Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness ★★★

"You break the rules and become a hero. I do it and I become the enemy. That doesn't seem fair."

The main reason I went to see Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is for its director Sam Raimi, because I honestly couldn't care less about the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) at this point. Much of this has to do with the lack of personality and surprise with Disney's cinematic factory, where everything is designed by committee, and all artistic choices are safe, derivative, and bland — that, and their infuriating devotion in promoting the upcoming film instead of focusing on the one you're currently watching. Obviously, I'm not the biggest fan, yet, I was curious when Sam Raimi took over from Scott Derrickson, because Raimi is a unique (dare I say "auteur") director with a very distinct visual and personal style I've always admired. I still had a feeling such things wouldn't matter, but I'm always willing to give any director I like a chance. But after seeing Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, I can honestly say that even a visual "auteur" like Sam Raimi is still subservient to the greater cinematic demands of the MCU, because the status quo is thoroughly maintained here, admittedly, in messier ways than normal.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness still plants itself firmly in the middle-of-the-road, which is where Marvel has always been. Despite a few brief moments, it seems to matter little that Raimi is a visual wizard who made the original Spider-Man and Evil Dead trilogies, because his direction here feels perfunctory, streamlined and safe. The story is typical superhero guff, end of the universe ploys with low emotional stakes, and all of the actors feel perfectly adequate with their generic characterization, even as they attempt to touch on some issues that could have some deeper emotional impact. Raimi and everyone involved remain professional, and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness looks great, especially in those rare moments when Raimi is able to fully unleash some of his visual style, which is when the film excels, but such moments rarely last.

Yet, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a more interesting Marvel movie than most, probably because it tries to take on so much baggage that it becomes a sporadically entertaining mess. Not only is the Multiverse of Madness a sequel to the first Doctor Strange, it's also a sequel to Spider-Man: No Way Home, WandaVision, Avengers: Endgame, etc., while setting up potential future adaptations of the Fantastic Four, X-Men, and various other properties along the way. Such things are commonplace with Marvel, but Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness tries to accommodate so much tonally conflicting material that it becomes a rather unique tonal mess in the MCU, one that almost feels unintentional, as it goes from drama to horror to sci-fi to superhero spectacle. Mix that with Raimi's intermittent directional flourishes, some of which approach the horrific goofiness of his Army of Darkness, Darkman, or Drag Me to Hell, and you get Marvel's biggest mess since Age of Ultron, or even Iron Man 2. Considering how every rough edge is often ironed out in the MCU, I somewhat appreciated the messiness of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

That doesn't elevate Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness beyond its genre or Marvel's typical ways, and I still can't help but miss the unbridled Raimi that gave us The Evil Dead 1 and 2, or his assured control that made Spider-Man 2 one of the greatest superhero movie ever made, but I'd gladly take this over his last film, the ill-advised and overproduced Oz the Great and Powerful. I guess you can't change the Marvel machinery, even with someone like Sam Raimi. So, yes... middle-of-the-road with messy yet entertaining flourishes, because why else would you hire a rule-breaker like Sam Raimi to direct a movie called Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness?

That's a rhetorical question. This is Marvel we're talking about.

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