With ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’, Marvel/Disney drops its 28th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which now includes six series on Disney+, it appears that the almost always reliable super-franchise may have finally bitten off more than it can handle. Under the assured hand of uber-producer Kevin Feige, even lesser entries like ‘Thor: The Dark World’ and the recent ‘Eternals’ wouldn’t be considered as bad movies by any definition. Maybe it’s that the creative forces at Marvel are too stretched out over all this content, but ‘MoM’ has now broken this proven track record and presents the first actively incoherent, overstuffed two hours of nonsense since the inception of the MCU in 2008. There are some fun and interesting visual cues courtesy of maestro Sam Raimi, returning to Hollywood after an almost ten year absence from the silver screen, but it’s nowhere near enough to overcome a truly hackneyed script, some wooden performances, rushed special effects designs, and an overall sense of unnecessary over-complication.
The movie opens with a busy action scene set in some sort of netherworld dimension, with a strangely-coifed Benedict Cumberbatch as a different version of the titular mystical superhero defending a young charge played by Xochitl Gomez. Although she never gets any kind of true character development, this teenager turns out to be America Chavez, a dimensional hopping refugee whose power is desired by an ancient evil. Winding up in the 616 Marvel Universe familiar to movie goers worldwide, her path quickly crosses with its versions of Stephen Strange and Wong (Benedict Wong gamely reprising his role). What ensues amounts to a nonstop chase across the multiverse, that gets downright scary at times, as Strange and Chavez cross paths with many familiar and unfamiliar faces.
This setup should be right in director Raimi’s wheelhouse, and at times some horror/comic fun can be had. There are sequences here that evoke the best of what he does, with steady-cam stalking, extreme close-ups and angles, jump scares and gross-outs befitting the man’s talents. It’s a real shame that these moments are tied to some of the most convoluted exposition and uninspired dialogue uttered in a genre often criticized for such drags. The movie fails to effectively set up the reasoning and motivations of the characters in any grounded way before creating a world without any rules. In fact it actively counteracts the groundwork laid in past installments, perhaps most egregiously with the character of Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch, played with aplomb by Elizabeth Olson in last year’s stellar ‘WandaVision.’ She is ostensibly the costar of the movie and really tries to overcome what ends up being a lazy, hysterical woman plot (released on Mother’s Day weekend at that!)
There are parts of this movie where the actors utter lines so absurd that even they themselves seem incredulous to be spouting. There’s even a part at the end where a cameo character turns to the camera and extorts with relief, “it’s over”. Based on who says it and his relationship to Raimi, it almost seems like this is a direct hit of irony from the guy who truly kicked off this modern age of the cinematic superhero with 2002’s ‘Spider-Man.’ Whether intentional or not, the truly sad part is that many audience members will likely feel the same way . . .
Directed By: Sam Raimi
Written By: Michael Waldron
Running Time: 126 min.
* 1/2 (out of 4 stars) -OR- C-