Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (PG-13)
12/06/22 22:23 Filed in: 2022
Directed by: Sam Raimi
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch
Warning! This is NOT a movie review. This is a critique of the film. Intended to initiate a dialogue, the following analysis explores various aspects of the film and may contain spoilers. For concerns over objectionable content, please first refer to one of the many parental movie guide websites. Ratings are based on a four star system. Happy reading!
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness definitely resembles its name. It’s equal parts strange and mad. As if that wasn’t bad enough, everything in the film feels…off.
There are very few funny lines, very few meaningful moments and very few exhilarating action sequences in the movie. Then there’s the 60/40 split between scenes centered on Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Wanda Maximoff/The Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). Strange had to share screen time in Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021) too, but that movie was a vehicle for the wall-crawler in the red spandex suit.
Taking Strange’s screen time in No Way Home and adding it to his screen time here, he almost gets an entire feature out of the two Multiverse movies. In short, it seems like Strange always ends up playing second fiddle to other characters in the Marvel panoply—he’s even sidekick to Wong, the Sorcerer Supreme (Benedict Wong), in his own movies.
As with the scribes of No Way Home, screenwriter Michael Waldron barely scratches the surface of the creative potential of the Multiverse here. In one of the alternate realities Strange visits, you “go on red” when crossing the street…a pretty mundane change from our reality. Yes, the tree-strewn city is an interesting concept, but the Mustafar-like hellscape and LOTR-style tower, where the Scarlet Witch takes her throne, are derivative and uninspired.
The one part of the movie that was cleverly conceived was Strange and America Chavez’ (Xochitl Gomez) plunge through several planes of the Multiverse; in one reality they become sentient splotches of paint. Though skillfully realized, this short segment is reminiscent of when the Infinite Improbability Drive is engaged in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005)—the sequence where the crew of the Heart of Gold is turned into hand-knit toys is bloody brilliant!
As portrayed in the movie, the Multiverse fails to tap into the vast expanse of possibilities inherent in its name. I’d go on a rant about the lack of wonder, awe and imagination on display in the film, but I couldn’t possibly top the incisive remarks I made in my review of No Way Home (please reference it for a detailed drubbing of that movie’s mammoth mishandling of the Multiverse).
So, what’s this movie about? Good question.
The story’s character arcs are pedestrian and prosaic. Wanda must let go of her obsessive maternal instinct—she’s willing to destroy anything that prevents her from raising her two boys, including alternate versions of herself. Not very rational.
Doctor Strange’s integrity is called into question…will he turn to the Dark Side (a la, Anakin Skywalker) or will he prove to be virtuous, unlike many of his counterparts from other realities? As if there could be any doubt.
These ho-hum challenges for the central characters provide little opportunity for personal growth—this is as complicated as the film gets. I wish America, who has the ability to open star-shaped portals into the Multiverse, would’ve transported us into a more compelling story.
The secret group called the Illuminati, brings some much-needed energy and levity to the proceedings. The casting of this team of eclectic heroes is superb and offers more than a few surprises.
Multiverse of Madness squanders the solid handoff from the first film. Even the Doctor Strange spotlight episode in the animated series What If…? is superior to this film.
In the end, this latest foray into the Mediocre-verse is another indication of how the studio is failing to live up to its name.
Rating: 2 ½ out of 4