Directed By Sam Raimi
Starring – Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Chiwetel Ejiofor
The Plot – Dr. Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) casts a forbidden spell that opens the doorway to the multiverse, including alternate versions of himself, whose threat to humanity is too great for the combined forces of Strange, Wong (Benedict Wong), and Wanda Maximoff (Olsen).
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, frightening images and some adult language.
The 28th film in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe is arguably its most ambitious to date, traveling across various universes and exploring character psychologies that were only hinted at to this point, but here realized fruitfully with Raimi’s mind-bendingly enigmatic direction at the helm of a truly one-of-a-kind maniacal experience. Like Chloe Zhao, James Gunn, and Taika Waititi before him, Raimi too elicits his own distinguishable look and feel to his experimentally radiant installment, harvesting an all-thrills experience throughout that not only challenges the perceptions of what society has deemed acceptable or logical in the expectations of these movies, but also a film that practically screams Raimi throughout its very surreal horror genre enveloping. Raimi’s familiarity for bizarre and captivating energy is on full display here, whether in the Raimi-specific cameos and imagery that have become a calling card to the lineage that draws all of his films together, or simply just the atmospheric dread that offers a surprisingly endearing emphasis to the stakes and circumstances that at times quite literally swallow its protagonists whole, all the while allowing this much-anticipated sequel the freedom to explore the things that go bump in the night between magic and witchcraft that it has an infectious blast exploring without unnecessarily exploiting. But Raimi’s radiance doesn’t just limit itself to an edgier emphasis underlining the creativity within the material, it’s also attributed wonderfully to some of the more imaginative and exhilarating action set pieces, which when captured with John Mathieson’s masterful cinematography on hand elicit the energy and vulnerability persisting in a conflict where anything quite literally could and often will happen between such unique gifts that these characters have no problem exerting in bending the rules of gravity with ease. This is especially the case with the intricacies of the monumental sound design, which rumble and rage with unfiltered influence during sequences of devastation and distort proximity during sequences of exploration. It’s immersive, hefty, and full of aftershock, giving us top notch mixing and editing that audibly convey the magnitude of the scope, while transcribing a necessity to seek out the biggest theater for its amplified influence. As for the performances from the collective ensemble don’t attain a single bad one within the bunch, but unsurprisingly it’s Olsen who commands attention as the emotionally complex Wanda Maxinoff. Elizabeth juggles an air of palpable humanity beneath her menacing macabre that not only conveys perception within the confines of the overwhelming grief that take her prisoner, but also helps solidify an antagonist that feels freshly innovative for a studio that fails on the law of averages for such a concept. Cumberbatch is also once more a delight as the titular protagonist, this time experimenting further within the depth and personalities of as many as three different Strange’s that help Benedict embrace his own often subdued madness, all the while harvesting consistency in the thickness of an American accent, which feels steered more superbly than it did in the franchise’s introductory installment. As for the script, I acknowledge the ridiculous task that screenwriter Michael Waldron had in keeping the proverbial train on the tracks, especially considering he walked a virtual minefield of expectations in a few aspects that could’ve condemned the project whole almost entirely on arrival. This is first and foremost attributed to the multiverse science, which could’ve easily become convoluted, but instead remain subjected to simplicity, thanks in part to exposition, that while slightly on-the-nose for obviousness, does do the job in remaining by the side of an audience who may or may not trail with attention spans inside of a two hour run time. Waldron also capably juggles the tonal balance of two completely diverse directions, in horror and comedy, for a consistency that allows both to persist without either undercutting the effectiveness of their appeal. This keeps the peril on display, even beyond these moments of pocketed levity, surmising a hybrid to the likes of Raimi that feel like a full fledged return to form from his “Evil Dead” days. Last but not least, the music here from the legendary Danny Elfman explores his own instrumental insanity with a complete catalog that makes the movie that much better with his influence steering the dynamic. Sometimes this lends itself to familiar strikes of chords from past TV shows and films under the umbrella of this universe, while other instances lend themselves to fresh compositions featuring sharp piano keys, guitar riffs, and environmental influences to articulate the madness in the mayhem that is virtually inescapable with themes equally embracing the sentiment.
Even for two hours, there’s just not enough time to properly flesh out certain characters, who feel like glorified cameos based on the minimalization of backstory and evolution that the script has for their intentions. This is most painfully felt with Wong, who is given such brief screen time throughout thanks in part to a noticeable prolonged absence during the movie’s second half that dramatically undercuts the usage of the character. This is also the case for Rachel McAdams’ Christine Palmer, who played such a pivotal role in the first film, but here is subjected to lukewarm dialogue and abrupt transitions that directly undercut the momentum of her character. It’s felt all the more during the third act, when the film reaches for a dramatic dissertation between her and Strange that I not only found underwhelming, but honestly hollow for how it reaches for emotions and sentiments that it doesn’t earn by rarely if ever experimenting in the importance of their dynamic. If the script doesn’t invest in them, how can I possibly do so? Beyond this, the technical elements to the film are nearly perfect in their captivation, but I found the C.G during the first act to feel noticeably underwhelming when compared to the rest of the film. This especially becomes evident since the color shading of backdrops compared to live action actors are never blended naturally to feel like anything other than greenscreen backdrops, in turn breaking my attention to the sequence with designs and production that frankly felt ten years outdated for the level that Marvel currently resides from.
With Raimi’s unadulterated direction doubling down on the strange, “The Multiverse of Madness” casts an alluring spell on its audience that will have them gleefully embracing the mayhem that its magician behind the scenes so cleverly constructs with haunted house frights of the most colorful variety. This is Marvel Studios possessed by daring, provocative filmmaking, and I for one hope there isn’t an exorcism any time soon.
My Grade: 8/10 or B+