You survived that big bowl of mull Scott Derrickson swerved up a couple of years back with Doctor Strange but will you live to regret the acid tab placed upon your tongue for the sequel, or be thankful for the wild experience?
That, my comic book movie fan, may depend on just how big a fan of Sam Raimi’s catalogue of genre classics (The Evil Dead series, Darkman, and Drag Me to Hell in particular) you are rather than how steadfast a Marvel fan you are.
While Raimi isn’t in complete bonkers Evil Dead 2 play here, he’s also as far away from his more traditional comic book movie Spider-Man – largely due to his insistence that Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness be a horror movie and not a superhero venture – even if Marvel seemingly shoehorn those comic-booky elements uncomfortably in, somewhat to the detriment of the picture.
The marketers have intentionally left the plot out of every bit of promo for the film, so we’ll go easy there too. In a nutshell, Doctor Steven Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch, firing on all cylinders as usual) has to help a multi-verse jumping youngster, America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) escape the clutches of the demon on her tail (spoiler : it’s former-Avenger Scarlett Witch, played with oomph by Elizabeth Olsen). To do that, the duo – with the scarred and slightly terrifying Witch close behind – have to jump into another universe or two to locate a reputedly mythical book… and some other stuff.
Whereas the past few Marvel movies might’ve been best described as “epic”, “adventurous” and “deep”, Raimi’s “Multiverse” will likely earn such tags as “freaky”, “crazy”, “gory” and “messy”.
It’s messy because the script – by “Loki” writer – is patchy at best, with many beats stilted, uninteresting and repetitive. It’s also not as well fleshed-out or franchise-advancing, like an Avengers or the recent Spider-Man : No Way Home. Some characters serve the purpose of being hot props (hello America Chavez), others keep making the same mistakes – and we’re constantly reminded of it (and yes, we get it, Strange is unhappy), and there’s no cameo here that’ll get the kind of rousing response Tobey and Andrew’s surprise appearances in the aforesaid Spidey flick spurred.
At the same time, and despite not advancing Phase 4 of Marvel’s films at all, this is a fun movie – the kind of wired, balls-to-the-wall, crazy horror-adventure Raimi might’ve directed in the ’90s. You might say it plays like a cross between his Army of Darkness and Darkman with a Wandavision epilogue overlayed. Just a pity Marvel didn’t let him spin that wheel for the entire duration.
The visual effects are outstanding – some of the best Marvel’s magic men have produced, the set pieces are dazzling and blissfully well structured, and the second half of the film’s wild mesh of body horror, gore and creepiness is pure gold. There’s a Raimi classic in here wanting to get out.
Despite the “too many cooks in the kitchen” issue that plague superhero films where a studio’s opinion ultimately outweighs that of the visionary director, there’s so much fun, eyegasmic horror – a surprise first for a MCU movie – and imaginative camerawork on display here that Raimi’s almost forgiven for not fighting for a better script, let alone one that has his fingerprints all over it.
This is one of the first Marvel films since, perhaps Taika Waititi’s silly but delightful Thor Ragnarok, that’s not only crafted as a complete love letter to the back catalogue of its director, as opposed to the characters within it, and also one that simply wants audiences to leave their thinking caps at home and just have some fun.