Uncollected Thoughts: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness


Doctor_Strange

It’s been over two years since I last went to the cinema, enough time that I can’t remember what it is I watched, except that it was probably a comic book movie. Of course, two years ago I retained more enthusiasm for such phenomena than I now have. And it felt really odd to be doing something like that after such a long time, even more when I was going to a 6.30pm performance.

That choice was down to it being the only 3D perfprmance of the week. I’d watched the first Doctor Strange movie in 3D, of which it had made tremendous use, and was anticipating a similar effect: Strange’s world of magic, and the prospect of hurtling through multiple, potentially fractal worlds, is peculiarly suited to this. But they warned me that the 3D quipment was giving them problems, and they couldn’t guarantee it would work, and yes, I ended up watching in 2D. It didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the film too much.

The film’s only been out a week and theaudience was meagre, well short of two dozen, one of whom got up and walked out after two minutes, which was a bit harsh. I’d done my usual avoidance of reviews, not that this had prevented me from learning that in addition to Strange himself, the film also co-starred the Scarlet Witch and America Chavez, the latter being a character I’ve never ever read. I’d also seen afleeting reference to the film being too mired in Marvel continuity, playing to the specialist rather than the general audience.

What this meant was that, as far as I could tell, the film followed directly on from the acclaimed WandaVision tv series, none of which I’ve seen. Still, it didn’t hamper my comprehension of the film in more than any minor degree.

But was it good? Was it fun? Was I going to be saying, Oh, wow! at any point?

Well, my first reaction was split between dismay at, in a film as overloaded with CGI as this was going to be, how utterly artificial and unconvincing the white streaks in Benedict Cumberbatch’s hair were and the more serious wish that I could be seeing him as Sherlock, without the unconvincing American accent.

As for the film overall, it seemed to start in practically the middle, though this was just a dream sequence, introducing young Ms Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) and killing off Strange, though this was a version from another Universe. We then cut to ‘our’ Universe, where Sttrange is attending Christine Palmer’s wedding (Rachel McAdams), when it’s interrupted by a Lovecraftian monster chasing Ms Chavez, requiring our Strange’s assistance, also that of Sorceror Supreme Wong (Benedict Wong).

It seems that Ms Chavez has the power to travel across the Multiverse, albeit without knowing how or being able to control it. Somehow is pursuing her, trying to steal that power, killing her in the process. That someone is Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), former Avenger. As depicted in the comics and introduced in WandaVision, Wanda has been deprived of her two sons, who in this reality were actually illusory. Having corrupted herself by use of an evil magical tome called the Darkholm, Wanda is searching for a reality in which she can be with her children.

As a theme, it was obviously intended to create a degree of sympathy. Wanda’s obvious distress at being severed from her children, her actions sringing from her love and instincts as a mother, were easily understandable and in the early part of the film were intended to keep us in her wheelhouse. But not for long. As the Scarlet Witch, Wanda outranked every magic wielder going put together, and yes that included the Sorceror Supreme and the Master of the Mystic Arts. The more they resisted her quite reasonable wish to drain Ms Chavez, the bigger, more implacable and ruthless a monster she became.

It was a simple enough spine for the film, allowing for an easy one-line description of the plot. I’m afraid, though, that the execution of this was very much in comic book fashion. There was very little sense of a story, in the meaning of a developing narrative whose sequences built one upon another to a conclusion dervied from logical progression. Instead, we got sequence after sequence, expending linearly, complexity thrown after complexity with a concentration upon immediate gratification, which went on and on and on, like the kind of plotting that passes for story-telling in the Twenty-First Cenntury. The film lacked both a sense of build-up and a sense of integrity. Sequences could have been removed without detriment to the plot, or others substituted in their place, without making much of a difference. It was all flash and dazzle, and between Avengers: Endgame and now I’ve come to crave a bit more from even comic book films.

The standard of acting was high, though the longer the film went on the less was required. The film delved deeper into horror than we’re used to, not unwelcomely, and the traditional Marvel flippancy was much less in evidence. The film ended with a nod to its sequel, though as Cumberbatch wants a break from acting, who knows how long that will take, by first having him develop the third eye that comes from using the Darkholm and getting a bit corrupted, whilst the mid-credits sequence introduced Charlize Theron as Clea.

The one thing that would get me to watch the film again, apart from a functioning 3D projector, would be Elizabeth Olsen. In her Scarlet Witch costume, which covered her from neck to toe, she was a magnet for my eyes. Something about her made her look hot as hell, in the same manner as Brie Larson in her Captain Marvel outfit and Cate Blanchett as Hela in Thor: Ragnarok. Though she had increasingly less to do acting-wise as the fighting escalated, Wanda finally came to see herself as she’d become, understanding by just how much she had lost the sons she had sought so desperately, a sequence that Olsen nailed perfectly, leading to her literally bringing the world down on herself.

As well as the film, for the first time in a long time I was exposed to cinema ads and trailers. The ads were moronic – advertisers’ opinions of the public have really dropped, haven’t they? – and the trailers bored me, two more comic book movies and Tom Cruise’s Top Gun sequel. One of the trailers was for the next Thor film, wwhich includes the Guardians of the Galaxy. This looked like more traditional Marvel fare and I may go see that, but I will be going to see DC’s Black Adam when it finally appears: a film that introduces the Justice Society of America and particularly Dr Fate is a must.

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