Dr Stephen Strange must protect a young girl with the ability to cross universes from an evil being trying to usurp her power. Digital editor Dan Jensen straps himself in for a fun ride into Marvel horror.
THERE ARE A FEW directors whose work is instantly recognisable, featuring a distinct camera style or recurring motifs. Tim Burton is one of them and Quentin Tarantino would fit into that category as well.
Sam Raimi is another filmmaker who has developed a style that is so unique to him alone, his films are inimitable. And as the Marvel Cinematic Universe juggernaut continues to dominate the box office with its 28th film, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Raimi has gone back to his Evil Dead roots and created the MCU’s first horror film.
In this sequel to both 2016's Doctor Strange and also the TV series WandaVision, Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) meets a young girl named America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) who has the ability to cross the Multiverse — the realm featuring various alternate versions of Earth. Coveting her power is Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), now fully embracing her dark destiny as the Scarlet Witch and yearning to be with the children she has in another universe. But Wanda’s desire comes with dire consequences and it falls on Doctor Strange to stop her.
Having reached the 28th film in a franchise, audiences are now craving something different to the paint-by-numbers Marvel formula we’ve seen so many times. Doctor Strange 2, in the hands of Raimi, changes things up by playing with the horror genre and doing it well. This movie is dark, particularly due to Wanda’s transition from a hero to the story’s villain. And as much criticism as the MCU receives for churning out soulless popcorn films, it's hard to deny her character arc is fascinating.
Elizabeth Olsen’s performance as a woman whose grief and trauma as a result of losing everything in her life that she loved (set up brilliantly in WandaVision) is so superb that even during moments where she’s committing pretty horrible acts, it’s hard not to feel some degree of sympathy for her. This is truly her film and she outshines all other actors involved.
Benedict Cumberbatch is as good as ever as Stephen Strange, a charismatic actor who is totally comfortable in the role by now and this time gets to play some fun variations. Also returning is Rachel McAdams as Dr Christine Palmer, Strange’s love interest from the first film, this time around given a little more to do. Benedict Wong and Chiwetel Ejiofor also reprise their characters from the first film, but sadly the latter is an alternate version so his original story arc is left unfinished.
There are also quite a few surprise cameos in this film from some well-known actors playing characters no one expected to turn up, but they serve a purpose in the story and aren’t just thrown in as fan service. It’s a shame they can’t be discussed because a couple of them were absolutely wonderful to see.
But the true star of the film is Sam Raimi. Those familiar with his work will know what to expect — dizzying camera movement, smash zooms, distorted imagery and Dutch angles. Even the visual effects have that distinct Raimi vibe, where sometimes they look a little cheap and unpolished, but it’s impossible to criticise them since that’s just the way the man makes his films.
His breakout film, 1981’s Evil Dead, was created using homemade special effects and with everything achieved practically. Raimi has never forgotten those roots and it’s a real treat to see him still crafting films this way after all these years, even given a massive budget similar to his successful Spider-Man trilogy from the 2000s.
Doctor Strange 2 is a wild ride, but one of its biggest downfalls is some awfully clunky exposition delivery. There’s a scene where Strange and Chavez happen to find a gizmo on the ground in a futuristic version of New York that displays a hologram of an event from the person’s past, a plot device used solely for the characters to learn something they need to know about each other. And it feels really lazy.
Not only that, but despite a great performance by Gomez, America Chavez isn’t so much a fleshed-out character as an exposition machine. We’re supposed to really feel something for what this poor girl is going through, yet it seems her sole purpose is to tell the audience what’s going on.
That being said, the flaws are forgivable when the rest of the film is so much fun. It’s a treat for horror fans and a very welcome return to the director’s chair for Sam Raimi, who hasn’t sat in one since 2013’s Oz the Great and Powerful.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is now showing in cinemas across the country.
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