Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige has already mastered the Cinematic Universe. And now he’s onto his next big project – the Movie Multiverse. Here, with Marvel’s latest big-screen flick, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, we see Feige continue to review this concept and take it multi-universe-wide.
And he’s not alone. DC’s upcoming super-movie, The Flash, is set to have Michael Keaton’s Batman and Batfleck interact. And Sony’s Spider-Verse movies are set in their own multiverse. It seems a new cinematic trend is on the horizon. And Doctor Strange 2 is part of it – but is it any good?
To the Multiverse…and Beyond
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness begins shortly after Spider-Man: No Way Home. Doctor Strange’s attendance at his former love’s wedding (Christine, played by Rachel McAdams) is cut short by the appearance of demonic monsters in New York City. It turns out there after a multiverse-traveling girl called America Chavez.
Oh, and who is behind the monsters? Why, none other than Wanda Maximoff (AKA Scarlett Witch, reprised by Elizabeth Olsen). You see, the former Avenger seeks to travel to another universe where her alternate self has children. And she needs Chavez’s power to stay in that universe.
Now, this is huge stuff. Never before has Marvel taken a former superhero and made them the villain of the piece. Yet, given the events of WandaVision, Wanda’s turn feels natural and earned. And overall, the movie feels like a satisfying continuation to her character arc.
The Scarlet Witch vs. Chavez
Yet, things turn sour concerning the new character America Chavez. Her actress, Xochitl Gomez, is likable enough in the role, portraying an ordinary everywoman making sense of an extraordinary situation. However, the talent isn’t given enough material to make her interesting. All we know of America is that she grew up with two mothers on another planet, who died when she was just a child.
Perhaps Director Sam Raimi and producer Kevin Feige could have spent more time developing Chavez rather than indulging in gratuitous cameos. As the trailer already reveals, Patrick Stewart’s Professor X is among them, and while it’s great to see him again, his service to the story whole is underwhelming. The three other cameos also lack any significant contribution to the plot other than to make the audience go, “wow, look who it is!” Apart from that, there’s nothing else lying underneath.
But hey, at least Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance as Strange is still in form. The man is a true star and keeps us invested in his character throughout the film. Cumberbatch portrays all sides of Doc Strange’s personality – his sarcasm, wisdom, and even vulnerability. And it’s a joy to watch his snarky sorcerer trade barbs with naïve newcomer Chavez, reminiscent of Hailee Steinfeld and Jeremy Renner’s chemistry in Hawkeye.
Sorcerer Supreme and the Magic of CGI
But, of course, unlike Hawkeye, there are no arrows involved here. Rather, it’s more focused on magic powers. And, quite often, when the powers are involved, Marvel’s movies become less interesting. After all, the movies rarely give us a detailed explanation of how the powers work.
Where Multiverse of Madness is concerned, it doesn’t do any better in explaining the powers when they’re in desperate need of review. For example, in one scene, Scarlett Witch removes a man’s mouth via magic. That’s fine, but it’s never explained why she can’t do this again in other situations – or, indeed, why she can’t remove limbs or, say, make someone’s heart disappear. It’s evident the minds behind the film didn’t think the powers through – and neither did they expect you to, either.
And fair’s fair, if you leave your brain at home, Multiverse of Madness is an entertaining movie – but you could say that in any review. The CGI isn’t always convincing, but the action scenes are well-paced and keep you on edge. Scarlet Witch is one of the MCU’s most powerful characters – and man, do they show it here. She’s like an unstoppable freight train, and watching her single-handedly take on armies is awe-inspiring.
Doctor Strange Raimi-fied
A common complaint about Marvel movies is that they feel owned by the executives, not by the directors who work on them. No matter who takes the chair, Kevin Feige is stretching his head out like Mister Fantastic to make sure the product feels a certain way or lines up with the other movies. As a result, each Marvel film feels remarkably similar in tone and function. It often feels as though it doesn’t matter who’s behind the camera because they’re not given much creative control – there’s no personality, and they’re merely there to crank out something for the brand.
So, given that good ol’ Sam Raimi is at the helm, have things changed with Doctor Strange 2? Surprisingly yes – Raimi’s style and personality are present in the movie. Before Spider-Man, the director was known for the cult horror film The Evil Dead and its sequels. And, trust me, it shows in many of Doctor Strange 2‘s scenes. Without spoiling too much, the movie does have some jump-scares. It’s a nice touch and admittedly appropriate for a movie that deals with magic, witches, and supernatural monsters.
Another way you can tell Raimi is involved in the movie is Bruce Campbell’s cameo. The Evil Dead star is back, following his slew of cameos in his buddy’s Spider-Man movies. But while it’s great to see Campbell back (and interact with Benedict Cumberbatch, no less), it’s really just not funny. Indeed, the actor has a second scene in this movie to tie up his two-scene ‘arc,’ but it feels more like Campbell was there because we expected him to be there. Not because the scene adds anything to the movie – and, as a result, it feels a bit cheap.
Proving the Naysayers Right
But when all’s said and done, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and its review will not convince Marvel’s detractors that superhero movies are good. Now, the film is a rollercoaster of special effects, superhero action, and fanservice – which isn’t inherently bad. However, it does mean that there’s not much going on underneath.
This is a shame because there are attempts to flesh out longtime characters. If you like Cumberbatch’s Strange, you’ll find yourself rooting for him here and feeling sorry for him, too. And, as already discussed, Wanda’s arc continues its sympathetic course while giving us an onslaught of her CGI badassery. But I’ll be brutally honest about the latter – her story feels forced. The reason is that it seems as though Wanda learned nothing from WandaVision.
And I was surprised to see Danny Elfman score the film because the soundtrack isn’t all that memorable. And I should reiterate this is Danny Elfman. Much like the mythical creature that forms half of his last name, the composer has created musical magic with Batman (1989) and Spider-Man(2002-2004). He’s no stranger (I’m sorry) scoring superhero epics so, in theory, the soundtrack should be a blast. But honestly, nothing about the music stood out to me in the movie as his previous work has.
But, look, for all its flaws, Doctor Strange In the Multiverse of Madness is a good movie. In fact, in some places, it’s really good. But if you’re looking for a deviation from the standard Marvel formula, you’ll be disappointed. If you want another few hours of superhero action, witty wisecracks, and fanservice, however, you’ll be satisfied.
Doctor Strange In the Multiverse of Madness, for better or worse, follows the typical Marvel formula – it acts as both Doctor Strange 2 and Marvel movie episode #1456. There are a lot of pretty effects and some chuckles to be had, and some character development. However, Marvel needs to change things up a bit if they want to continue to keep audiences invested in their movies.
Do you agree with our Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness review? What do you think of the movie?