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Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
The best surprise about the experience of watching Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is the gradual realization that Sam Raimi was hired not because of his experience with putting together an excellent superhero epic with the original Spider-man duology (Not trilogy, mind you, let's not go there), but because of the kinetic energy he brought to horror in the 1980s with his trademark mix of goofy and terrifying thrills.
Sure, fans of the MCU get their share of the cameos that are expected from anyone who slaved over every frame of the film's trailers, and let's face it they weren't hard to pinpoint. Those who watched Marvel's What If on Disney Plus already got about half of them anyway. You can read your share of reviews that go into as much detail as they can about the new additions to the MCU after Disney's 20th Century Fox takeover, without offending the "NO SPOILERS!" flyer that was given to the press before the screening.
The pop culture canon cleverness of the multiverse concept is that if the audience hates the way these characters are handled in their inaugural entrance, Marvel can state that they were in a different universe anyway and start from scratch. The multiverse allows for a character screen test to be in the finished film and gives the audience the democratic vote to decide whether or not they'll endure.
But what matters to me, an 80s horror dork who memorized the Evil Dead trilogy and ate up Darkman, are the snap zooms into demonic presences right behind the creaky doors, the uncomfortably close close-ups on terrified and shaky faces, and of course the unhinged camera spinning slowly on its axis until the audience barfs and/or appreciates the dogged dedication to a singular style.
The deadites are back, as much as they can within a massive entertainment factory like the MCU (The action sequences still feel like they were previsualized in that generic MCU style before a director was even picked), but Raimi pushes the limitations of the PG-13 rating to at least bring fans closer to the Army of Darkness spectrum of the Evil Dead trilogy. Of course, there's just one cameo that truly matters to Raimi fans, it's in there, and it certainly doesn't disappoint.
The plotting by writer Michael Waldron, who's no stranger to the multiverse since he created the Disney Plus show Loki, is fairly straightforward. A girl (Xochitl Gomez, pronounced Sowcheel) who can travel between the different universes, a villain who wants her power at the risk of killing her (The identity of the villain is interesting, perhaps not so much for those who watched another Disney Plus show), and Doctor Strange in the unenviable position of protecting her.
The shoestring script is then used as an excuse to travel between various different reailities like a slightly less nihilistic episode of Rick and Morty. Even with the overabundance of dialogue exposition that frequently stalls the pacing, Raimi's old school horror energy brings the pulse back up. With Multiverse of Madness, MCU flirts with horror and comes out on top mainly because they picked the best director for the job.
Oktay Ege Kozak is a film critic and screenwriter based in Portland, Oregon. He also writes for The Playlist, The Oregon Herald, and Beyazperde.com