Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness ★★★★

"things just got out of hand."

the overwhelming disdain for marvel and its cinematic universe -- an emotion, i believe, deriving primarily from the well-founded fear that original stories are dying -- is never lost on me when i purchase a ticket to yet another one of martin scorsese's derided theme parks. also not lost on me: the complicated irony that comes linked to the idea that marvel is killing cinemas, even though they're almost certainly keeping them alive by the same token. marvel might be monopolizing our culture, perhaps even saturating it, too. but it's an integral, dominant part of it, one that serves it and keeps it churning in part. and if this film (in addition to the 27 that came before it) is any indication (warning: it is), that cultural influence and conversation is only getting bigger.

for starters, this isn't so much a sequel to 2016's DOCTOR STRANGE as it is a continuation of the web marvel has been spinning for the last few years. i can't even recall the first time the multiverse was mentioned. but perhaps that's because the term has become so overutilized in this IP-verse that i feel as though it's been drummed into my head like a hammer to a nail. if this film -- and honestly, probably the 5-6 films and 2-3 series that came before it, too -- proves anything about marvel, it's that the studio's storytelling goals will never be rooted in individuality ever again. forever and always, these heroes, villains, people, and powers will all end up being connected in some way, across endless universes. no longer can a genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist build an electronically-powered iron suit of armor and fight enemies on his turf. now, he'd have to fight enemies on 62 different turfs, and he might even have to fight himself. thank god he died before he ever had to see it.

but doctor strange is less fortunate. the same goes for wanda maximoff -- this movie's MVP, if you ask me, despite the film's framing of her motives; she makes for one hell of a villain. the same also goes for wong, christine (rachel mcadams, a light in the darkness), america chavez (xochitl gomez, frustrating but charming), and every other face, fresh or not, we see in this film. they exist in infinite universes now. well, they always have, but now that it has been made a priority in terms of this studio's narrative plan, they have to face it head-on. they have to deal with it, if you will. that means we do too.

for the most part, MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS takes it easy on you, but only if you're a well-versed marvel fan. those guides that push you to rewatch everything from CASABLANCA to AVATAR 9 (which is actually in theaters now in universe 71D)? i might listen to them if i were you and i was desperate to leave this experience with no desire to search the internet for why in the fuck [redacted] suddenly [redacted] and then [redacted] turned to [redacted] and said [redacted]. in short: make way for cameos.

i was thankful, though, to find that director sam raimi kept his word about those. he noted in a recent interview that the film would give marvel fans what they want "but not in the way they want it." that couldn't be more true; my theater gasped and clapped and squealed a few times over the course of 2 hours, and understandably so. but they died just as quickly as they came. (i'm talking about the gasps. or am i?)

that's part of what made sam raimi such a controversial and divisive choice to replace scott derickson as director when he departed the project. whether or not he would be willing to follow along with marvel's master plan was never in doubt -- had he not agreed, we wouldn't have a movie to watch -- but what was nerve-wracking was the idea that he may have his creative license stifled. not so; there's plenty of his trademark horror and grisliness to spare. that he fit some of his shots and moments into this film is a true testament to his power. he's the man behind the original spider-man trilogy, and he was, evidently, fully prepared to take on a vaster landscape: an infinite one. and what he does with it was magnificent to see.

the film being called MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS is fitting; naturally, there's madness abound. but it doesn't go bigger than big, nor does it go too big. its multiversal craziness sprints up to the line without crossing it. it teases you -- if you're a marvel fan, primarily, but what else is new -- without totally spoon-feeding you the full meal. i think i was better served by this because i went in with tempered expectations and zero knowledge of anything spoiler-related as i would hope you do, too.

i walk away from this movie -- one that i fully believe is ridden with chaotic decision-making from its storytelling powers that be, disgusting CGI that i become less and less interested in looking at, and elements of romance that even those that are among the most hopeless of romantics may struggle to buy -- pleased, and a mite less worried about the state of marvel overall, but i'll admit that could be coming from a place of resignation. i'm getting older now. my tastes are changing. i still adore these stories and will continue to come back for more of them for as long as they are told and pumped out at an alarming rate; i've done it since i was 11 years old, when i saw IRON MAN in theaters, and i sure won't stop now. but i'm also at a place in my life where i would just love if i could latch onto a story that doesn't require my having watched 30-40 other similar properties to understand it. there's simply no way you could even come close to understanding what unfolds here without having consumed every last fiber of the MCU. that's the idea now. i'll have to force myself to be okay with it.

your mileage will vary if you're not so willing to give in to what marvel is dying to have you do when it comes to consuming its properties. but should you be okay with it all -- or, as i said, resigned to it -- you'll find that DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS feels fresh, is chock-full of unique visuals, and absolutely feels like the product of a filmmaker with a style the mcu might not typically bite on. it does what every mcu film does at this point, but it left me less... cold. when i rewatched SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME last month, i found myself exhausted and scared, that this franchise was spinning a web it couldn't control. but how dare i doubt lord feige. because for the ambition of MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS, it doesn't feel overdone. i left tired, but still eager for more.

perhaps i'm the ideal prisoner. unfortunately, i might be okay with it at this point, despite my squirming.

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