Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness ★★★

[This review contains light allusions to key plot points]

I was cautiously optimistic when entering my screening for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has yet to impress me in the slightest, mostly because I’ve found that the focus on the multiverse has given Marvel Studios the leniency to operate with a paper-thin narrative but get a pass because some obscure character from the pantheon of Marvel Comics will appear, introduce themselves, and then leave, all in the name of fanservice. Suffice to say, I was ready to throw the towel in with the MCU (and cape-flicks all together). But after watching Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, I hate to admit that Kevin Feige and The Mouse have successfully suckered me into pre-emptively giving them more of my money in the future (most likely to my own dismay) because I had one hell of a time.

I expected Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness to be another 126-minute sizzle-reel for the next five MCU installments, and don’t get me wrong, it is mostly exactly that, but the movie has an aura of personality to it that you normally wouldn’t see in the MCU. And this is entirely due to Sam Raimi. I’ve never considered myself to be a Raimi shill or apologist, so when I say just let him direct the rest of the MCU movies, I whole-heartedly mean that. While Multiverse of Madness isn’t the most innovative narrative (I’ll outline the problems I have with the movie shortly), Raimi’s directorial style shines through and makes an otherwise conventional movie feel fresh. The standard Raimisms separate the studio conveyor belt mode of filmmaking that has become all but normative in the current Marvel landscape. Simply compare the exterior shots outside of the Sanctum Sanctorum in this film to those in Avengers: Infinity War and Spider-Man: No Way Home. Paired with the excellent editing and fluidity in camera movements that rarely ever utilizes drab shot-reverse-shots where characters are clearly standing on isolated sound stages or greenscreens (save for a portion in the second act that reeks of studio interferences and re-shoots) the film is a visual delight. And most importantly, amidst the madness, Raimi manages to make the multiverse feel very human. He does so by using it almost as a metaphor for exploring the individual longing of its characters. The multiverse acts as an escape from our characters condition of loneliness, offering them the temptation of something more than they will ever possibly have in their universe (the grass is greener type beat). And it is from this anguish and the desperation to escape one’s reality (often in through extreme measures) that the central conflicts of the Multiverse of Madness’ emerge.

Multiverse of Madness also succeeds in providing actual value to WandaVision (props to Sam Raimi for not watching it because I wish I didn’t too) by not side-stepping the damage that Wanda enacted in Westview. However, it does feel like the movie takes far more time than necessary to re-cap the events of WandaVision (while simultaneously leaving a lot of its events on the cutting-room floor such as not acknowledging that Wanda’s motives stem from the loss of Pietro and Vision…who are never acknowledged in her conquest whatsoever and the fact that her children have superpowers) for the sake of helping casual audiences understand what’s going on. It isn’t egregiously bad, but it shouldn’t be something that takes as much time as it does, especially given that the Disney+ shows are now essential viewing for the MCU. I understand that Marvel doesn’t want to isolate new viewers, but when there are around 30 of these MCU movies, appealing to newcomers as opposed to telling a coherent through-line story that adheres to what came before is unfair to long-time viewers. It has gotten to the point where Marvel is unsure whether they want to stick to their own continuity or forfeit everything they’ve developed in favour of broad appeal for casual audiences. You wouldn’t start watching the fourth season of Breaking Bad and expect to be catered to because you haven’t kept up the entire time. One might argue that it isn’t fair to judge a film to the same standards that you would a long-running television series, but I’d argue that in the case of the MCU, a franchise that has become ever more serialized since the release of The Avengers in 2012, you can do exactly just that. If your narratives operate under the guise of interconnectedness, then you need to commit to such a feat. Otherwise, you will always be forced to suffer from inconsistent and clunky storytelling that hurts the final product (as is the case with Multiverse of Madness).

And as a side note, I’d like to applaud Marvel for not going overboard with the self-congratulatory cameo fest like the movie was made out to be (especially coming off of the back of Spider-Man: No Way Home)…this shouldn’t even be something I need to award them praise for. However, it’s still ridiculously annoying how every cameo appearance leaves a two to three second pause for audiences to hoot and holler for. At this point in time, cameos in the MCU function the same way that joke delivery in sitcoms like Friends do; they wait for audiences to finish laughing/cheering before moving on with the story.

Overall, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is an enjoyable watch with memorable Sam Raimi imagery, but suffers from a lack of respect for its own universe’s canon (just simply look at how the head writer responds to any questions asked in interviews) which necessitates the implementation of mental gymnastics to explain the incoherencies and contrivances throughout the narrative (I can’t wait to see how fans explain things such as Wanda’s disregard of Vision, how Mysterio knew that the MCU was part of the 616 Universe, and Wong’s wacky hairstyles throughout the film). Nonetheless, here’s hoping that this gives a whole generation of children nightmares!

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