Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

Following the likes of WandaVision, Loki, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Moon Knight, and The Eternals, Marvel Studios continues to push Phase Four in new and different ways. While not everything has been as strong as some of the earlier core Marvel titles, it certainly hasn't been boring. In many ways, you could refer to Phase Four of the MCU as Marvel Studios' experimental teenage years. Enter director Sam Raimi.

Best known for his Evil Dead series and creating the best pre-Marvel Studios Marvel film in Spider-Man 2, Raimi is given a bonkers script of reality-bending, multiverse-jumping, craziness by Michael Waldron that, like much of Phase Four, takes us somewhere unexpected while allowing for more of an Evil Dead Raimi than a Spider-Man 2 Raimi movie (he even brings Bruce Campbell along for the ride).

Without revealing any spoilers, and the movie has a big one early on central to the plot, the film breaks down like this. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness introduces America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) as a multiverse-jumping young woman whose powers allow her to move from dimension to dimension visiting Earths in all realities. While she can't control her power, it is an enticing lure for our film's villain who has plans for being able to surf the multiverse at will.

Not getting the kind of help she hoped for from other Doctor Stranges (all played by Benedict Cumberbatch), America arrives on the Earth 616 looking for help from the MCU's Doctor Strange who enlists a former Avenger (Elizabeth Olsen) for advice and then things start getting weird, or to be more precise weirder. To save America and the multiverse from what's coming they will need to chase down a MacGuffin in the form of an all-powerful magic book which will somehow fix everything.

If the film has a major flaw its that it jumps around so much it doesn't allow for the time to properly explore the various realities our heroes land. This is particularly evident with the Illuminati which turns into more fan service than something central to the plot. Also somewhat surprising is the film does not build on Spider-Man: No Way Home. Although the film is referenced, and both deal with the multiverse, the dangers of this film turn out to have nothing to do with actions of Doctor Strange in the previous movie or the tease from the first movie that the cost of Strange's actions would eventually come due. This isn't a threat caused by Strange's past actions, just the latest universe-threatening disaster to land at his door.

Unlike Thor: Ragnarok which was arguably as much a Hulk film as a Thor film, Multiverse of Madness is decidedly a Doctor Strange film. While Wanda Maximoff and America Chavez both play important supporting roles, the film is about further developing Doctor Strange while having the hero contemplate his decisions and those made by alternate versions of himself across the multiverse. In that vein, the movie returns both Chiwetel Ejiofor and Rachel McAdams from Doctor Strange in an attempt to inject a little life into stories left dormant for more than half a decade.

Given the teases of what happens at the end of the film, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness doesn't so much end as leave the door open for more zaniness for another sequel somewhere down the line. This would make more sense if we knew where and when the plot thread would eventually be picked up, but Phase Four doesn't appear to be building to an Avengers-level story and the sequel to this film still hasn't been plotted on the MCU timeline. Closing the movie on an open-ended tease that may take another six years to see its promise fulfilled doesn't necessarily feel like the best ending possible as instead of leaving us wanting more it simple teases us with questions it has no means of answering.

Watch the trailer
  • Title: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
  • IMDb: link
  • Title: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
  • IMDb: link

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