Movie Review: 'Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness'
Avengers movies are no slouch when it comes to callbacks or very iconic moments in general. This can be sent throughout a series of films in the modern-day. When talking to Marvel fans about what they remember from Avengers: Endgame, they will most likely point to Thor's hammer flying into the hands of Captain America, and the audience proceeds to cheer in excitement.
The reason that particular cheer-triggering callback landed as hard as it did had everything to do with how carefully it had been set up, in the linear progression of MCU films that had gone before. Audiences didn't know they were expecting it, yet they very much were, because the work had been done to lay the track. So when that moment finally arrived, it proceeded to target and overwhelm their brains' pleasure centers with the ruthlessness of sheer, satisfying inevitability.
In the latest MCU film, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, there are lots and lots of similar callbacks and cameos. Makes sense: The plot sends Doctor Strange, the Scarlet Witch, and newcomer America Chavez throughout the sea of chaos known as the multiverse. What they see and experience along the way draws on characters and situations established in past Marvel films and broadcast television shows, in recent and current Disney+ streaming series, and in the fervent speculation of Marvel fans.
But something has changed, mostly because this build-up doesn't feel earned, nor does it feel exactly rational at all.
The movie's synopsis reads the following: "Dr. Stephen Strange casts a forbidden spell that opens a portal to the multiverse. However, a threat emerges that may be too big for his team to handle."
While a great start at the most, the movie in my personal opinion falls flat in a lot of areas. Most being consistency, and even simple characterization feel bizarrely out of place in this film.
Marvel has included a ton of callbacks and cameos in this film. However, personally as stated formally the cameos don't feel earned, or even necessarily needed. Even in some cases, the cameos are just boring downright. This overall just weighs down the narrative events and muddies what otherwise could've been replaced with more interesting development of other characters, or at least replaced with other characters.
However, this movie does shine with its director, Sam Raimi. This is not Raimi's first time at the Marvel studio, however. Raimi is responsible for creating the original Tobey Maguire Spider-Man trilogy. But back then, Marvel was still just a studio, and not yet a genre.
In interviews, Raimi has been very honest about the challenges of making this film. He came on board after its original director Scott Derrickson, who created the 2016 Doctor Strange film, departed. This was stated to be due to creative differences with Marvel Studios' vision for the film. Originally, the film was supposed to premiere before Spider-Man: No Way Home. This most likely points to the fact this script had been constantly in a flux of back and forth until the final release date. There was constantly checking in with studio execs charged with directing the MCU's narrative traffic. Within all of this, there had also been a large quantity of COVID delays and reshoots as well.
So, yes, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a mess. The movie even feels unfinished. It apparently is even missing 20+ minutes of the film due to cutting down on the time of the film. As you watch it, you can't help but imagine that you're only viewing it through last-minute studio notes and frantically crunched-down content.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness leans into his horror roots the film manages to attain a clear view of an overarching aesthetic. The movie defiantly pushes hard against its PG-13 rating, having a multitude of horror elements and scare factors put into the film. Personally, I heavily enjoyed these additions, it gives a new interesting feel to Marvel that has barely been showcased. The callbacks that work best aren't Marvel callbacks, they're Raimi callbacks: zombies, ghouls, a brief tracking shot from the baddie's perspective.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is great at depicting the impossible wonders of other universes, it's overall not that interesting to watch as you spend most of the time-strapped to one universe. For a movie called the "Multiverse of Madness," there is a surprisingly little multiverse.
There's a divided opinion amongst fans on how to react to this new film. Marvel fans are gonna love all those fan-servicing, momentous cameos. Raimi fans are going to find themselves liking the film more and more the longer it goes, because the director seems most firmly in control later on, once things get darker and darker towards the conclusion. However, on the opposite end of the spectrum, a lot of fans are going to find themselves bored by the large lack of good pacing, a poorly put-together story, and occasional poor CGI.