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'Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness' reviews praise Sam Raimi's direction & MCU's first horror movie

You can take the Raimi out of the Evil Dead, but you can't take the Evil Dead out of the Raimi.

By Josh Weiss
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness PRESS

We have witnessed the mind-bending, reality-breaking, spine-tingling glory that is Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and we're still blown away by how much director Sam Raimi was able to get away with here. Brought to the silver screen with nightmarish flourishes of Evil Dead and Drag Me to Hell, the second outing for the Master of the Mystic Arts (once again played by Benedict Cumberbatch) is, without question, the MCU's first-ever horror movie — PG-13 rating be damned!

Critics are in agreement on that point, even if some of them take issue with the finer storytelling details of the finished product, which arrives in theaters everywhere this Friday. The rich narrative concepts of infinite universes and forbidden dark magic don't just open the door for high-profile cameos (none of which we'll be discussing here), they also invite Raimi's campy — and oftentimes genuinely terrifying — sensibilities over the threshold like a vampire taking advantage of someone who doesn't believe in neck-biting blood-suckers.

Nothing is off the table here, and it beautifully works to the movie's benefit, taking viewers out of their comfort zone with a parade of contorted bodies, swirling demons, shockingly blunt demises, and eye-popping magical duels. It's a Sam Raimi joint through-and-through, with an emphasis on how weird a character Strange (and his sphere of influence) can be. The filmmaker, who was brought in to replace Scott Derrickson a little over two years ago, hasn't lost any of his trademark genre panache during his nearly decade-long hiatus away from the director's chair.

Written by Loki boss Michael Waldron, Multiverse of Madness takes place after the events of Spider-Man: No Way Home, though Tom Holland's third solo outing as the friendly neighborhood wall-crawler has less to do with the plot of this movie than you might think. The multiversal shenanigans are brought to the forefront by America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), a young girl with the dangerous ability to hop between realities at a moment's notice. To go any further than that would be to incur the wrath of the tentacled terror known as Gargantos.

Elizabeth Olsen (Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch), Benedict Wong (Wong), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Karl Mordo), Rachel McAdams (Christine Palmer), and Michael Stuhlbarg (Nicodemus West) co-star, reprising their characters from previous MCU adventures. As of this writing, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness hold an 82 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes (the first Doctor Strange holds a score of 89 percent).

Head below to see what critics are saying about the new film. Please be warned that mild plot spoilers await you in the following review excerpts! If you're hoping to go into the movie with as fresh a pair of eyes as possible, we suggest heading over to a parallel universe where MCU spoilers are punishable by a life sentence in a maximum security prison. Godspeed, dear reader...

"Fortunately, the movie’s last act is its best. Though never as darkly weird as its Lovecrafty title promised, Madness starts to play more to Raimi’s strengths — it’s looser, more kinetic and occasionally goofy despite the big stakes — and to offer some visions that may stick in viewers’ heads even after they’ve started devouring trailers for stories set in Wakanda, Asgard and the Quantum Realm." -Jonh Defore, The Hollywood Reporter

"It’s a movie set in several universes at once, and it keeps shooting off into ever more insane dimensions of alternate reality. Its story doesn’t develop so much as it multiplies. In theory, this should multiply the fun, though that’s not necessarily the way it works out. “Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness” is a ride, a head trip, a CGI horror jam, a what-is-reality Marvel brainteaser and, at moments, a bit of an ordeal. It’s a somewhat engaging mess, but a mess all the same." -Owen Gleiberman, Variety

"The Multiverse Of Madness is noisy, frantic and at times a little messy, but it's never less than entertaining. The MCU faithful will cheer its numerous call-backs; Raimi-heads will groove on its Raiminess; and we suspect even those bewildered, unprimed viewers will at least appreciate the way it 100 per cent lives up to its title." -Dan Jolin, Empire Magazine

"Multiverse of Madness excels when Raimi's voice is the loudest one in the room. Multiple sequences nostalgically harken back to the stylistic influences in his pre-MCU Spider-Man days while others dip deeply (sometimes even shockingly) into true horror. This actually may be the least kid-friendly Marvel has ever allowed one of their movies to get while still remaining safely in the PG-13 rating zone. There is blood, some light gore, and multiple graphic death scenes that all feel deeply subversive and interesting." -Mason Downey, GameSpot

"Multiverse of Madness has a concept strong enough to overcome a few missteps. Not to mention an excellent cast that commits to this very weird slice of the MCU. If Doctor Strange 1’s brand of weirdness was a homerun then Doctor Strange 2 will push things even further. It’s a film that only Sam Raimi could have made and one that isn’t shy about letting his genre sensibilities permeate every shot. In a world where MCU films have a lot of homogeneity, there’s no denying Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a wild ride." -Anthony Taormina, Game Rant

"While the Marvel-ness of Madness will make your head spin, Raimi’s signature style, penchant for the macabre and sense of humor oddly ground the film. Scenes that feel akin to his Tobey Maguire Spider-films of the early 2000s — and the zombies, demons, monsters and schlocky weirdness reminiscent of Evil Dead and Drag Me to Hell — almost seem nostalgic." -Brian Truitt, USA Today

"While the MCU’s interconnected nature was once one of this universe’s strengths, now, it almost suffocates what Raimi is trying to do here. As a film that highlights Raimi’s talents as both a director of distinct superhero stories, and idiosyncratic horror tales, Doctor Strange works. Yet as a larger piece in the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Multiverse of Madness starts to show the cracks in trying to continually attempt to build and one-up what came before." -Ross Bonaime, Collider

"Give Sam Raimi a multiverse, and he will take a mile. The director's take on Doctor Strange feels like many disparate and often deeply confusing things — comedy, camp horror, maternal drama, sustained fireball — but it is also not like any other Marvel movie that came before it. And 23 films into the franchise, that's a wildly refreshing thing, even as the story careens off in more directions than the kaiju-sized octo-beast who storms into an early scene, bashing its tentacles through small people and tall buildings like an envoy from some nightmare aquarium." -Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly

"The multiverse madness is treated with genial high-energy panache, though I have to say that this infinite profusion of realities does not actually feel all that different in practice from the shapeshifting, retconning world of all the other Avengers films. And infinite realities tend to reduce the dramatic impact of any one single reality, and reduces what there is at stake in a given situation. Nonetheless, it’s handled with lightness and fun." -Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

"The events and revelations of Multiverse of Madness will surely reverberate across many future films and shows, and though you may wish that Marvel Studios would place more value in character over incident, Raimi dispatches the usual Marvel table-setting for future movies with astonishing efficiency. The multiverse concept has already been reduced in Marvel to a shortcut to endless cameos by major and obscure characters paraded across the screen like sitcom characters entering the set to studio applause. Raimi cannot avoid the obligation to do the same, but he confines almost all of this film’s 'nerdgasm' moments to a single scene, which ends in a hilarious, shocking fashion true to Raimi’s mastery of horror comedy." -Jake Cole, Slant Magazine

"The film’s thoughts on Doctor Strange’s deals with devils (metaphorical ones, at least) remain open, and its refusal to answer its own questions remains frustrating. In the end, it’s his name on the poster, so he gets to break all the rules and still claim hero status. Will consequences catch up with him? As an answer, all that Multiverse of Madness has to offer is the second button the MCU has worn down to a nub: Tune in next time!" -Susana Polo, Polygon

"Are there aspects of Sam Raimi’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness that could be better? Definitely. The script is downright hokey sometimes, and there are odd moments that are weird for the sake of it without adding anything to the overall lore or character development. That said, it’s got a score that’s to die for, some rockin’ performances, and fans will never once be bored!" -Amelia Emberwing, IGN

"What Raimi has done with his contribution, however, is construct not another roller coaster but one hell of a haunted house, one fueled by an abundance of eccentric creativity, imagination, and finely honed chops. The methods he employs to his Madness are what makes this movie stick out, in this or any other universe." -David Fear, Rolling Stone

"It's silly, it's gory, it's a little Evil Dead, a little Darkman, and it's refreshingly cornball in a way that Marvel rarely is. It might be Raimi copping on his own directorial flairs within a Marvel movie — but at least he does it with style. Paired with Danny Elfman's fizzy score, Raimi elevates Multiverse of Madness from the bridge-building bit of IP it so transparently is. While he doesn't quite elevate it to the 'madness' that the film promises, he does, for a few brief, shining moments, show the kids how those superhero movies could be done." -Hoai-Tran Bui, /FILM

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness portals onto the big screen this Friday — May 6.

Other upcoming horror films include Firestarter in theaters and streaming on Peacock on May 13, The Black Phone in theaters on June 24 and Jordan Peele's NOPE in theaters July 22.