Marvel’s latest entry, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, had so much potential. In a post-Infinity saga universe, the Multiverse has been set up as the next phase of Marvel storytelling. Unfortunately, and surprisingly, in spite of some strong character moments, Doctor Strange was not up to the task of leading the way into the Multiverse Saga.
Perhaps the video game vibe at the movie’s beginning would have better served the story. The visual effects are exactly what fans have come to expect from Marvel, and they’re effective. They’re so enthralling that they’re almost enough to distract from the lack of compelling stories being told throughout this movie. Even with a Big CGI fight at the beginning, the effects are no match for the chaos that follows.
Sadly, the story is mostly downhill from the opening sequence. Although this movie promised a more epic fight than was teased in Captain America: Civil War, like that Marvel entry, the way everything played out left much to be desired. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) are two incredibly gifted heroes but are ultimately mismatched. There’s really no one who’s equal to Wanda’s magical prowess.
Despite this, Wanda’s character is the one that ultimately falls flat. It’s certainly not for lack of effort on Olsen’s part. She gives her absolute all to bringing heart and soul to this character in every scene. After seeing this character shine in WandaVision, it’s understandable, so many fans expected a satisfying arc for this character so broken by grief. Instead, she’s turned into a caricature of her former formidable self here, vindictive and thieving, because…magic?
It’s perhaps unsurprising that Marvel has struggled with this character since her introduction in Avengers: Age of Ultron. At the time of her introduction into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Marvel didn’t own the cinematic rights to the X-Men characters, so it made sense that Wanda wasn’t placed in the context of being Magneto’s daughter. Unfortunately, this lack of acknowledgement and context has too often led to the character being short-changed.
In canon, Wanda Maximoff/Scarlett Witch is the daughter of two Holocaust survivors, one Jewish and one Roma. This aspect of her character informs everything about her. It’s disappointing that there’s always something missing from how she’s portrayed in the MCU. While I have never, nor will I ever, say that comic book characters need to be restricted to their respective canons, it’s disappointing that Marvel shies away from showing this critical piece of a character with so much potential.
There’s a larger conversation being had, and I believe it’s an important one, where this outing for Wanda Maximoff is further proof that Marvel continues to not give their female characters complete and compelling arcs. If WandaVision was the closest fans got to seeing this character at her deepest and most relatable, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness rushed through her story to give her a wildly unsatisfying conclusion.
The titular character himself, Dr. Stephen Strange had a satisfying enough arc. His performance is elevated by his proximity to Christine (Rachel McAdams), and America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) in particular. If fans are meant to cheer for yet another white, cis, heterosexual hero, Cumberbatch is as compelling as anyone to watch, and maybe even more than slightly above average. Because “I love you in every Universe”? Swoon.
The promo materials for this movie at least hinted, if not promised more Christine than what the first Doctor Strange movie delivered. Sadly, that was not to be. McAdams is an incredibly talented actor. Yet, like so many women and women-presenting characters in the MCU, her role is restricted to the background, and it’s a shame. McAdams is an incredibly talented actress, and it’s sad that the MCU doesn’t give her the chance to shine that she deserves.
America Chavez is absolutely the movie’s star. Many have pointed out, however, that it was disappointing for Marvel to cast an American of Mexican descent, rather than an Afro-Latinx actress to be more true to the character’s comic book origins. The voices from inside that community should absolutely be elevated and listened to. Still, Gomez elevates the performances of everyone around her and is captivating to watch each time she’s on-screen.
The cameos in this movie have been the source of a lot of…opinions online. There was so much potential for these cameos. I admit to cheering for Patrick Stewart reprising his role as Charles Xavier, and Hayley Atwell as Captain Carter in a live-action Marvel project. I also loved seeing John Krasinski as Reid Richards and Lashana Lynch as Captain Marvel. Anson Mount did give new life to his Inhumans character Black Bolt. Unfortunately, by killing them all off immediately, the movie squandered its really strongest shot at incorporating the actual Multiverse in a compelling way.
There’s a lot to nitpick about this movie. The clunky exposition, the repeated need to explain what’s already been stated, and the shoe-horned references don’t serve the overall story. The continuity problem that’s created with the Spider-Man reference is certainly cringe-worthy. But ultimately, the fact that these things were noticeable is indicative that the movie was missing something profound.
Ultimately, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness could have been so much more than what it was. The potential for this to be the movie that definitively leads Marvel into it’s next stage was squandered. Hopefully, this movie isn’t an indication of what’s to come for the MCU. Stephen Strange is a leader. With this movie, the question remains, is he up to the task? Perhaps only time will tell.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is in theatres now.