When I was a kid, I used to hop on my bike and ride to the convenience store near my house to buy comic books every week. My childhood was a lot like the kids on the Netflix series Stranger Things (minus the monsters and government conspiracies). Me and my comic book-loving friends all wanted one thing: superhero movies WITH REAL PEOPLE in them, not just the animated cartoons we would get on Saturday mornings.
If I were a snarky film critic, I would say: Be careful what you wish for! But that’s not the case at all. The majority of the Marvel films released over the years have been entertaining. However, fatigue has certainly set in. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is the MCU’s spin on the classic horror films of yesteryear. Think of it as Hammer Films Lite directed by a true indie horror pioneer, Sam Raimi (Evil Dead, The Amazing Spiderman).
The Far Eastern mysticism that made the first Doctor Strange film such a breath of fresh air is mostly absent from this release. Perhaps that corner of the Marvel Universe now belongs to the cast of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings? One initial action sequence would be right at home in a samurai movie, and not surprisingly, it’s the most interesting set piece in the film. For the 100 minutes that follow, it’s generic monsters and demons doing battle against digital CGI landscapes while endless video game special effects unspool on screen. In other words: Marvel business as usual.
Despite employing some horror trappings and a title that sounds like a story from H.P. Lovecraft, the plot of Doctor Strange’s second solo adventure is a collection of generic Marvel plot beats. A former good guy/gal is currently acting like a bad guy/gal. The goal of our villain is to steal the powers of the new superhero kid on the block. Luckily a magic book that’s good can be used to counteract the magic book that’s bad, so Doctor Strange can save the day if everything goes well.
Much has been made that Sam Raimi, the king of indie horror films, is at the helm of a big budget Marvel project again. Of course, these same professed fans of Raimi wanted to tar and feather him when Spider-Man 3 hit theaters fifteen years ago. Sure, there’s the occasional shot in the new Doctor Strange that may have a Raimi flourish, but the CGI soup washes out any possibility that this sequel is somehow Raimi’s “vision”. Raimi himself has stated in interviews that he’s serving the overall Marvel vision and it was like laying his segment of an endless road. If you really want to see a Sam Raimi Marvel film, give him $ 30 million and let him make a Dr. Strange film with only practical effects. Maybe Doctor Strange could go rescue the heroine from 2007’s Drag Me to Hell.
The multiverse concept simultaneously manages to expand the Marvel universe while also draining it of any stakes or consequences. At one point, a character says that she’s been to 72 parallel universes. So theoretically we can kill at least 71 Dr. Stranges and still have one to appear in Dr. Strange 3. In that regard, a superhero film is much like a daytime soap opera. No one is ever really dead. They’re just a new contract away from being resurrected.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is an entertaining enough way to spend two hours, but Marvel films are “one and done” experiences for me these days. I’m glad I saw it, but I will never watch it again or really give it another thought. If you want to see a truly clever film with a multiverse premise, check out Everything Everywhere All the Time which is currently still in theaters. I’m still thinking about that film weeks after I saw it.