It’s a given that if it’s a Marvel movie, then it will be a spectacle. Even their TV series are high on production value, so expectations from any movie in the MCU are already high. Maybe that has started to become the MCU’s biggest albatross around its gigantic neck.
The last big Marvel event movie Spiderman: No Way Home managed to narrowly avoid being a Superhero Movie By the Numbers by the thrill and novelty of having multiple Spidermen show up in one movie. Despite multiple Doctor Stranges showing up in this saga about multiverses (along with a couple of other Superhero surprises that I won’t reveal because spoilers are the worst), the novelty has worn off.
The movie begins with America Chavez (or Miss America) being thrown into Doctor Strange’s (Benedict Cumberbatch) universe as she is being chased by a one-eyed octopus. Strange discovers that this new entrant is someone who has the power to travel across different multiverses and is being hunted by a big demon who wants to steal this ability for itself. Now Strange has to travel through these different universes to try and save the girl’s life and potentially the whole world.
The title of the movie is not playing around. It is a multiverse of madness because, right from the get-go, there’s chaos and that’s precisely my problem with the movie. There’s just too much happening too quickly. Wanda gets established as the main villain of the movie pretty early on, and the one conjuring fake demons to chase Chavez for her power because she wants to have the ability to travel across universes to live with her children, who may or may not exist. Her soul has been corrupted by the evil book Darkhold and that’s not ideal for the good guys especially because she also happens to be the strongest witch in existence who is also apparently invincible. This also brings me to my first side note, do not go into this movie without watching Wandavision, or What If for that matter, because you will end up feeling extremely confused for a large part of the movie.
Wanda forms the shaky emotional core of the movie because there is little else to hold on to, once all the trappings of CGI-heavy battles and trademark Marvel quips are removed.
Director Sam Raimi is clearly having fun with the movie and the fact that he is given multiverses to play with so there is no accountability for killing off major characters in increasingly gruesome ways, something that no other Marvel movies had dared to do. He is the man behind the original Spider-Man trilogy starring Tobey Maguire (inarguably one of the best and most fun superhero movies to exist) and the Evil Dead series. He mixes his two strengths, spectacle and horror, in this movie and it results in the scariest Marvel movie. There are hell spirits, evil possessions, zombies, a Doctor Strange in a ponytail, and countless jumpscares. There’s also more gore and blood than any other Marvel movie that makes you wary about the characters’ fates at the hand of a grief-addled Wanda.
The movie is not not-fun, it just doesn’t have any emotional depth to keep you rooted as we zoom through multiverses at the speed of light. If you’re confused by what I mean, take the brilliant Logan (2017) for example, or The Dark Knight trilogy, or even The Batman (2022). There is no time given for us to properly invest in any character’s conflict to actually care about the outcome.
Strange meets different versions of himself, each more unsavory than the last, and realises no version of him across the infinite universe is truly happy. This realisation is also aided by the fact that he keeps bumping into Christine (Rachel McAdams), his one true love, in all these universes and the fact that he hasn’t ended up with her in any of these parallel universes just hammers in the fact that he is deeply unhappy. Cumberbatch plays this with Strange’s characteristic arrogance and is adequate. Elizabeth Olsen, as the Scarlet Witch, falters when she has to play up the innate evilness of the character but shines in the scenes where she lets the audience in on the devastating sense of loss she feels at every moment and thankfully there are a lot of those moments for her. Benedict Wong, Xochitl Gomez, and McAdams are also, for a lack of better word, adequate.
This is not to say that the movie is boring. There are some exhilarating moments where you unwittingly shriek in delight and a brand of humour that is the director’s signature. Who else could have came up with a scene where a zombie stops in the middle of an intense fight sequence to give a scared superhero a rousing pep talk? So while the movie is very different from the other movies in the MCU, it still falls prey to Marvel’s affinity towards creating moments of fan service that, oftentimes, add nothing to the narrative.
Should you go for the movie? Absolutely. It’s a movie that is meant to be watched and experienced on the big screen and it is inevitable that the events of the movie will play an integral part in the future MCU movies, so don’t give this one a miss, but manage your expectations.