Poor Sam Raimi… It feels like he was left holding the bag…
Doctor Stephen Strange finds himself defending a mysterious young woman whose powers allow her to move through the multiverse at will. But others are looking to take her powers from her…
When Marvel Studios announced the first schedule for the MCU’s “Phase 4”, there was quite a lot of discontent in a clearly directionless phase after the Infinity War. But there was one film which all fans agreed, from title alone, would be the exceptional entry. That was Doctor Strange In The Multiverse of Madness. More recently, Spider-Man: No Way Home rocked the box offices and introduced audiences to the multiverse concept with surprising success.
Which is a lot of hype. But under the surface there was some unease with the production. Doctor Strange’s 2016 director Scott Derrickson did not return, and the director’s chair was empty for a significant time. Eventually, Sam Raimi took over the project, and even brought Danny Elfman in to score the movie.
But while Raimi has comic book pedigree (the original Sony Spider-Man trilogy, and Darkman) and a big background with horror films (the Evil Dead trilogy, Drag Me to Hell) which fits Marvel’s intentions for the movie… he hasn’t directed a film since 2013.
From watching In The Multiverse of Madness… it feels as though Raimi was creatively trapped.
The film has a pacing problem.
It is almost permanently set to a breakneck speed. From the moment it begins, we are hurtling through the multiverse with a character we do not know, and it rarely stops for breath after that. It is a constant chase sequence with universe-ending chaos just a hair’s breadth away at all times.
Our protagonist, Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) finds himself protecting America Chavez (newcomer Xochitl Gomez) from a host of weird otherworldly monsters. In a bid to understand what it happening, he asks for aid from Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen)… who unfortunately becomes utterly possessed to take America’s superpowers for her own. Indeed, the Scarlet Witch wrecks havoc throughout the movie, all for the purposes of restoring her lost family with the powers of the multiverse.
This adds its own problem. You need working knowledge of Marvel’s first Disney+ show WandaVision. Yes, as much as Disney said before that needing to watch the Disney+ shows was not required, it would seem that is out of the window since the pandemic had everyone at home for two years. It is fair to say that all of our villain’s motivations are stemming directly from the events of WandaVision. If you haven’t watched it, a huge component of the emotional stakes is completely missing.
You might say, “Oh, Cinema Cocoa, you silly goose. Why are you watching the MCU if you aren’t watching the Disney+ shows?” Well, the MCU was doing just fine without additional shows before, and I have other commitments besides continuously brushing up on my “who’s who of the MCU” knowledge.
So, if this is anything to go by, some of us might want to get off the MCU bus now.
Really, the issues with In The Multiverse of Madness are multiple. It feels like a committee-made movie with shoehorned in ideas and the bloated fat of studio mandates. Remember that slightly-off feeling in Captain America: Civil War when we had more Spider-Man and less of the emotionally-invested Black Panther? Well, there’s more of that vibe here; as if the studio got some more rights to characters during production that they didn’t have previously…
It is a shame for the characters, too. Doctor Strange was a successful movie (albeit not my favourite) and it had a promising future ahead of it. The character left worst off is infinitely Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Baron Mordo, who was promising great and terrible things in the first movie, only to not even register in this one.
Is there anything good here?
There are sparks of Sam Raimi’s influence dotted throughout. There is a prominent horror vibe. Scarlet Witch is often demonic and terrifying, resorting to jump scares and ghostly appearances. The film’s height (one of its many, many, many final fight sequences) was positively brutal and quite grisly. Really showing off Wanda’s true power.
The alternate realities are interesting, but underused. It is baffling how No Way Home could synergize the idea of the multiverse with character development so much better than this movie did. Some nice visual flair, but at the speed the film has, you never feel able to enjoy the visuals.
The actors are playing their roles well enough. Elizabeth Olsen definitely steals the show as Wanda, but then she does have all of the emotional storytelling weight given to her.
Unfortunately, Doctor Strange 2 is a definite stumble. While it isn’t as monosyllabically boring as Eternals, it is struggling to be anything more than a season finale for WandaVision. More than that, it is spinning too many plates at once, when a sharper focus could have delivered a more compelling, character-driven storyline.
If you watched WandaVision, and also enjoyed the first Doctor Strange, you may as well go see it, but don’t expect Marvel’s best. If you are anyone else who isn’t a Marvel fan, don’t bother.
Additional Marshmallows: This is very close to a 2 rating after watching the trailer again. The trailer suggests the film follows the events of No Way Home. It does not. And moreover, that would have been more compelling; consequences for his actions. But no, the film is about America Chavez’s powers to move through the multiverse and Wanda’s chasing of her. The trailer lied.