I’ll admit it: the parts of this movie that Sam Raimi directed were fun. Who knew this could happen when you hired a real director!
Picking up sometime after the events of Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: No Way Home and WandaVision (help!!!), we find Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) attending the wedding of his former flame Christine (Rachel McAdams, graciously returning despite still not being given anything to do). Of course, Strange must leave the reception early when a teenager named America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) falls out of a dimensional portal with a horrible monster hunting her down. Strange disposes of the monster, but learns of a greater threat to the entire multiverse which will stop at nothing to obtain America’s space-jumping ability. That’s about all the plot we get, which is fine! This is mostly about crazy stuff happening and flying in your face. Sam Raimi is back!
Of course, the contrast between Raimi’s ideas and the grinding gears of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is stark. The story grinds to a halt to do a boatload of fanservice that will overwhelm any real critical discussion of this film (not that there was ever going to be). No one is going to think about the spooks and jump scares and skeletons Raimi has filled the corridors with when we get the first appearance of (secret character redacted)! Not everything Raimi does is successful – there’s a slow-motion moment with a locked door that goes on to the point of ridiculousness – but at least he’s trying something! When the MCU takes over, Strange and his friends might as well be standing in the same Atlanta parking lot they film all the TV shows in. Trust me, you will be able to tell.
The magic is fun but inconsistent, and frankly makes no sense. The characters seem to have seen every single Marvel film and have intricate knowledge of what went down in each one, including Michael Stuhlbarg, who only shows up for one scene (but still gets the “and” billing! Nice job Mike!). I suppose this is done to simplify what you can, but it still frustrates. Part of me wishes they’d just ignore “the blip” or whatever and get to the fun faster. This movie basically does! Strange ends up controlling his own corpse while being attacked by ghosts!
As I’m sure you are already aware, Everything Everywhere All at Once is a better multiverse movie. That one is using multiverse as metaphor, letting Michelle Yeoh consider other paths she could have taken and freaky things that could happen. Strange takes the multiverse very literally and seriously. But Bruce Campbell does show up just to punch himself in the face, so who’s to say which is more worth your time?
The answer is Everything Everywhere All at Once. Good night!
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
Dir. Sam Raimi
In theaters everywhere Friday 5/6 (though the Hassle recommends the Coolidge Corner Theatre, where you can catch it on 35mm through Sunday 5/8!)