Marvel taketh away, and Marvel giveth.
This week sees the culmination of Disney+’s (DIS) – Get Walt Disney Company Report warmly received Marvel show “Moon Knight.” But don’t you worry for even a second about not having enough Marvel content in your life, because “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” the latest installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is out this Friday.
Played by internet boyfriend Benedict Cumberbatch, the character was first introduced in 2016’s “Dr. Strange.”
Though it’s taken six years for a proper sequel to arrive, he’s had pivotal parts in “Avengers: Endgame,” “Avengers: Infinity War,” and last year’s superhit “Spider-Man: No Way Home.”
Created by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee, the character first appeared in 1963’s “Strange Tales” No. 110. The backstory is that Dr. Stephen Strange was an arrogant and successful surgeon whose career is ruined after a car wreck damages his hands.
To get his life back, he seeks out the magical being The Ancient One and learns the mystical arts. Eventually, he realizes there’s more important things in the world than his success and becomes the Sorcerer Supreme, and dedicates himself to protecting our realm from magical threats.
The first film was a box office hit and was mostly warmly received on account of Cumberbatch’s charming performance and some trippy visuals that took advantage of the magical side of the Marvel Universe.
Some critics and fans complained that the “arrogant, centered-man learns to care about and protect others” narrative was too reminiscent of Tony Stark’s arc in the “Iron Man” films, though it is the sort of stock narrative that’s been omnipresent in fiction for much longer than the MCU.
While the film attempted to update some of the more problematic aspects of the source material, particularly when it comes to Asian stereotypes, it got criticized for not sticking the landing in that regard. All in all, the film is well-regarded by MCU fans, but not in many hardcore fans top five.
But with six years of distance and a legendary new director in tow, it’s time for Marvel to try again. How’d they do?
There’s Just A Lot Going On With “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.”
The new Dr. Strange film has a lot to do.
For its ‘10s era run, the central defining narrative thread tying the MCU together was the alien conqueror Thanos and his quest for the six Infinity Stones, one of which belongs to Dr. Strange. But that plotline was concluded with “Endgame,” and now it seems that Marvel’s next big unifying plot thread is the Multiverse, which is the idea of multiple, parallel timelines, some of which are threats.
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It turns out that the Disney+ Marvel shows aren’t just fun side stories meant to pass the time between films, but are instead important parts of the overall narrative. The multiverse (and a potential big bad we won’t spoil) was first introduced last year in “Loki,” and was later one of the main plotlines of “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” and the reason why Spider-Men from three different eras got to recreate a favorite internet meme.
So the new “Dr. Strange” film has to expand upon the multiverse idea introduced in “Loki,” and set it up for future Marvel films.
But it also has to tell the story of Elizabeth Olson’s Scarlet Witch character, a long-time Marvel character who was revealed to be a powerful magical creature in last year’s Disney+ hit “WandaVision” and who is along for the ride in this one. And the film is set to introduce the character of America Chavez, a young, queer superhero with the ability to punch holes in the multiverse.
So that’s a lot of narrative threads to take care of. Luckily, it’s got a steady hand behind the camera.
“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” was directed by legendary genre filmmaker Sam Raimi, who helped kick-off the superhero film boom two decades ago with “Spider-Man.” But before he went mainstream, he was a hero to horror movie fans with his bananas “Evil Dead” trilogy.
In interviews promoting the film, Raimi has said that Marvel gave him creative control and encouraged him to delve in the horror genre and push the visual elements, while admitting that he started filming before the script was completed, and the project had to be adjusted as Marvel’s plans changed. Raimi had to both make sure the film didn’t contradict “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” and set up next year’s “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” which will also explore the multiverse.
So that’s a lot for one film to do.
But look, no one, especially Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige, said that keeping an interconnected cinematic universe running smoothly was easy.
Critics Are Divided Over Marvel’s Latest Film
So now that the reviews are coming in, and it seems critics are a bit divided.
There are some that appreciate that Raimi took a big swing, and brought Dr. Strange fully into the world of horror, and are glad that Marvel let him flex.
But there are critics who feel there is only so much Raimi can do, and that the film suffers from having to carry too many plot threads. But at least everyone thinks Cumberbatch is charming.