The Sunday Mail
LET me start off by saying that I enjoyed watching the movie “Dr Strange in the Multiverse of Madness”, and expect it to do good business at the box office in the days and weeks to come.
While not the ground-breaking offerings that were “Spiderman: No Way Home” and the goose that laid the golden egg in “Avengers: Endgame”, Benedict Cumberbatch’s return to the mystic does just about enough to get a passing grade in my book.
In the absence of Robert Downey Junior, whose character Tony Stark died in the last Avengers’ movie, I fully expect Cumberbatch and his Stephen Strange persona to pick up the slack and take up the role of MCU lead.
However, I do have a few reservations with this particular movie, and Marvel as a whole, most of which I will try to address without spoiling everything for those yet to watch “Dr Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
The movie, currently showing at Ster Kinekor cinemas around the country, is partly a “No Way Home” and partly a “WandaVision” continuation.
We are introduced to America Chavez (Xochitl Gómez), a teenage girl with the power to travel across the Multiverse, who arrives on Dr Strange’s earth with a monster in tow.
Apparently, a slew of monsters has been hunting her all with the aim of killing her and taking her powers.
It is soon revealed that these monsters have been sent by Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), who has now been corrupted by the Darkhold and is desperate to escape this mortal earth and reunite with her children Wiccan (Julian Hillard) and Tommy (Jett Klyne).
Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Wong (Benedict Wong) decide to help the child and spend the rest of the movie traveling across alternate universes in a bid to evade Wanda Maximoff who is now going by her Comicbook moniker the ‘Scarlett Witch’.
Before we address the huge elephant in the room, which in this case pertains to the weak and forced plot, I thought it prudent to acknowledge and give credit to the duo of Cumberbatch and Olsen for a job well done.
Their performances as Stephen Strange and Wanda Maximoff are by far the film’s saving grace.
Ever since his introduction into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, back in the 2016 movie “Dr Strange”, Cumberbatch has been one of the top and most consistent performers in the MCU.
Whether it was his memorable time opposite Downey and Tom Holland’s Spiderman, during the Avengers’ Infinity saga, or any of his cameo appearances in the other Marvel projects, the 45-year-old English actor has been reliable, funny and demonstrated great chemistry with an array of actors and actress.
Olsen, on the other hand, has to be one of the worst written characters.
However, she seems to be the embodiment of the adage of turning lemons into lemonade as she seems to have given her all with whatever material presented to her.
The two once again are asked to sell a weak script and do a good job in their performances as Dr Strange and the Scarlett Witch.
Add the directorial genius of Sam Raimi and you have the only reason why this film got the passing grade I alluded to earlier.
The decision to minimise the number of alternate realities explored in this movie was the right call as quantum physics doesn’t seem to be Marvel’s specialty.
That is DC territory
For the purposes of the movie, most of the action centred on two earths, which they call Earth 616 and 838, while we are given glimpses of the other realities during a travel montage that was featured heavily during the movie’s trailer.
It is here that Raimi’s unique for the bizarre and strange comes in handy, and the 62-year-old shines brightest.
One of the movie’s biggest draws was the much-awaited introduction of The Illuminati, which happens to be one of Marvel’s more infamous groups.
The “Illuminati” is a secret organisation comprising several of the world’s most intelligent superheroes in the Marvel universe.
While the group has gone through different incarnations in the comics with many heroes coming and going, the primary members have always been Doctor Strange, Black Bolt, Charles Xavier, Reed Richards, Namor the Sub-Mariner and Iron Man.
While a version of the group does show up, their debut is ruined by a combination of foreshadowing and the lack of actual screen time. What was supposed to be a big moment, much in the line of Steve Rogers using Mjolnir and the arrival of Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield in the MCU, was ruined by their muted screen time.
It doesn’t help matters that Wanda Maximoff runs through them all without so much as breaking a sweat.
So much for the all-mighty Illuminati!
The more perceptive reader will have noticed that I did not go into detail on which member of the group actually shows and that is intentional.
The group’s MCU arrival is something that has been public knowledge for the longest time and was featured heavily during the movie’s trailers, but any more information other than this falls under spoiler territory.
Does Marvel have a problem with women? While Wanda Maximoff’s failure as an antagonist falls under Marvel’s villain problem, the way the character has been written, since her debut in 2015’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron”, seems to be the latest in a long line of poorly written female characters or misogyny if you will.
It seems like a woman’s sole purpose in the MCU is to be a love interest, and this is made tragic given the number of strong-will and powerful female characters in the Marvel canon.
Brie Larson’s Carol Danvers and Olsen’s Scarlett Witch happen to be two of the most powerful MCU characters, but one is hardly ever featured while the other has spent most of her time swooning over the death of either her twin brother (Pietro Maximoff/Quicksilver), her android boyfriend (Vison) or her fake children (Tommy and Billy).
The rest of the female characters are either love interests or have been all but forgotten.
As if that is not enough, the one female-led movie that Marvel fans had been crying for, Black Widow, finally when the character was dead.
The “Black Widow” did nothing for the larger MCU narrative, at the time, and offered little next to no insight into the character.
Scarlett Johansson, the movie’s star, was robbed of a potential payday when the movie was released online during the pandemic, with the court case that ensued one of the lowest Marvel moments in recent memory.
What really sinks my boat is the number of talented actresses that Marvel currently has under their payroll.
Names like Johansson, Larson, Olsen, Hayley Atwell (Peggy Carter), Evangeline Lilly (Hope van Dyne/Wasp), Danai Gurira (Okoye), Cate Blanchett (Hela), Gwyneth Paltrow (Pepper Potts), Lashana Lynch (Maria Rambeau) and Tessa Thompson (Valkyrie) have all been wasted.