely due to how interconnected all of these films have become. While I usually tend to (at the very least) mildly enjoy the MCU films, I have to agree that the bulk of them feel quite similar to each other. This is even more frustrating when looking at some of the directors they bring on to direct these films. Marvel tends to hire up and coming indie directors who have a distinct brand of filmmaking, yet there are few, if any, traces of this in the final product. A great example of this is Eternals, which contains so little of Chloe Zhao's distinct style that is showcased in her other work. So when it was announced that Sam Raimi was going to direct Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, I couldn't help but be a little worried. While the prospect of a new Raimi film had me excited, I was worried that Marvel was going to stifle his creative vision, and that this would end up as just another cookie-cutter MCU movie. But against all odds, this film definitely feels like a Raimi film, and ends up being one of the more fascinating and engaging Marvel films in the past few years.
Given that Marvel wanted this film to be more horror-inspired, bringing Sam Raimi on was definitely a good choice. Raimi has his roots in the genre with the Evil Dead trilogy, and has injected elements of horror in his other films. Of course, Raimi's most widely known work has to be his Spider-Man trilogy from the 2000s, which helped launch the superhero movie boom. Given how iconic these films are, it makes sense that Marvel wanted to bring him on. He seems to check a lot of the boxes for this film, and given that this is his first film since 2013's Oz the Great and Powerful, it's clear that something drew him to this project. I had a bit of optimism based on this, but I was still worried that he was going to be stifled. After watching the film, it is clear that Marvel definitely gave him quite a bit of freedom, which is the best thing that could have happened for this film. His wild camera movements, trademark humor, and dark sensibilities are all present, and while it may not go full tilt Raimi, it still manages to retain his directorial style, and gives us a nice change of pace from the typical MCU fare.
This film sees Marvel continuing to explore the concept of the multiverse, with Doctor Strange travelling through different universes to help save the world. The multiverse has played a part in most of the Phase Four films and Disney+ series, but as the title of the film suggests, this puts it front and center. However, it doesn't feel as expansive as I was expecting, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it feels like more could have been done. I'm sure that the rest of Phase Four will give us even more parallel universes, but I still feel like they could have done just a little more with this in this film. That said, what we do get is pretty great, and the larger setpieces are easily some of the best in the MCU. Furthermore, the film uses color rather well, which is a refreshing departure from the wet concrete aesthetic that other recent MCU projects have had. On top of this, the cinematography is excellent, and has that manic quality seen in Raimi's other work. We get crash zooms, dutch angles, and camera movements that shouldn't work but absolutely do. It's just nice to see a Marvel movie that looks good again, and it's easily one of the more visually stunning entries in the franchise.
A lot of my issues with the film lies in the script, but despite this, I must say that this is one of the better written MCU films in recent memory. It's not perfect, and still feels a little half-baked in places, but on the whole it works pretty well. It plays to Raimi's strengths in terms of the more violent nature of the film, as well as the humor of it. In addition, the film allows Doctor Strange and Scarlet Witch to shine more as characters, which is nice considering that they both have felt a bit underwritten in other MCU movies. The plot is a bit twisty, but it is still quite engaging and has me curious to see where we go from here. It moves along so briskly, and had me intrigued the whole time. It's been a while since I have been genuinely excited to see more of what Marvel has in store, and I hope that some of their upcoming projects take some cues from this one.
I have enjoyed Benedict Cumberbatch and Elizabeth Olsen in other films, but they haven't wowed me in any of their MCU films. With Cumberbatch, I just feel like Marvel has sidelined him a little and that they are only now fleshing out his character, and with Olsen, her character is just so underwritten across the board. This film allowed them both to have their moment to shine, and both are quite good here. Cumberbatch is starting to find his groove with Doctor Strange, and I'm intrigued in the direction this film takes the character. Olsen is the true star here though, as she is given so much to work with here, and relishes the darker elements of her character. She is truly terrifying in certain moments, and it is great to see her embrace the dark side of Wanda. I would be remiss if I didn't say anything about newcomer Xochitl Gomez, who plays America Chavez, a mysterious teenager who Doctor Strange partners with to help save the multiverse. Gomez has a natural screen presence, and takes to her character nicely. She is so solid in the role, and is easily the breakout performance of the whole film. I really hope we see more of her in the future, as she is so good in this role.
While the film is held back by some of the same things that holds back other recent MCU films, this is definitely more in line with what I want to see from Marvel going forward. I get wanting to have a big interconnected universe, but I would much rather see films like this that actually let the director's sensibilities shine through compared to the more uniform stuff we've been getting. Time will tell if we get this from future MCU movies, but I sincerely hope that we see more big directorial swings like what we see here. This film isn't perfect, nor is it my favorite MCU film, but it is one of the most exciting installments in the franchise to date. I can see why this film is polarizing to some, but it is definitely my jam. I love the weirder moments, the more visceral action sequences, and the twistiness of the plot. It's definitely one of the better MCU films in the past few years, and gives me some hope for the future of the franchise.