Doctor Strange 2 Review: 'The Multiverse Of Madness'

Doctor Strange 2 Review: 'The Multiverse Of Madness'

It's unfortunate that Doctor Strange 2 (aka Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, directed by Sam Raimi) will be released while Everything Everywhere All At Once is still playing in theatres. Perhaps never before has there been such a stark contrast between what happens when a filmmaker-driven movie plays with an idea and what happens when a massive IP-driven corporate entity-produced franchise movie plays with the same idea.

In both cases, the idea is the multiverse; the idea that the universe is made up of infinite, slightly different realities running in parallel, rather than just our current, visible reality. What happens if a character or characters use a plot conceit to travel between those parallel dimensions? (Shoutout to Sliders for pioneering this concept in the mid-1990s, right down to a "green light means stop" gag that Doctor Strange 2 steals.)

Doctor Strange 2 Review, The Multiverse Of Madness

Doctor Strange 2 and Everything Everywhere, both of which were released within weeks of each other (depending on where you live in the world), are playing with the same concept in such a way that it's nearly impossible not to compare the two. And it's a comparison that isn't particularly kind to Doctor Strange 2. Doctor Strange 2 falls short not due to a lack of talent or ambition, but rather because its basic structure prevents it from having fun with the subject matter in the same way. It's similar to watching two daredevils shred the same waves, except one is on a jetski and the other is driving an oil tanker.

While Everything Everywhere can bank off lips and attempt wild moves (including a few that aren't entirely successful, such as hot dog fingers), Doctor Strange 2 must transport millions of tonnes of raw IP, the decomposed fossils of 27 other movies and however many TV shows currently comprise the "MCU" — which is so meticulously planned and outlined that Wikipedia can tell you that Doctor Strange 2 is part of "Phase 4." When the commercial imperative is to keep as much IP as possible, story and conflict tend to take a back seat (at least until Disney can "own" a plot).

Doctor Strange begins (bravely, I concede) with a massive setpiece set in some CGI purgatory (think Dal meets Escher meets a 90s screensaver) where Doctor Strange, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, is trying to protect a teen girl in a denim jacket from a massive squid-like creature with a giant eyeball. They jump from floating platform to floating platform like Super Mario Bros, attempting to reach a magical glowing book. The squid wants the girl's powers, so Doctor Strange tries to suck her powers out of her body so he can use them himself, which is apparently another superpower he possesses (how strange!).

"But he'll kill me!" she shouts.

"I know, but in the larger calculus of the multiverse, it would be sacrifice..." and so forth

Doctor Strange awakens with a cold sweat on his brow. He later discovers that the girl in the denim jacket is America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), a teen with two lesbian mothers ("mis madres!") — I say pointedly because we learn very little else about her — and the ability to travel between dimensions. Strange thought the opening scene was a dream, but it was actually another him from a different dimension, which is what dreams are.

Wanda, aka The Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), whose children appear to be dead (possibly in Wandavision? I've only seen the 27 other MCU films but not the MCU television shows, so I'm not sure if I missed anything here), has been sending squid demons (which I guess is a power she has) after America Chavez. The Scarlet Witch wishes to steal America Chavez's dimension-swapping abilities (stealing abilities being a power I assume The Scarlet Witch possesses) in order to travel to a different dimension where Wanda's children are still alive. At that point, I'm guessing she'll kill Wanda from that reality, take her place, and live happily ever after with her two young men. Which is, uh, bad, I guess. 

Apart from that, the main conflicts of Doctor Strange 2 are whether the hero, Doctor Strange, is a jerk (he must deal with the fact that Bizarro Strange was willing to kill a teen girl) and whether he'll get the girl — in the form of a fellow doctor, Christine Palmer, played by Rachel McAdams. She was Strange's on-again, off-again lady friend in the main universe, who apparently moved on during the five years Strange was turned to dust by Thanos (I'm so tired).

Both motives and methods are only sketched out in Doctor Strange 2. Everything Everywhere's beauty, and it wasn't exactly reinventing the wheel (though it did so deftly), was to ground the metaphor of the multiverse in one, recognisable human relationship — one first generation immigrant's fraught relationship with her struggling mother. Both films feature a same-sex romance angle and POC heroines, but only Everything Everywhere does not feel like a corporate-mandated diversity initiative, which it is not.

Doctor Strange 2 is devoid of any human scale, or even a human frame; there is no sense of "who is telling me this and why." As a result, it's mostly just metaphors piled on metaphors, conceits designed to justify other conceits, leaving the audience with nothing to grasp other than the general concept of "scale." To be fair, it is impressively "large" and especially loud, though that could be due to the IMAX screen I saw it on.

Who exactly is America Chavez? Who is she interested in, and what does she want? There are no human-level answers to any of these questions, just plot conceits (She's a girl who can jump universes! She wants to see her moms!) mixed with progress symbols that might look good in a press release (Lesbian moms! A strong Latina heroine!).

No one involved in these films appears to be empowered to make artistic decisions based on inspiration or personal preference (the IP is too big and important, and there are too many people involved), so all that remains is to achieve self-created benchmarks of "representation" — increasingly the only form of artistic criticism that holds any sway anymore. Even those benchmarks are becoming hopelessly diluted with qualifiers (we already had gay superheroes in Eternals, not to mention straight ones having face-to-face missionary sex).

To put it bluntly, when no one is given the authority to make artistic decisions, the result is shit art. It's an oil tanker at sea, hoping that some zeitgeist current will carry it somewhere interesting. Which is especially disappointing coming from great artists like Sam Raimi, one of my favourite directors. He directed my all-time favourite superhero film. I even enjoyed Oz, The Great and Powerful.

Raimi appears to be given only occasional cubes of autonomy in Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness, within which to shoot charmingly out-there set pieces with a characteristically bombastic score, and to remind us that he's the guy who made Drag Me To Hell and Army Of Darkness. However, the connections are more literal than spiritual, serving as a brand rather than a reflection of personality. There's a Sam Raimi in this Malibu Stacy! Marvel characters are increasingly being portrayed as Apes, while directors are merely Slurp Juice.

I hope Doctor Strange 2 earns enough money for Sam Raimi to be able to make more Sam Raimi films. From the first few minutes, this one feels uninspired and uninspiring. The only level on which it appears capable of relating to us is recognition, and while I vaguely enjoy the sensation of remembering Drag Me To Hell, I must have missed whatever Wandavision or Moon Knight episode would've made me care about Doctor Strange, Wanda, or America Chavez.

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Nitin pandey

A Literature and Linguistics graduate with a keen interest in everything about Tech. When not writing about tech, Nitin spends most of his time either playing PUBG or lurking on Reddit, Flipboard and Twitter.

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