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Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

***
2022

‘…the multiverse promises all kinds of interesting metaphysical questions, but the slam-bam nature of the MCU doesn’t allow many answers…’

Back in the day, an ending that I really hated was the climax of the original 1978 Superman, in which, confronted with multiple developing disasters across the world, Superman flies round the globe so quickly that he reverses the passage of time and saves the day. Not only was the visual for this extremely poor, but it raised the question; why doesn’t Superman solve everything the same way? Surely we could all live in a perfect Groundhog Day world if such a solution was possible; for a character supposedly learning about his own powers, Superman’s ability to stop and reverse time makes zero sense and breaks every narrative rule going.

Rules are important, and that’s part of the problem with Marvel’s popular character Dr Strange; Sam Raimi’s 2022 blockbuster probably should be called Doctor Strange 2, even though the sorcerer has appeared in several recent films in the Avengers/Spiderman franchises and it feels like Dr Strange and his sh*tbag emphorium are never aff our screens. But with all current narrative roads leading to the ‘infinite multiverse’ again and again, it’s hard to tell if this is a sequel, a reboot, a rehash or just another adventure for Steven Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch). Creating multiverses may be a studio executive’s dream, allowing creative to mix franchises, characters and actors like mashing action figures together in a giant toy-box, but with infinite possibilities and infinite lives, it’s hard not to draw the conclusion that nothing really matters anymore in such baroque, fancy-dan, data-dump narratives.

‘This isn’t sorcery, it’s witchcraft,’ someone explains, and these are the battle-lines of Raimi’s MCU entry; The Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) wants some magic book that gives her control over all possible multiverses so that she can hang out with her kids in the one happy scenario that she wants to protect. Access to this book seems to be via America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) who sports a ghastly jacket made from the US flag, and who has the ability to punch holes between multiverses, but only as the plot requires. Dr Strange has to protect America, in every sense, and defeat the Scarlet Witch to save the world as we know it. The End.

Confused? Just take a look at the film’s Wikipedia page and be none the wiser; here’s an extract. ‘When Strange refuses to surrender Chavez, Maximoff attacks Kamar-Taj, killing many sorcerers. Chavez accidentally transports herself and Strange across the multiverse to Earth-838. Maximoff uses the Darkhold to “dream-walk” into the body of her Earth-838 counterpart, who lives a suburban life with her own Billy and Tommy. A surviving sorceress sacrifices herself to destroy the Darkhold and break the dream-walk. Maximoff then forces Wong to lead her to Mount Wundagore, the source of the Darkhold’s power and the location of a shrine to the Scarlet Witch, allowing her to reestablish the dream-walk with her Earth-838 self. While searching for help, Strange and Chavez are arrested by Earth-838’s Karl Mordo and brought before the Illuminati…’

The MCU can write this kind of stuff, but I’m not sure that many of us are really getting the gist; I thought they were saying ‘the dark hole’ every time ‘the darkhold’ was mentioned, which didn’t help. There’s also a long hiatus during which, vague spoilers alert, we take a break-neck world-building tour and meet the Illuminati including The Fantastic Four’s Reed Richards, played by The Office’s Jim Halpert (John Krasinski) and a brief revival for the X-Men’s Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) . And this being a Raimi film, there’s also a few of his affectations mixed in, goofy-eyed zombies, some horror tropes and a Bruce Campbell cameo, so there’s quite a melange going on in this particular multiverse. At least Tilda Swinton is MIA, which is always a plus.

You either dig the idea of ‘being held hostage by your alternate self’ or not; the multiverse promises all kinds of interesting metaphysical questions, but the slam-bam nature of the MCU doesn’t allow many answers. As usual, we just jog on the spot, increasing our step count, but not actually going anywhere; as with the previous Dr Strange film, the Multiverse of Madness has lots of flashy visuals, a few decent jokes, but gets us all precisely nowhere, saving the best IP for another day or film. Films like this seem to be catnip to fan-boys, but for the rest of us, it’s just a resigned shrug and whatever; even with an endless set of universes with infinite possibilities, I’m bored rigid with yer multiverse already.

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  1. Saw this today but was mostly baffled. Multiverse seems to translate as just do what the hell you like. I had already given up before the zombies appeared. I should have sent MCU copies of Once Upon a Time in the West and Thunderball as a reminded of how films should be made.

  2. Will sneak this into my triple bill today but I doubt it will compete with Once Upon a Time in the West and Thunderball both on the big screen.

    • Two correct answers! If the Raimi cut isn’t already a thing, it should be. There was early talk of this being an actual horror film…

      • Yeah, I heard it was originally going to be directed by Scott Derrickson and go for a more horror-themed style. Quick check on Wiki and it is reported he “stepped away from directing duties as a result of unspecified creative differences.”

  3. I went for Sam Raimi and enjoyed what Sam Raimi was left in the film. I do wonder how much Sam Raimi was left on the cutting room floor though, especially after hearing talk of between 50% to 80% of the film being reshot. And didn’t it feel like it! This is said to be due to the success of Spidey: No Way Home and all the “cameos.” I think it’s also due to the big title card in the credits: “A Kevin Feige Production.” If only he’d retired after Endgame. Ah well, perhaps he did in Universe 666. No wait, that’s our universe, isn’t it? Your star rating doesn’t feel like it matches your review. I’d give it 4 stars for the Raimi moments and 2 for the film.

    • That whole Illuminati thing did not feel like Raimi to me, but I liked the references to things like Drag Me to Hell. It feels like directors are invited to add a twist of their own style, but no more than a twist. I’d put Raimi’s Spider-Man as one of the best superhero movies, and there are moments in this that have his bold style; he pretty much invented the style that the MCU adopted, so it’s a shame they didn’t let him develop it or take it somewhere new. Star ratings are for fridges, but I’d happily adopt yours; it balances out as a passable 3.

  4. I share your frustration, awesome authority. I used to be a fan of TV show The Blacklist–up to S8 when writers left more dangling questions than a curious kid shaking a birthday gift, not to mention disconnections and dead end sub-plots. Superman and Marvel’s done the same thing. I used to read comics – late 50s-60s, when storylines could be trusted. A quick look at mis-named Scarlet Witch gives her 5 different sets or parents/origins between 80s-2000. For Marvel to say Dr Strange could be turned bad by ye olde Book of the Damned (Darkhold, transcribed by a Lovecraft’esque being) is to forever tarnish his arrogant, but incorruptible character. To be further baffled, watch 2019 Canadian film Multiverse–bring your quantum mechanics cribsheet. Ancients discussed the metaphysics of undetectable, unmeasurable multiverses in BCE–it’s still a theory, though not to mages, sorcerers, wizards, and a few witches. With 3 versions of Dr Strange, witches, and mega levels of confusing alt-universes and storylines, I predict I’ll have alternating, simultaneous opinions RE this maddening film. Thanks!

    • There’s a few bits to savour; one where strange has to cover up all reflections to stop SW sneaking into his realm. It’s here bits make something of the sorcery vs witchcraft theme that I would be well interested in, but being Disney, is largely dispensed with in favour of theme park spectacle and bolts of energy fired from fingertips. I’m right up for a good multiverse, just not the Marvel one, which is light n meaning and metaphysics, and heavy on bubblegum tapestry. Marvel movies do well with simplicity, masked heroes, flying bodies, shattering punches, and they work in every market. So why garnish everything with such techno-babble that I couldn’t decide this film with several university degrees? I’ll be back to see if your comments generate any answers…

  5. Just like a mirror ball mesmerizing the audience, the new Marvel manage to entertain but fails to astonish. The Doctor deserves respect due to his rank, while Raimi tries to make it joyful. Between them, there is America, under the red threat. Don’t be afraid, the Wizzard (of Oz ?) is ready for the fight.

    Severe but very good review.

    • Thanks! As you say, this entertains for sure, but no more than that. A mirror ball is a good comparison, it’s window dressing, pretty, but with zero to say about our rapidly changing world…

  6. THe problem is, there is a whole generation of fanboys. They can support this kind of thing for a very long time, so I don’t see it ending any time soon.

    Couple your comments with the fact that you have to watch the tv shows to really understand the movies now and whammo, these are no longer for everyone. The MCU has moved into niche territory, albeit money making niche territory.

    I’m passing too. I just don’t care anymore…

    • Nailed it! I’m sitting trying to figure out all this muck about the Scarlet Witch, but because I never saw Wandavision, it’s impossible to understand. There’s an army of fanboys keen to dissect every frame, but oridnary film-goers are just not going to understand or care…

      • and this relentless march of interconnectedness is what killed the MCU for me. I don’t mind the movies tying in together in a big way, but they should all have their own standalone plots and stand on their own.
        I’m not paying for a disney+ subscription, ever, so there goes my fandom…

        • I kid you not, to make anything of the chat in this, you’d need to see the Avengers films, the Spider-Man films, the previous Dr Strange and the tv show Wandavision. That must cut into their potential audience…

          • I completely believe you. When they announced the tv shows were going to be integral to the overall storylines, I knew it was going to alienate the general movie goers.

            Like I said, I think the fanbase is big enough at the moment to handle the load. But I feel like it is teetering. If the casual viewer stops watching these movies en masse, then we’ll see just how much money power the fanboys have.

      • It’s like in Chinatown, ‘I’m her sister, I’m her mother…’ Scarlet/Wanda is good/bad, but in latest incarnation, has been so ‘manipulated’ by others, her origins are unknown. She once lived on Wundagore Mountain in E Europe, was told she and twin bro were mutants born to Romani couple (Maximoffs), and called Wanda. Separated from alleged parents and forced her to hide powers, which were added to by other super figures (including Agatha, witch of New Salem, Mephisto, Magneto …)

    • Or go back and read the comics, which have been cookbook organized on fan sites like Marvel’s wiki… They’ve made it (post 1990) hard to follow, an insult to ones intelligence, and funny in a bad way…

  7. I’ve lost interest in Marvel since Infinity War. I tried the TV series’ but won’t bother with any part 2’s. Spider-Man was a hope forlorn, couldn’t cope with Chris Pratt who is a Starlord prat, and much as I like Hemsworth the Thor movies deteriorated into slapstick, so I’m out and the multiverse can do without me.

  8. It’s a CGI kind of reality: infinitely plastic where nothing really matters. Superman turning time back was just a foreshadowing of the power of the Infinity Stones. You could see Marvel as having created a universe or multiverse reflective of our post-truth dispensation. Nothing is real any longer because there are always alternative facts. It’s metaphysical nihilism and the whole MCU is just a snake eating its own tail. If you’re not enjoying the light show you might as well just give up on it.

    • I think people will get bored of all this every quickly; we enjoy stories, not just jumbles of IP. At some point, I’d like to think, movies will go back to being hard-hitting, intense, two hour entertainments in the dark, and it’ll knock all this mumbo-jumbo into a cocked hat. FacT!

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