Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (M, 126 mins) Directed by Sam Raimi ***½
I try not to walk into a movie knowing too much about what I am about to see.
I figure if a film is there to inform me, and tell me a story, then it’s important that I can understand it without a lot of foreknowledge. And, if a movie just wants to entertain me, then I shouldn’t need to be a super-fan already to enjoy what is being laid out. If I can get myself into that sweet-spot of being the “average fan” – whatever that is – then I’m probably going to be writing the review from the most useful and appropriate place.
All of which is my excuse for how I’d completely missed the news that this latest instalment in the Marvel universe was being directed by Sam Raimi. In fact, it wasn’t until I was sitting through the credits, waiting for the obligatory post-credits scenes, that I saw Raimi’s name. At which point I grunted with surprise and amusement. Because knowing that Raimi had been at the tiller for the previous couple of hours, at least made a few aspects of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness a little more explicable.
* The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent: A truly inspired celebration of Nic Cage
* Everything Everywhere All At Once: Probably the most fun you’ll have in a cinema all year
* Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore: J.K.’s Wizarding World now a plodding mess
Like, why the film kept seeming to pay homage to classic horrors of the 1970s and ‘80s. And why the in-camera effects and the makeup so often seemed so hokey and rushed. And why – for the love of God, why – the film suddenly lurched into a schlocky yarn about disembodied corpses being re-animated and attacked by demonic spirits who want to drag souls to hell.
Raimi is a hell of a director. From The Evil Dead to Spider-Man, with stops along the way for revisionist Westerns, dark-crime comedies and Disney fantasies, Raimi has managed to stamp his hyperkinetic and comic book-derived style on everything he has touched. It’s only when Raimi has run into the immovable force of a major studio with an aversion to anything truly original, that he has ever turned in any sort of let-down.
This Doctor Strange opens promisingly, with a scene that looks like a video game out-take set in a whirling asteroid field of parquet flooring and glowing, mystical books. It ends – as it only could – as a nightmare to be woken up from.
Later we will learn – and this seems like a major piece of knowledge for everyone in Doctor Strange’s world to be ignorant of – that our dreams and nightmares are actually windows and doorways into other realities; a “multi-verse” of infinite versions of ourselves, all similar but still essentially different from each other. It’s a disappointingly deterministic and reductive view of infinity, I think, that even within an entire other universe, the only difference between one version of us and another, might be that one of us has a ponytail and a different-coloured jerkin. But, that is the physics that Marvel have settled for and I guess this film will just have to be constrained by it.
Although, having watched Everything Everywhere All At Once a couple of times now, I couldn’t help but think how much more inventive and hilarious that film was at working with a similar premise. Trust me, there is nothing in Doctor Strange anything like as funny as hot dog fingers, or as funny and weirdly moving as those two rocks.
Which I guess is my way of saying, if you haven’t seen Everything Everywhere All At Once yet – and you are choosing between that and Doctor Strange this weekend, then you know which film I’d be rooting for.
It might also be worth catching up on the series WandaVision. As a knowledge of the events of that show will at least explain why Elizabeth Olsen’s Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch is the villain in Doctor Strange, although perhaps not why the character is so poorly treated, when she is by far the most interesting thing in the entire film.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is an odd and quite brave entry into the Marvel universe. It doesn’t look or play like any of the other films and it is – in hindsight at least – a recognisably “Sam Raimi” film.
I’m not convinced that a director as idiosyncratic and mischievous as Raimi is ever going to do his best work inside the sleek behemoth of a Marvel franchise entry. But this Doctor Strange at least shows us that Kevin Feige and Co are willing to take a few risks and still have a little fun. Bravo for that.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is now screening in cinemas nationwide.