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THB #129: Review - Dr Strange(r)
I didn’t much like Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness a whole lot.
But I didn’t dislike it enough or in a way that would make my tomato rotten… which is one of the many reasons why Rotten Tomatoes, an idea with value, is also an idea that is troubling.
In any case, I will explain why I didn’t like the film much, first without spoilers and then with some well-marked spoilage that you will see coming from a distance.
Basically, the problem is the script and the direction. (And aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln…)
It starts with the opening sequence, in which Strange is drawn into a fight with Shuma-Goreth, a monster known to comic book fans (and which is in every ad).
As you can see, the image from the film looks a lot like a CG monster. The eyeball is moist and realistic. The tentacles are complex and cool.
But it looks like a James Gunn monster - meant to be funny - from The Suicide Squad… like a living comic book… like an homage to the Godzilla movies or Ultraman. And none of these things are bad.
Gunn’s starfish is one of the things I most love in his film. It’s not as well defined as Sam Raimi’s eye-squid. But the eyeball makes it even more silly. Sid & Marty Kroft would have done it much more cheaply.
Obviously, the new movie is a million times more sophisticated than this 1970s costumes. But they are also clearly from the same monster school of style.
I get that it feels Strange 2 like a comic book. I get that Sam Raimi is all about fan service.
But this isn’t what Marvel has done as a production company. And even more so, this isn’t what Scott Derrickson did with the very successful first Doctor Strange.
Again, almost instantly in the new film, Shuma-Goreth is throwing a bus at Strange. The doctor cuts it in half (the bus gags in Shang-Chi were much more complex and sophisticated) and yeah, we see the sides of the buses landing… but this is all throwback stuff with better CG. However many people died in the bus doesn’t seem to matter. But worse, it feels like a retread
This is my issue with Raimi throughout the film. He did a wonderful job with Spider-Man and sequels given the technology of the time. I love many of his other films and his quirky take on horror. But he is still thinking in the mindset of technology from that time. James Gunn, for DC, is also clearly in love with that era… but he thinks more like a CG filmmaker. Gunn for Marvel is also deeply in love with what is retro… but look at Guardians and it’s all character with glorious digital backdrops… a modern, comic variation of Star Trek and Star Wars. But it’s not like he isn’t doing a ton of CG, including 2 fully CG characters amongst the 5 leads, seamlessly woven into the cast.
The CG work in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is beautiful… but it feels worked over. Old fashioned. And not as sophisticated as Marvel has been.
Ironically, it is almost a photo negative of Eternals, which was so pretentious and slow moving with so little real story that it seemed like the worst thing Marvel could do. It still does. But here - the next Marvel movie - is as overripe as Eternals was undercooked.
The movie before Eternals, Shang-Chi, seemed like a revelation, in that it seemed to take a brand new character and take him and his through every emotional corner of the Marvel universe as well as paying clear homage to the Shaw Bros’ decades of mad genius.
But Strange 2 feels like a giant step both backwards and into the Disney+ fan service business.
What was fresh and surprising about the first Strange movie now feels repeated to within an inch of its life. After Spider-Man: No Way Home, this film feels like it was compelled to be about the multiverse, but not with an real vision for why. This is what Marvel has avoided so well up until recently.
Love Cumberbatch as Strange. And all the regulars. But where does America Chavez’ power come from and what is her power and why is she so important, really, and why can’t someone try to steal Captain Marvel’s powers instead, etc, etc, etc. If you haven’t seen the film, I can tell you that you will have these questions on in the way into the theater and on the way out.
The script is one of Marvel’s weakest. And Raimi, who is skilled and offers a lot of fan-servicing fun, makes the film an outlier when it seemed like what Marvel desperately wanted was for it to be a bridge.
There is something so 2005 about comic book action sequences involving people leaping from one platform to another. 1990s video games too. Super plastic boxes that keep their inhabitants from using their powers? Zzzzzz… Super-sized Orc-like creatures protecting the villain?
But the problems start with the script. It’s really not a multiverse of madness. Really, there is no madness at all. They use the multiverse idea as a kind of background and maybe crossing multiverses (I am going to refer to each space as a multiverse… not sure that is what the Marvel bible will call them, but you know what I mean) will matter more in future films, but here, it’s really just our Strange’s current realm (almost no mention of him opening the door for Spider-Man in that film), the realm of the Illuminati, and Wanda’s tower, which I think is in another multiverse. There is a hat tip to a lot of other multiverses for a minute or two, but this film is not about traveling from one to the other to the other much. They are mostly bouncing between these 3 spaces.
It’s a lot going on, but kinda simple and driven often by people doing stupid things (hello, Roger Ebert). The movie is loaded with “I don’t trust you, so I did this thing that will end the entire universe.” There are repeated times when characters are thrown into concrete and pass out for just as long as needed. “Don’t drink that drink the guy who you think wants to kill you just poured!” The “I can’t control my powers” schtick is very 1960s Bewitched and keeping it up for 3 full acts - especially without us really knowing what her powers are - is obnoxious.
And then there is Wanda… WTF?!?!
And entire series leads to, “I’m sorry for all the pain I caused. I don’t understand this power, but I will.” And yes, we see Wanda in multi-armed goddess mode with the red eyes.
But not only did she learn NOTHING from that entire series, but in Strange 2 she is the most extreme incarnation of a woman who has lost her mind entirely because she didn’t have kids when her husband (albeit not human) was alive. It is the most misogynistic representation of a woman in all of Marvel. She’s going to destroy the entire universe because she is hoping to find and protect her imaginary children?!?!? How I wish young Joan Crawford was around to play this 100% gender-driven multiverse lunatic.
There is no subtlety or complexity to it. She is The Terminator. No humor. Not even something clever, like Vision being alive, somehow, in another multiverse. Elizabeth Olsen did a great job in the series with a wide range of emotions. She is wasted her. Always lovely to stare at that face… but wasted.
And the big spoiler… the group of heroes who have become “The Illuminati.”
Great fan service. But then, murdering every one of them like a stunt to show off the villain’s power. What a waste. Of course most of them will show up elsewhere in another multiverse at some point. But the setting up the most powerful to be slaughtered is a gag from the silent movies (and Invincible and The Boys.). And once it starts happening, there really isn’t any doubt… because what is the alternative? Wanda is stopped. End of movie. Sad audience.
Audience loves the arrival of Professor Xavier, Captain Carter, Captain Marvel, Mr Fantastic, Black Bolt, and Mordo.
I didn’t really know the Black Bolt, but he reminded me of 2 characters from another comic superhero franchise…
There were a lot of little touches that I enjoyed in the film… including the fan servicing. But it felt super long (it wasn’t), super repetitive (it was), and super dated.
Does this film really advance the Marvel story? I guess. Does it really matter that Strange is forgiven? Honestly, I’m not really sure what he needs to be forgiven for… he made the one choice he could in Avengers: Infinity War. But if he is forgiven in one multiverse, does anyone in the others even know?
And have I mentioned that Wanda willing to destroy everything for her imaginary children is grotesque and sexist? Or is it all about the man who got away? This really surprised me.
I will see the film again. But I’m not looking forward to it.
I have no idea why Scott Derrickson left the project, but about half way through, I felt like it was a script that just didn’t work or matter… all the cool stuff was like a dry erase board. No one learns anything. No one grows. Little ornaments for the fans, but a story too complicated by half and not emotionally complicated enough by the other half.
DC does the track meet comic book action movies. Marvel is about character and ideas.
Let’s hope Thor starts a path back home.