Julian (The Film Seeker)’s review published on Letterboxd:
Multiverse films are (thankfully) not as widespread as the same MCU that has invested quite a bit of stock into them lately, but in the past 6 months, the number of good multiverse films has impressively doubled. That figure seems less impressive when that doubled figure amounts to a whopping two films, but in the first half of 2022, Everything Everywhere All at Once ecstatically joined the lonely ranks of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Of course, the Spider-Man film that set the bar wasn't the only Spider-Man film to play with the multiverse, and with No Way Home, Kevin Feige and Disney asserted once and for all that... this isn't their strong suit. But Feige and Disney ain't quitters (unfortunately), so it only made sense that, after dominating the previous winter movie season with one multiverse film, they'd attempt to overtake the following summer with a film revolving around the very deus ex machina character that made Marvel's excuse for pulling actors from across rebooted franchises plausible in the first place.
The end result is Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, one of only two MCU films so far to make any marketing use of its name-director—the other having been fresh Oscar-winner Chloé Zhao's Eternals. That point is important, because much of the anticipation for the Sorcerer Supreme's latest excursion was based in Sam Raimi's return, not only to superhero filmmaking, but to filmmaking in general. Undoubtedly, the 9-year drought of efforts from Bruce Campbell's favourite pay check has been noticeable, and if anyone felt like the right pick to inject some campy fun into Marvel's stale formula—particularly with the explicit intention of crafting multidimensional mayhem—Raimi was certainly that wizard.
Much to the delight of many a somewhat-jaded viewer, Raimi's eccentric eye does serve the film in moments, but as interesting as it is to see the camera rotate whenever someone awakens from a dream, the impact of that gaze is severely watered-down by Feige's continued inability to let a director unleash their full vision. The fact that Scott Derrickson bowed out of this sequel due to the ever-prevalent "creative differences" (and then had the audacity to shade-tweet Denis Villeneuve for rightly pointing out the monotony of this franchise) should be indication enough that when Feige announced Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness as "the first Marvel horror movie," he was speaking from a personal and familiar place: deep within his own rectum. Raimi's visuals allow for some moderate free reign, but in the end, when surrounded by the same flat lighting and cheap, ceaseless quips, the mild hints towards his personality feel less like a dash of much-needed artistic distinction and more like the muffled flashes of a unique storyteller trying to escape the multiverse of tedium.
By far the most egregious MCU-ism that stains this movie, however, is the continued efforts to artificially insert cheer-worthy moments into every installment. The entire second act feels like a beta-climax engineered for the sole purpose of advertising future casting possibilities, and the ensuing sequence is expectedly bloated and—as a result of this multiverse narrative in which characters hop around and overtake the positions of their other selves with ease—inconsequential.
Balancing multiple universes in one film is difficult, but what Daniels showed us just one month ago is that you could feasibly bridge such disparate concepts with a strong unifying theme. Hot Dog Finger Universe and Raccacoonie Universe are nothing alike, but are bound by Daniels' vision, both visually and thematically, to the point where at least the bloated climax felt mostly earned. Meanwhile, every universe in Doctor Strange is differentiated by a slight change in architecture or the fact that everyone is made of paint (haha? Don't get used to that potentially interesting idea though, it's relegated to a throwaway joke), but it's all tied together by the theme of... Doctor Strange's recklessness, I guess? How exciting and not at all played out...
The prospect of taking one of the most overpowered characters—Scarlet Witch—in the most overpowered franchise of all time and actually making her the primary obstacle to overcome is an idea that, to give due credit, could be rife with narrative heft. But Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness throws so much at viewers with so little in the way of organic emotion or investing stakes beyond *checks notes* the collapse of the universe... again.
Maybe if I had done the exorbitant amount of research necessary to follow along with Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness in order to be fully caught-up with the MCU narrative, then Sam Raimi's neutered efforts would have yielded more satisfying results. And some may say, then, that it's my own fault for going into this series unprepared, which may be true. "After all, why would you walk blindly into season 8 of a popular show and expect to be satisfied?" The question of how many shows are actually still in peak-form after so long is one point of contention to that argument, but when you get right down to it, keeping up with every world-threatening calamity threatening the MCU is simply becoming exhausting. These movies are meant—if every apologist is to be believed—to be an escape from the harshness of our world. So why, then, does keeping up with this leviathan of a franchise feel increasingly like homework?