Saturday, May 28, 2022

‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ Review: A Fun Ride With No Destination

This review contains spoilers for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness has finally dropped and with it came some stunning visuals but not a ton of movement for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, especially in a film centered around something of this magnitude. After the universe-shattering spectacle that was Spider-Man: No Way Home, expectations were high for Multiverse of Madness to keep that trajectory going, but unfortunately, it fell short, leaving the MCU stagnant in muddier waters as we wait to see just where all this is headed.

Doctor Strange and Wanda Maximoff are undoubtedly two of the bigger draws for longtime fans, both for their spectacular magical abilities and longevity within the franchise. Strange, who’s coming up on year six, and Wanda, year eight, have already established themselves within the MCU and with them come fans hoping to see the very best of these two characters. And I truly don’t think we got that from this film. Strange was once again reduced to an arrogant egomaniac, albeit with a soft spot for newcomer America Chavez, but he fights through the film to once again shed his self-serving ways, only this time from alternate versions of himself. We’ve already seen Stephen Strange morph into a superhero for the people, starting in Infinity War and even continuing into No Way Home where he softens around the edges for Peter Parker, so to watch him traversing through the multiverse once again fighting this same uphill battle felt redundant, even if our Dr. Strange proved the naysayers wrong.

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When it comes to Wanda Maximoff, who skyrocketed in popularity after her Disney+ series WandaVision, I truly don’t see a plausible path of redemption for her, which is a tragedy in and of itself. After WandaVision, it appeared as if she’d come to terms with her trauma — owning it and accepting it — but it would seem that isn’t how the writing team behind Multiverse of Madness saw it. They truly took Wanda off the rails, trying to mask it behind an “alter ego” of the Darkhold-corrupted Scarlet Witch as Wanda Maximoff is buried within her own psyche, and it just felt like the creators of those two projects had no prior discussions of Wanda before crafting her story for the film. While, of course, the Scarlet Witch is formidable and has toed the line between hero and foe in the comics, this just didn’t feel like the right course for this Wanda Maximoff, who shared an apologetic moment with Monica Rambeau for a far less heinous crime in the final moments of her previous appearance.

While watching Scarlet Witch tear through everyone that crossed her was absolutely satisfying and immensely exciting to watch, when thinking about the future of the MCU, it really leaves more questions than answers. Her ambiguous ending was beyond frustrating, likely with the intention of making audiences want to continue tuning in to discover Wanda’s fate (which is undoubtedly that she will return), but it really did the opposite after the complete destruction of who we knew Wanda Maximoff to be. At some point they are going to have to stop torturing this poor woman, it’s been long enough.

But, speaking of Wanda Maximoff, Elizabeth Olsen once again proved she’s one of the MCU’s greatest talents. The array of personas she had to wear from friend and mother to possessed witch and heartbroken realization left Olsen with all the room she needed to further prove her immense skills as an actor. She was utterly terrifying and still somehow able to maintain the audience’s pity as her grief consumed her completely, walking that line of fully succumbing to the darkness that welcomed her and clinging to her life’s true purpose as a guide, even if her tactics were less than admirable.

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There is no one else who could play Stephen Strange besides Benedict Cumberbatch, and with each appearance of the Master of the Mystic Arts this becomes even clearer. He commands the screen in the most subtle of ways, his even-keeled demeanor a calming presence throughout the “madness” that this film delivered on. Cumberbatch is clearly the anchor of the MCU going forward, literally and figuratively, so I truly hope he’s used to his utmost potential, which again, wasn’t really met in this film. The post-credits scene was questionable as the niece of his former foe Dormammu leads him into the unknown, his new Darkhold granted Third Eye another mystery to be solved. Again, leaving us with more questions than answers for one of the biggest draws in an Original 6-less world.

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After watching this, I can’t help but consider that perhaps this isn’t the best setting for writer Michael Waldron. While his ideas are big and bold, as seen in his first MCU project Loki, I think they’re too big for as interconnected of a world as the MCU. Loki, being a more contained story, was a better setting than a film set to launch a brand new landscape for an entire franchise with characters who have spanned years of films before his time. With that being said, the story was big and exciting, making for a great moviegoing experience, especially for casual fans.

Sam Raimi did what he does best and added the horror elements to shake up the recently criticized Marvel formula. This film was terrifying at times, with grand visuals and jarring camera angles to keep audiences on the edge of their seats. The suspense was built flawlessly, with the gore and brutality upped from every previous Marvel film, which was a welcome change. I have to admit, I never expected a jump scare in a Marvel film, and we got numerous, proving that with the right eye behind the camera the superhero genre can be blended with others to create a new moviegoing experience.

Is Multiverse of Madness one of Marvel’s best? No. Is it one of their worst? No. It is a raucously good time at the theater, holding your attention and giving you the fights you’d never imagined you’d see (that music note fight ranks up in my top Marvel fight scenes ever) with the magical visual you’d expect from a film featuring Marvel’s two most powerful sorcerers. Just, don’t think too much about the implications of the film on the MCU as a whole, because in reality, beyond the addition of America Chavez and the unfortunate villainization of Wanda Maximoff, there really aren’t any. The cameos were more fan service than implications of anything to come, but I certainly hope John Krasinski as Reed Richards sticks going into the future Fantastic Four film. If this was simply a variant cameo to appease the years of fan-casting of Krasinski in the role, I don’t see that ending well as disappointment and likely a minor form of betrayal sets in.

And please, can we stop forcing Peggy Carter into all of these projects? I’m begging at this point.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is now playing in theaters.

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