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Finally, someone at Disney gets it. “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is one of the best superhero films I’ve seen in ages — unspoiled by shallow wokeness and masterfully created by Spider-Man trilogy film creator Sam Raimi.
While a tad gory and probably not for the kiddos, the movie is not only exceptionally enjoyable, but also has some real dramatic meat on the bone. It features themes of sacrifice, toxic feminity, and even the undead. For those who tire of the formulaic woke garbage that the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has become, fear not. Raimi will make you fall in love with superhero films all over again.
“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is the latest entry in the MCU and the direct sequel to the 2016 original. While the sequel keeps some of the characters and visuals from the first film, “Strange 2” is its own thing — a supernatural horror adventure, continuing the themes from the Disney Plus shows “WandaVision” and “What-If.”
Among its pantheon of cool, “Strange 2” features the souls of the damned, a Cthulhu monster, dimension-traveling teenagers, and of course everyone’s favorite new Sorcerer Supreme: Benedict Wong. It’s a fully thrush action film and a light-horror flick, a trip down the multiverse rabbit hole where anything is possible.
It takes full advantage of director Raimi’s horror and Spider-Man legacy. Even better, this film uses those elements, and bucks the trend of almost every other MCU production since “Endgame.” Instead of featuring woke nonsense, the film delivers artistically worthwhile themes, like the moral cost of sacrifice.
The elements for a potentially woke story are all there, but Raimi uses them to tell a decidedly 99 percent unwoke story. I’d even go so far as to describe it as the most anti-woke superhero adventure ever. Instead of a story about how impossibly perfect the female characters are and how awful the men, we get a conflicted hero, a naïve and scared teenager in over her head, and a damaged woman who turns her deep feelings of love for her lost children into an unholy crusade to get what is hers, at the cost of everything and everyone else.
Director Fired After Spider-Man Trilogy
That “Strange 2” ended up being so original is nothing short of a miracle. Over its six-year production cycle, it saw multiple writers and creators take the helm, with the father of the first film, Scott Derrickson, resigning after being told by Disney his plans for “a no-holds-barred weird, gnarly, scary movie” went against their homogenous MCU formula.
Disney also mandated making Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch, the main character. This so angered Derrickson that he is alleged to have yelled at Disney Marvel movie big boss Kevin Feige, “Why don’t you just call the movie ‘Scarlet Witch’ then!”
So how did things go so differently? Because Feige had the guts to hire Raimi, and let him work as Raimi. If you don’t know Raimi’s work by name, you’ve likely seen his stuff. Raimi made the “Evil Dead” film series and was the director for the excellent Spider-Man Sony trilogy.
Despite those films being so successful, Sony fired him after they felt the critical reception of “Spider-Man 3” was too negative. According to Raimi, the experience was so traumatic he swore to never work on a superhero project again. However, by 2020, Marvel needed him again, and — I’m guessing here — convinced him with the declaration he would be given more lateral control of the film than just about any other MCU director.
Are You Happy?
What I love about this film is that it toys with the idea of sacrifice and coming to terms with its costs and consequences. “Are you happy?” asks Dr. Christine Palmer to a grieving Doctor Strange. The good doctor is trying to come to terms with the cost of his superhero days, saving the world from Thanos, but losing the love of his life to another man.
To stop the newest menace, he is tempted to commit an unforgivable act, something all those other heroes around him are willing to contemplate, but not him. Scarlet Witch is a villain because she cannot bear the sacrifice of losing her children and is willing to sacrifice entire realities to get them back. Raimi reminds us: doing the right thing comes at a price, and we don’t always get the happy ending.
Are you happy? I imagine if you asked Raimi about the pain he went through to get to this point, he would say yes. But for us MCU nerds and the future, the answer is decidedly less positive. Disney has become so overly reliant on wokeness and the most formulaic storytelling in film history that I wonder if “Doctor Strange 2” is an exception instead of a return to form. However the MCU turns out in the future, for now we get to enjoy quality storytelling from a masterful storyteller.
Peter Pischke is a journalist and health and disability reporter. He can usually be found manning the Happy Warrior Substack and Podcast, providing commentary on news and nerdery of the day. You can find him on Twitter: @happywarriorp.