We’ll see what kind of doctor you really are.
Before we begin I’d like to reiterate that How About Notflix does not include plot spoilers in our reviews without warnings. I’m going to try to write this review without spoiling anything, including prior stuff like WandaVision. If this comment is still up, you’ll know I managed to pull it off. The screenshots here are from a trailer released two months ago.
Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is the latest in the phase four MCU films. Directed by Sam Raimi, a name our viewers should be more than familiar with, we once again follow Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Strange, really powerful sorcerer guy. The film is a direct sequel to the Disney+ series WandaVision, and brings back Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda. Also back from prior Dr. Strange of course is Benedict Wong as Wong. Xochitl Gomez is here as new-to-MCU America Chavez, and Chiwetel Ejiofor reprises his role as Karl Mordo. There are a ton of cameos from WandaVision, What If…?, Captain Marvel, and Inhumans. Thankfully you don’t really need to know anything about most of those series.
And I say most, because if you haven’t watched WandaVision you’re going to be at a complete loss here. Wanda’s entire presence in this film and her motivations for doing what she does over the course of the movie are going to be a complete confusion if you haven’t seen that show. You would think that the movie might give a quick catch-up for those who haven’t seen WandaVision or forgot what happened, but it doesn’t. WandaVision dramatically changed who Wanda was as a character, and as the characters in this movie all know what happened they gloss over the details assuming the audience knows as well.
What shocked me most with Dr. Strange is the graphic body horror of this movie. The MCU has never been a stranger to death, but this one is really pushing that PG-13 rating hard. If you’re thinking about taking the kids to see this film, just be aware that characters die brutally, on-screen, and often in very graphic ways. Visually it’s very reminiscent of Sam Raimi’s Drag Me To Hell. Characters get vivisected, have their head blown out, get impaled on spikes, burnt to ashes on screen, etc. It is rough and I could tell even the audience wasn’t expecting this level of on-screen brutality.
Dr. Strange 2 is exceptionally dark, especially for an MCU film. Set your mind in the mood that Avengers: Infinity War ended with and imagine pretty much the whole movie channeling that atmosphere. One of the biggest criticisms I’ve had for the MCU over the years is the constant Whedonspeak, the fact that directors have regularly not wanted to give scenes time to breath and sink in with the audience. That is not the case here. In fact there’s a good amount of scenes that exist in pure silence, without even background noise to fill in the space. It’s a Sam Raimi film throughout, peppering moments of light into a film that is predominately full of grief, loss, death, and suffering.
Now if you’ve seen the trailers for Dr. Strange you might be thinking that this film is closer to Captain America: Civil War on the scale of cameos and an ensemble cast. It isn’t. There are a ton of cameos here and there from various characters that most with a surface understanding of the Marvel world will recognize, but it’s not like Civil War where they all band together and fight the big evil. Most of the cameos are fleeting, perhaps less than a minute given to each individual character, and are of little if any consequence for the plot. The inclusion of these characters seems to be more of a nod and a wink that the MCU hasn’t forgotten them than it does set them up for their branching films. Since it is their multiverse equivalents.
My big criticism for this film is the fact that it’s called Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. The actual multiverse is of little consequence to the structure of this film, outside of characters occasionally traveling between worlds to give us a glimpse at how silly some of them are. Oh look a world where everything is paint and another where pizza is shaped into balls. It’s like the joke about how Britain invaded the entire world for its spice only to decide they didn’t like any of it. Dr. Strange opens up the infinite possibility of the multiverse only to not really do anything with it outside of maybe foreshadowing future MCU characters. It shows the disappointing reality of how one-dimensional many of the MCU characters have been written and how many of them have not progressed at all despite years and multiple movies.
I also came out of the movie wondering what exactly was accomplished over the course of the prior two hours, and I can’t really say. It’s nice to see a film that actually wraps up plot points for once, but for a film that billed itself on the multiverse, it really felt very small in scope. It also reinforces the problems that come with giving weight to actions in a world where infinite numbers of those characters exist. It’s probably not a film I would plan on going back and rewatching at any point. It does introduce a couple new characters, opens the doors for future MCU films, and the visuals are as nice as you’d expect from a film that roughly three trillion people worked on.
The best I can say for the film is that it is very Sam Raimi, and very un-MCU. I would also like to say that the writing in these films is reliably garbage. Without spoiling anything, there’s a point in the story where Dr. Strange and America Chavez’s backstories are revealed to each other in what might be the dumbest form of exposition possible in film. They are in an alternate universe and go to The Memory Store. Literally a store called The Memory Store that scans people’s brains and shows their memories as movies for profit. Somehow the store chooses the exact moment it needs to forward the story.
I’m also not a fan of Wanda as a character, more so because Disney seems dedicated to trying to paint her as a sympathetic character despite everything she does between WandaVision and this film being completely unjustified at any level. America Chavez’s presence in the film is basically a living MacGuffin, and there’s a really stupid line of plot points about men underestimating the power of a mom driven by the love of her children. As opposed to Wanda just being an insane psychopath murdering innocent people. The writing gets dumber the more I think about it.