Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS
Rated PG-13, 2 hours and 6 minutes
Directed by: Sam Raimi
The filmmakers behind DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS have indeed gotten the “strange” part of the title right. Director Sam Raimi and writer Michael Waldron get wonderfully weird, mixing up the terrific ingeniousness of the superhero multiverse with deliciously dark horror vibes. They’ve nailed tone and scale, crafting big screen spectacle that hits just right. Filled with hugely entertaining sequences, character-driven heft and trippy, vivid visuals, this picture has the auteur’s signature all over it.
In the years since the events that caused “The Blip,” Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) has been struggling with the decisions he made that irrevocably changed many lives, including his own. Not only did he lose the love of his life Dr. Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), who calls him out on his underlying selfish tendencies, he continues to fend off folks questioning his selflessness as a superhero. But right at the moment he’s meaningfully pondering if he could’ve done better, America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) enters the picture.
The trepidatious teen’s been pestered by unrelenting demonic monsters sent by a mysterious threat who hopes to steal her super power: the ability to open portals and travel the multiverse. After another Doctor Strange from a different universe died failing to help her, this universe’s good doctor and Sorcerer Supreme Wong (Benedict Wong) believe they can solve her problem by finding a mythical book that could help them defeat any foe. However, when Strange consults with Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) about America and her menacing pursuer, the mystic is outsmarted, leading to a battle royale.
Raimi and Waldron make a strong connection out of the parallels between Strange and Wanda’s internal and external conflicts, exploring the divide between witch and sorcerer. Their commonalities bind them together and make their arcs compelling, despite being dealt their occasional share of heavy-handed exposition and light-handed emotional resonance. The trauma and grief Wanda’s endured, sparking her feminine rage towards underlying societal sexism, is placed at the forefront. Olsen handles the challenge with aplomb and vigor, giving the material depth and dimension. Strange’s journey, further evolving from his former selfish self, balances out the narrative nicely. Cumberbatch is superb, especially when discovering different facets to heighten in the alternate personas. Though it’s dealt short shrift, Chavez’s arc provides the beating heart, delivering a succinct, empowering journey that’s wholly her own, yet complements Strange’s. Gomez is a scene-stealer, nimbly negotiating the fine lines between the action-packed sequences’ comedic and dramatic underpinnings.
Raimi is the perfect director to combine indelible superhero moments with signature horror stylings. This is probably the closest Marvel (and our modern incarnation of Disney, for that matter) will come to making a horror picture, and will likely be many in the audience’s gateway into the genre – particularly Raimi’s outstanding oeuvre. He packs it with lots of trademark flourish, from EVIL DEAD-esque camera movements (like in one character’s “Dreamwalking” possession sequence) to toying with the humorously grotesque (like in the campy goodness of the climax). Not to mention his previous experience with magic books that can wreak havoc. Plus, there are some gnarly, gasp-inducing kills.
Cinematographer John Mathieson finds an effortless balance betwixt bleak and bright tones, augmenting characters’ psyches. The visual effects team also earns top marks with their wildly inventive visions in showstopping scenes that have a one-eyed monster tearing apart New York, a duel with magically-manifested musical notes, and a zombie-fied corpse battling evil in an oppressive mountaintop fortress.
While this next chapter of Dr. Strange’s ongoing saga contains the typical amount of fan-service cameos and lays the requisite amount of breadcrumbs for potential story paths, the filmmakers have twisted the expected into something delightfully unexpected. The package in which this is delivered is strangely entrancing and perfectly engrossing – with just the right amount of gross.
DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS releases in theaters on May 6.