Great responsibility

The darkest scene in all superhero movies proves Sam Raimi is the best choice for Doctor Strange 2

The comedy-horror director soared in his first foray in the Marvel Universe. Here's why he can do it again.

The future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe remains in flux as the novel coronavirus pandemic keeps the movie business from doing, well, any business at all. But if there is a light at the other end of the tunnel, it's the fact that we're getting a sequel to the 2016 Marvel movie Doctor Strange with none other than Sam Raimi in the director's chair.

Marvel couldn't have done better, and one scene in 2004's Spider-Man 2 reveals exactly why.

On Tuesday, Raimi confirmed to the press that he's directing Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, an upcoming Marvel movie slated to be released in theaters on November 5, 2021. (It was previously scheduled for May 2021, but the pandemic forced Marvel Studios to reshuffle its movie slate.) The film will be a sequel to Doctor Strange, which introduced Benedict Cumberbatch to the Marvel Cinematic Universe as the mystic superhero created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.

Doctor Strange director Scott Derrickson, who first broke into Hollywood making scary movies like The Exorcism of Emily Rose, was set to return as the director for Multiverse of Madness, a movie touted by Derrickson to be one of the first horror films in the Marvel franchise. In a twist, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige backtracked that idea in December, telling New York Film Academy students at a Q&A, "I wouldn’t necessarily say that’s a horror film, but it is, as Scott Derrickson, our director, has pitched it, it’ll be a big MCU film with scary sequences in it."

It appears that Derrickson and Marvel were at conflict over the tone of Multiverse of Madness, culminating in Derrickson's exit from the film in early 2020. (He'll be credited as an executive producer.) A little while later, The Evil Dead and Spider-Man director Sam Raimi's name started circling around the project. He finally confirmed his involvement with the movie Tuesday while promoting his anthology horror series 50 States of Fright on Quibi.

“I loved Doctor Strange as a kid, but he was always after Spider-Man and Batman for me, he was probably at number five for me of great comic book characters,” Raimi said. He brought up a throwaway gag he included in his movie Spider-Man 2, in which a Daily Bugle employee suggests Doc Ock's name to be "Doctor Strange," prompting J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons) to say, "It's taken."

“He was so original, but when we had that moment in Spider-Man 2, I had no idea that we would ever be making a Doctor Strange movie, so it was really funny to me that coincidentally that line was in the movie," Raimi said. "I gotta say I wish we had the foresight to know that I was going to be involved in the project.”

Coincidentally, Spider-Man 2 has a standout scene that explains why Sam Raimi is everything Marvel seems to be looking for in a director for Doctor Strange.

The octopus comes alive.Sony Pictures

"Anyone take shop class?"

It begins with the high-pitched whirr of a buzzsaw. And then, a mechanical creep, like if a robotic centipede had just awoken and is crawling off-screen. After that: Mayhem.

In Spider-Man 2, an incredible continuation of Raimi's already impressive Spider-Man released in 2002, Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) continues to struggle with the responsibilities of being both a Spider-Man and a man. As Pete tries to uphold justice as a superhero, he watches his personal life fall apart, forcing him to make a decision that may make him be Spider-Man no more. The film also starred Alfred Molina as Dr. Otto Octavius, a brilliant scientist who becomes attached to four mechanical limbs, turning him into the villain Doctor Octopus, or "Doc Ock."

About a quarter into the movie, after Octavius' renewable energy demonstration goes awry, he is placed in a hospital where surgeons attempt to remove the mechanical limbs. What follows is a madcap five minute sequence where the limbs come "alive" and massacre the doctors and nurses. In the middle of a multi-million dollar superhero movie, there is a disturbingly violent (and disturbingly hilarious) sequence ripped straight of a midnight B-horror movie.

There's no dramatic orchestral score. Just deadly silence punctuated by the yelps and screams of helpless people unaware of what they've awoken, an eldritch evil made possible by technology. The walls are drawn by the shadows of bodies and darting metal eels, a nurse scratches the floor as she's dragged into a dark corner, and one doctor tries to chainsaw a limb off (an homage to Raimi's own Evil Dead, no doubt) until you hear only a slam! and the image of a limp hand on the ground.

Sony Pictures
Sony Pictures
Sony Pictures

The single scene contains all of Raimi's visual pizzazz and diversity of tone, from comedy to terror, something he established through his cult Evil Dead/Army of Darkness trilogy (three films that starred Bruce Campbell, who playfully joked on Twitter about a cameo in Doctor Strange). The sequence expertly shows Raimi's range, evoking B-horror visuals in ways that are both amazing and playful. It's so dark that it's funny, and it's funny because it's shockingly so dark.

Horror has always had a sense of humor, but no one epitomizes it more than Sam Raimi. After his Spider-Man trilogy, Raimi returned to horror with 2010's Drag Me to Hell, another black comedy horror movie that threw the director back into his Evil Dead days. Now, he's returning to the Marvel Universe, this time helming a feature with a deadpan, snark sorcerer who is expected to wrestle with the forces of darkness in ways we yet can't imagine.

At least we know it'll be a scary good time.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness will be released in theaters on November 5, 2021.