The interdimensional power struggle in the MCU continues with “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness”, a movie that I only really had interest in seeing thanks to Sam Raimi’s involvement and SOME genuine intrigue regarding Wanda’s involvement after WandaVision.
HOLY BALLS, was this frustrating.
I-I should’ve known Marvel wasn’t going to let someone even as prestigious as Sam Raimi get some creative control around this project However, it’s not for lack of trying; Raimi’s direction, whatever free range was given, does allow the movie to breathe and try to build upon itself after the first 20 or so minutes and it does eventually mold into a pale imitation of his own near the end. Outside a few blunders, the cinematography takes advantage of some really trippy angles and visuals that feel more keen to his style, they barely traverse around the R rating with the type of PG-13 purgatory you’d see in Drag Me to Hell, Danny Elfman’s score seems to compliment the rest of the sound design if only by accident, and I adore the few times the film actively tries to be more imaginative and cerebral with the monsters, magic and alternate universes crumbling apart. Not to mention, the discourse on having quiet moments fuel the scenes was a welcome change of pace and patience.
I can’t exactly fault the acting here; everybody is doing the very best they can with what they’re given; the characters are a whole different kettle of fish. From BARELY expanding upon Stranges arc from the first movie to completely disemboweling Wanda’s arc from WandaVision and reducing America Chavez to one of many MacGuffins, that’s one of MANY issues plaguing the script here.
The arch dialogue and visual ecstasy from Raimi’s other hero flicks? It may not be leeched of much color but vivacity is lacking and the dialogue feels somehow unnatural whenever anybody tries to speak. Sure, they mostly ditch the MCU humor but it feels reminiscent of the comically bad early 2000’s Marvel flicks. And don’t forget a few blink and you’ll miss it moments of just really lazy editing, the incessant pacing that betrays the original cut runtime cause BOY, does it show, the storyline is full of plot holes, the exposition just doesn’t work and the execution might be even worse, pairing with an ambience that soon grows stale alongside some of the most frustrating uses of cameos I’ve seen in a long time. To be fair, I wasn’t excepting a lot from them but these cameos are the perfect testament to how easy these sorts of sprawling projects can collapse under their own weight when they get too big.
And then there are its themes: this ultimately is where the movie quickly lost me. They’re universal feelings that anyone can relate to but man, did they make the characters feel somewhat shallow and even drag down the performances a little as a result. Unlike EEAAO which used its multiversal probabilities to craft both set pieces AND characterization, Doctor Strange 2 only does the former to pepper us with glossy CG and so the actual multiverse lacks the madness of its title and ends up being fairly safe and sanitary.
Nobody really learns anything or changes for the better compared to how they started. Only Wanda gets any sort of development and even that seems rather tacked on due to how we already did this in WandaVision, let alone how they now want to pretend that never happened.
I was really hoping this movie would prove me wrong; sure, EEAAO was always going to stay light years ahead of this but Marvel had the opportunity to really take advantage of the narrative crux people have been clamoring for for years now and they’re still barely doing much with it. Raimi’s sheen is more visibly present than expected but even that wears off by the one hour mark; it’s another classic example of style over substance: prioritizing the spectacle of the thought of the multiverse over whatever few characterizations they turned shallow.
Another dark heavy incongruent storytelling cul-de-sac that ultimately doesn’t add much of anything to the MCU and feels more like an advertisement for nothing as opposed to the rest of the pack.