In an interview with Polygon, director Sam Raimi said he hopes audiences can “use their imagination” when they step into his first Marvel outing, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. That is unheard of for the series of near-30 features so far. Another plunge into the usual formula time and time again, relying more and more on the simple tactics that have conned people into wanting the same thing over and over. More power to those who can trick audiences into trickling cash into an unchanging, unmoving product for the emotionally deficient. Unfortunately, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness soon boils down to pop-culture jabs, cameo-stuffed filler roles for the friends of Raimi (a wasted Bruce Campbell role is offered up) and the inevitable crossover of product fighting products looking to destroy some vague entity. Welcome to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Considering Raimi’s talent, it is surprising and disheartening to see how soulless his return to the directing chair is. Banal, usual pacing of an introductory fight, shoddy and groan-inducing one-liners that break the flow of tension-building moments, followed by a dabbling with CGI and a stop off at a villain whose forgiveness rests entirely on audiences falling fool to simple, one-trick character dynamics. Benedict Cumberbatch is on hand to deliver his poor American accent, alongside competent, line-delivering robot American Chavez (Xochitl Gomez). A slew of cameos makes up the other parts of heavy-lifting, whose story is a rehash of Wandavision. Don’t worry about doing your homework, though, the spoon-fed story tries to lead its audience by the nose long enough to spin them into the next claustrophobic product.
Playing into the usual form as all Marvel products do, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is by the books until Raimi can, occasionally, use a bit of violence. Even then, it is tame. Not for the sickly colours of Marvel and all the safe hand-wringing found in their idle envisioning of a multiverse, but good enough to shake the action up a little bit from time to time. Cumberbatch is on useless form as ever, strutting through with the vague optimism that often accompanies the supporting characters. At least a few of Raimi’s charms make it through with some delicate and entertaining CGI work that turns him into a deformed, villainous counterpart. Doctor Strange that is, not Raimi, although the great horror director struggles to find any unique footing in this feature.
Weird, wild and violent for those that have not experienced the brutality Raimi’s work provided elsewhere, and in better portions. Another glitzy period of cameo, cameo, set piece, cameo, and it’s all over with enough time left over for a spot of brief reflection and the preparation for whatever inevitably comes next. It’s like a restaurant ushering out the last lunchtime patrons to prepare for the dinner reservations. Inevitable. Like clockwork the dishes are cleaned, the seeds of the plot, at a level matched only by the complexities of snakes and ladders, are planted, and Raimi returns not with a bang but with a financially responsible feature. His Spider-Man days are long behind him, and hopefully Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness will be behind him soon enough. Grey paste coloured in to feature vague lines of dialogue that will have fans fawning for the great depth they seem to seek out in these films, when in the real world they’ve caught a case of their own madness.