The Marvel Universe was Disney’s only bright spot but after a handful of flops both in theaters and its streaming platform Disney+, the house that Tony Stark built is beginning to look a bit worse for the wear, and the people put in charge of its upkeep have little to no desire to keep it in working order.
Over the weekend, I went and saw the latest Marvel entry Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness. Strange is a character I tend to actually like and despite repeated disappointments, I had hope that with the good Doctor being an early phase hero they’d at least put some real care into the story. By the end of it, however, both my wife and I left the theater not entirely sure what to think of it.
Without spoiling much, I’ll say that this isn’t a bad movie per se, but despite all its bells and whistles, it’s still disappointing. I’ll start with the good and then give you the bad.
For one, if you’re a Sam Raimi fan then I’ve got good news for you. You’re definitely getting a Sam Raimi movie.
Some of you are Raimi fans dating all the way back to the Evil Dead series with Bruce Campbell, or maybe you’re Spider-Man fans of the Toby Maguire era. Rest assured, if you like his movies then you’re going to get some itches scratched. His signature style for superhero films is married to his horror movie style a lot better than I thought it would be. That Raimi silliness is there, but so are the sudden scares and morbid death scenes. Some of these scenes took me by surprise given that in the back of my head I was still watching a Marvel/Disney creation.
In any other circumstance, I would have wondered if these scenes were necessary, but Raimi did set out to make this a horror movie in the MCU, and as such, he succeeded in his Raimi way.
As this movie plays with the multiverse, you’re going to see a lot of new characters introduced, some of them very welcome surprises. Suffice to say, if you were watching superhero cartoons in the 90s’, you’ll get a very pleasant surprise. Moreover, a long-teased character that fans had been asking for has finally made an appearance and the person he’s played by is a point in Marvel’s favor as it’s clear they were listening to fans in at least some way.
Moreover, I thought the ending was creative. Instead of a superhero besting the villain by fighting better, this one takes a different approach that, in my opinion, played well to the villain. Marvel movies seem to have a habit of putting people with similar powers up against one another and letting them fight it out. In this one, the villain is defeated in an entirely different way.
Also, the visual effects are incredible. The team at Marvel outdid themselves with the mind-bending CGI.
But now, onto the bad.
My biggest complaint about this movie is that it doesn’t necessarily feel like a Doctor Strange flick, it feels like WandaVision 1.5.
Without spoiling too much, the main villain of the film is Wanda Maximoff (aka the Scarlett Witch) and her villain arc picks up where it left off at the end of her Disney+ series, a solitary woman of immense power who lost her two sons that never truly existed in the first place. Desperate to get them back, the would-be mother turns to the MCU’s book of the damned to find a way to get to them in an alternate universe. The book is a corrupting influence on anyone who reads it, turning Maximoff into a homicidal witch.
Meanwhile, Strange is attempting to help America Chavez, a girl with the uncontrollable power to jump between realities in the multiverse, and once Maximoff learns of her existence, it kicks off a multiversal game of cat and mouse where, despite getting the most screen time, Strange feels like a secondary character. The real meat of the story is Maximoff’s, and it feels like we’re going through paces we’ve already gone through in WandaVision. If Elizabeth Olsen wasn’t such a great actress, I wouldn’t have been nearly compelled enough to focus.
Counting as a negative, the multiverse is a convoluting presence in the MCU and makes it far too busy with new characters, franchises, and concepts being shoved at the viewer very quickly. It actually dampens the excitement and mystery of the MCU, taking it from being a fun, fantastic ride to an exhausting mess of plot threads you have to keep up with to know what’s going on. While it is an integral part of the story, it weighs it down.
Lastly, it wouldn’t be a Disney movie without some sort of messaging and it’s almost present the entire time. America Chavez is LGBT and they want you to be very aware of it. “Love is love” is written on her jacket in Spanish and if you didn’t get the idea, they gave her an LGBT pin that they make very noticeable throughout the film. Moreover, it’s pointed out that her mothers were lesbian in a flashback.
It doesn’t exactly feel natural, coming off more like a “look at how woke we are” moment from Disney that contributes nothing to the plot. The pin, in particular, feels more like it’s breaking the “show don’t tell” rule of movie-making. While no one ever comments about the jacket or the pin, it’s in your face nonetheless.
Moreover, the movie really does some work pushing the “M-She-U” narrative. The men are all clearly outmatched by more powerful women, and it’s women who seem to do the things necessary to move the plot along. Women are typically the last ones standing near the end of any given fight. It’s almost half surprising that they didn’t retire Cumberbatch and replace him with a female variant as they did with Captain America.
All in all, I would say it wasn’t a bad movie but for those still interested in seeing what the MCU is up to, then you probably wouldn’t be wrong to wait to see this at home. The audio/visuals in the theater are great, but in terms of a Marvel entry, it’s not the weakest but it’s definitely not the strongest. The days of strong Marvel movies seem to be behind us.
I do hold out hope that Thor: Love and Thunder, directed by Taika Waititi and starring Chris’s Pratt and Hemsworth will be worth watching but I have the sinking feeling that whatever brilliance Waititi would deliver will be somehow marred by Disney’s demands. I’ve lost faith in the company as has most of the western world.
Multiverse kind of sealed that for me. It was an inevitability, but it’s sad to see nonetheless. Disney films, no matter which branch, will suffer from Disney’s inability to keep politics out of its escapism, and the story has gotten so deep that it’s become top-heavy. Keeping up with it is now work.
Marvel has become a take-it-or-leave-it brand.