Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

Sam Raimi brings niblets of personality to Marvel mediocrity in the new Doctor Strange movie

Despite fleeting hints of filmmaking character, Disney’s iron fist means there’s no room to breathe in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is marginally better than your average superhero film in a sea of Marvel mediocrity. There are fleeting hints of filmmaking character in a franchise defined mainly by a corporate voice. Still, those little niblets of personality do little to overcome the slow drone of sameness and the dull drawl of Disney’s monopolizing era. Sam Raimi returns to the genre he helped usher into a new renaissance, bringing his patented horror-comedy credentials. 

As Dr. Strange awakens from a terrible nightmare, he quickly finds that his dream life may be more real than he ever imagined. A one-eyed squid creature attacks the city in pursuit of a girl, America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), and Dr. Strange leaps into action. Once the enemy has been dealt with, it becomes clear that America has an exceptional power that a powerful witch will do anything to acquire.

The film hops from one set piece to another from its earliest moments. Raimi brings his signature brutality, though muzzled by Disney’s distaste for blood and carnage — it’s more insinuated than shown onscreen. As the Scarlet Witch, Elizabeth Olsen rises as a formidable villain that keeps the universe on its toes. She and Cumberbatch add weight and pathos to what is essentially a movie disguised as a glorified chase sequence. Even they can only do so much to hide Strange’s awkward hairline and Olsen’s lycra Halloween costume. Even as they try to make you forget, it’s impossible to escape the silliness of the proceedings. 

While Raimi finds humour in places few filmmakers working within the Mickey Mouse realm have, suggesting through comedy inherent cruelty associated with being a living god — the films are not particularly interested in poking fun at themselves. Comedy within these films still has a strong sense of Joss Whedon and leans heavily into quick-paced dialogue and referential dialogue (at this point, often referring to Easter Eggs from other Marvel movies). Raimi’s visual gags and personal references are a welcome addition to the universe, but it’s also a mistake to say he does anything more with it.

Perhaps my biggest takeaway is that it no longer matters whether a Marvel movie is good or not. People will see it because, in many cases, it’s the only thing playing. The multiplexes have perhaps been irreparably damaged by Disney’s tactics, which eliminate all competition. When I criticize Disney, it’s not because of their products. I mourn all that is lost now that they’ve won the culture war.

A Disney movie can’t be “bad” because these movies are so over-produced that they’re calibrated to be as “fine” as possible. To be great invites too much risk, as boldness and innovation can alienate an audience not open to new ideas and experiences. The homogeneity of Marvel products means that we see any slight variations in type or form as somehow radical when, in reality, we’re only getting a faded xerox of a work of art that might have been great. 

Twenty years ago, Sam Raimi directed what had become the gold-standard superhero trilogy when he made Spiderman with Tobey Maguire. Everything that works there is absent here, except for the briefest moments where one senses the stranglehold of executives loosened their grasp just long enough for Raimi to be Raimi. The stark difference between what Raimi accomplished with the original Spiderman franchise and what he’s making now is astronomical, and to suggest they’re even remotely in the same category of filmmaking is a disservice to contemporary audiences who are as deserving of great works of art. 

While my criticism may sound like blind nostalgia for an older time, in reality, both eras are incomparable, and Disney’s astronomical and artificial growth has disseminated the industry. Movie theatres are in no position to fight or stand up to a media company that owns such a massive share of the market. It seems all but impossible to offer scalable solutions to this problem. If you’re lucky enough to live in a city like Montreal, you should do what you can to support independent and repertory cinemas. Otherwise, if you care about movies, do what you can to build and support your film communities. 

So, is Dr. Strange in the Multiverse any good? Like all other Marvel movies, it’s basically “fine.” ■

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, directed by Sam Raimi

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness opens in Montreal theatres on Friday, May 6.

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