Like most Marvel Cinematic Universe films, “Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” finds success in its visual effects, cinematography and acting, but fails in its uncharacteristic darker tones and sequences, creating an uneven blend between comedy and horror.
The film, directed by Sam Raimi, director of acclaimed films such as “The Evil Dead” and “Spider-man,” follows Dr. Stephen Strange, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, on a multiversal adventure to protect a super-powered orphan from once-Avenger Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch, played by Elizabeth Olsen.
The plotline heavily strays from its advertised title. Instead of a Doctor Strange 2, the movie feels more like a sequel to the Disney+ television show, “WandaVision”, merely through the eyes of Doctor Strange. Although not inherently wrong, Wanda’s role is equivalent to or even arguably more important to the narrative as Doctor Strange.
Viewers seeking out a Doctor Strange solo adventure or those who have yet to see “WandaVision”, this is not the movie for you.
The idea of an MCU film without team ups or crossovers seems more like a dream than a realistic possibility. Nowadays, not even origin stories can avoid the occasional appearance of a previously known character. Unfortunately, these moments of fan service garner Marvel more cheering audiences, social media attention and money.
Similar to the first film, this movie’s most astounding aspect is its mind-boggling cinematography. The cascading kaleidoscope imagery makes every new frame visually intriguing. Accompanied by consistently new environments, the landscapes are unlike ever before, but the technique feels unoriginal.
Thirty-seven days before the movie’s release, another film, “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” came out, applying a similar filmmaking style to represent multiversal travel. The only problem was that “Everything Everywhere All At Once” performs at such a higher intensity that “Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” feels like a dulled-down version technically and emotionally in comparison.
A-list actors Cumberbatch and Olsen succeed in their roles and meet the expectations of the high-budget MCU films. New MCU inductee Xochitl Gomez, who plays America Chavez, maintains the same expression of surprise throughout her entire screen time, yet this fits her character.
Although the performances are believable, the characters lack much complexity. Barely any inner quarrel is shown in Wanda, painting her as a complete villain rather than a conflicted fallen hero. She behaves unreasonably violent with no remorse, making empathizing with her character incredibly difficult.
A villain with no intricacy lacks humanity, depleting audience interest.
The only excuse for this is every character’s multiversal counterpart who acts and behaves in ulterior ways. Momentarily, the illusion is convincing, making it seem like added up, all the universes combine to form complete characters.
Yet this feels cheap and not thought out as this relegates each universe to only one emotion. This idea is directly contrasted by practically all previous Marvel projects, weakening the film’s whole premise.
In addition, “Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is the MCU’s first attempt at horror, yet it misses its mark due to its constant wisecrack-filled script. Additionally, the darker themes are incredibly surface level, making the few startling sequences stick out like a sore thumb.
However, these sequences are some of the best in the film. When Wanda attempts an attack upon Kamar-Taj, the home of the Ancient One, the film transitions into horror as she pops out of the unthinkable visuals when least expected, killing friends and acquaintances of Dr. Strange.
Though the tone transition feels a bit jarring, Raimi successfully carries his horror roots from his film, “The Evil Dead,” and turns a once-beloved hero into a terrifying menace.
Although this scene works well, and there is nothing wrong with a darker superhero film — take, for example, “The Batman,” which came out this year — the MCU has already dug so deep down the path of quippy dialogue and never-ending jokes that their foray into the dark seems flawed. Their final decision on this project feels indecisive, allowing neither option to prosper. The problems may seem numerous, but overall, they don’t have too strong of a negative effect on viewers. The mesmerizing cinematography, visual effects and previous connection to many characters make this film reasonably pleasant.
For fans of Marvel, “Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” may not rival the likes of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” in the competition for sequels, but it’s definitely no “Thor: The Dark World.”
Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
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— By Dylan Margolis
Originally published in the May 24 edition in the Octagon.