Saturday 7 May 2022

Film Review: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness


We've seen how strange things can get at night. Well things are about to get a lot stranger.

For Stephen Strange's (Benedict Cumberbatch) sophomore solo film, Marvel have adopted the ethos of 'go big or go home'. 

For one, celebrated filmmaker Sam Raimi – who directed the original Spider-Man trilogy in the early 2000s – is at the helm this time around, while fan-favourite character Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) has been added to the roster, for a film that plunges headfirst into the terrifying madness of the infinite multiverse. 

After saving all of reality from certain doom in Spider-Man: No Way Home, Stephen Strange is waking each night, haunted by dreams of a young girl called America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), as she is pursued by dimension-hopping demons. By day, his reality isn't much cheerier – and he's faced with the impending wedding on former love interest and coworker, Christine (Rachel McAdams). When America drops into this dimension and gnarly beasts follow her, Stephen seeks the help of Avengers colleague and fellow magic wielder, Wanda.  

Raimi – who cut his teeth in the world of 80s indie horror with Evil Dead and Evil Dead II – imbues Multiverse of Madness with horror elements the like of which we haven't seen in previous Marvel films. There's some genuine jump scares, some blood and mild gore, and an overall creepiness and chaotic energy that gave me the willies. I'm not saying it's akin to The Conjuring or whatever, but the vibe is different. You can see where Raimi has drawn influence from, and that horror aura sets Multiverse of Madness apart.

Basically, this isn't an all-ages Spider-man or Guardians of the Galaxy flick; I'd think twice about taking the kiddiewinks to this one. But for teens and adults, Multiverse of Madness does offer something distinct from the usual Marvel formula. 

For one, Raimi is pushing the envelope thematically – often in ways that feel radical or shocking for Marvel – as well as visually, with lots of  zooms, tilts and edits that feed into that sense of madness or chaos. It's borderline messy, but the plot itself is so simple and easy to follow, that the film never feels confusing or wayward – just full of personality and bold creative choices. 

The splashy action is full of sparks and wizardry, as Strange and Wanda wave their arms, waggle their fingers and conjure all sorts of spells. Some sequences feel frenetic and out of control, like a rollercoaster that threatens to fly off the tracks. If you listen closely, you may even hear Raimi cackling to himself

Structurally, Multiverse of Madness is broken down into three distinct acts – the first is probably the weakest, as the film goes through the motions of getting the plot into gear. But once we're off and away, the film doesn't slow down for anyone or anything. Act two is fun, but also hard to talk about without spoiling some genuine surprises, while act three sticks the landing.

The breakneck pace of the film doesn't afford Cumberbatch a lot of room to work on the character of Stephen Strange; the MVP is easily Olsen, reprising Wanda after her equally fantastic performance in WandaVision. Gomez is an excellent addition too, adding depth to a character that was at risk of feeling one-note and perfunctory.

The biggest issue with Multiverse of Madness is the level of assumed knowledge – simply put, the film expects you're up to speed on all things Marvel going in. There's no first act recap or 'previously on'. This isn't something new for Marvel films, but it's particularly noteworthy here. 

Not only do you need to have seen the first Doctor Strange film (naturally), as well as the most recent Spider-man (which in turn means seeing the two before that), but also the WandaVision miniseries that is exclusive to Disney+, maybe even the Loki miniseries too (to wrap your head around multiverses). 

That's a lot of baggage to carry around, and if you aren't familiar with Strange and Wanda's backstories and respective arcs, the central conceit and conflicts won't make a lick of sense. However, as we've seen in the past, Marvel's sprawling universe of interconnected stories rewards those who are in for the long haul. 

Long-time Raimi collaborator Danny Elfman disappointingly does away with the distinctive harpsichord leitmotifs that Michael Giacchino sprinkled throughout the first film; the score is darker and more macabre this time around.

The Verdict: 8/10

Wild and deeply weird, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a refreshing change of pace for Marvel. The shift in tone is a welcome one, and the splashy, schlocky stylistic choices underline how interesting filmmakers can be the difference between a bold film and a bland one. 

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is in cinemas across Australia now.

1 comment:

  1. You liked this a lot more than I did. I'm a bitter betty over how they treated Wanda. lol



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