Saturday, May 14, 2022

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

As my review of Father Stu stated, it was a toss-up for me, last Tuesday, whether to see that movie or this; I ended up seeing that. But lo and behold, both movies were held over for another weekend, and so I went to see this last night.

It has Benedict Cumberbatch as the superhero-sorcerer whose first movie as solo lead I did not see; and need I repeat, I'm not a comic book fan. So, I'm acquainted with the character through his appearances in other Marvel properties that I have seen, such as the Infinity War/Endgame whatchamacallit and the last Spider-Man. I'm not following these movies religiously and I pretty much attend them or fail to attend them at random. This one looked like it was going to be good, even compared to some of the other ones I've seen. Having actually sat through it, I can say that it is, indeed, watchable – but not as good as it could have been, or as good as I expected based on the trailer. I enjoyed it but didn't love it. It was "grand" in the sense of the word that I've heard Englishpersons use it; which is to say, I didn't actually get up and leave in the middle of it, though the idea crossed my mind. It was, like many Marvel movies (maybe most), too long for me to sit through without at least having to take a pee break; and when one is watching a film for the first time, in a format where you can't pause it, choosing the right moment to run to the restroom isn't easy. I'd tell you what I missed, but I missed it.

I said I'm not a comic fan, so my understanding of the characters in this movie won't be up to the standards of someone who has read every comic ever. But what I took away from this movie is that the multiverse is a dangerous and goofy thing. When you dream, you're seeing yourself in a parallel universe – well, maybe not quite parallel; judging by the chaotic in-between, these universes can impinge on each other at all kinds of crazy angles. You may (like Doctor Strange, or if I may, Stephen) have a double, alive or dead, in every single universe. You may (like America Chavez) be the only you in any universe. You may (like Wanda Maximoff, of "Wandavision" fame) be one of many yous, but the only one who doesn't have two cute little boys to tuck in at night. And if you're Wanda, a.k.a. the Scarlet Witch, you'll shrink from nothing to get to a universe where you can be those kids' mummy. If you're an evil witch who will shrink from nothing to become a mummy, you may want to try using a book of evil spells called the Darkhold to possess your other selves and have a look around, or do other stuff that can really mess up a plane of existence, or search for someone (like America) who has the rare power of being able to walk between universes, and then drain her of it and take it for yourself. If you're a good sorcerer, you might want to try to get to the Book of Vishanti (I had to look it up; couldn't remember its name) to find a counterspell to fix Wanda's scarlet wiccan; but as a backup, if that fails, you could try a bit of Darkhold dreamwalking yourself, and become a mummy in a different sense of the word (don't ask).

It gets a little confusing from there. It looked like it was going to be a trippy movie in the trailer, but I didn't know the half of it. Like, here's this witch who can pretty much destroy an entire fortress full of sorcerers, yet one sorcerer can come after her and hold her off long enough to give the multiverse-walking teenager a chance to figure out how to control her powers. Like, she can only possess one alternate her at a time, and she can't travel the multiverse without a power assist, but she can somehow destroy all the Darkholds in the multiverse at once. Like, there's a universe where an expert on the multiverse has taken it on herself to name the universes in it, yet she names her own world Earth-838 – the "prime" universe is Earth-616. But don't worry about Earth-838 too much, all the superheroes in it are done for after Wanda goes through – including versions of characters from other Marvel movie and TV properties, such as Patrick Stewart as Doc X, Lashana Lynch as Captain Marvel, Anson Mount as Black Bolt, Chiwetel Ejiofor as a heavy from the previous Doc Strange movie that I missed, and John Krasinski as Mister Fantastic. Oooh, are their deaths nasty! And by the way, that means Wanda kills two captains of the U.S.S. Enterprise in this one. Well done!

The movie also features Benedict Wong as Wong, a character who is really cleaning it up in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, figuring in a ton of movies despite not being particularly interesting or fun to look at. "Fame is a fickle food," don'tchaknow. And it also stars Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda and Rachel McAdams as Christine (who apparently marries someone other than Stephen in every universe), and it has cameos by Bruce Campbell and Charlize Theron, and it's directed by Sam Raimi, and with all that said, I can now deliver my Three Scenes That Made It For Me: (1) Two Stranges duke it out in a drawing room that's slowly being sucked into a cosmic anomaly. (2) The good guys battle a one-eyed, octopus-like monster in the streets of (I guess) New York. (3) Wong yoinks a monster off a cliff.

OK, that was quick. What didn't I like? I didn't like that the villain's motive for trying to enslave the entire multiverse was wanting to be a mummy, in the non-desiccated-corpse sense of the word, but that after fighting her (and losing) by every means, including the impossible and frankly blasphemous, all it took to beat her was to let her grasp what she wanted, experience a moment of clarity and give up all on her own. Nothing anyone else did, or tried to do, achieved anything – even the book of good magic, whose title I've alredy forgotten again, was a bust – and it was finally all about whether the teenager who couldn't control her abilities, could control her abilities; and whether Wanda, who had already been asked whether being a mum was important enough for her to take the mum away from somebody else's children, and who had dismissed that objection along with all others, would decide on the point of achieving her goal that being a mum wasn't important enough to take the kids' real mum away from them. It was a movie full of vivid visuals and exciting action that, when you probe below the bright surface, turns out to rest atop a dull and kinda pointless story. It was, finally, an exercise in holding my bladder from which I might have gone to the bathroom and not returned without missing anything that would have made me happier than I was at any point in the movie.

PS When Doc X rolled into the frame, a girl in the row behind me gasped. Really? I heard Patrick Stewart's voice in the trailer ("We should tell him the truth") and immediately said to myself, "Doc X must be in this movie."

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