Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness: Review

Even though Marvel Cinematic Universe movies are now generally made by either big-name directors or young upstarts with an indie hit under their belt, it’s still hard to discern auteurist fingerprints on any given project. The action scenes always have a directed-by-committee feel, because they basically are: you need serious technicians to orchestrate all those characters flying to and fro, opening portals into new worlds with their laser eyes, or with lightning bolts jabbing forth from their fingertips, or with a can opener, a leaf blower, whatever they’ve got handy. Still, there are good reasons for terrific directors to take on these movies, which are the same reasons so many actors want to be in them: they’re the chief currency of the culture right now, and if an artist’s goal to is to reach people with a work of the imagination—even if that vision is essentially run through a Play Doh Pumper before it reaches the screen—who wants to be left out?

You can only say moderately entertaining but not excessive things. Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness is that if you squint and concentrate really hard, you can tell it’s a Sam Raimi movie. (The script is written and produced by Michael Waldron. LokiTelevision series. There’s a scrappy, gifted junior heroine who doesn’t yet know how to control her powers: her name is America Chavez—she’s played by Xochitl Gomez, of the recent iteration of Baby-Sitters Club—and she wears a jean jacket printed with faded stars. Every time a character utters a line like “We’ve got to save America!” everyone in the audience, regardless of political persuasion, can agree. Still, as over-obvious metaphors go, she’s a good one, a representative of democratic principles in sneakers and a ponytail.

Even in its convoluted (for Marvel movies), plot. Multiverse of MadnessHe has an almost Raimi-like sense and bleak humor. Benedict Cumberbatch is playing Dr. Stephen Strange. This flawed superhero often does the wrong thing, just like in 2016. He plays his character as a perpetually arched one-eyed monster, just like it should. This time, our surgeon-turned-superhero learns—from an encounter with America, whom he must save from a massive one eyed-octopus who has dropped from nowhere onto the streets of New York—that there’s not just one universe, the one we currently live in, but many. You never knew! There are many Doctor Stranges, each with a different sentient red cloak. The universe where TThe Multiverse of MadnessOpening, Stephen Strange has to watch Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), her former girlfriend walk down the aisle in order to get married. With his acerbic temperament, and his unwieldy ambitions, he’s lost her. Perhaps he could get her back in another universe.

That’s not the chief preoccupation of Doctor Strange in Multiverse of Madness: but it sets the stage for the movie’s best scenes, the ones in which Cumberbatch and McAdams, both charming and perceptive performers, get to interact with one another as human beings rather than as place markers in front of a green screen. They share a sweet, bittersweet moment together that leads to a time of tendersweet romance. However, before this moment comes much more trouble from a small but very important character. objetSo called The Dark Hold a.k.a. The Book of the Damned—you know this thing is no darn good. Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), semi-villainous mother Wanda Maximoff’s incarnation, apparently has gained control of the device and plans to make use of it to maintain the universe in which her sons live. Like those moms who spontaneously gain superhuman strength to lift 10-ton trucks off their toddlers, her motto is “I’m not a monster, I’m a mother.”

Both domineering and seductive, Scarlet Witch—who spends part of her time trance-floating in the Lotus position—is using a forbidden technique known as Dreamwalking to further her aims, and she must be stopped. It’s the usual. Doctor Strange is facing many enemies, including his old foe Mordo (Chiwetel Eljiofor) and an unknown opponent. In the movie’s most exquisite, inventive action scene, these two pluck glowing musical notes from the air and hurl them at one another; minims, crotchets, and semiquavers zing back and forth like Ninja stars. Every now and again, Benedict Wong, the Sorcerer Supreme, appears with a dry wisdomcrack. But, this movie needs more.

Sam Raimi can’t make a Sam Raimi-Marvel movie that isn’t a Sam Raimi film. This means you need to use all available tools. The tools aren’t the problem; it’s the requirements for using them, which are limiting to any director. Raimi’s long and robust resume includes three more-or-less delightful Spider-ManFilms, Sharon Stone staring in the spicy western movie The Quick and the DeadThe legendary Zombies Movie Evil Dead(1981), that has inspired many sequels and a remake. Among Raimi’s numerous gifts as a filmmaker is his sardonic touch, though he never gives in to empty cynicism. This film is infused with that vibe. Doctor Strange even if most of the action—extravagant, messy, so over-the-top crazy that it ceases to be amazing—is business as usual in the Marvel world.

Behind the studio Doctor Strange is in the Multiverse Disney, has strongly cautioned those writing about the film against “revealing spoilers, cameos, character developments and detailed story points,” with the aim of giving audiences around the world the opportunity to enjoy their “movies to the fullest,” as opposed to just enjoying them moderately, which wouldn’t do at all. At the risk of angering the dark overlords who rule every conceivable universe, and even some inconceivable ones—I’m talking more about Marvel fans here than I am Disney—I shall reveal to you, with the imperious solemnity of Scarlet Witch meditating upon her invisible cushion, that one of these secret cameos belongs to Bruce Campbell. The ones who understand know. All of us are living in another universe.


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