Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness 96.1: Everything Somewhere

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.

Next:
We get back to the bayou in
3.16: Suiting Up

Chapters

— Danny Horn

17 thoughts on “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness 96.1: Everything Somewhere

  1. Back a few years ago, I remember trying to watch some rather complex primetime network TV shows, which used a serial narrative format, “Lost” on ABC and “Heroes” on NBC. I just sort of jumped in and figured I could figure it out. I could not. My sense was that you had to watch these shows from Day 1 and maybe you could follow along. (In the case of “Lost,” which was quite convoluted, I don’t know if it was possible to follow that show even if you did start from Day 1!)
    In reading about the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) multi-verse in the above post, I am totally lost and confused. I have missed all the recent superhero-comic book movies, I have no sense of context to what Danny is talking about it, and frankly, I’m not going to lose any sleep over missing any of this stuff.
    I’m just curious and have some questions:
    1) I’m wondering if any of the recent movies based on comic book superhero characters have any kind of redeeming social value?
    2) Do they bring up any social satire? Social allegory? Is there a moral to the story?
    3) Or are these movies basically just ways or vehicles for the Superhero/Comic Book/Gaming/Social Engineering (modern day “bread and circuses”) Industrial Complex to foment internet and gaming addiction among teens, youth, young adults (and everyone) and to just sell more electronic video games by basically promoting video game CGI in these movies?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Don’t feel bad about not understanding Lost. Even the guys who made it admit they didn’t know what was going on.

      As for redeeming social value, this is Dizney we’re talking about. They find a formula, they run it into the ground. Their brand is wholesome, kid-friendly entertainment, so you don’t find much nuance or grey ethical areas.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m continually amazed at how the directors and actors they hire for dancing bears manage to sneak little bibs and bobs of plot, story, and character into these things. Like whatever Star Wars introduced Rey and they had her wearing her hair the same way since she was abandoned so when her parents show up they’ll recognize her.

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    2. Tim, the MCU films are not just mindless entertainment. They usually put a lot of work into scripts with detailed characters and story. They take seriously the comic book premises. They try to avoid the kind of plot holes in the films Danny’s looked at so far here.

      It’s possible to watch a MCU film and just go, “That was fun! I like the part where they fly and beat up the bad guys!”

      But there’s also a lot of thematic stuff. It’s also possible to watch a film and have some big ideas to discuss. So far, they’ve brought up –

      – military-industrial complex, Project Paperclip, secret government conspiracy
      – rich guys getting away with whatever they want
      – out of control AI vs. humanity
      – absolute power corrupting absolutely
      – vigilantes vs terrorists, which is worse for society?
      – rights and obligations of society vs the individual
      – overpopulation crisis
      – racism, colonialism, isolationism

      And that’s not even all of the themes.

      The series has been justifiably criticized for assuming that viewers are up to speed on the mythology. Many reviewers have complained that to understand the most recent couple of films at all, you need to have seen the dozen movies before them and also a miniseries.

      But it’s not necessary to have read the comics. As new characters are added to the films, they are each introduced to viewers from scratch.

      “you had to watch these shows from Day 1”
      Westworld is even worse. Its showrunners were pissed that some fans figured out the secret twist of how the first season misrepresents the real relationships between some groups of characters, for a surprise twist later.
      The showrunners then wanted to prove they could confuse and mislead so much that the combined power of Reddit could not second guess where the story was going.
      “Let me explain what Westworld really means” videos became a whole new genre on Youtube. Most of them proven wrong in the next episode.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. A producer can know right away if the cast members are hot, even before there’s a script. The only question left is whether fixing the overlooked motivational inconsistency in the third act would result in bigger box office. For MCU fans, it probably would. For Swamp Thing, it doesn’t matter.

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      2. Well, Benedict is hot in this, I state objectively.

        He’s not my go to Hot Guy so much, but I honestly love how he manages to portray Strange as mostly bored and impatient with the massive bullshit swirling around him. Whenever people show up at his mansion his first question is usually a blunt “What do you want?” The way he accepts his role and power but is continually fed to the back teeth with the constant and ridiculous demands on it amuses me to no end.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. In looking at the screencaps in this posting, the only thing I could think of is that Gargantos is actually Plankton from Spongebob Squarepants, if he got hold of some radioactive steroids.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. “that would have delivered on the promise that a Multiverse of Madness implies”

    If only the writers had taken some time off to visit castles and museums and stuff and get inspired.

    “they do rocks and shield”

    Seems that if they added paper and scissors for the big showdown, you’d have liked this movie a lot more.

    “an up-to-date queer pride flag pin, which nobody remarks upon and is not important”

    So it’s like a counterpart to the Politician’s Flag Lapel Pin. Mandatory but irrelevant.

    ” steer towards plot points that will provide more potential storylines in the future”

    Yeah, that’s exactly what I would expect from the world’s most powerful magician in the infinite multiverse. That the film should end with a lot MORE story possibilites, not a lot less.

    “the complete absence of disco dancin’ Doctor Strange”

    They could’ve even had a universe where disco is everyone’s favorite music up to the present day. Thanos is so moved by the groove that he decides it’s not a problem to have lots and lots of people around with whom to bump booties.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I liked the movie a lot more than Danny did, though I’m not going to go to the mat for it like I do Flash Gordon. I do agree that they could have done more with the multiverse and alternate version, especially coming on the immediate heels of Everything Everywhere All at Once. I wanted a hot-dog-fingered Dr. Strange!

    I don’t mind that you have to have followed other movies and shows to understand it. That’s what reading Marvel Comics was often like back in the 70s and 80s, where it was all part of one tapestry. I remember when Wanda’s “true” mother was, in an issue of Avengers, revealed to be a woman named Magda with a scary father she had run away from. Then some months later in X-Men, Magneto reminisced about his lost love Magda. (Of course that’s been retconned half a dozen times by now.) And whenever you started reading comics, you had to dive in and pick it up as you went along. And that was back before the days of being able to read synopses on the Internet.

    And the MCU, like comics, is like soap operas. Why is this blonde woman hiding a rapey Frankenstein monster, who under the influence of a Satanic warlock is threatening to kill a whole family unless the former vampire to whom his life force is somehow linked makes him a mate with the help of a psychiatrist/blood specialist/sedative pusher who is secretly in love with the vampire even though the vampire desires a bland woman from an orphanage who is involved with a bland, grabby man from the past where she spent many months not learning how the former vampire became a vampire in the first place? You just dive in and either pick it up as you go along or just go along for the ride.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. “I don’t mind that you have to have followed other movies and shows to understand it. That’s what reading Marvel Comics was often like back in the 70s and 80s, where it was all part of one tapestry.”

      I think the MCU movie series is very true to the comics in this way.

      I’m sure Danny will have a lot to say about that, when this site gets up to the Marvel movies. What a big contrast to Superman I-IV + Supergirl where the story didn’t add up to anything over time.

      “who is secretly in love with the vampire even though the vampire desires…”

      Well yeah, we’ve all had that relationship with a vampire that didn’t turn out as well as hoped, right? Next time my blood’s stayin’ inside my own neck, honey…

      Liked by 2 people

  5. 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

    Disney may have stood up to Saudi Arabia, but they caved to China’s demands and removed the “offensive” content from several films.

    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 bad-ass who can kick holes in the universe.

    Wait, are you saying her power is illegal border crossing? 😉

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  6. Sam Raimi did his best to cram the demands of the international market (which wants explosions and no messy gayness) Disney’s behemoth money machine demands, and trying to outline enough backstory for people who aren’t up for shelling out for a streaming service so they can understand a movie; which is to say, he managed to fit exactly as much actual film/story into this thing as humanly possible.

    Which is to say, not a lot.

    Which is to say, why hire top tier talent who care about said story and creating an actual character (even when they have NO CHEMISTRY* with their costar) if you only, nakedly care about the colors and noises? Just get whoever did Aquaman and let them have at it.

    *Can we talk about how Rachel McAdams and Cumberbatch had the best EX chemistry ever captured on the silver screen, in that you believe, one thousand percent, that these two were right to break up and never should have dated in the first place and the most unbelievable part of the film is that she still cared enough about him to invite him or he to attend her nuptials? So it’s a little hard to buy this whole “I love you in every universe” thing even though I really thought C did his level best to sell that line?

    And can we also talk about who hates Rachel with the fire of a thousand suns, enough to dye her hair a shade of red that aged her two decades and highlighted that decision with that grey pantsuit that was bulky, choppy, flattened her butt into a pancake and basically screamed I HATE YOU SO FUCKING MUCH, SO FUCKING MUCH RACHEL every second it was onscreen? Why would you do that to this poor woman?

    Like

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