I don’t like magic. Heck, I would go so far as to say I hate magic. Magic itself is a messy story concept because the only weakness magic has is other magic. There is no kryptonite, there is no logical counter. But between Sam Raimi’s directing, Michael Waldron’s script, and the performances in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness… I think I felt a little bit of magic watching the latest MCU installment. While the film is another installment in the long running series of films that are almost commercials for what’s next, Raimi delivers his own take on what we know as an MCU film with his unique blend of horror and humor.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness follows Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), hot off the heels of stopping the multiverse from collapsing in Spider-Man: No Way Home, who now has to deal with another multiverse problem. This time though it comes in the form of America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) who can travel the multiverse with her incredible set of superpowers. A power that strong is going to have people who want to take it right? Well, yes, clearly because the film needs a plot. There is something mysterious after them as well as Wanda Maximoff aka Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). All Wanda wants is her children back from WandaVision at any cost.
The script for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness was written by Michael Waldron (Loki), who brings a very impressive story to the screen. Without going into too many details, the story balances a lot on two end points of good and evil. There are two major sources of magic, one good and one evil. For most of the film, it’s very black and white without a ton of room of debate for who is the evil in the film; which is to be expected from a Marvel film whose politics are typically murky at best. But towards the end, I started to see some more nuance in the half and half magics. What’s most impressive about the script is just how well the humor Waldron has written fits Raimi’s style. It blends a lot of really spooky sequences with some really good humorous jokes and bits. To avoid spoilers for the greatest scene in the MCU, I will just say that Michael Waldron is a god damn mad man and I cannot believe Feige (Executive Producer, big hat guy, MCU Overlord) let the scene happen. I was the only one cracking up in the theatre and I applaud Waldron and Raimi for doing it.
Sam Raimi started superhero movies. I understand that there were others before his film Spider-Man starring Willem Dafoe but it’s what got us here. Raimi treats the genre as a real thing and not as a joke. Instead of side stepping all the weird that comes with comics, Raimi seems to have more of a loving approach. There are going to be a hundred reviews of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness talking about how Raimi makes superhero movies but I am not that guy. What I am at the end of the day is a horror fan. To be specific, I am a comedy horror fan and that is rooted in The Evil Dead franchise. A series started by a group of weirdos who wanted to do things their own way which Raimi carries on today. There are some truly wonderful snap cuts, camera movements, and transitions that just scream it’s a Raimi movie in the absolute best way. The humor is always quick and snappy which is a calling card of Raimi. But one of the biggest stamps of a Raimi film is slapstick humor. There are a few great sequences with slapstick style smacks and hits that had me chortling in my seat. The quick camera transitions make funny scenes land so well as we switch between actors to drive home the impact of some jokes. The MCU has always had it’s own blend of humor but with Raimi it’s like buying fresh locally sources coffee beans rather than grabbing something off the shelf at 7/11.
All of that wonderful camera work in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness isn’t done by Raimi alone, with John Mathieson serving as cinematographer. What made me even happier was when I saw Bob Murawski as one of the editors with Tia Nolan. Bob has worked with Raimi since Army of Darkness and the Spider-Man films.There is something to be said about an editor who knows the director and can help carry the film across the finish line in such a wonderful way. There is one transition earlier in the film with Wong (Benedict Wong) that I cannot wait to watch over and over because it was simple but so well done by this team.
The film does have some heavy horror elements I was not expecting. Some will verge into spoiler territory so I won’t open that book but a lot of Elizabeth Olsen’s absolutely wonderful performance is as a horror slasher in my opinion. She is an unstoppable force of power that the leads of the film cannot stand against, only run from. Olsen’s performance is moving with her motivation being that of “a mother, not a monster” which is a line she often repeats but that’s just her view. She is just as scary as an 8-foot tall behemoth swinging a machete or a chainsaw in any horror series. There are sequences in which she moves her body in similar ways to that of the demons of Raimi’s other films. It’s an unsettling almost contortionist approach to movement that makes your skin crawl. I wasn’t expecting to leave a MCU film thinking about some of the epic kills of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness like it was a Nightmare on Elm Street movie but Raimi delivers a big bag of bodies and blood unlike any film in the universe before it.
Sam Raimi brings along his old pal Danny Elfman from his Spider-Man days to compose the score for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. While Elfman does build upon the theme Michael Giacchino’s theme from the first Strange film, he introduces a lot of his own motifs and themes in the film. I think this leads to the score being one of the strongest we have seen in a MCU film. Many abandon the idea of recurring themes while Elfman really tries to build upon and expand what came before. And not just those of Strange but… well let’s just say there is something that made my nostalgic soul leave my body for a moment when I heard it. While I am not the biggest Elfman fan, his composing is essential to the film and I find myself listening to it even now. There is a sequence in which the score plays right into the movie in one of the coolest uses of sounds since Disney’s Fantasia.
The MCU is changing across the board with shows like Moon Knight introducing horror elements and darker plots slowly on the rise. But I didn’t think magic had a place there. I didn’t want magic to have a place there. But after Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, I think magic has a huge place in the madness of the multiversal future that Marvel is building. With absolutely wonderful performance by the cast, most of all my new favorite slasher Scarlet Witch Elizabeth Olsen, a wonderful score, and just an excellently directed story, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness sets the bar high for anything that comes next. Sam Raimi really had to come back and say “This is how you do a superhero film”.
(Yes, he is in it. Yes, his chin is still incredible.)