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Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

The Agents of Doux started discussing what we thought of this latest MCU movie, and it got a bit long and intense. So we decided that in lieu of a formal review, we'd post that discussion.

This post includes many spoilers. If you haven't seen the movie yet, you might want to bail out now.

Joseph Santini: I finally watched Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. I’m giving it a C. Some great effects and I liked the storyline with Mordo. I hated what they did with Wanda. I felt like she did not develop, like she was repeating a cycle instead of exploring a new one. I wanted the ending to surprise us with a reinterpretation of her motivations, but it felt like she became a tropey movie villain.

Shari: I will jump on that bandwagon. I hated Wanda's arc with a fiery passion. I was also disappointed that they used the multiverse as an excuse to introduce characters that they obliterated moments later. Which didn't give us enough time to bask in their existence or know enough about them to care about their demise. That said, it wasn't an epic fail. I think your C grade is right on point.

Billie Doux: As I just said in this week's This Week, I thought DSitMoM was all about the effects. I couldn't connect to it at all. And the initial Doctor Strange was one of my favorite MCU movies. I was disappointed.

Plus, there are so few female heroes in the MCU. Why ruin one like that? Especially after the Black Widow movie.

Josie Kafka: I finally finished it a couple of days ago. It took me more than a week to watch, one solitary dinner at a time.

Here is a list of things I didn't like about it, in no particular order:

1. I kept thinking of that scene from one of the Deadpool movies, when Deadpool wonders about the politics of punching a female superhero: is it equality to punch a woman in that context? Or misogyny?

I thought of that scene because it felt like the writers of Doctor Strange realized "Oh, wow, we can't just have Benedict Cumberbatch beat up a petite witch. Can we bring in another woman to make it seem less awful?"

2. Speaking of America Chavez: so, this film is about an all-knowing wizard saving America from a refugee immigrant who's trying to steal the American dream of a nice house and 2.5 kids?


3. America's moms: Don't blink! You'll miss them as they're whisked into the Bury Your Gays portal!

4a. The whole "it's not sorcery, it's witchcraft!" thing makes zero sense, since there's no clarity on how one is better than the other except that we know which character we're supposed to root for. (It's the guy whose name is in the title.)

4b. It also feels like a bizarrely dated form of misogyny: "sorcery" (coded as male in the film, since it's predominantly practiced by men) vs. "witchcraft" (coded as female, since it's practiced by Wanda and has "witch" in the name). This is, like, a freshman cultural studies essay from 1995 waiting to happen.

4c. There's a whole subgenre of Disney criticism that focuses, in part, on the company's persistent portrayal of powerlessness vs. the figure of the all-powerful sorcerer/wizard/magician in general. This criticism goes as far back as Walter Benjamin, but it's Sergei Eisenstein who describes the horrors of the Magician's Apprentice segment of Fantasia: Eisenstein argued that (as paraphrased by Eugene McCarraher): "Through his depiction of magic, Disney connected desires for metaphysical transfiguration with submission to Fordist techniques...Disney wedded the desire for enchanted communion to the drive for total dominion... When Mickey loses control of the spell and almost floods the house, only the sorcerer's swift response prevents catastrophe. The obvious lesson – don't fool around with things you [Mickey and the child-viewer] don't understand – had a political import: the marvels of modern technology should be left in the hands of the professionals," aka people like Walt Disney and his employees (Enchantments of Mammon 390-91).

"Marvels... should be left in the hands of the professionals" is actually a really good summation of Doctor Strange's justification for fighting Wanda. He's the ultimate sorcerer professional. She's a wannabe soccer mom without a green card. And America's just a "kid."

In The World Beyond Your Head, Matthew Crawford picks up on many of these same ideas, looking not at the figure of the sorcerer/magician in Disney, but at Disney's TV show for kids, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. Unlike earlier Disney shows that focused on building comic frustration (getting trapped!) and individual problem-solving (getting out!), Crawford argues, in its modern incarnation "The Clubhouse is filled with amazing technology that always works perfectly... The current episodes are all oriented not around frustration but around solving a problem [through technology]. One does this by saying "O Tootles!" This makes the Handy Dandy machine appear, a computer-like thing that condenses out of the Cloud and presents a menu of four "Mouseke-tools" on a screen, by the use of which the viewer is encouraged to be a "Mouseke-doer" (71). The result is the substitution of "technology-as-magic for the possibility of real agency" (72) which would allow children to think up their own solutions, or even fail sometimes. Once that possibility of failure is removed, the child-viewer becomes entirely dependent on what Eisenstein (if he were still around) and McCarraher (who wrote his book a couple years ago) might call the "sorcery" of the modern internet age.

Seen in that light, Doctor Strange occupies both the early twentieth-century position of restricting power based on who has access to elite knowledge (it's no coincidence that books are at stake in the film, and who has books, and who is permitted to have them) in the Wanda section, and the current, twenty-first-century position of offering children a variety of multiple choice questions in lieu of actual problem-solving in the America section. In both cases, the sorcerer/wizard, who stands for both Disney himself and the entire company at this point, governs the possibilities of female characters entirely.

5. I'd enjoyed the brief glimpses of the multiverse in the most recent Spider-man, and was excited to see that sort of Inception, bendy landscape stuff again. But this movie didn't really go in that direction.

6. I like Wong more than Doctor Strange.

In general, I try not to overthink Marvel movies. But this movie was so tedious that my brain had nothing else to do while I watched it.

Billie Doux: Omigod, Josie. Wow.

Samantha M. Quinn: Um... I'm not sure I can follow that, Josie. But here I go anyway.

Both Doctor Strange and Wanda Maximoff are problematic characters if translated directly from their comic book counterparts. As Josie said so exquisitely, Strange is a symbol for control among chaos as the Sorcerer Supreme, who is a white man who keeps the weird at bay.


Wanda is depicted as unstable and often slipping into villainy, her magic is pure chaos and rooted in either a random genetic mutation or some other gifted power (like her exposure to the mind stone in the MCU). So that means we have an establishment figure vs an unpredictable chaotic unstable woman whose power isn't even her own.

In other words, the entire idea of using Wanda as a villain was flawed from the inception of the movie.

What hurts is this is also the second longest running female hero in the MCU and she was tossed aside without second thought. They turned her legitimate grief into a shorthand for "turns bad." That grief was handled much better in WandaVision, where the exploration of her constant loss was made manifest in a thoughtful and beautiful way.

Vision was not mentioned or was there any attempt made to show her interest in finding him. Her children being real in other dimensions is neat, but we don't really get that America's power is special. Plus she is the exception to the rule because she doesn't exist anywhere else.

The biggest problem with Wanda turning evil and killing randomly and without mercy is that it is explained away very poorly. It is the Darkhold that corrupted her, which is already thematically screwy, but made all the worse because we have little context.

The Darkhold was first established in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as a deeply dangerous... wait, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. isn't canon? Well, I guess we learn a bit from Agatha Harkness in WandaVision which basically amounts to... evil book don't touch.

Leaving us with just what we are told in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness which is, this is a copy of some wall art created by a demon. The spells inside are evil and exact a heavy toll. The worst of which is apparently dreamwalking. Seriously, the worse spell in the book of the damned is dreamwalking? Sigh.

Is there anything good here? Well, yes. That is my main issue, this actually a good movie. Hell, even Wanda is good in this. As a villain, you understand and sympathize with her goals and motivation and want her to finally understand and turn back to the good side, which she does eventually. Her final act to destroy the book of evil in every dimension is a good redemptive act.

Two things, though. Does anyone believe Wanda is actually dead? I mean she is the most powerful being on the planet, a little rock slide is nothing against someone that can move things with her mind. Secondly, they simply cannot leave the character without a proper redemptive arc. It would be a slap in the face to us as fans of the character.

I have other thoughts about the movie, but I'll stop here.

Billie Doux: OMG, Samantha. Wow. I think we had things to say about this movie.

CoramDeo: These are all some great points. I really did not like this film at all either, and I think one of the things that drove that was just how depressingly corporate and toothless it all was. It felt to me like the Marvel universe has started to run on its own, propelled by the engine they've built rather than by any human input or artistic ideas. Like, it feels like all of the character development necessary for Wanda to get from WandaVision to here just happened during the in-between period, and they're just trying to catch up. It makes this seem less like a movie and more like just another check-in with one of Disney's money engines, which they draw two and a half hours out of whenever they need another cash cow to populate their Multiplex of Midness.

That all sounds really cynical, and I'm not 100% on that train just yet. But I'm starting to think that way a lot more nowadays. The time spent in the Illuminati's universe really bothered me too, especially since literally the only point was for you to go, 'Oh, I know that character!', watch them get as brutally murdered as a PG-13 rating allows, and then move on with the story we were interrupting. I feel like the only artists that really get to use their talents to the best of their ability anymore in these movies are the VFX artists and the actors.

That said, the actors here did a really good job. Cumberbatch isn't in top form, but Elizabeth Olsen has never given it any less than her all, and her all is really, really excellent. Xochitl Gomez is a great newcomer, and her performance is really solid.


The last thing I'll say is that it really bugs me that they went so far to establish how dangerous the Darkhold is, how using its power can ruin a person and turn them horrible, and then they had Strange use it and teased that there would be consequences... and then there just weren't. This is becoming a theme for Doctor Strange, where he does these incredibly reckless things with his immense power and just suffers absolutely zero consequences for them. Sure, there's the post-credits scene, but given what they just did to Wanda, how much faith do I have that next time we see him, he'll face the music for what he's done? Maybe they'll just explain all that away again with a hand-wave and some offscreen character development.

Billie Doux: Anything else, anyone? Last words?

Josie Kafka: I am excited for the new Thor.

12 comments:

  1. I always love our group reviews.

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  2. This film evaporated from my mind before I made it to my car.

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  3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CDsRjbqZFUw

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  4. Saw it last week. Awesome visuals and deftly animated by Sam Raimi's signature style, but yeah, the story and characters are meh; the actors make the most of what they're given, though. Of course, that's a broader issue for the MCU, extending way beyond this film.

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  5. Good day to all resident reviewers.
    Have you seen "Everything Everywhere All At Once"?
    What do you think about "The Tru Multiverse of Madness"? :)

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    1. Easily my favorite from this year so far, nothing else comes close. Such a wonderful film!

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  6. Loved, Loved, LOVED "Everything, Everywhere, All at Once." Best movie I've seen this year, hands down! I went to see it with my trainer because we are both fans of Michelle Yeoh's martial arts prowess. We laughed and cheered all the way through. However, there were a few moments when he claimed sand blew into his eyes and I pretended to believe him. The term heartwarming doesn't do the film justice.

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  7. W, this film is about an all-knowing wizard saving America from a refugee immigrant who's trying to steal the American dream of a nice house and 2.5 kids?"

    I think you're getting it backwards. This movie is about a Latina refugee being hunted down by a white woman so she can go back to living out her reactionary fantasy of a 50s era sitcom family.

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  8. That also definitely works!

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  9. Is there any significance to the title which seems to allude to H.P. Lovecraft's "At the Mountains of Madness"?

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    1. That was my initial impression too, but it may just be unintional or coincidence. I am starting to get impatient with the MCU, we have a ton of phase 4 on the board now and I have nonidea what is the larger story? Something Something Multiverse?

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