Friday (Movie) Review: Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

I saw it on Monday. Overall, I enjoyed the movie. It wasn’t quite as good a Dr. Strange property as the first movie, and the plot was a bit scattered and built on a lot of emotional baggage carried by both Strange and the Scarlet Witch that sometimes felt a bit off balance. There were moments of high emotion, a few scares, and action on action on action.

Warning: There may be spoilers below, so if you have not seen the movie and want to avoid knowing things, save this for after.

The story opens with Stephen Strange, back from the five year limbo imposed on half the universe by Thanos in Infinity War, attending the wedding of former girlfriend, Christine Palmer. They have a couple minutes conversation and, to be honest, Stephen in the Danny Downer of wedding guests and just HAS to bring up their long-over relationship. (A side note as pointed out by another reviewer: Christine is the bravest character in the whole MCU if only because she drinks red wine in a white wedding dress while mingling with the guests! LOL) The conversation doesn’t get far because there is (oh, no!) a monster wreaking havoc on the city outside, and Strange floats off to do battle. Wong shows up and they have a typical MCU banterfest, and meet the reason for the monster’s attack. And that is America Chavez, a young girl with the power to jump from one multiverse to another, although she can’t control it. Once the monster is defeated, America tells Wong and Strange that she is being chased across the multiverse by a demon that wants to take her power for itself, which will end up killing America. Strange goes to Wanda Maximoff, who knows a little something about multiverses, expecting to ask her help. But, oops, it turns out Wanda is the demon, and wants America’s powers so she can hop multiverses and find her sons, who apparently do exist. The problem, or one of them anyway, is that if multiverses converge, it causes an incursion which usually ends up destroying one of them.

Yeah, there are problems here. On one hand, we have Wanda, the Scarlet Witch. She “just wants her boys back” which is a noble goal filled with motherly love. Except she is perfectly willing to kill someone else’s child along with anyone and anything that gets in her way to get those boys back. Yes, she’s using the Darkhold and it’s dark magic takes a toll on the user, but a few days later, this just doesn’t quite track for me. And then there is Stephen himself, who is decidedly not happy, which is hammered home over and over. Pretty much everyone he so much as makes eye contact with asks “Are you happy, Stephen?” and he answers “Yes” with all the conviction of a wet dishrag. And everyone keeps telling Stephen he’s the Good Dr. Strange, but all the others in all the other multiverses we see are not good. There are glimpses of Stephen’s wrestling with that question of “Am I really good, or am I just another of the terrible Strange’s?” with no resolution other than-“well, of course, you are the good doctor. You saved America and the multiverse (sort of)!” Nit picky, yes. But those were things that did bug me after a few days’ of the film percolating in my head.

Were there good parts? Oh, yeah, there were good parts a’plenty! Sam Raimi’s direction is full-on Sam Raimi in many places. The monsters are monsters, we have zombies, a freefall thru a series of mulitverses that is rather psychedelic, and the characteristic MCU humor given a Raimi touch. Oh, yes, lest I forget- as always, there is a Bruce Campbell cameo and it’s just as special as any Raimi-Campbell bit. The battle between Wanda and the Illuminati is big, and furious, and cataclysmic. It also brings in elements from the What If…? TV series. Wanda’s time in the MCU gets a decent ending. Elizabeth Olsen does a tremendous job with Wanda here, with her heart-wrenching nightly dreams about her boys and her obvious emotional devastation when she finally meets Billy and Tommy, only to have them scream and flee in terror from the witch who has invaded their home and hurt the Mom they know. And she goes full in on the horror aspects and does the evil witch just as well as the suffering mommy. The problem is that the two just don’t mesh well in the bigger frame of the plot, especially when it’s put up against the rather lackluster emotional arc between Strange and Christine. Xochitl Gomez is quite good as America, but she’s not given the chance to stretch in the role at all. Every time an opportunity arrives, she’s reduced to a screaming, tortured child getting the life ripped out of her. Benedict Cumberbatch fits the role of Stephen Strange and I like what he does with the character, but I hoped for a bit more delving into that character and his search for his role now that Wong is Supreme Sorcerer. Instead, we get another Cool Father Figure, just like Tony Stark got to be to Spider-Man.

But that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the movie. Most of what’s above there is what bubbled up after I have had a chance to think about it and analyze it for a few days. In the moment, in the theater seat, I was entertained and absorbed in the movie completely. It was a fun ride, much of that due to Sam Raimi. The Strange vs. Strange battle where they hurl music notes lifted from sheet music, a piano, and a harp at each other, the way Wanda tears into the Illuminati (Mr. Fantastic, Black Bolt, Ms. Marvel, Captain Carter, and Charles Xavier like they were paper dolls, even the eye monster at the beginning of the movie are just some of the excellent moments throughout the film. It wasn’t as much of a horror film as some suggested before its release (although some younger children might be better not attending this one). It was fun. I’m just not entirely sure how much it added to the MCU as a whole.


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