SPOILER FREE REVIEW
I am not one of those people who hate comic book movies, nor have I ever bought into the argument that they’re destroying cinema as we know it, let alone dumbing down culture to the point of no return. As for established filmmakers who make these claims, well, I believe they may simply be afraid of change, or at least what they perceive as a loss of quality (both in terms of craftsmanship and in the current streaming vs. traditional theatrical experience battle). I think what’s happening in the film industry is explained by several factors, but at the end of the day, it’s a business, and that business will always lean into what’s popular and thus, profitable. Times change, and opinions shift, and no one knows what will be popular next.
All of that is to say that while I generally love comic book movies, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a bloated, disjointed mess.
And I definitely had high hopes for this one, too, especially being a fan of the first, so this is all the more disappointing.
There were a ton of speculations regarding what finally might be shown in the Multiverse, especially since WandaVision and Loki seemingly teased us with many possibilities (including sort of, kind of, maybe introducing an X-Men character from 20th Century Fox’s movies that wasn’t possible before Disney bought that studio). And let’s not forget Spider-Man: No Way Home, which directly played with our nostalgia and love for characters and actors that we never thought we’d see together on screen. With different rights to Marvel characters now seemingly all together (even those still owned by Sony), the possibilities were endless! Maybe your favorite comic book character would make a cameo here, or your favorite actor would finally do justice to a superhero that was portrayed terribly or inaccurately in a previous movie. Surely, this Doctor Strange sequel would blow us away, right? Right??
Well, no, it doesn’t.
So what went wrong?
To answer that, let’s talk about the elephant in the room (and no, not that one from Darkman): Director Sam Raimi.
He directed the first three Spider-Man movies that starred Tobey Maguire. Those that listen to our podcasts know that I wasn’t the biggest fan of those, but even I know they were well received. Raimi can be a great director. The problem here is that he was brought in to replace original director Scott Derrickson over creative differences between Derrickson and Marvel. Raimi has a very unique, sometimes polarizing style that is nothing like Derrickson’s, and he claimed this movie would be MCU’s first horror film. While that certainly sounded promising, there were rumors that poor test screenings forced him to do extensive reshoots. All of this seemed to indicate that there were problems going on behind the scenes, and a movie was being made with a severe identity crisis.
So, is it a horror film? In many ways it is, albeit watered down, and it’s arguably the MCU’s most violent film. It even has an Evil Dead type vibe at times, but it never fully commits. There’s one gruesome scene in particular that I just know Raimi must have been itching to show more than the PG-13 rating would allow, but he was forced to imply the violence rather than show it. Restraint in gore has never been Raimi’s style, and the scene suffers from a lack of clarity as a result.
Is this movie a direct follow-up to Derrickson’s first movie, as well as to the animated series What If…? on Disney+? Again, in many ways, yes, but definitely not in terms of style or tone and that makes it feel disconnected from both. It certainly never takes the baton and runs with it as you might think based on its trailers.
Does it introduce new characters, and revamp some old ones? Does it have some cameos? Yes, but probably not in the way you’d like or expect. Defying expectations and shocking you can be a good thing, but here it just feels underwhelming and lazy. Not to mention that superpowers ebb and flow depending on the scene without any explanation. Sometimes characters are god-like and sometimes the simplest thing can take them out. The rules are never clear.
Does it expand the Multiverse concept? Yes, but only in short bursts. The majority of the movie takes place in only two universes, and they are nearly indistinguishable from each other. The stakes never really feel that high, and actions never feel permanent.
Combine all of that, and the takeaway here is that this movie was pulled in a lot of different creative directions that were all patch-worked together. It never knows what it wants to be, and thus, fails at being anything other than a jumbled pile of ideas that never make a cohesive whole. In that sense, it reminded me of Rise of Skywalker, and that’s never a good thing.
Oh, and for those wondering, the extra half star is for Bruce Campbell because, well, he’s always groovy.