Release Date(s)2022 (July 26, 2022)
Studio(s)Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures (Buena Vista Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: B-
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness has been touted as the return of Sam Raimi to the Marvel fold, but that’s not quite an accurate statement. Raimi did indeed helm the three Toby McGuire Spider-Man films, but that was for Sony Pictures, before the Marvel Cinematic Universe was a twinkle in Kevin Feige’s eye. It was a very different situation for an independently-minded director like Raimi. Back then, his biggest challenge was that the Sony brass had no clear vision of what they wanted, and he was being pulled many different directions at once. Making the move to Marvel Studios presented the opposite problem: working for people who know exactly what they want, and then trying to fit his own voice into a well-defined corporate vision.
The Multiverse of Madness has also been called Marvel’s first horror film, which is a natural selling point with Raimi at the helm. There’s certainly some horrific imagery at play, and the overall tone is darker than in most MCU films, but no, it’s not horror. It’s probably a bit too much for some younger audiences, but it is a PG-13 film after all. Parents who think that PG and PG-13 are synonymous with each other will get what they deserve here.
There certainly are some familiar Raimi hallmarks, like crash zooms, Dutch angles, morbid humor, and plenty of variations of undead creatures, but they all fall comfortably within the general spirit of the MCU. It would be easy to say that Raimi was swallowed up by Marvel’s so-called “house style,” but that’s not entirely fair. People seem to forget that Raimi himself has evolved over the years, and has smoothed out his own wildest impulses. He’s more restrained now than he used to be, and even the episodes that he personally directed for Ash vs Evil Dead don’t look quite like anything in Evil Dead or Evil Dead 2. Directors don’t have to keep making the same film over and over again, and Raimi’s output over the decades has included more subdued films like A Simple Plan, The Gift, and For the Love of the Game.
Besides, the whole “house style” accusation, while containing more than a grain of truth, is also somewhat exaggerated. There’s been more variance within the MCU than may meet the eye of those who are dismissive of the entire genre. There may be Dutch angles in The Multiverse of Madness, but it’s not even a fraction as many as Kenneth Branagh used in Thor. Every director involved has brought something different to the table, perhaps not overtly so, but there’s still more personality on display in the MCU than some may think. And Raimi’s personality is indeed present in The Multiverse of Madness, although it still fits comfortably within the MCU as a whole.
While Michael Waldron’s story for The Multiverse of Madness picks up the pieces from the events of Spider-Man: No Way Home, it’s really a continuation of the storyline from the Disney+ series WandaVision. It’s the first of the MCU films that requires having watched a Disney+ series in order to fully understand what’s happening. This time, it’s not just a seemingly random appearance by Julia Louis-Dreyfuss in a closing credit sequence; instead, it’s the heart of the entire narrative. The Multiverse of Madness may be a Doctor Strange film, but it’s Wanda Maximoff’s story. WandaVision was about the lengths to which she would go to find closure for what happened to Vision, and while she did indeed find that closure, it was at the expense of creating a different hole in her life. What she does in The Multiverse of Madness is an extension of what she had done in WandaVision. It takes her character to places that an MCU hero has never gone before, and that’s the most interesting thing about the film. Perhaps the most controversial as well, but that’s definitely getting into spoiler territory—although it’s worth pointing out that the biggest spoiler happens right near the beginning of the film, so it barely even qualifies.
Wanda’s journey to fill that hole brings the welcome introduction of America Chavez into the MCU, though whatever controversy there may be from what happens with Wanda herself, Marvel chickened out a bit with Chavez. It shows just how silly that the furor over Disney being too “woke” really is. Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) still has two mothers, but her own LGBTQ identity is largely ignored. Parents may be shocked by some of the darkly violent imagery in The Multiverse of Madness, but Disney ensured that they wouldn’t have to face the horrors of seeing an unambiguously lesbian lead character. Granted, she’s on the run for the entire film, but there still was plenty of opportunity here that Marvel chose not to take.
In the end, The Multiverse of Madness resolves Wanda’s arc, but leaves Doctor Strange’s own journey wide open, especially as shown in the final shot of the film. The closing credit sequence that follows adds yet another wrinkle, and it introduces another new character, played by a familiar but welcome face. The way that Phase 4 of the MCU revolves around the concept of the multiverse leaves Marvel’s storytelling options wide open, but it’s definitely at the risk of everything becoming too diffuse. The Infinity Stones may have largely been a McGuffin throughout the first three phases of the MCU, but they ultimately managed to tie everything together. The films in Phase 4 are still connected, but in a way that’s quickly going to become confusing, especially for those who don’t have Disney+. It remains to be seen if Kevin Feige’s fiendish master plan for the future will continue to work as well as it has in the past. Time will tell.
Cinematographer John Mathieson captured Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness digitally at 8K resolution using Panavision Millennium DLX2 IMAX and Red Ranger Monstro IMAX cameras with Panavision Primo, Primo 70, and Sphero 65 lenses. While the film was released theatrically at 1.90:1 for IMAX presentations, per Disney’s usual policy, only the 2.39:1 framing is included on UHD or Blu-ray (the 1.90:1 version is available exclusively streaming on Disney+). It was supposedly completed as a 4K Digital Intermdiate, which would certainly make sense given the capture resolutions used, but in practice, the results aren’t always easy to distinguish from an upscaled 2K DI. The level of fine detail is mixed, with well-resolved fine textures, but others that look at bit plasticized. The subtle details of the costuming are clearly defined, such as the intricate designs on Doctor Strange’s tunic and cloak, but the actual weave of the fabric can look soft and less defined. Similarly, the patterns on America Chavez’s denim jacket are clearly resolved, but the actual texture of the denim can be lacking. Facial textures vary as well, with the extreme close-up of the multiverse Baron Mordo looking gorgeous, but some of the medium shots of other characters looking smoother and less defined. It’s important to qualify these comments by noting that at normal viewing distances on most displays, everything will probably look sharp and clear. It’s only when viewing up close on a larger projection screen that some of the deficiencies in detail are noticeable. It’s still a definite improvement over the Blu-ray.
In any event, it’s the high dynamic range grade that’s the real winner here. (Only HDR10 is included on the disc, with Disney once again reserving Dolby Vision for their Disney+ streaming version.) Of all the sub-franchises within the larger MCU, the magical nature of the Sorcerer Supreme provides some of the best opportunities for a dazzling use of HDR, and this presentation tops the already excellent HDR grade for the original Doctor Strange. The colors are rich and deeply saturated, with myriad subtle gradations between them—this is wide color gamut at its best. While the subject matter may be relatively grim for an MCU film, the variety of multiverses through which the characters travel offers plenty of bright and colorful environments in the background (the chaotic multiverse fall taken by Strange and Chavez early in the film is a memorably trippy one). The contrast range is strong, with deep black levels, and plenty of glittering highlights from the array of magic spells and energy beams on display. The lack of Dolby Vision on this disc may be disappointing, but for anyone who has a display with good tone mapping capabilities, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this HDR10 layer—it’s gorgeous.
Primary audio is offered in English Dolby Atmos, with optional English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles. Fortunately, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness continues Disney’s trend of improving the crippled mixes that have plagued many of their previous home video releases. The track is still mastered at a low level, but increasing the volume to reference level restores some (if not all) of the original dynamics. The bass here is deeper as well, though it’s still a bit less thunderous than it was in the theatrical mix. All of the channels are energized, including the overheads, and there’s some creative use of immersive effects. For example, when Strange takes Chavez through a portal at 13:30, viewers are surrounded by it as well. The sound of the glowing ring is fed into the front, overhead, and rear surround channels, and as the ring passes from right to left, the sound is panned around the viewer as well. It’s a good reminder that Atmos isn’t just about explosions and gunfire—it can be used imaginatively to provide a subjective experience for audiences that immerses them in the world of the film. Additional audio options include English 2.0 Descriptive Audio, French 5.1 Dolby Digital, and Spanish 7.1 Dolby Digital Plus.
Like most of their Marvel releases, Disney’s 4K Ultra HD release of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is branded as a Cinematic Universe Edition (which does beg the question of what exactly a non-cinematic universe edition could be). It’s a 2-Disc set that includes a Blu-ray copy in 1080p, a slipcover, and a Digital code on a paper insert. All of the extras are on the Blu-ray only, all of them in HD:
- Audio Commentary by Sam Raimi, Richie Palmer, and Michael Waldron
- Constructing the Multiverse (11:10)
- Introducing America Chavez (3:29)
- Method to the Madness (5:02)
- Gag Reel (2:28)
- Deleted Scenes (3 in all – 3:06 total)
The commentary track features Raimi, Waldron, and co-producer Richie Palmer. They discuss details about the story, as well as practical production information such as the locations, sets, stunts, and visual effects. They also dive deeply into the minutiae of Marvel lore that’s on display in the film, such as the specific multiverses that are glimpsed briefly during the wild trip taken by Strange and Chavez, or the derivation of monsters like the tentacled creature near the beginning. (They carefully point out that it’s not really Shuma-Gorath, though they leave out the fact that they had to change the name to Gargantos due to rights issues with the Robert E. Howard character.) Raimi is a nerd’s nerd, so it’s always fun to hear his enthusiasm when discussing genre work like this. Waldron and Palmer also contribute to the wealth of material in this commentary—it’s a particularly dense track that should satisfy fans of the film.
The rest of the extras are mostly standard EPK-style featurettes, featuring interviews with the cast and crew, as well as behind-the-scenes footage. Constructing the Multiverse focuses on the development of the story, including the challenges of pitching the “Zombie Strange” idea to the powers that be at Marvel. (It’s also pretty open about the aforementioned spoiler, so be sure to watch the film first). Introducing America Chavez is just that: an examination of the way that the character was introduced into the MCU. Method to the Madness is all about Sam Raimi, with various people expressing their admiration for Raimi and what he was able to bring to the table. It also covers the appearances by both Bruce Campbell and Raimi’s Delta 88. The Gag Reel consists of the usual mugging for the camera after making a mistake, and it isn’t particularly amusing. There are three Deleted Scenes in total, and they can be played either individually or as a group. A Great Team is a television interview segment featuring Stephen Strange and Christine. Both It’s Not Permanent and Pizza Poppa are primarily scene extensions, though Pizza Poppa contains an alternate version of the final line in Poppa’s last appearance. (The version in the film is funnier, so they made the right choice of which one to include.)
There’s one thing that’s missing from all of the extras: any mention of original Doctor Strange director Scott Derrickson. He began development of the sequel, but ended up leaving the project due to “creative differences.” Both Derrickson and Kevin Feige described it as an amicable parting, but it’s still interesting that there’s no mention of his involvement here. That’s one of the downsides with corporately-produced special features—anything that could be perceived as negative usually isn’t allowed. It's a pretty typical collection of extras for a Marvel release, so the real drawing point here is the film itself.
Regardless of whether or not Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness really qualifies as horror, it definitely isn’t going to be to everyone’s tastes. For die-hard Marvel fans, and for fans of Sam Raimi as well, it’s a trip well worth taking. For home theatre fans, it’s also a great UHD, with multiple scenes that will provide worthy demo material when showing off their system to friends. In that sense, there’s something here for everyone.
- Stephen Bjork