The most reliable thing in the entirety of the United States over the past decade plus has been the MCU. For all their faults, individually, and for everything they have done to the current film landscape, these films have operated like a cinematic machine. It is a big deal each time a new one comes out, and they always perform. Five of the top ten highest domestic grossing films of all time are MCU films, and only a few months ago, Spider-Man: No Way Home made nearly two billion bones worldwide.
This success of the series is rooted in its stability: these films are never bad, but there are definitely some which are worse than the others. Since hitting its stride following the first Avengers, weak MCU feel that way because they play it too safe, and don’t allow the filmmakers to put their own spin on the project and make it something which feels unique. None of that can be said about Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Marvel resurrected Sam Raimi’s directorial career for his first film in nearly a decade, and the result is not only the MCU’s first horror film, but one of the finest outputs the series has seen in its 14-year history.
It is important to mention Raimi, as he is without a doubt the most distinct aspect of the film, and is the primary reason for its success. MoM has all of his directorial hallmarks: a fast moving and frenetic camera, use of violence and gruesomeness in the horror, interesting transitions and use of close-ups… Bruce Campbell. Each element contributes to the overall quality of the film, and you never go too long without some of his trademark camera work.
Just when it might have been a few minutes, and you start thinking, “man, this camera is shockingly still,” it’ll have some whip around or POV movement to reinvigorate that desire for weirdness which his films can strongly satiate. As the film goes on, as things get more and more strange and as the stakes get higher, his camera work gets more and more noticeable as the mental state of each of the characters involved get increasingly strained. If anything, the strongest criticism of the film would be that there was not quite enough. Throw in some more of that camera work, why not? For the most part, it is blended with the computer effects excessively well, with the climactic final battle being particularly strong as a result. At other times, some of the visual effects can overpower any of the camera work and reduce his impact- at least in the short term.
While most of the visuals are pretty standard fare for MCU films, the visuals of the finale are the complete opposite. They have a completely different flavor to almost anything else in the franchise, with a dark and fiendish visual flair which only a horror director could properly bring to life. For someone like me, whose favorite holiday is Halloween, it practically made me giddy to watch this terrific film conclude with such sublimely stupendous spookiness.
But the film is far more than its finale, and there are constant reminders throughout that we are not watching a typical MCU film. A mid-film conflict has gore which is not in character with the rest of the MCU. Obviously, MoM is rated PG-13, so it can only get so graphic, but method in which some of those cats are killed on screen is genuinely shocking- at one point a man gets turned into a Twizzler. This is not a film you will want to bring your kids to. If you can only make it out to the theater by bringing along some little ones, you may have to wait until this one hits Disney+, as the visuals of this film are likely going to be too intense for many younger kiddos.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is without a doubt one of the most distinct entries in the entire franchise. For anyone out there who passes on these films for all feeling too same-y, this may be one of the few in the lineup which can peak your interest. Yes, it does heavily reward having seen a bunch of other films- and even the Disney+ series’, but this film still stands on its own. It does not have a bunch of cameos from other characters in the universe, and is about as self-contained as a modern MCU film can be. Plus, it’s just a fun ride. It is one of the most unique things to happen to the MCU, and it hopefully is an even stronger sign that Marvel, Disney and the godfather, Kevin Feige, are more open to allowing creative filmmakers to enter the MCU and leave their mark on the franchise; no more repeats of Edgar Wright and Ant-Man. And even if this film doesn’t lead to a greater future for the creative output of the MCU, we are still left with one of the strongest and most memorable entries in the entire franchise.