So the original Doctor Strange from 2016 was a standard origin story with some trippy, dazzling visuals that allowed it to be visually engaging despite a so so story. Directed by Scott Derickson, who is known for his forerays in the horror genre for films like The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Sinister, you could tell there were seeds planted to explore the darker, more horrifying side of the Marvel universe. When Multiverse of Madness was announced, many believed we would be getting our very first MCU horror film. Derickson was supposed to return as director, but left over creative differences, possibly because he wanted to make a full-on horror film and Marvel didn’t really want to budge too much on their tried and true formula. Enter Sam Raimi, someone who is undeniably the perfectly built director for this kind of movie. Not only does he have his horror background with the Evil Dead franchise, but he also is a trailblazer in the superhero genre with his Spider-Man trilogy. I love his work and was incredibly excited to see him return to the Marvel universe, but I did have my concerns. Marvel is notorious for hiring directors with distinct styles and visions, who they then seem to micromanage into making sure all of their films have the same appearance and presentation. Sometimes their style can be seen trying to claw its way through, like Chloe Zhao in Eternals, but at the end of the day these movies still feel incredibly samey to the rest of the MCU.
For this film, I’m at least happy to say the movie has Raimi’s fingerprints all over it. The nods to his horror roots are apparent, along with trademark film techniques that can be found across his work. From a presentation standpoint, it makes the film one of the more unique films in the MCU. However, like I said, it’s still a Marvel movie and that formula isn’t going anywhere. I would have liked to see Raimi’s whole hand in this rather than just his fingerprints, because it does feel like two different movies are vying for supremacy here, creating a film that can be tonally inconsistent and unevenly paced.
Let’s talk about the aesthetic of the film, because its certainly the best thing it has going for it. If you’ve seen either Evil Dead or the original Spider-Man trilogy, you’ll easily identify many of Raimi’s calling cards here. Dynamic camera work representing an unseen entity? Check. Bruce Campbell cameo? Check. A rocking score composed by Danny mother f’in Elfman? Big old check. Raimi’s editing style may come off as cheesy or old fashioned, but I thought it brought a whole new dynamic to the film that gave it a little flavor while other directors may have gone down the road of simplicity. One scene that comes to mind is a big exposition dump that is overlaid with shots of the characters’ faces fading in and out, floating around the screen. It really keeps an otherwise boring scene visually engaging, while also having a tantalizing electric guitar piece set underneath. Speaking of the music, let’s come back to Danny Elfman. The former frontman of Oingo Boingo is behind some of the most iconic songs in film history, including the 1989 Batman theme, the songs from Nightmare Before Christmas, and of course, Raimi’s Spider-Man theme. The score he applies here, when it breaks through some of the more standard MCU fare, is filled with heavy rock chords that manages to have this creeping, haunting sound similar to a John Carpenter piece. Of course, the visuals are once again one of the most iconic elements of the film, with a lot of creative choices in the effects and camera work that I think really pay off, especially in the later half of the film. There’s a pretty inventive fight that combines the score and the effects into a super cool dueling musical battle.
I wish the aesthetic of this film was enough to blanket its shortcomings, but alas, there’s some notable weak points here. For starters, this has gotta be one of the weakest MCU scripts I’ve seen in a hot minute. The dialogue tends to be incredibly weak, and not even from a cheesy point of view. It can be straight up bad at times, especially with a lot of its humor and exposition. The story is relatively fine, but there are a lot of questionable pacing issues that make the film go on for much longer than it really needs to. There’s also a few instances of lazy writing implemented just to expand the story forward, like a “memory store” that will just project your tragic backstory for everyone to see. Also, for a film called Multiverse of Madness, they mainly spend most of the movie either in New York, or a slightly more futuristic New York, not really capitalizing on the multiversal aspect of the film aside from very brief moments. As far as the performances go, they’re really just fine. Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange has kind of been floundering in the MCU since his introduction for me. I get more excited to see the effects that come along with him rather than the character himself. He’s not a terrible character, just more of a conduit that helps expand upon other characters. Elizabeth Olsen’s Wanda is definitely the strongest performance here, really tapping into her darker, brutal side while also managing to generate genuine sympathy. She’s a tragic character done fairly well and certainly carries much of the film. America Chavez, a new character introduced that is pivotal to the plot, feels a little squandered, kind of being regulated to screaming and being kidnapped. I’m sure there’s more for her down the line, but I can’t really say I’m anticipating it that much. And then of course, it wouldn’t be a Phase 4 Marvel movie without some cameos. Without spoiling them, their time in the film is brief to varying degrees of interest. However there is one instance that takes a character in the MCU that no one really cared about and gave them like 2 cool moments. They don’t really affect the plot that much and are definitely just there for fan service.
The parts of this film that work really help the film to stand out in a near 30 film catalog, yet its inability to break from the mold holds the film back from leading the charge in Phase 4. Sam Raimi does a fantastic job injecting a noticeable, creative voice into a film mogged by lazy writing and status quo fundamentals, making a film with a few select scenes I’d love to revisit, rather than re-watching the film as a whole
Mai Tai of Madness
Hard to believe I’m finding myself covering yet another multiverse movie in less than a month. I’ve already covered Everything Everywhere All at Once with a multi-flavored cocktail. However for this drink I’ve decided to go a different route and build a variation of a classic cocktail you could maybe find in an alternate reality. The Mai Tai is a staple of the tiki cocktail catalog, created sometime in the early 1900s, although it’s been disputed who really came up with it. It was originally used to showcase a good rum, much like how an old fashioned uses whiskey. However, over time the drink’s recipe began to become muddled as every bartender around was adding their own twist to it, such as adding juices. Because of this, your Mai Tai may taste very different depending on where you order it. However for this iteration, I’m leaning a bit towards the classic variation, with my own little tweaks. It’s fairly strong but very easy to drink, just the way I like it. So, why a Mai Tai? What does it have to do with Doctor Strange? Well, it turns out the good doctor is a fan of the drink, evidenced by a single panel from a Doctor Strange book, and you better believe that’s all I really need to run with. I went a step forward with this cocktail and included an ignite overproof float, flavored with some fresh pineapple and cinnamon powder to give this cocktail a diverse, ranged flavor!
- 1.5oz pineapple rum
- 3/4oz blue curacao
- 3/4oz peach brandy
- 3/4oz lime juice
- 1/2oz orgeat
- Splash of grenadine
- Float: 1oz overproof dark rum
- Float: Cinnamon powder
- Float: Thin pineapple slices
- Garnish: Mint sprig
- Garnish: Lime wheel
- Add ingredients (except grenadine) to a shaker and shake with ice.
- Pour into a glass (you can add extra ice to the glass if desired). Pour in layer of grenadine.
- In a separate, tempered glass (preferably one with a stem), add your float ingredients and mix gently.
- While holding the glass on its side (without letting anything spill out) light the mixture on fire.
- Slowly pour the lit mixture onto the top of the drink (for added flare, dust some cinnamon on top to make the flames rise)
- Once flames die out, garnish with a mint sprig and a lime wheel.