Marvel and Cameo Madness: Doctor Strange Continues to Mess Up the Multiverse; it’s like a badly done SNL sketch
the Marvel Cinematic Universe is busier than it’s ever been – in that even diehard fans need to take a little break and revisit the Marvel lore of the past decade. A new superhero is served to us every month, filled with expositions of laws and new concepts that require a Google search before you can get used to them. There’s so much going on that sometimes it’s exhausting trying to keep up. Sigh, where are the simpler days of Iron Man and Black Panther where you could just focus on the story at hand and not be pulled into confusing alternate universes at a breakneck pace like Vin Diesel was behind the wheel ?
After the explosion of the multiverse in Spider-Man: No Coming Home, which was basically a fan service to bring in the three Spideys from the various franchises, we’re back with the multiverse in Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness, and that’s exactly what the title promises: it’s madness. The madness and chaos are there, as you would expect from a Sam Raimi film. It pulls off all the tricks in Sam Raimi’s book to bring out undead thrills, symphonic battles, blunders and horror jump scares. I won’t deny that I was much more involved in this film, more than I had been during Spider-Man: No Way Home, due to the gruesome twists and sheer breathlessness of the spectacle. Still, that’s the feeling when you come out of a dizzying roller coaster ride – you start processing the movie and realize – Marvel has made a mess of the multiverse.
To paraphrase Spider-Man, with infinite universes comes infinite responsibility. The joy of the multiverse concept is seeing what would have happened had a particular character made, or not made, a particular choice, something the delightful What If summed up. In the last two films, this is now a poor excuse for celebrity cameos, just to induce gasps. Yes, we’ll boo and clap – but could we have a full story please? Instead, we’re taken through different universes at debilitating speed and have to watch Strange and America underwater, then become cartoon characters and find ourselves in a world where “red” means going for traffic. It’s as deep as it gets. Oh, and a pizza roll.
In Spider-Man: No Way Home, for some reason, Doctor Strange decided to play with the timelines and help a distraught Peter Parker and opened up the multiverse. Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock, Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin, Sandman, as well as several others from Andrew Garfield’s cursed franchise broke. After the first gasps of excitement, I started to wonder where exactly the story was going. The annoyance was compounded after Peter Parker decided to get the moral upper hand and “help” the bad guys. After it completely blew up in his face, we exchanged a few gasps and boos when Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire introduced themselves. The three Spideys discussed their love lives with their respective GMs, fought in a big scene, and Tobey Maguire nearly got skewered, but recovered pretty quickly, so no harm done. The cameos were great, but the story was negligible and hesitant and the final conclusion made no sense because now no one knows who Peter Parker or Spider-Man is. It’s the old amnesia stuff, but Marvel-esque.
In Doctor Strange, we are thrust into the midst of chaos, within the first ten minutes themselves. It has Defender Strange and multiverse teen America Chevez racing towards Vishanti’s book as the monster attempts to ravage them. He’s not the Strange we know, and he dies anyway, just in case we get a little invested in this character. Back to Doctor Strange and the world we know, he realizes he needs to stop moping about his ex-girlfriend Christine and go save America, because the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) goes on a rampage and demands her power so she could merge with the Wanda Maximoff from another universe. This Wanda is the mother of two children, Tommy and Billy – she has a semblance of a happy life that the Scarlet Witch does not have. After several dizzying battles and the destruction of Kamar-Taj, Strange and America jump into hastily sketched universes and all we find out that in each universe he and Christine don’t have a happy ending.
And then we meet the Illuminati – a group of superheroes who become roadkill for Scarlet Witch in seconds. Patrick Stewart’s wise Professor Xavier emerges, only to expose the same logic he’s repeated throughout the X-Men franchise – helping someone who’s gone astray. There’s also John Krasinski, and I’m sorry I couldn’t help but laugh, because I couldn’t take him seriously. I suddenly felt like I was watching a Saturday Night Live skit, but just bad writing. There’s Hayley Atwell’s Peggy Carter and she fights Scarlet Witch to be cremated as well. How can I not believe his scene was written just so we could hear the words “I can do this all day?” I mean, a few minutes later, Wanda knocks him out. I really want to believe that this version of Illuminati wasn’t chosen by fans, but the movie failed to convince me otherwise.
In the credits of the film, we see Charlize Theron, who takes Doctor Strange on another adventure. Sure why not. Might as well have introduced Tom Cruise’s Superior Iron Man.
After the events of WandaVision (you have to watch that first to understand this movie), Wanda embraced her evil persona. She wants America because she sees it as a human portal to a universe where she can be a mother to her children, Tommy and Billie. Exposed, Wanda has become evil because she only wants her children and this all-consuming desire destroys her from within and she is willing to murder everyone in her path for this ambition. She’s a woman who can bend reality and the mind for that matter, and here she is going crazy without her children. Looks like Marvel took a good look at the “crazy ex-girlfriend tale” and went to town with it.
To be fair, that’s Wanda’s fate in the comics – a woman who constantly does terrible things because she wants her kids back. I had hoped that we were in 2022 and that we could see something less reductive? If the MCU can pick out other storylines and reinvent male personas, couldn’t they be a little fairer to Scarlet Witch?
Olsen’s performance is raw and brutal for sure, she does what she can with such a finely written character. Marvel has convinced itself that they can write women well now, and the consolation prizes are Captain Marvel and Black Widow, where women face a movie after a decade. However, as Scarlet Witch blazes through the film in a haze of red in search of her children, I was uncomfortably reminded of Black Widow, where women were sterilized – and it was even more disconcerting when Florence Pugh explained the process in a deadpan way that was clearly written for laughs.
If this is the fate of the main character, what can we expect from the added love interests? Marvel has never cared much about superhero love interests, from Pepper Potts to Peggy Carter. Peggy had a little more spunk than Pepper, who vaguely stayed on the sidelines except to plead a bit or get blackmailed or finally tell Iron Man to die peacefully.
However, no one is as bland as Christine Palmer in the Doctor Strange sequel, whose main job is to roll their eyes and inform Strange that they have no future in any universe. This is a cruel disservice to Rachel McAdams and her craft. It’s as if Christine was written just so fans could feel that Strange has a heart. She has little to no emotion towards Strange in this film, who seems to have a weak knee whenever he recalls a memory or sees her. I tried to feel some emotion at Strange’s dialogue, “I’ve loved you in all universes”, but realized I had next to no investment in the love story or even Christine d ‘somewhere else.
America Chevez, who by the way is Latina in the comics, is just a very confused and bland teenager, despite the whole movie relying on her powers. We get a glimpse of her story, but like everything else in the movie, it all moves too fast.
There’s so much potential with the multiverse concept – so many possibilities – but it’s all broke like the victims of Scarlet Witch in the face of crazy fan service.
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