A key to Marvel’s box office dominance these past 14 years has been its consistency. Under producer Kevin Feige’s leadership, the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s films have had a consistent tone and visual style. While certain directors (most notably Taiki Waititi, James Gunn and the Russos) have imbued their offerings with their own visual style and flair, they never strayed too far from the proven formula.
But Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness doesn’t feel like a MCU movie. It is unmistakably a Sam Raimi film.
There is a magical tome not unlike the Necronomicon at the center of Raimi’s Evil Dead films. There are a variety of undead humans, evil spirits and possessed bystanders that would feel at home in any Raimi horror offering. The protagonist fights an evil version of himself. There are the familiar sounds of a Danny Elfman score. And, through it all, the perverse gallows humor that defines Raimi’s style.
While his now-classic Spider-man films snuck in moments of horror (like the way he films Doctor Octopus’ tentacles or Green Goblin’s surprise attacks), these moments are fleeting. Multiverse of Madness, however, feels more like a horror film than a standard comic book movie. A character is burned alive. Black, shadowy hands reach up from the depths of Hell to grab someone. A head explodes. (I’m not sure how they convinced the MPAA to give this a PG13 rating as it is sure to terrify some unsuspecting teenage Marvel fans.)
It’s not just Raimi who is pulling from his bag of tricks to expand the idea of what a MCU film can be. Writer Michael Waldron, who worked on Rick and Morty before helming Loki for Disney+, definitely learned a few tricks about interdimensional wackiness from his time on the beloved sci-fi cartoon. There’s a misunderstanding over a bizarre pizza concoction in one scene and Doctor Strange’s resolution feels straight out of the Rick Sanchez playbook.
While Raimi and Waldron are given a lot of room to inject their own ideas into the film, it still feels solidly rooted in the MCU. Events from the first Doctor Strange, Avengers: Endgame and WandaVision factor into the narrative. And it plays within the Multiverse, a concept previously explored in Loki and Spider-man: No Way Home.
There are also a handful of surprises for diehard fans who have read all of the comics and watched the What If … ? series on Disney+ (which I will obviously not spoil here) and several mystery characters who most viewers will be googling in the parking lot after the film.
One disappointment for fans who were excited by the post-credit scene in the first Doctor Strange film is that Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Baron Mordo gets sidelined in favor of the Multiverse plot. Mordo vowed to balance the cosmic scales by depowering all of his fellow sorcerers, but he’s had to wait in line behind Thanos and the villain of this film. Mordo does show up briefly, but it’s an alternate reality version of the character. Ejiofor is such a phenomenal actor, so I hope they still find room to give him his due in a future installment.
While Ejiofor fans might be disappointed, Elizabeth Olsen fans are in for a treat. We were never given a chance to see what she was capable of as Wanda Maximoff until WandaVision gave the character room to breathe. This film expands on Olsen’s fantastic work in that show. She easily steals every scene she is in and we finally get to witness the full breadth of Wanda’s abilities.
I’m being vague about the exact plot of the film because I don’t want to ruin any surprises. Besides, one of the upsides of the MCU’s consistency and success is that they can sell a film on Marvel’s name alone.
I have a feeling this outing may be polarizing. I imagine it isn’t what a lot of Marvel fans have come to expect from these films. But while I think the consistency of the films have been a major selling point, I enjoy them letting Sam Raimi and Michael Waldron play fast and loose with the rules.
If you are a MCU fan, you’ll likely enjoy the Easter eggs and wider implications to the cinematic universe. But the film itself may not be your particular cup of tea.
But if, like me, you are a Sam Raimi fan, you will love seeing what he’s able to do when given this massive sandbox to play in.
Written by Joel Murphy. He loves pugs, hates Jimmy Fallon and has an irrational fear of robots. You can contact Joel at firstname.lastname@example.org.