Saturday, July 9, 2022

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness: A Review




As we continue with the world's longest and most expensive soap opera, I find that Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is determined to be more expansive. To follow Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, you have to have knowledge not only of the previous Doctor Strange film but also Captain Marvel, the ABC television shows Agent Carter and Inhumans, the Disney+ television shows WandaVision and What If...? as well as previous X-Men television cartoons and films and even past Fantastic Four films. Less a feature film than a mishmash of past and future projects, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness will keep the middle-aged devotees of the MCU thrilled, while leaving the rest of us slightly underwhelmed.

Doctor Steven Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) has little to no time to see his former love Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) marrying someone else. Into his life from another dimension comes America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), a young woman who can travel through various dimensions that contain myriad versions of people in this, our dimension. In fact, it is her version of Doctor Strange that died getting her into our version to get Doctor Strange's help.

Help that Strange needs from Wanda Maximoff, aka Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). Still grieving the death of her great love Vision and the loss of her imaginary children, Wanda is, we find out, eager to find America and take her powers so that she can find that version of Wanda that will have her children restored to her.

Yes, at this point I do have many, many questions about her looney scheme, but I have to roll with things.  

Attacking and pursuing America like a crazed harpy, Wanda eventually chases Strange and America to an alternate universe where we find The Illuminati, a collection of superheroes we have seen variations of in other films, television shows and even from other franchises. They range from Captain Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) to Mr. Fantastic/Reed Richards (John Krasinski) to Professor X/Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart). Scarlet Witch is able to dispatch them all quite easily via "dreamwalking" or taking over the body of her doppelganger in this universe.

It will take all of Strange's powers, along with the corpse of his own, to do battle with this wounded villainess.

I have yet to understand why the Marvel Cinematic Universe genuinely believes this is epic storytelling on a level dwarfing such efforts as Remembrance of Things Past or The Iliad. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings series and Wagner's Ring Cycle are more compact than the whole of the MCU. I have never seen any Disney+ Marvel television shows and fail to see why I should. If not for the saturation that WandaVision had, I would not have understood Wanda's fixation on recreating a world that simply never existed. 

Moreover, looking into this part of the MCU/Disney+ franchise, I am squarely on the "Wanda is a homicidal maniac" side of the debate, so the efforts to make her actions sympathetic or make her some kind of tragic figure fall flat with me. Her insistence that she and Strange are somehow the same is laughable.

To coin a phrase, some people would rather destroy whole multiverses rather than get therapy.

I am not so enamored of the past that I need constant shout-outs to it. Moreover, I find such actions more grating than endearing. It is barely tolerable for me to see 81-year-old Patrick Stewart trotted out for a meaningless, pointless cameo that serves only to make middle-aged man-children squeal with glee. To have the animated X-Men television theme play as he comes out is to my mind rather insulting and insufferable. I genuinely do not get excited in seeing characters that I have no idea who or what they are appear for cameos, which is what the Illuminati scene was.

It was fan-service pure and simple, pointless, unnecessary and illogical. It seems almost a waste of time to see Scarlet Witch destroy them so easily and to my mind rather gruesomely. Reed Richards' disintegration was rather grotesque, making him even less necessary.

As a side note, I do not know if John Krasinski will eventually play Reed Richards in an upcoming Fantastic Four film or series of films. However, the flat-out laughter from the audience that accompanied his appearance does not bode well. I think Krasinski would make a good Mr. Fantastic, though to be fair the Fantastic Four have stubbornly failed to translate into films, having failed to jumpstart two franchises.

I also do wonder if these middle-aged children will demand explanations as to why the first Johnny Storm/Human Torch and Steve Rogers/Captain America look exactly alike in the same way Doctor Who fans demanded an explanation as to why the Twelfth Doctor and Caecilius from the Doctor Who episode The Fires of Pompeii looked exactly alike. Yet I digress.

I noted that Wanda made A Beautiful Mind's John Nash look sane by comparison. There was an almost comic manner to Olsen's performance, as if she was directed by Sam Raimi to be so overdramatic as our villainess. I found her to be camp, devouring the scenery with total abandon.

Perhaps this was to compensate for the blank Gomez as our first "Latinx" heroine. She had no personality, no great interest apart from looking perpetually confused. She did not pop out as a character, save perhaps for being the woke element of not just being "Latinx" but having two moms. 

Neither was of importance, except perhaps for some Spanish thrown in to mock Strange's lack of multilingual skills. At that point, she to be fair did show something to America: being a bit of an entitled bitch. As with most Hispanics, I detest the term "Latinx" and if America Chavez is meant to be progress, inclusivity and representation for my community in Phase Four, I'd rather not be represented at all. 

At least until they can find a better actress or better material to give her.

I have never been enamored of Benedict Cumberbatch either and looking back now I cannot remember whether he was interested in Multiverse of Madness or just decided to take the money and run. I guess after losing Best Actor twice one can coast through things like live-action cartoons. 

To be fair, there are some positives to be seen. Certain moments such as when Strange and Chavez crash through a series of multiverses is beautifully filmed. However, other moments almost smacked of desperation. I think Agent/Captain Carter said, "I could do this all day", obvious riffing off Steve Rogers' Captain America quote. 

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness had nothing for me. However, I have to recognize that Phase Four of the world's longest and most expensive soap opera ever made has not had anything for me for some time. Even the Phase Four films that I did positive reviews to, now in retrospect, feel like I was almost cajoled into it. Should I ever revisit them I might change my mind; for now, I do not think any version of me would want to see Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness again.


Next Marvel Cinematic Universe Film: Thor: Love and Thunder

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