One Liner Review:
An okay entry into the Marvel cannon, this one has a cool villain reveal and some fun cameos, but with a terrible third act, it all doesn’t amount to very much.
Here is a movie that tries really hard to push the envelope in terms of twists, complications, and horror elements. And it goes too far. There are three clear acts here, and each act is loaded up with a major surprise. The problem is, not all of these surprises are good, or send the plot in the right direction. And what the movie leaves out, or doesn’t do right, ends up hurting it quite a bit. The movie isn’t bad, it’s okay. There’s certainly a lot to like. But when the third and final act is the weakest one, there is definitely a problem.
Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness is a little too much. It’s a little too out there, complicated, and even horrific, all at the same time. This is definitely Marvel taking risks, which is usually a good thing, but it is also a clear example of going too far. Not all risks are good. Take Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, for example. Overly complicated to the point of losing the audience’s attention, turned out to be a recipe for disaster. Here with Doctor Strange 2, the biggest risk is how far they push the horror factor. This is Marvel, after all, not an R rated zombie flick. The fact that they get away with so much here, while still keeping a PG-13 rating is nearly inexplainable. But just because they can get away with it, doesn’t mean they actually should.
The movie opens with Doctor Strange and a teenage girl running through a strange world, and being chased by a monster. This isn’t the Strange we know, but Defender Strange, who has a pony tail. And he dies. We quickly see that it was all a dream, as the Strange we do know wakes up in bed. He gets dressed and heads off to a wedding. It’s the wedding of Christine Palmer, (Rachel McAdams,) the love interest of Doctor Strange in the first movie. Now she has moved on and is about to marry another man, and Strange is a guest at the wedding. He sits down next to a doctor colleague from the first movie,(Doctor West, played by Michael Stuhlbarg,) and West asks him about the blip, and whether it really had to happen the way it did. Was there another way? Strange tells him there wasn’t. This is pretty interesting, since it was Strange who decided this was the way to go, in Avengers: Infinity War, when he gave the Time Stone over to Thanos. Connections to the past movies are always rewarding, and this movie doesn’t have a ton of them, but at least we get an important one here.
It is while he is attending the wedding that Strange hears a bunch of commotion outside. He strolls out onto a balcony to see a giant squid monster attacking the city as it chases after one girl. This is America Chavez, the girl from Strange’s dream. He and Wong quickly go into action and this action includes making things out of thin air with magic that can take down the squid, such as golden chains. If the way they make these glowing tools and weapons in the air reminds you of the power of the Green Lantern, that’s because it’s basically the same thing. Only gold instead of green. The squid fight ends with Strange and Wong saving Chavez, but now wanting to find out who she is, and why she was in Strange’s dream. It turns out that Chavez can jump from one multiverse to the next, and that dreams are not in our imagination. They are actually happening somewhere in another multiverse. That’s a pretty cool concept.
From here, Strange goes to see the Scarlet Witch. It’s Wanda Maximoff from all the Avengers movies we have been watching, ever since Avengers Age of Ultron, (not to mention her own show, Wanda Vision.) In that show, she was the hero. Here, things are a little different. Strange visits her to ask for help in knowing who is coming after Chavez. Turns out it is Wanda herself. She’s the one who sent the giant squid. Surprise. Wanda is the villain of this movie. Yes, it’s a twist, and kind of a cool one, but it still feels like sort of a let down. You see, we are used to seeing fun and exciting villains that are new to each movie. In fact, the villain is usually one of the best things about the movie. And by making the villain Wanda, it is depriving us of a new character, (like Nightmare who was rumored to be the villain of this movie, and maybe even of the last movie.) Still, it’s definitely an interesting twist, and it leads to an exciting scene of Wanda attacking Karmatage, the secret city of the sorcerors. To do this, she employs the same mind control tricks she used in Age of Ultron, and it’s fun to see her back at it again.
The problem is that Scarlet Witch as the villain is not enough. Consider that the last Strange movie had Kysilious (Mads Mickelson,) as the villain, but then was replaced by an even bigger bad in Dormamu during the final act. Consider that the last two superhero movies, Spider Man: No Way Home (which Strange was in,) and The Batman were both stacked with villains. The days of the too-many-villains-in-your-movie problem (Batman Forever, Batman and Robin, the Amazing Spider Man 2,) are gone. These days audiences crave more. And this movie goes the opposite route, and gives us less.
Less applies not only to the villain, but also to the appearances and mentions of other characters from past Marvel films. For example, there is no Vision here. Not even a hint of him. Now, this movie is about Wanda going from multiverse to multiverse looking for a world where she can be with her kids. She can’t also be looking for one where Vision is still alive? Maybe the filmmakers felt like it would feel too contradictory to keep killing Vision in one movie only to bring him back in the next one (they killed him in Avengers: Infinity War only to bring him back for Wanda Vision, and then they killed him in Wanda Vision.) That argument does make sense, but in today’s culture where it’s all about the nostalgia and Easter Eggs, the better decision would have been to have Vision cameo here. And it wouldn’t be bringing him back as we know him, it would be another version of him, in another multiverse.
Vision is not the only character to get the short end of the stick here. Baron Mordo is another one. When they signed Chiwetel Ejiofor to play Mordo in the first movie, they were striking gold with casting. But to say he hasn’t been used to his potential is an understatement. At the end of the first movie, Mordo was set up to be an enemy. The movie literally ended with Mordo going on a rampage, killing people who practiced magic, and saying, “too many sorcerors.” So how do they continue with that storyline? By not even showing the current Mordo, of this timeline, in the movie. Not once. We do see the character, Mordo, only the version we see is one from a completely different multiverse. He has no connection to the story that was left open at the end of the last movie. And so we don’t get any continuation of that at all. What a waste. On top of that, the way things are going (based on this “Wanda is the villain scheme,”) Mordo will probably be the big bad of the third Doctor Strange, which means once again we will be denied a new cool villain in favor of just using a character we already know and are familiar with. I’m jumping ahead and projecting here, but the fact is, this movie does not continue the Mordo storyline from the last movie at all, and that’s a problem.
The movie is all about cutting ties with past characters and movies (no Vision, no current timeline Mordo, and no Spider Man cameo, despite Strange being a featured star of the last Spider Man movie.) Instead of looking back, this movie wants to look forward, and so it gives us a second act that deals with a new team of superheroes in another multiverse, called the Illuminati. Now, to be fair, this move is pretty great. Marvel tends to hesitate when announcing actors who will play future roles during scenes featured in the middle of their movies. We got the two big breakouts of Black Panther and Spider Man in Captain America: Civil War, but other than that, these moments are usually saved for the post-credits scenes, if at all (like Nick Fury at the end of Iron Man, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver at the end of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Starfox at the end of the Eternals.) In the case of Captain America: Civil War, those two actors and roles were huge, but they were telegraphed in the trailers and commercials for the film, so there were no surprises. Not so much here, in Doctor Strange 2. We get a whole bunch of actors playing surprising roles. I won’t spoil them, considering how nice of a surprise they are, but it’s all impressive and handled well. And some might have problems with what happens to these characters, shortly after they are introduced, but it’s something that’s true to the comics and that we’ve seen before, whether it was in the Infinity Gauntlet comic book saga or the X-Force team in Deadpool 2. It happens, and it’s okay. Certainly the achievement is that they put these characters in the movie at all.
But then the movie turns very dark. In fact, it pretty much happens around the time that Wanda goes after the members of this Illuminati. She starts walking around with a black liquid pouring down the front of her face. It’s oil from a bunch of Ultron robots she destroyed, but it’s sure meant to look like blood. In fact, it’s a tribute to how Sissy Spacek walked around with blood coming down her face in Carrie. And Wanda walks around with a limp, not unlike Jack Nicholson in the Shining, before doing a take on the female ghost in the Ring, during a scene that takes place in a completely white room, where she moves in all sorts of contorted, disturbing ways. This is where the movie really begins to go for the horror element.
It doesn’t end there. The whole final act features our hero sending his spirit into the body of a dead character, and walking around looking like a zombie. His face is half torn off as he goes on his quest to save the world and even give inspirational speeches. It’s incredibly dark and gross for a Marvel movie. And the ideas start to fall pretty flat right around this time. There’s a fight scene between two different versions of Doctor Strange, for example, that involves playing music, causing the music notes to fly into the air, sending them down at your opponent as if they were weapons, and then catching them on a line from a music page. It’s meant to be creative, but it comes across as pretty dumb. The movie has three big acts to it. The first act, features Wanda’s turn. The second act, features the Illuminati. And then the third act, features zombie strange. Of those three, only the final act doesn’t work. Unfortunately that’s the most important act of the movie, seeing it get so bleak is a problem. The movie is okay. There are definitely some cool ideas here, (like when Strange and Chavez travel through a ton of multiverses at once, including a paint version and an animated version.) But the way that this movie crumbles in the final act does lead to it bothering nearly as good as it could have been.