It was silly of me, I suppose, to hope that a follow-up to WandaVision, Loki and Spider-Man: No Way Home would be anything but disappointing; I just didn’t expect it to be as disappointing as this. I guess sometimes green means stop.
So, hey everybody! This is another one of my weekend popcorn posts where I write about the latest superhero movie release, connecting it to wherever we happen to be in the continuing history at the time, and hopefully writing something that hasn’t already been said by everybody else.
This time, I’m posting it long past the weekend, because I’m on vacation for a couple weeks, walking around all day looking at castles and museums and things. It’s nice having a few days where I’m not writing a post all the time, but it’s taken a toll on the weekend popcorn like you wouldn’t believe.
But if there’s a movie this year that I can comfortably shortchange, then it’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, a blindingly uncreative movie that I believe was assembled entirely by people who were also on vacation for a couple weeks. What follows is my list of grievances.
#1. The multiverses.
Technically, Multiverse is not this movie’s middle name, but it should be, because that’s all that they talk about. There are who knows how many different universes connected together in the Marvel conceptual space — it might be an infinite number, although we only hear about Earths in the three-digits, so possibly less than a thousand.
But a thousand is plenty, to populate a movie with wacky surprises. In Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, we saw a Black Spider-Man, a white Spider-Man, a girlfriend Spider-Man, a giant Japanese robot Spider-Man, a film noir Spider-Man and an animated pig Spider-Man. And that’s only six of them! In the Spider-Verse comic book crossover, they also had a punk rock Spider-Man, the Superior Spider-Man, the Ultimate Spider-Woman, a Spider-Monkey, a Spider-Cat, Old Man Spider-Man and a werewolf Spider-Man called Spider-Wolf.
And what wacky surprises await us in The Multiverse of Madness? Well, there’s the regular Doctor Strange from our universe, and then there’s the other Doctor Strange who was going to sacrifice young America Chavez, plus we hear about the Doctor Strange that destroyed his universe by doing the usual Doctor Strange stuff but not as well, and there’s possibly another one that I can’t think of. Oh, and then there was the one made of paint, which was the only cool part of the movie besides the opening fight with Gargantos, and it lasted for about a fraction of a second.
And that’s it! We didn’t see Pirate Captain Strange, or WW2-era Lieutenant Strange, or Doctor Strangeius of the Modern Roman Empire. I bet I could come up with more than a hundred wacky Doctor Stranges that they could have used — Robin Hood Strange, Godzilla Strange, disco dancer Strange — these are all off the top of my head — that would have delivered on the promise that a Multiverse of Madness implies.
Instead of that, we got maybe three or four indistinguishable Stephens with different haircuts, one America, two Wandas and a Wong. The only thing that I can actually give them credit for is that they managed to do Zombie Strange, which is the only one that’s more obvious than pirates or the Roman Empire.
I mean, the parallel universe that they spend the most time in is the one that’s almost exactly like New York except for some different foliage and signage, where they go and eat lunch using regular money, and the only difference that they remark upon is that the traffic signals are reversed, which is so fucking basic that it makes me angry every time I think about it.
So I know that probably everybody in the world has already made this connection, but the movie Everything Everywhere All at Once came out two months ago, which depicted a kaleidoscopic multiverse full of coincidence and mystery and emotional development that actually meant something and was funny. I feel like the folks at Marvel Studios should have seen that, and said you know what, maybe we shouldn’t release the monumentally boring white person version. Oh, plus Loki did it better too.
#2. The fight.
The movie is basically just one long fight scene, which is not an interesting structure for a movie. We find out that Wanda is the villain about twenty-five minutes in, and then she just keeps on being the villain for the whole rest of the movie, until she blows herself up and that’s the end of the film.
And one of the key moments is a big sorcery battle at Mount Wundagore with all the karate wizards or whoever they are, and the whole thing is just Wanda throwing magic rocks at an invisible magic shield.
Seriously. Rocks. Shield. That is how creative the five-minute wizard battle gets. Wanda can literally reshape reality into whatever form that she wants, and they do rocks and shield. I don’t even know what to say.
#3. America the useless.
Now, America Chavez may have been new to you, but I know her from the 2013 Young Avengers comic, and she’s a sarcastic queer Latina badass who can kick holes in the universe.
So I don’t know who this is in the Multiverse movie. This version of America doesn’t really do anything much; she’s just the MacGuffin that the villain wants and the hero has to protect. There’s a huge hole in the plot where her character was supposed to be — i.e. how did this young woman manage to survive as a child for ten years across infinite multiverses? — which they refuse to explore.
And the fact that she can only use her travel punch when she’s really scared means that her superpower is running away. What the fuck?
#4. Queer baiting.
On her jacket, America is wearing an up-to-date queer pride flag pin, which nobody remarks upon and is not important. There is no romantic plotline for her; the only romantic story thread in the movie is Stephen and Christine, which they invited me to care about and I declined.
They do mention her two moms, which is nice, but they instantly die and have nothing to do with the rest of the movie, so “kill your lesbians” is still alive and well in our corner of the multiverse.
I read that Saudi Arabia asked Disney to distribute a cut that didn’t include the 12 seconds of America’s two moms, and Disney told them to go pound sand, so they didn’t release the movie in Saudi Arabia. That’s great and I’m happy that they stood up to anti-queer censorship, but the fact that the queerness all took place during 12 seconds that could easily be excised with no impact on the plot is still irksome, and I am irked by it.
#5. WandaVision undone.
I’m not really going to get into this, because obviously everybody in the world has spent the last week and a half talking about how disappointing this was as a continuation of the WandaVision character arc. I’ll just point out that “these children will be mine as soon as I kill their mother in their living room” is the most profoundly predictable climax that they could have made. I join with all of my comrades of the headcanon, who will pretend that this never happened and just go on liking WandaVision.
#6. Killing Reed Richards.
Again, an obvious point, but I have to register my objection, along with every other member of the human race.
I was looking forward to this movie opening up the multiverse, with the opportunity to bring the Fantastic Four and the X-Men into the MCU for further movies. They hired John Krasinski and dressed him up like Reed Richards, just to get us excited about that, which I was, and everything seemed just as we would have wished.
And then Wanda kills them all, which I don’t know how to accept. If they want to use Krasinski as Reed in the future, does that mean they’ll have to do a scene where they somehow explain “well, this is a different one”? That sounds grim to the extreme.
#7. The closing of doors.
In fact, the whole thing seemed to be burning opportunities right and left. In long-running serialized narrative, the object is to steer towards plot points that will provide more potential storylines in the future. That’s why characters in superhero comics and other soap operas never actually die. They may pretend that someone’s died for a little while, but we always know they’ll come back, because a continuity with Wolverine in it is more interesting than a continuity without Wolverine. That’s just math.
So killing Wanda after a momentary brush with her alternate-universe children means that we’ll never see those children again, which is ridiculous, because they’re supposed to grow up and become Wiccan and Quicksilver, and team up with Kate Bishop and America Chavez and become the Young Avengers.
On top of that, as I said, there’s the death of Krasinski and the complete absence of disco dancin’ Doctor Strange, and you have to wonder why they decided to close all those doors without really providing us with any interesting plot propellants for the future besides a boring version of America and giving Stephen a third eye.
So that’s what I have against this movie, and if anybody has anything to say in its defense, then I’ll have to hear about it when I get back next week. I’ll see you then.
We get back to the bayou in
3.16: Suiting Up
— Danny Horn