Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
Scott Hardie: “It sucked.”
When I think of the parts of this film that I enjoyed, it all comes back to the director: the Raimi-esque flashes of genuinely creepy horror, the Raimi-esque playfulness in moments like the musical fight, the Raimi-esque torturing of Bruce Campbell. It's weird, because Sam Raimi's style is normally not my cup of tea at all. But in a bland consumer product willed into existence by corporate mandate, any artistic distinctiveness is more than welcome. When Stephen Strange and America Chavez crash through a sequence of multiversal dimensions in slow-motion, it's breathtaking. When Zombie Strange commandeers the souls of the damned to forge a makeshift cloak of levitation, it's jaw-dropping. A whole lot more of that ambitious stuff would have really helped.
The main problem that I have with the film is the plot that forces two likable characters to do very unlikable things. Stephen Strange and Wanda Maximoff are two sympathetic characters, and we want to see them work out their issues and be happy. But instead of sitting down together for ten minutes to figure out a workable solution to their conundrum, the demands of this very dumb story force them to keep doing things that we badly don't want to see them do. It's hard to watch Wanda reduced to a one-dimensional villain after the terrific WandaVision gave her an emotional complexity to rival any in the MCU. The problem is not that she has a heel turn like in the comics, but that she as a villain is so simple-minded and so unwilling to try literally any other approach than murdering anyone in her path. As for Stephen, his arc in the first Doctor Strange concluded with him forced against his better judgment to use the forbidden Time Stone and lose Mordo's friendship in the process, so it's kind of a shame to see him choose black magic over and over again here, repeatedly doing what the other characters warn him should not be done, without trying other approaches or even acknowledging that it's a mistake. This movie comes on the heels of the vastly superior Spider-Man: No Way Home in which Peter Parker appealingly did the hard thing because it was the right thing; here Stephen Strange keeps doing the wrong thing because it's the easy thing, making it really difficult to root for him. By the end, he has learned nothing and failed to grow as a person, except I suppose to have gotten over Christine, which was far from his biggest problem. I have no interest in seeing a third Doctor Strange film, especially after the perfunctory tease at the end that's rushed even by MCU standards. Because the two main characters are so unlikable here, and because the subject matter is by nature grim, this becomes quite an unpleasant slog to sit through.
From what I see online, this movie came together in a slapdash manner: They figured out the story as they filmed it, and they didn't even know the ending until halfway through. Sometimes that approach works kind of miraculously (No Way Home was made the same way), but much of the time, it results in an undeveloped story and characters whose motivations don't make sense. My advice to Marvel Studios (or to Disney if their hand is forced) would be to slow down and focus on quality control, because it keeps diminishing as they keep increasing their output. Well-developed, appealing characters and a lighthearted sense of playfulness were once key elements of the Marvel Studios brand, and they're sorely missing here.This review contains spoilers. Reveal it.
Scott Hardie: A few minor thoughts:
- Casting the Illuminati must have been fun. Would T'Challa have been on the council if Chadwick Boseman had lived? I was relieved to see Anson Mount as Black Bolt, not because Inhumans was good but because Marvel needs to bolster its TV-to-film continuity. Tom Cruise was long rumored to play an alternate-universe Tony Stark on the council in a nod to him turning down that role in the first Iron Man, but I see online that Marvel rejected him because he wanted a bigger part and more creative control, which sounds exactly like Tom Cruise. :-) And count me among the growing fan base of Captain Carter; I would really like to see more of her.
- Speaking of TV-to-film continuity, I so wished for a simple line of dialogue to resolve the Darkhold error. That magic book appeared in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and then looked quite different when it popped up again in WandaVision and this, which fans online interpreted as an intentional de-canonization of AOS. To me it seems silly to assume that seven years of television never happened because the art department decided to update the look of a prop; it would be like modern Star Trek updating the look of Klingons and Trekkies thus concluding that the previous decades of shows never occurred. All of this could have been settled when Wong was explaining the Darkhold to America Chavez; he could have simply said "it was in the hands of a group called S.H.I.E.L.D. for a while" and ta-da. (The book also appeared in Runaways, but I don't think anyone cares enough about that show to debate its canonicity.)
- Super minor and super nerdy quibble here, but I was surprised to hear of the MCU Earth being designated 616. That's famously the comic-book Earth, and until this film, the MCU Earth was said to be 199999. The importance of the distinction means that the comic-book Earth and MCU Earth can co-exist in the same multiverse or even possibly cross over, which is interesting to contemplate, but this change means that the MCU Earth is strictly a film adaptation and cannot co-exist. But really, who gives a damn? If Marvel cannot be bothered to get it right, I shouldn't care either.This reply contains spoilers. Reveal it. − May 12, 2022 more by Scott
Scott Hardie: Thinking on it a little more, part of the problem here might have been the rushed first act, which really just threw the characters straight into the action without giving them time to talk or develop motivation. As Wanda said, "You're doing all of this for a girl that you just met yesterday?" There were lines in the early dialogue that rang true, like when Wanda pointed out the sexism in her being considered evil for using black magic while Stephen is treated like a hero for the same, so there was potential there. It's possible that taking more time in the first act to lay a foundation for what follows might have helped. :-\This reply contains spoilers. Reveal it. − May 12, 2022 more by Scott
Matthew Preston: Dude, you speak truth in all of this. I had mostly the same feelings/reactions as you did. I felt like they had an incredible amount of potential here and mostly 54!7 the bed with it. − May 12, 2022 more by Matthew
Scott Hardie: Thanks. I don't know if your negative reaction and mine (and Kelly's; she hated it) are reflective of the overall fan base. But if this movie is received badly in general, I fear that Marvel/Disney's takeaway will be either "no more horror" when in fact the horror elements were among the parts that worked best, or "play it safer" when the movie was bogged down by its dumb plot and needed to take more creative risks. − May 12, 2022 more by Scott
Evie Totty: The horror parts were the saving grace! Happy to see you notice the universe number error. − May 12, 2022 more by Evie
Matthew Preston: “It was ok.”
I rarely give an "It sucked" rating, but this came close. For much of the same reasons that others liked the movie, those saved it from that category.
It is incredibly refreshing to see the Sam Raimi directing style throughout this. There are several amazingly visual scenes and such Raimi-esque moments, that make this a breath of fresh air in the Marvel universe. Looking back, this is strikingly similar to any of the Evil Dead movies. Marvel let Raimi do his thing and it works in several moments. What is shocking to me, is the amount of fear/dread/violence that is allowed in a PG-13 movie. I mean, damn. How many head explosions and gruesome deaths do you need to force an R rating? Is it because these are alternate universes? Leaving bad language out goes a long way apparently. I had no idea who Black Bolt was, but I felt ill and sympathy watching his final moments. Similar for Reed Richards; Wanda teases him about his children losing their father before painfully demolishing him. Ugh.
I feel they had an incredible amount of potential to make this an epic multiversal jaunt by bringing in various other franchises. That fell short. I know there's a fine line with fan service, but really it felt like a kick in the nuts bringing in characters only to kill them off immediately. I also wanted to see more of the other universes they moved through.
Here's what was going through my head with Professor X showing up:
- "Ok, I knew he was in this film, but let's see what he can do."
- "Alright, he seems to be a logical member of the Illuminati."
- "I'm still extremely broken up about his sad demise from Logan. It's taken a while to get over that, so I'm starting to feel better about an alternate univer... and he's dead. (sigh)"This review contains spoilers. Reveal it.
Scott Hardie: Ha! The MPAA remains really obtuse and specific in their rulings. You can get away with long, lurid sex scenes in a PG-13 film as long as no genitalia are shown. And in violent films like this, you can show necks snapped and heads popped and characters burned to ash as long as no blood is visible. To bathe Wanda in the blood of her enemies during the Illuminati sequence, they substituted motor oil from the Ultrons that she exploded. Come on.
Those were basically my thoughts during the Xavier sequence too, plus "Oh neat, they're doing the whole he-can-walk-when-he's-in-someone's-mind thing again." One thing that I liked about the Illuminati is that the movie version, despite diversifying its membership to include several female and non-white heroes, still retains the smug, arrogant, paternalistic attitude of the comics version. Watching them bring a proverbial knife to a gunfight with Wanda and discover just how badly they've miscalculated their chances against her was neat. Screw those guys.This reply contains spoilers. Reveal it. − May 12, 2022 more by Scott
Matthew Preston: MOON KNIGHT SPOILERS.
Agreed. Not sure if you've seen Moon Knight yet or not, but their panel of judging Avatars is in the same "smug, arrogant, paternalistic attitude" genre. Also, not so sure Reed Richards is the "smartest man in the universe" if he can't see how outmatched he was. SMH.This reply contains spoilers. Reveal it. − May 12, 2022 more by Matthew
Evie Totty: “It sucked.”
Ok so here is the thing. I enjoyed it on the one hand because the special effects were so cool. And how they managed to make Cumberbatch look hot by giving him that beard. The man should totally never be seen without one. And seeing The Illuminati (such as it was).
But I LITERALLY and I mean LITERALLY started crying when I found out Wanda was the villain. 1: I thought she'd worked all that out in Wandavision 2: It all but requires you to have seen Wandavision in order to fully appreciate it.
Though being a regular comic book reader also is a requirement for understanding The Illuminati. BUT - if you are a regular comic book reader (which I am not, but I did look into Brian Michael Bendis at one point) universe 616 is *buzzer* wrong! I don't remember what it is but it isn't that.
And OMG at those guys and gals. One (Phantom Menace) Darth Maul death after another. Let's skip to Captain Marvel. HER POWERS CAME FROM AN INFINITY STONE.
Now, I'm not really sure how either one could have the powers they have from the stones they got them from ... but whatever. Captain Marvel is arguably the most powerful person in the MCU. What we saw in DS2... please.
The music stuff was cool, but didn't really make sense. America not being able to control her powers for what? A decade? And all of a sudden because she concentrated she could? And correctly pulled up the dimension she wanted first try? Really.
Fuck Fiege for doing that to us.
Is she dead? Of course not. When you have the Multiverse - you have an infinite supply, amirite? (BUT INCURSIONS, EVIE! Yeah, they'll figure out a way around that.)
Also - this was a big fucking deal. A possible "Our Reality As We Know It Ending" event! NO other superheros from Earth (and beyond) came to see what the fuck was going on? Not one? Not even a sidekick? I thought Shang-Chi was hanging out with Wong, at least. Yeah, we keep seeing this time and again in the standalones. Seems there was one where I was going 'Uh, little help here?' previously, but I don't feel like going and looking at the list.
And where the fuck was White Vision? (OH THAT'S RIGHT, YOU HAD TO HAVE SEEN WANDAVISION - OH WAIT!)
What's worse is that I have to go see this again with my granddaughter. She won't ask to go, but she doesn't ask to do anything really :/
Ok, yeah - I guess I better change my rating. I had given it an "Ok" at first. And I had liked it at first (not loved, no way) - but the more I think about it, the more pissed off I get.
Now to read the other reviews, haha.This review contains spoilers. Reveal it.
Scott Hardie: Great points. The person I feel worst for is Jac Schaeffer, who worked so hard as showrunner of WandaVision to develop Wanda's emotional complexity (and was nominated for an Emmy for it), only to see her reduced to a Hela-like sneering one-dimensional baddie. If I were her I'd be distraught for days. And Lizzie Olsen must have been miserable too.
Agreed on Captain Marvel. Wanda certainly could have killed her -- with one thought, Marvel could have ceased to exist -- but Wanda could not have killed her merely by dropping rocks on her. That was bullshit.
I've forgotten, so somebody please enlighten me: Why can't Wanda just re-manifest her boys? She did it once, albeit while not in control of her powers, so it seems to me that with practice, she could do it again. They were not townspeople forced to play along; she manifested Billy and Tommy in flesh and blood out of her own willpower. This is one of numerous alternative solutions that more reasonable versions of Wanda and Stephen could have figured out if the movie would have let them.
Perhaps we're missing something obvious about Wanda's behavior. Perhaps we're meant to understand that the Darkhold is twisting her mind and forcing her to make evil choices, assisted by her grief post-Endgame and post-WandaVision. Perhaps Stephen too is drawn in by the black magic, unable to resist its allure. If that's true, the movie must have done a poor job of explaining it for us all to have missed it.This reply contains spoilers. Reveal it. − May 12, 2022 more by Scott
Evie Totty: All I can think of is "she'd know they weren't real".
Yeah, good point about the writer.
Can't WAIT to see its Honest Trailer and HISHE.This reply contains spoilers. Reveal it. − May 12, 2022 more by Evie
Scott Hardie: I read today that this film was intended to come before WandaVision. It would have shown Wanda in the depths of her grief post-Endgame, doing roughly the same evil things (presumably searching the multiverse for Vision instead of her sons), and its ending would have led into the healing experience that was WandaVision that helped her process her grief. But there were production delays and the titles swapped order, which means that all of the healing that happened in WandaVision had to be thrown out the window to make her evil here, which just... doesn't work very well. I still contend that they'd have been better off leaving Wanda out of this and having Nightmare or Mephisto or Mordo as the antagonist.This reply contains spoilers. Reveal it. − May 13, 2022 more by Scott
Evie Totty: Totally agree. I'm still furious. − May 13, 2022 more by Evie