Once a superhero franchise goes multiverse, it’s hard to go back.
No work of fiction ever needs permission to break the rules or push the boundaries of traditional storytelling, but the Multiverse, at least as it’s been served up in recent Marvel movies, practically demands it.
And right now, that means plenty of cameo opportunities. ” Spider-Man: No Coming Home opened the door to the concept, with mostly charming results, but now Benedict Cumberbatch’s master of the mystical arts is flying through the interdimensional portal with the concept of “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.”
This film is technically the sequel to “Doctor Strange”, a film released six years ago. But so much has happened in Marvelland that involves Stephen Strange and his goatee — ‘Infinity War’, ‘Endgame’ and, yes, the more recent ‘Spider-Man’ — that it falls into the movie continuity. standalone “Doctor Strange” is entirely out of place.
You couldn’t just watch “Doctor Strange” and then “Doctor Strange 2” and expect it to make sense.
Not only that, understanding, or at least being invested in, “Doctor Strange 2,” also requires a passing knowledge of “WandaVision,” the nine-episode Disney+ series that runs nearly six hours in total. It’s no surprise or burden to Marvel fans, but it seems like a lot to ask of the average moviegoer (although maybe at this point they’re all one).
So it’s particularly interesting that Sam Raimi has agreed to jump into this messy corporate multiverse at this point. His “Spider-Man” movies are still some of the best in modern superhero franchises, after all. Raimi was able to put his own stamp on this venture, including but not limited to a cameo from Bruce Campbell. There are also horror elements, some so intense that families might think twice before bringing everyone to the multiplex, interesting visuals not quite dissimilar to the town of “Inception” and a bit of a twist. ‘humor.
But Raimi doesn’t take “Doctor Strange” to a whole new tonal place, like, say, Taika Waititi did with Thor. It mostly sticks to the framework established by Scott Derrickson.
The main problem is that it’s a bit of a kitchen sink movie centered around an entirely new and underdeveloped character, America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), a teenager who has the power to travel the multiverse but don’t know how to control it. She’s hunted by someone who wants her powers and Strange decides to help her, perhaps out of genuine selflessness and maybe because it was a good excuse to literally jump off a balcony to get out of the wedding early. his former flame Christine (Rachel McAdams).
Unfortunately, he asks the evil Avenger for help: Elizabeth Olsen’s Wanda Maximoff is the one with the power to leap across the multiverse and has tried her hand at some dark arts to make it happen. She is driven by the idea that she has children there in an idyllic suburban multiverse in which she wears yoga pants and baggy cotton tops and tucks her boys in at night after ice cream and movies. Soon, she and Strange have a standoff in the air.
The script is inventive in the way it plays with a jumble of big sci-fi concepts, which makes sense given that screenwriter Michael Waldron is a “Rick & Morty” veteran. But it also disappoints when it comes to the hodgepodge structure and the women. Olsen still sells Wanda’s pain as the best of them, even though it’s been reduced to a stereotype of female hysteria. Christine is simply there to make Strange understand things about himself. And America, well, it never really deserves our emotional investment.
After “Infinity War” and “Endgame”, “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is a bit like a spinning wheel. Cumberbatch is having fun with his character, but his boundless ego seems to have been muted a bit here as he struggles with his own happiness. And that invites more questions, like do we ultimately care whether Doctor Strange is happy or not? Is he? Could everyone just use some post-blip therapy instead of those interdimensional bottle episodes?
Maybe the Marvel Universe is finally starting to look like one long comic book series. Or maybe phase 4 hasn’t started yet.
“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” a Disney release in theaters Thursday, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “intense sequences of violence and action, chilling imagery, and a bit of speech”. Duration: 126 minutes. Two out of four stars.
—Lindsey Bahr, Associated Press
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