Marvel loses its magic
The latest Doctor Strange movie fails to deliver on its promise signaling Marvel Studios may have lost its way
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The Marvel Cinematic Universe is in a post Infinity War malaise. Over 10 years, Marvel Studios made more than 20 movies that all moved toward a particular climax. But the climax has passed, and now the studio is trying to keep fans interested by launching heroes into its newly created multiverse.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is fans’ first big taste of the multiversal concept. The film opens with Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) trying to save a girl named America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) from space demons—America can open doors from one alternate reality to another. But the real villain is Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) who wants America’s universe-hopping superpower for herself.
Movies in the Marvel Comics Universe tend to move in and out of different genres, and this Doctor Strange movie is supposed to be the MCU’s entry into horror. Sam Raimi is a veteran horror director, but this film never finds the right note. It includes tropes from every horror sub-genre. Things jump out of the dark. Characters get grabbed from behind. There are gruesome deaths. We see ghosts, demons, and zombies. There’s the obligatory scene in which people get chased down a hallway by a very slow-moving villain.
Compared to the first Doctor Strange movie, depictions of the occult are much heavier. In this installment, Strange calls upon the spirits of the dead and various characters use a form of possession that opens them up to evil forces. Despite these moments, the movie still manages a PG-13 rating. It’s not family friendly, but it’s not really horror either, and Raimi’s failure to balance the tone isn’t the movie’s only problem.
Throughout the film Strange keeps saying, “We know frighteningly little about the multiverse,” but when he says “we,” he must be referring to the script writers. The rules of the multiverse don’t make sense, and the movie doesn’t deliver on the promised madness. The characters’ actions also don’t make sense.
Wanda’s contrived motivation can’t explain her bloodthirsty turn, and this film ruins the heartbreaking character we saw in WandaVision. Even worse, in some scenes, she’s omnipotent, and then a few seconds later she forgets she can create and destroy with a mere thought. A veneer of nuance attempts to turn Doctor Strange into the new Tony Stark, but the arrogant-white-guy-who-needs-to-feel cliché has lost its appeal.
The newly introduced hero doesn’t fare better. The audience isn’t given a reason to care about America. She’s a young girl who hasn’t lived long enough to develop a personality. Marvel Studios ticks its intersectionality boxes by introducing this new Latina superhero who, in the comics at least, is an outspoken lesbian. This younger film version doesn’t announce her sexuality, but we see flashbacks of America’s life with her two moms.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a sad attempt to keep the increasingly unwieldy MCU moving toward another Infinity War–like showdown. This cinematic mess isn’t so much a film as a lazy two-hour setup without any pay off. Captain America is rolling over in his grave.
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