Friday, May 27, 2022

Green Phoenix - Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness Review

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness poster.jpg

The release of a new Marvel movie is a big event in my film viewing schedule. I oftentimes find myself scheduling all my future articles around a particular release to ensure I have the opportunity to watch the film perhaps a few times before I fully commit to reviewing it.

The last Marvel film to be released was Spiderman: No Way Home. I was incredibly excited to see that film and it helped to give me a better impression as to the direction that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is taking post-Endgame.

With No Way Home in the past, it now falls to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness to continue the MCU's exploration of the multiverse and finish up a few plot details from both the Disney+ shows like Wandavision and Loki, as well as continue the adventures of everybody's favorite Sorcerer Supreme.

Is the film a worthwhile sequel to the original Doctor Strange? Or does it end up with too much madness to make any kind of coherent sense?

  • Directed by Sam Raimi
  • Produced by Marvel Studios
  • MPAA Rating: PG-13
  • Runtime: 126 Minutes


Following the events of Spiderman: No Way Home and Wandavision, Doctor Stephen Strange finds himself drawn into another magical multiversal adventure when he finds himself protecting a young woman named America Chavez from a series of dangerous monsters. America possesses the unique ability to travel between universes, a skill for which she has no control and has made her a target for a dangerous being known as the Scarlet Witch.
When Doctor Strange goes to recruit Wanda Maximoff, a former Avenger, for assistance, he soon learns that she has come under the influence of a magical artifact known as the Darkhold and that she has become the Scarlet Witch. With the powers of the Darkhold, Wanda hopes to absorb America's power (which would kill her) in order to travel to a universe where she can live with the children she created in Wandavision.
Now Strange and America will have work together across multiple universes, teaming up with characters that we have never seen before and meeting up with strangely familiar faces to stop Wanda before she destroys the entire multiverse.



Korey Coleman of Double Toasted described this film as the most "comic book" film that has ever been released within the Marvel Cinematic Universe and having watched the film myself, I cannot help but agree. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a very weird project and a film that I enjoyed, but also have more than a few issues with. With surreal imagery and a tone that has more in common with Army of Darkness than say, Iron Man, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is something of a mixed bag that I still rate high on a sheer technical level.
Let us get the good things out of the way first. The Doctor Strange films have always prided themselves on having utterly spectacular visual effects, utilizing exceptionally surreal and imaginative imagery to convey the wondrous world of magic with the MCU. It was stunning in the first film, and director Sam Raimi used the opportunity of multiversal exploration to go even wilder in the second outing with our illustrious Sorcerer Supreme. The film takes full advantage of a $200 million dollar budget to make something beautiful and horrifying.
And I do mean horrifying because the visuals and story are far darker and more horror-oriented than most past entries in the MCU. Sam Raimi is known predominantly for his work on the Evil Dead franchise just as much as he is for the original Spiderman trilogy and it is on full display here. The Scarlet Witch's rampage through the Illuminati's base, or the Sinister Strange monologue send shivers down my spine and feel like they both came right out of a horror film. It's so unlike the rest of the MCU that it would score pretty high were it not for one major point.
This film, moreso, than a lot of other films in the MCU, requires you to be familiar with a lot of previous MCU content to even have a chance to understand what is going on. It isn't too much to ask an audience to watch the previous Doctor Strange film prior to watching a sequel, that makes complete sense. But you also have to know what happened in Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame, Spiderman: No Way Home, and Wandavision; and it is this last one that is honestly the most difficult to stomach. Watching a prequel film is one thing, but needing to watch for a major plot point where the main character exists as little more than an extended cameo, or worse having to watch a Disney+ exclusive show just to get the backstory of the villain to show how she gets to where she is. If you don't know what happens in Wandavision, you will frankly be completely lost and the presence of the Darkhold and Wanda's sudden shift to villainy will seem really out of place compared to where she was last time we saw in the movies.
This is an element that my sister has mentioned several times in other franchises, most obvious in the Star Wars universe, where books, TV shows, and movies can introduce or explain concepts that should really go in films and movies. Wanda's entire transition arc is just glossed over in the film with little more than a few nods to basically tell the audience "You would understand if you watched Wandavision, only on Disney+; buy a subscription now!". It's infuriating and it ends up hurting the film, especially in the characters overall development.
This film is only Doctor Strange's second standalone film, and yet it feels like his presence in the rest of the MCU has really changed his character from the first film or enabled him to almost feel like an unrecognizable character to when last we saw him in his own internal franchise of movies. His relationship with Christine Palmer, which seemed stable and good at the end of Doctor Strange is the cornerstone of his overall character arc in this film and it really makes her presence in the past film feel shallow, seeing how their relationships growth and failure all happens basically off-screen, and yet is supposed to be emotionally compelling. It's not terrible and the film utilizes the multiverse aspect to really allow Strange to explore his relationship with Christine and what it really means to him, which I appreciate.
Wanda is fighting Ultron bots, and it means nothing.
Unfortunately, the rest cannot be said for the rest of the cast. Due to the issue with Wandavision, Wanda Maximoff basically has a near complete character assassination to anyone not intimately familiar with all aspects of the MCU. She goes from being an Avenger in a tragic love with Vision capable of knocking Thanos on his ass, to wiping out thousands of people and offing superheroes with the kind of coldness seen in only the worst of villains. And yet, the film also wants us to sympathize with this crazy mass-murderer by trying to shoulder the blame on the Darkhold, an artifact that we are really only given a basic rundown into what it is (basically the Necronomicon). Don't get me wrong, the Scarlet Witch is a brilliant idea for a villain and Elizabeth Olson absolutely knocks it out of the part in terms of performance and her action pieces are fun to watch. It just feels like the characters couldn't decide if Wanda was a villain or the actual focus of the film (making Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness a sequel to Wandavision, rather than a sequel to Doctor Strange) and it leads to a lack of emotional connection to the whole enterprise.
The last of the major characters is America Chavez, played by Xochitl Gomez, and she's fine. America Chavez is kind of a weird Marvel character by Gomez does a great job playing a teenager in over her head and struggling to trust authority figures, but who is also singularly possessed of the ability to navigate the multiverse due to her abilities. I am utterly fascinated to see her make future appearances and I think that America Chavez, and this Gomez, have a potential for future roles in the MCU, especially if the post-credit scene is pushing the universe where I think it is.
Benedict Wong as Wong basically spends his entire role in the film being a walking exposition machine, explaining things to either Strange, Wanda,or America. It's needed for all the mystic mumbo-jumbo but damn it doesn't lead to much for the character to actually do. And the Illuminati, which is the only other major group of characters that we are introduced to, basically exist as little more than glorified cameos for the audience to go "ooh" and then get bodied by Wanda to show just how dangerous and powerful she really is. Actually in the case of some members of the Illuminati, there presence really only seems to exist as a sort litmus test for audiences to see whether Marvel fans like certain casting choices or not. It's nice to see but not really emotionally satisfying.
Honestly with the whole Illuminati, I feel like having an alternate Vision as part of the Illuminati and fighting Wanda would've gone a long way for showing how far she's gone on her path to get her happy ending. It would've been far more interesting than a fight with a few superheroes that we only had maybe 10 minutes of movie time getting to know. And would have for emotional weight, since I had so little and could see the ending coming from a mile away.
I think ultimately that is the issue with Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. The film feels like it is simply trying to be too much. It's trying to introduce the multiverse as an active entity, to help further the goals of potentially allowing more complex multiversal stories in the future (especially if an Incursion occurs in the future). The film is trying to further Doctor Strange's story from the previous film, but Strange has been an extended cameo in so many Marvel projects that most people don't even remember where he really was as of the last film. And its also trying to wrap up Wanda's story in a way that doesn't feel like a betrayal but ultimately leaves me feeling like Marvel movies just need to have a big list at the beginning of every movie explaining what you need to watch before you can watch whatever film is coming up.
On a techincal level, the film looks great and is a sight to watch. I absolutely had a blast with the action and some of the story elements, even if it doesn't always standup to scrutiny. Even the cameos are fun, but they do present issues that I cannot ignore and warn of potential issues with the rest of this cross-media story-telling that Disney is trying to go with if they are not careful. All in all, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a fun time if you know the MCU, and likely incredibly confusing and emotional cut-off if you do not; and it doesn't feel right to force an audience to consume other media just to understand what you present them. I worry for the MCU if more of this continues, but for now; I'm happy to let it off with a warning and rank the film on its entertainment and technical qualities.

  • 10/10
  • 8/10
  • 6/10
  • 7/10

 FINAL SCORE - 7.75/10

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