(This review contains spoilers for the recently released 28th entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness”)
“Pizza Poppa always gets paid!” So we are introduced to Bruce Campbell’s latest cameo in a Sam Raimi film. You see, Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and his latest ward, America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) are famished after traveling the multiverse, which one imagines is hungry work, after all. Miss Chavez, whose unwieldy powers include opening portals to other parts of the multiverse, is relaying to our former Sorcerer Supreme the fact that food is free in most worlds. Unfortunately for our progressive youngster, she is on a version of Earth where
Disney exists capitalism reigns supreme. And Pizza Poppa is just a man selling pizza balls.
Campbell is the lifelong friend of director Sam Raimi, the mastermind behind 1981’s horror classic “The Evil Dead” – which starred Campbell. He has made a habit of making cameos in Raimi’s films since then, including the Spiderman trilogy.
This latest Marvel movie is Raimi’s most pure comedy-horror vision since Bruce Campbell starred as the Evil Dead franchise hero Ash Williams in “Army of Darkness” in 1992. It has become obvious that he needs to be reined in by budget or a diligent production team while also being allowed the freedom to make mostly his version of the movie. 2009’s “Drag Me To Hell” is an example of Raimi being allowed to express himself creatively while still being guided positively by the realities of the production system.
He followed up that effort with a lavishly expensive flop: “Oz the Great and Powerful”. The box office receipts depict an investment that at least paid for itself, but the critics were harsher than the opening weekend crowds. Fancy CGI and 3D effects could not counter thin acting performances, including a miscast James Franco.
Marvel is not known to allow its directors much creative freedom. At the end of the day, you have to put the toys back in the toy box close to where you found them. Edgar Wright left Ant-Man as director after writing a hilarious script because he would not be allowed the control he desired (they still used the script). However, in recent years films such as Taika Waititi’s “Thor: Ragnarok” have been able to color outside the lines, resulting in a different vibe from the rest of the MCU. More comedy and needle drops and less servitude to a greater narrative vision.
Indulgent use of quick camera pans and Dutch angles bring back that old-school vibe as Scarlet Witch goes full Evil Dead on the Illuminati. We don’t have to focus too much on the overarching plot, as this is the 28th film in the MCU, after all. If you care, you probably know. Marvel has always done comedy, and now they have dipped into the horror genre as well. Well, Raimi-style horror-comedy, anyway.
While this is a good Marvel movie, there is one glaring misstep. Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch, is certainly one character this movie could have done better by. At the end of WandaVision, her Disney+ show, she has lost the children she had with Vision with a little magical help. “Multiverse of Madness” only sees fit to depict her as the “crazy mother” trope whose maternal instinct blinds her with rage to the point of mass murder. Marvel has been trending better with female characters lately: Black Widow, Captain Marvel, Sylvie, Kate Bishop, and Yelena Belova among others being empowered and given greater narrative focus. Even MJ from Spiderman has been updated to be Peter Parker’s intellectual equal. America Chavez will certainly be a new heroine for the MCU going forward. But most importantly, did we just witness the Pizza Poppa villain origin story? Hail to the King, baby.