“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness”: Raimi’s Return

Will Teare

Director: Sam Raimi

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Xochitl Gomez, with Benedict Wong, and Rachel McAdams  

Release Date: May 6, 2022

Rating: 3.5/5

Source: Marvel Studios

“I’m going to show those kids how to make a superhero picture.” Sam Raimi said, after a recent interview with Rolling Stone. I would say these are bold words from any director, but Raimi fans know this isn’t a joke, it’s a promise. For even the worst of Raimi’s impressive filmography, his work is always undeniably well crafted. I took the time to take a brief look at Raimi’s non-Tobey Maguire’s Spider-man run and saw someone with incredible talent from the start and a knack for putting the camera anywhere, and I really do mean anywhere. Along with being a fantastic horror filmmaker, I found someone with a certain sense of humor that I was very excited to see him bring to the MCU. Let me tell you, he didn’t disappoint.

Doctor Steven Strange finds himself in a post-snap existence, no longer the Sorcerer Supreme due to his absence. When a mysterious traveler of the multiverse arrives at his doorstep, hunted by an unknown force from beyond, Dr. Strange enters the Multiverse of Madness. 

Sam Raimi kills it in the director’s chair. If you’re looking for where the movie feels like Sam Raimi and then when it seems it went under Marvel producer auto-pilot, you can tell. But when it’s Sam doing his job, it’s the best direction we’ve ever seen in MCU history. Now, based on previous installments in the Marvel canon, that is a surprisingly low bar. But I mean it when I say that this finally feels like a breath of fresh air from a director with an actual style. The camera dips, dives, and dodges around all the characters. We get shots from places only the director of the Evil Dead trilogy would think of. Gliding through a stair’s handrails, zooming into faces, and plenty of fun POV’s. Additionally, multiple times, characters genuinely look down the barrel of the camera for comedic, dramatic, and at some points, horrific effects. In post-production, they even use an iris wipe, crossfade transitions, and even some crossfade montages. You can see that Raimi won just enough battles in the editing room and the production stage that really shine through to the final product. It’s the writer’s room, however, where things get terribly lost in the shuffle.

The script, despite being constrained to a very small part of the Multiverse, is simply way too complicated. One reason is expository overload, a common practice of any sci-fi/fantasy film but wildly overdone here. Another is the simple fact that the script felt messy, all over the place, and terribly overwritten. The pacing is really rough in that first half until Raimi really comes out to play and gets exponentially crazier the closer you get to its climax. But it’s the thematic troubles of the film I want to focus on. In the movie’s initial stages, I felt a lot of different setups for the theme, but they didn’t just choose one. I felt like Michael Waldron (the screenwriter brought on late to the project) proceeded to go down every thematic path, rendering all of the themes half-baked. I’ve seen movies manage multiple themes before, but if you’re going to do it, you have to earn it, and I don’t think they did it here. Steven’s happiness, Wanda’s trauma, what it means to be a hero, believing in yourself, loss, doing the right thing, playing God, grief, and how to move forward, there’s a lot to unpack here for one movie. 

Source: Marvel Studios

Raimi’s horror direction isn’t the only saving grace of a rough script, because we have Elizabeth Olsen’s Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch. Olsen is coming off hot from Wandavision, her very own Disney+ TV series that was released last January. With that show, she brought in Emmy and Golden Globe nominations and even has a massive fan base due to her performance. Here, we get Olsen showing off less Wanda and more Scarlet Witch and once again demonstrating how ridiculously overpowered she is in the MCU. Although I can’t say much due to spoilers, Olsen is given plenty of scenes and she chews it all up like it’s her name on the title of the film. 

It feels weird to say that Dr. Strange in the Dr. Strange movie isn’t a standout in the film, but he really isn’t. With all due respect to Benedict Cumberbatch, his character is not the most interesting character in the MCU to give a full movie to. I genuinely believe he’s a great supporting character but he’s a tough protagonist to hang with for two hours. Then again, Cumberbatch is a great actor doing his job here and Dr. Strange isn’t a bad character. This isn’t a criticism at all of Multiverse of Madness as much as it is a valid point to make about how the Marvel creative team is handling Strange in the MCU. 

Rounding out the rest of the cast is newcomer Xochitl Gomez as an underwritten America Chavez. Chavez is essentially a human MacGuffin to create some drama. I assume we’ll get some more character when she is eventually put with the “Young Avengers” storyline but for now, we don’t have much. We also have Christine(Rachel MacAdams) and fan-favorite Wong(Benedict Wong) back for round two of Dr. Strange’s story. They do their job when they can, but aren’t given enough to show off the acting chops we know they have. 

I know I just made fun of a lot of parts of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness but overall, it’s a good movie. Despite its script and the Disney executive interference and Marvel’s thing with relying on cameos to get a painfully cheap reaction out of fans, it’s genuinely worth watching. Sam Raimi is a legitimate hero of this film. I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to have a real artist behind the camera again to breathe life into what is, for a large part, an extremely artistically stale franchise. I wouldn’t call this even close to a real horror movie…but this is the first MCU film I’d genuinely recommend not taking your kids to see. When Raimi is allowed to let loose and go full Raimi, he takes advantage. Along with Elizabeth Olsen just annihilating the screen every time she’s on? It’s really good stuff. Sam has been gone from movies since 2013, and although he’s been around working in TV and producing pretty consistently since then, Sam, we missed you. We missed you being behind the camera and doing what you do best. No matter where you go, you’ll always have a place on the big screen for you. Welcome back. 

Rating: 3.5/5