In Review: 'Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,' 'Hatching'
Sam Raimi takes on the MCU, in every sense of that phrase, in the second 'Doctor Strange' film. Meanwhile, in Finland, a girl brings home an egg and has to deal with the consequences.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
Dir. Sam Raimi
[Editor’s note: The studio apparently wants reviewers to dance around revealing the villain in this movie. This is an absurd request and I’m going to ignore it. But if you wish to remain as unspoiled as condensed soup, you can’t say you weren’t warned.]
Because of all the integration involved in linking stories and characters from multiple movies and TV shows, the Marvel Cinematic Universe operates much more like television than film. There’s a pre-established visual template, production units that are often wholly independent of a director, and a long list of compulsory plot points that are imported from past films and exported to future films. A few directors, like James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy) or Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnarok), have sensibilities compatible enough to put their own stamp on a Marvel production, but many more have been compromised by Marvel–or flat-out eaten alive. It’s the biggest, hungriest machine in movie history.
With one hand tied behind his back and a double-barreled Remington boomstick in the other, Sam Raimi goes to war against Marvel with Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness—or, at least, he fights to claim as large a piece of territory as any director has managed in the series. It’s not as if Raimi’s sensibility doesn’t mesh with Marvel’s—he did, after all, direct three Spider-Man movies with Tobey Maguire—but what he attempts with his Doctor Strange is less Spidey than a monoculture Army of Darkness, treating the ongoing rupture in the MCU’s corporate realities like another reading from his own idiosyncratic the Book of the Dead. The effort sometimes puts him at odds with a series that’s already four cycles and 28 films, not to mention a fanbase with calcified expectations for what a Marvel film should be. He’s a hero for trying.
The homework necessary to understand plot details of Multiverse of Madness includes the first Doctor Strange, the third Spider-Man, and the Disney+ series WandaVision, though acing the test may involve a much deeper commitment than that. And even then, it takes too much effort to sort through the cascading character arcs and mythological whatchamacallits, which Raimi barrels through with a haste that implies indifference. In the opening sequence, that mystical meddler Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) has a dream in which he’s off in some bizarre celestial no-man’s-land, fighting a creature alongside a teenage girl with mysterious powers. When the same girl, America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), materializes in the waking world, as Strange and friend Wong (Benedict Wong) are squaring off against a giant space octopus on the streets of New York, he naturally has a few questions.
It turns out that Strange wasn’t dreaming, but experiencing one in an infinite range of alternate realities. And the reason why America is such a person of interest is that she has the ability to travel from one dimension to another. (She’s basically like “the spice” in Dune, only non-hallucinogenic.) Her inability to control her reality-hopping powers gives Multiverse of Madness a chaotic energy that’s entirely in Raimi’s wheelhouse, typified by her and Strange literally tumbling through alternate worlds like the Looney Tunes meets Alice in Wonderland. Whenever Raimi gets the space to set his own terms, the slapstick comedy and anything-goes macabre spirit of the Evil Dead films and Drag Me to Hell acts as a creative defibrillator for the MCU. (The expected Bruce Campbell cameo is a killer.)
But Raimi isn’t fully freed from the muck. Viewers of WandaVision will remember that the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) had the power to hold an entire town under a psychic bubble in order to ease her grief. Her efforts to do likewise to the entire multiverse—all for the sake of her generic moppet sons—gives her a dubious, gloppy motivation for villainy. Superheroes often struggle with issues of proportionality, like sacrificing the life of a loved one to save scores of strangers, but Raimi’s attempt to turn the Scarlet Witch into a Carrie-like scorned avenger lacks any emotional grounding. The fate of infinite realities shouldn’t be threatened by one person who is Sad.
The most inspired sequences in Multiverse of Madness are unleashed in the second half, when Raimi is done checking boxes and back on his proverbial bullshit, pushing as far as he can into the realm of horror-comedy. There’s an evil book and zombies and a cape full of demons, along with legitimate jump-scares and a significant darkening of material that’s been aimed at general audiences. The glass-half-empty take on this film is that Raimi would have been better off simply making another Evil Dead sequel rather than imposing his will on a stiff, unwieldy franchise. That’s a better alternate reality, but it’s not the one we currently live in. Here, we can only be happy with what we get. — Scott Tobias
Dir. Hanna Bergholm
Tinja (Siiri Solalinna) lives in a beautiful house with a picture-perfect family somewhere in the suburbs of Finland. It’s an existence so ideal that her mother (Sophia Heikkilä)* chronicles it in an online video blog called Lovely Everyday Life, in which she chronicles an existence filled with matching outfits and slow-motion frolicking. Just edging into adolescence, Tinja’s not quite ready to question what she’s told and look beneath the surface of the life her parents have created for her. But, she’s almost there. And, as if heralding the arrival of that moment, a bird crashes into Tinja’s family home during a shoot for the vlog in the film’s opening scene, creating chaos until her mother snaps its neck and asks Tinja to toss it in the organic waste bin. Problem solved.
But if horror movies have one rule — and Hatching soon reveals itself to be very much a horror movie — it’s that what’s repressed almost always returns. Awakened by a strange noise in the night, Tinja ventures into the nearby woods and finds the crow still alive but in mortal agony. With great distress, Tinja finishes what her mother started. Then, with blood still on her hands, she returns home with an egg that she discovered nearby. She starts to care for it, but it doesn’t, as the title suggests, remain an egg for long.
What comes next is familiar in its broad strokes but best left unspoiled in its fine details. Working from a script by Ilja Rautsi, director Hanna Bergholm turns Hatching into a kind of nightmarish avian riff on E.T. Powered in part by an evolving creature crafted by a team whose collective credits stretch from Star Wars films to Game of Thrones, the film plunges deep into territory where the horrific borders the endearing.
As the creature grows, Tinja’s disillusionment with her family in general (and her mother in particular) deepens, one process seemingly fueling the other. Though the world of the film and some of its inhabitants cross at times into caricature, Hatching’s visceral impact is formidable, bringing nature, red in beak and claw in the most literal sense, to the placid, prosperous, plastic suburbs. So is Solalinna’s performance, drawn from the moment when kids start to see the adult world they’re about to enter with clear eyes and realize that the lovely everyday life they thought they’ve been living is far more complex, and disappointing, than they’d ever imagined. It’s enough to make a kid caw in rage. —Keith Phipps
*Heikkilä’s character is identified only as “Mother,” making this, with Petite Maman, the second in a 2022 cinematic trend seemingly in the making.
Hatching is in select theaters now and available via VOD on May 17th.
Definitely intrigued by the Sam Raimi aspect of Dr. Strange 2 but I’ve been ignoring these movies ever since the second Spider-Boy and have no intention of ever catching up on something like Wandavision. Maybe I just wait for a Disney+ release and drink every time there’s some reference I don’t understand lol
I find it funny t hat I've already talked to a few people who were in the mixed to negative range on Dr. Strange as I was but we all seem to have different problems. I didn't think Wanda was an issue in this particular film, yeah she's Sad but I think we've been given more than enough justification for it. Her parents died in front of her, she wasn't there to save her brother, she had to kill the love of what life she's had and, as she points out, it didn't even end up the heroic sacrifice that it was intended to be, and then there's the mess that is her children. From the malevolent joy she took in messing with the Avengers' heads in Age of Ultron, we could tell there was great potential for darkness in her, and unfortunately the chickens finally came home to roost. Honestly, it's just surprising it took as long as it did.