Horrific madness: 'Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness' review

Kristofer Purnell - Philstar.com
Horrific madness: 'Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness' review
Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Stephen Strange in "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness"
Marvel Studios

MANILA, Philippines — The expansive Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) as we know it is only about to get bigger and crazier as Benedict Cumberbatch's Dr. Stephen Strange plunges into different universes for the much-awaited "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness."

The film serves as a sequel to numerous Marvel titles, primarily the first "Doctor Strange" film which was released in 2016. It also picks up after the events of "Avengers: Endgame," the recent blockbuster hit "Spider-Man: No Way Home," and the MCU's first series "WandaVision."

"Doctor Strange 2" sees Strange and his fellow sorceror Wong (Benedict Wong) cross paths with America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), a multiversal traveler being chased by demonic creatures as her power is sought by a powerful wielder of magic.

Strange seeks the help of Elizabeth Olsen's Wanda Maximoff, who is still reeling from the loss of Vision and her two children (as seen in WandaVision), and this encounter kicks off the madness mentioned in the film's title.

This is not director Sam Raimi's first time helming a Marvel movie, famously directing Tobey Maguire in his "Spider-Man" movies. Apart from this, Raimi is best known for his horror films like "Drag Me to Hell" and the "Evil Dead" franchise.

Related: Great power, great responsibility: 'Spider-Man: No Way Home' review

It is this particular facet of Raimi's creativity that makes him a perfect choice for this film. The previous movie's director Scott Derrickson was the mind behind "The Exorcism of Emily Rose," Sinister" and "Deliver Us From Evil," showing that Marvel knows what kind of ingenuinity is needed for a "Doctor Strange" story.

As a movie, "Doctor Strange 2" is built upon the story threads of past projects and never gets the chance to explore its own identity. Multiversal stories is no longer new to Marvel-related projects as seen in "No Way Home," the "Loki" and "What If...?" series, and Sony Animation's "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse."

But this gives an opportunity for Raimi to flex his horror prowess in a franchise that is relatively PG (parental guidance). The director taps into chaos magic, the undead, and some gruesome and gory battles, one might forget that Disney is behind all this. If you need an example of Raimi attempting horror for Marvel, check out the hospital scene in "Spider-Man 2."

Composer Michael Giacchino has done a splendid job making the scores of the previous "Doctor Strange" film and the Tom Holland "Spider-Man" movies, but it was a wise call by Raimi to to bring in his constant collaborator Danny Elfmen (who also did the music for "Spider-Man 2") because he truly translates the director's terrifying vision.

Elffman does well to sample Giacchino's "Doctor Strange" theme, and some other familiar tunes, but its the frightening blasts that show why he was an excellent choice to come in. One scene in the film sees a battle witch actual music notes, and Elfman creatively plays with the sequence to frightening and entertaining effects.

Related: 'Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse' delayed to 2023

This seems to be the purpose for "Doctor Strange 2," to show what directions Disney and Marvel can go to given the mountain of content they now have. Different heroes and villains can cross universes, and some familiar faces make an appearance which are certain to have fans excited for the future.

Cumberbatch has been very busy in recent years for both MCU and non-MCU projects, but one will never get tired of seeing his Strange wield his sorcery. Unfortunately, he and his supporting cast feel shallow, particularly Olsen's Wanda who underwent such a grief-stricken journey in "WandaVision."

With that maybe "Doctor Strange 2" might have succeeded even more as a series too, but the amount of expectation for the future may not be the same. Plus, this is Raimi's first film in nearly a decade, and this is such a welcome return — we can only hope Disney decides to take a leap of faith and go full-on horror in the MCU, with or without Raimi.

"Doctor Strange 2" may not rank as among the MCU's most spectacular films, though the visual effects will have you tripped like before (unless the scares get you first). What is for sure is that Marvel has prepared another wild ride, and the promise of even wilder possibilities.

RELATED: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman return in Marvel's 'Thor: Love and Thunder' trailer

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