Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Film Review: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness


Sexuality/Nudity Mature
Violence Mature
Vulgarity Acceptable

Anti-Catholic Philosophy Mature

One of the criticisms leveled at the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the most successful movie franchise in history, is that they smother the creative vision of the directors.  Executive Producer Kevin Feige and the production team at Marvel Studios enforce a certain "Marvel Style" on their films to keep them from deviating too much from the formula.  As a result

t, some see the Marvel movies as bland.  

For Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Marvel hired director Sam Raimi.  Not only is he famous for giving us the original Spider-Man trilogy, but he also made some of the strangest, most iconic horror films in the Evil Dead trilogy.  Say what you will about Raimi, he has a very distinctive style, tone, and vision.

And it is when Marvel lets Raimi be Raimi that this movie really comes to life.

Multiverse of Madness is a sequel to the original Doctor Strange, but it is also a sequel to WandaVision.  This movie goes all in on the audience being up to speed on that Disney+ show.  Without that context, much of the plot will not make sense.

The story begins as Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a guest at a wedding where he begins to reflect on his life and his choices.  He saved the world several times but at a terrible cost.  And even though he has emerged victorious, happiness seems to elude him.  He doesn't have time to think about it, but a young woman named America Chavez (Xochiti Gomez) needs saving from a monster.  With the help of fellow sorcerer Wong (Benedict Wong), they rescue America and find out that she is from another universe and that she has a unique gift: she can travel the multiverse.  However, some person is after her to steal her power.  In the wrong hands, this power would be a threat to all realities.  With so much at stake, Strange reaches out to fellow magic user and Avenger Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), hoping that she can help defend America against this malevolent force.

I cannot speak too much more about the plot without spoiling things.  

When it comes to movies, I like being fooled.  What I mean is that so many movies today have plots that are so predictable that they border on tedious.  But there were a number of twists to the story that I did not see coming (although based on all the information out there I probably should have).  This, along with a lot of stunt cameos, made my jaw drop in geeky-joy.

One of the things I really liked about this movie is that it got better as the movie went on.  The first act feels very much like boiler-plate Marvel fare.  Action sequences with witty banter fill up this part of the movie.  But the further the story goes on, the more you begin to see Sam Raimi's very distinctive flair.  There are moments when the great evil is attaching the sorcerer's sanctuary that you can see glimpses of that awful and off-putting body horror from Evil Dead, and I mean that as a compliment.  

This movie is much darker than most Marvel films, so it is not for little children.  This is the closest thing I have seen the MCU do to a full on horror movie.  There are lots of visual homages to its horror movie roots like Evil Dead and Carrie.  And as this horror feel takes hold, you can feel Raimi weaving more and more of his spell on you to draw you in.  By the time you get to the final act it is so ridiculous, but in a way that makes think of how awesome everything is.  If that last statement doesn't make sense to you, then you've never seen a Sam Raimi film.

Visually, the movie is great.  I plan to go back and see it in 3-D, because there are times when the visuals feel like they want to completely envelope you and I want that experience.  Raimi knows how to use the camera to create a sense of dread and terror, but he also knows how to make ridiculous things look amazing.  There is a fight sequence towards the end that involves a combination of sorcery and music that is one of my favorite parts of the movie.

Many of the performances are good too.  Cumberbatch has charisma for days.  He is very different than Robert Downey Jr., but he has a similar ability to pull you to him despite his arrogance.  Olsen is better than she's ever been in a Marvel movie.  She has to play so many contradictory emotions with real truth and she does so excellently.  Even when the script calls for her to go over-the-top, it still all feels very real to her character.  The moral push and pull between her and strange is the heart of the movie.  Wong is very good, carrying with him a weariness that being Sorcerer Supreme weighs on him.  Gomez is decent but not great as America.  She is not distractingly bad, but she doesn't really shine in this movie.  

One of things that really intrigued me about this film is it's exploration of happiness.  It asks this implicit question: do we have the right to be happy?

Is happiness something that we deserve?  

Strange knows the morally correct thing to do, and yet he still ends up lonely and sad.  Another character has suffered great loss and therefore is willing to cross any moral line in order achieve their happiness.  It made me think of how narcissistic and self-centered so much of our culture has become.  You see reflected in the villain this same moral vanity: other people's lives are disposable so long as I can achieve my own personal happiness.  It makes me think of how human beings exploit each other for our own gains or how the unborn are disposed of because they are seen as obstacles to happiness.  It was refreshing to see that narcissism play out as a villainous perspective, even if the villain comes off as sympathetic at times.  And Strange always runs the risk of falling into this same moral quagmire.  What separates Strange from the villain is that Strange is willing to sacrifice his own happiness for the greater good.  That is what makes him a hero

The film also touches on the idea of using evil means to bring about a good end.  One of the points made is that if you use things that are intrinsically evil, even though you have good intentions, there will be a bad consequence.  Both this idea and the one above it are very Catholic ideas that play out nicely, though not perfectly, in this film.  Like a lot of movies today, it glorifies non-traditional marriages in a way that really doesn't add anything to the story.

When it comes to comic book films, I am fairly easy to please.  And while this movie started off slow, it gained more and more of my interest as the it went on.  And that is not an easy spell to cast.

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