Like many a millennial, I grew associating filmmaker Sam Raimi with the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man Trilogy. While known to be a potent force in the arena of cinematic horror, I sadly have only seen one Sam Raimi horror film as of this writing, The Evil Dead (although one could make the argument Spider-Man 3 was actually a horror in other ways).
Regardless, nine years after his last film (the regrettable Oz: The Great and Powerful) comes Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. As the 28th MCU film, this is indeed a much different take as far as it’s tone and atmosphere (well, the second half at least). This is the least family friendly MCU film to date.
Note: Some plot points are needed to be discussed, or I can’t write the review. I will stray from spoilers as much as possible.
Set at some point after Spider-Man: No Way Home (the exact timeline is online somewhere I’m sure), there is a sense of Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) attempting to get back to his life from the first film (which I totally don’t remember starred Michael Stuhlbarg). This film opens on the day of the wedding of his former work associate and former girlfriend Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams). Things start off right away when a teenager named America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) arrives. With the ability (though not yet controllable) to travel the multi-verse, she is being chased by entities (such as a giant octopus, which we will get to) after her power. Strange visits his old friend Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen). After the events of WandaVision (let alone all that has happened to her since we first met her), she reveals it was her who is after Chavez’s power (which would also kill her). With it, she can be with her two boys from the aforementioned show. Strange objects and becomes the youngster’s protector as they are pursued not by Wanda, but the Scarlett Witch.
(There. No more about the plot. You are safe to continue.)
With the powers possessed by Strange and Scarlett Witch (two of the most powerful beings the MCU has shown us so far), you would think the special effects would be at their best. Sadly, that is not entirely the case. The prime example is the aforementioned octopus, which is in the first part of the film. Granted, I had just seen a long awaited trailer for James Cameron’s 13 years in the making sequel to Avatar (which, as the kids would say, looks down right sick), so maybe I had some high standards in a short amount of time. Still, there are moments where even a casual movie goer could tell there is a green screen happening behind the actors. Thankfully, the CGI did improve a bit as the film progressed (I was a fan of a certain confrontation that involved, let us say, the power of music.)
Cumberbatch has always been great at playing characters who are both arrogant yet still kind (basically, the smartest in the room). Here it does seem toned down a little from the first film, but I eventually figured out that was because of good old character development. Gomez (whose only previous credit I could find was that of a character of The Baby-Sitters Club on Netflix) does a fine job at giving us a character we are sure to see more of in future MCU stories, but the best acting indeed comes from Olsen. She is doing some of her best work in some time, and even has moments where she rivals the MCU baddies we have seen in the past.
Parents, there is one thing I am going to spoil: THIS IS NOT A FAMILY FRIENDLY MOVIE. As stated, Sam Raimi is an expert in horror film making, and it shows itself here (mostly in the second half). Sure, the film has no sexual content or hard swearing, but the imagery (including an homage to The Ring) and violence more than make this a sure giver a nightmares for any child under the age of 13 or so.
The violence is especially apparent in a scene toward the middle of the film. Scratch that, it is more of an event than a scene. I won’t say what happens or who appears, only that this is the first time I actually texted certain people in my life “HOLY CRAP”, “DUDE”, and so on. I couldn’t contain myself.
It is not much of a secret that the character of Stephen Strange has somewhat taken over the role of Iron Man. He is one of the seasoned characters of the MCU (plus the awesome facial hair), and still has some life in him.
As his previous adventures have shown us, it will take more than killing him to kill him.