Ever since the Marvel Cinematic Universe peaked with the epic Infinity Saga conclusion Avengers: Endgame, they have struggled to hit those highs again. Sure, their TV output on Disney+ has been good fun, and it sure was nice to see the old Spider-Men again in No Way Home. But ultimately, it feels like it’s been on a comedown ever since the highs of Thanos’ defeat. Sam Raimi, beloved cult director of The Evil Dead and the 2000s Spider-Man trilogy, returns to the superhero genre with the next chapter of Doctor Strange’s journey. Where does it sit in the MCU rankings?
As much a Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) film as it is Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), this horror-tinged spectacle follows the events of various Marvel productions as is becoming the norm in the crowded franchise. Picking up threads from the earlier Doctor Strange, Disney+ series WandaVision, Spider-Man entry No Way Home and more, the film is typically difficult to truly enjoy without having already dedicated seemingly 100s of hours to the series. Narratively, Multiverse of Madness is a little all over the place even for fans; the film certainly appears to struggle under the ever-growing heft of Marvel’s interweaving narrative threads. There’s surely only so far this series can go before it implodes on itself under the weight of its own plot history.
Thankfully, Raimi’s direction – combined with Danny Elfman’s score – is enough of a nostalgic treat to be enjoyed. This feels like a good old fashioned blockbuster romp in the vein of the director’s earlier Spidey films, and there’s enough horror-influenced visuals and scares to satisfy fans of the groovy Evil Dead saga. Bruce Campbell’s cameo is also a delight, harking back to his Ash Williams days of self-punching. The film’s visuals are pretty stunning, too – although recent news about how overworked the VFX and production teams at Marvel are certainly makes this a little harder to enjoy. Still, the mystical and Lovecraftian visuals are certainly a spectacle, especially in 4K UHD.
On the whole, though, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness really just continues the MCU’s downward trajectory. That’s not to say it’s a particularly bad film, it’s just totally unremarkable and more-of-the-same rather than anything as extraordinary as some of the films that have come before it.