Make no mistake about it. Sam Raimi is back in full horror mode with the MCU's latest installment - Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. This is a very different Marvel movie than whatever has come before it in both tone, action, and comedy, all hailing from the maestro of comedy-horror movies - Sam Raimi. Despite some real cringe-worthy dialogue and a less than stellar final act that tries to do too much at once, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is fun and scary all at the same time. This is not a movie for little kids who get scared easily, because first and foremost - this Doctor Strange sequel is a horror movie. Welcome back, Sam Raimi.
This is far from the formulaic and usual pattern of a movie in the MCU. It does not follow the similar tropes or flow as the previous movies. From its first action-packed sequence with an unusual conclusion to the multitude of multiverses, this sequel is daring and bold in a lot of moments but falls short when the execs at Marvel try to interfere with one of the most creative filmmakers out there - Sam Raimi. It's very easy to tell when the suits at Marvel stepped in and toned things down, which causes an unsavory mix of tone and conflict as Doctor Strange navigates these multiple universes.
Many elements from Raimi's career have been incorporated into this film and they work perfectly. The trouble is, will the mainstream audience eat it up as cinephiles have since the early '80s. Raimi didn't add his horror stamps to the original Spider-Man trilogy too deeply, but inside the MCU here, those little fantastic details are everywhere and it's a glorious return to form from the beloved director on a big scale. Certain sequences in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness echo creative choices from Raimi's The Evil Dead films, Army of Darkness, Darkman, and even Drag Me To Hell. They are incorporated so well, that Raimi fans will completely know which winks and nods go where. It's a blast to watch unfold on screen.
This sequel takes place a few months after the events of Spider-Man: No Way Home that follows Doctor Strange crossing paths with a young woman named American Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), who has a super unique power that catches the eyes of every one of the Mystic Arts. It turns out that there is an evil demon hot on her pursuit that wants to drain her power and take over all universes. This sets the course for Doctor Strange and America to travel the multi-verse in search of safety and an ancient book that might be the key to stopping this evil. And if any of this doesn't make sense, take a look at the evil books and demons in any of Sam Raimi's movies and everyone will immediately know why he was the correct choice for this movie.
As America and Doctor Strange travel through these universes, there are some great characters and cameos that show up, along with Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) back in action since her stint on the popular Wanda Vision Disney+ TV show. Raimi uses these cameos well and is not just a one-note, few-second reveal. Strange is pulled in so many different directions here both physically and mentally, that it might be the first time that anyone has seen the usual stoic character has any real emotion, which is played amazingly by Benedict Cumberbatch. His ability to be a sarcastic, confident jerk that can turn into a vulnerable, lovable guy is simply wonderful as he talks with his true love Christine (Rachel McAdams). Olsen is allowed to really explore both sides of her character here and Gomez's first step into the MCU is mostly forgettable, despite her amazing superpower.
The script here was written by Michael Waldron who has penned screenplays for Community, HarmonQuest, Loki, and even Rick and Morty. One could see why Marvel would hire Michael to create a story about traveling the Multiverse given his credits. But it seems like some executives stepped in and added some truly awful and cringe-worthy dialogue that will no doubt conjure up groans and eye rolls. Even the characters in the movie make silly faces when this cheesy dialog is delivered, which may be a factor of another universe that relishes in that cheese. If that's the case, kudos to Raimi for those details. The final act of the film has a ton of elements mixing together, characters that don't get enough time to shine, which all feel forced and rushed. On the flip side of that though, the horror elements of this sequel are pitch-perfect, complete with bloody, highly suspenseful scenes that belong in the scariest of horror movies, and even an iconic Raimi eye-gouge.
The good outweighs the bad for sure here, but rest assured there are some obstacles that keep this movie from being at the top of everyone's MCU list. Again, this is not an MCU movie for the little kids whatsoever, unless parents want them screaming bloody terror at night. This is a different kind of MCU film, which is fresh and original in its tone and execution for better or worse. Most of all, it's fun enough, Sam Raimi has kicked into high gear, the acting is great, and elements are put into motion for future movies. And of course, this being a Sam Raimi movie, his classic car and the one and only Bruce Campbell make an appearance. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is the scariest MCU film yet, and despite some cheesy dialogue, this sequel is a good bit of fun and return to form for Raimi.