Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness Is Absolute Peak Sam Raimi
Let's start this review off with something we're going to have to say sooner or later: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, the 28th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is extremely hard to talk about without spoiling. But by all the power this universe grants us, we're going to do it. So stick around.
What we can tell you up front is that Multiverse of Madness picks up with Doctor Strange in a time period that's objectively post-Endgame, objectively post-No Way Home, and objectively post-WandaVision. We can also say that the cast—led by returning Avengers Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, and Benedict Wong, returning Doctor Strange'rs Rachel McAdams, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Chiwetel Ejiofor, and standout newcomer Xochitl Gomez—does exceptional work. The fact that this movie deals with the multiverse is right there in the title, so it's not giving away anything particularly surprising to say that a handful of the names above play different versions of themselves, and they all thrive in doing so.
And while Multiverse of Madness benefits from the fact that its stars (particularly Cumberbatch, Olsen, and Gomez) are great, the unquestioned MVP of the movie isn't someone you see on screen, but the person pulling the strings behind it. This is a Sam Raimi movie through and through; Marvel Studios hired a director with a distinct style and way of doing just about everything, and it may be surprising to some, but they really just let him do the damn thing.
Marvel Studios has let directors have their flourishes and autonomy over projects before—it was always clear when guys like James Gunn, Taika Waititi, and Ryan Coogler found ways to put their own distinct stamps on their respective projects. Hell, the movie wasn't great, but Chloé Zhao certainly had the space to make a handful of bold artistic choices behind the camera for Eternals. But Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness goes a step further—perhaps even more than a Marvel movie, this feels like a Sam Raimi movie.
Raimi, who hasn't directed a feature film since 2013's Oz the Great and Powerful, gets a chance to make the blockbuster he's probably been dreaming of making his whole career. The 62-year-old's Spider-Man trilogy shaped how an entire generation of moviegoers think of the titular webslinger, but Multiverse of Madness takes things a step further. Raimi is well known for delightful and hilariously campy horror movies like The Evil Dead series, eventually returning to the style with 2009's underrated Drag Me To Hell. You may not believe it, but throughout Multiverse of Madness, his love for the occult, the weird, and the downright spooky shines through. And if you're one of us who's watched those Spider-Man movies over and over and over again, you'll remember his brief hat tip (through the mouth of J.K Simmons's J. Jonah Jameson) toward Doctor Strange himself in Spider-Man 2: catchy name, sure, but it's taken! This is a character who's been on this director's mind for quite some time.
This is a movie filled with surprise cameos and psychedelic visuals; with the wrong person at the helm, it could have easily veered off course. But that's why for something like this, you bring in someone who knows exactly what kind of movie they're going to make. Raimi makes this thing shine, and the cast are exceptional across the board, but it's also worth shouting out screenwriter Michael Waldron, who gives characters real depth and real issues in a place where that wasn't necessarily a guarantee. Waldron was a strong head writer for Loki, and he kept that same energy here.
If you haven't had anything spoiled yet—and you won't get any of that here—then great. But even if you did, one could make an argument that you could still enjoy the movie just as much. The action is exciting, and the overall tone and story structure feel different from just about everything else we've seen on the big screen in the MCU. If Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the MCU's take on a political conspiracy thriller, then Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is its take on, well, trippy campy horror-adjacent thriller adventures.
Even at 2 hours and 12 minutes (a relatively quaint runtime compared to most Marvel extravaganza films), Multiverse of Madness packs a punch, and is paced just about perfectly. There's never a dull moment, and once the movie starts picking up with some of those stylish flourishes from its asset director, it's truly smooth sailing. If origin stories and familiar adventures in the Marvel Universe have started to feel a bit stale, stick around just a bit longer. Because Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is not something this universe has given us before.