Dr. Strange in The Multiverse of Madness: More Fanfare Than Film?
The new Marvel film feels incomplete, like “things just go out of hand” in the Marvel universe, having to deal with too many creative constraints that come with being a MCU movie.
Credit: The Mary Sue
Initially going into this movie I thought it was going to be a pretty simple story revolving around the events that happened in Loki, Wandavision, and Spiderman: No Way Home. A story that would be simple but also have enough creative freedom to let Sam Raimi, director of the Evil Dead trilogy, the original Spiderman trilogy and now this, make whatever he wanted.
Instead I experienced one of the most jam-packed movies I have ever seen, which tried to set up way too much than it should have. I feel like Kevin Feige, the head of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, just gave a large list of bullet points of things required for the film and Raimi had to get those out of the way first and then he would be able to implement his own style, but this left little room for the director to put in his own style.
This laundry list of required setups led to the movie feeling like it had no stops, it bounced from one vital plot point/summary to the next. You were not able to have enough time to breathe.
This has been a major problem for Marvel recently, they keep trying to top themselves one after another, they had No Way Home and then right after had this film, both of which cover universe collapsing threats and contain an absurd amount of fanfare. The longer Marvel releases content, the more it raises the stakes, and the more setups they have to add, and the more creative liberty that is taken away from the directors.
This “raising the stakes” mentality has made me shift my interest from the movies and more into the Disney plus series which have a more grounded approach (most of the time), and have plenty of time to pace themselves, only restricted by the number of episode slots they have.
Sam Raimi recently stated in an interview that the movie’s original cinema cut had the length of 2 hours and 40 minutes (The Mary Sue). Although this would have led to the movie being rather long, I think it would have made it a far better time to watch and a more cohesive experience.
The movie is not completely void of Raimi’s stylized tones, many of the action sequences in the movie take a darker, more horror-esque tone, taking lots of inspiration from his prior film, The Evil Dead. Sadly, though, it was only seen in the action scenes which felt obligatory, only added because it was needed for a future setup in one of the future projects of the many that the MCU has.
That is the problem with bigger Marvel movies, it is very tough to balance an actual film with literary complexity while also adding those audience awing moments, that’s why Endgame and Infinity War, although great movies, were rather lacking in underlying themes, instead being supplemented by legendary moments that culminated from over 20 films, featuring specific nuances and inside jokes from many of the films in the infinity saga.
The problem with this is, for better or for worse, the director is barely able to add their own flair in the ‘big ones,’ however, the good thing is this is not the problem in all Marvel films.
Take Thor: Ragnarok for example, New Zealander Taika Waititi was able to have lots of creative freedom due to the fact that the only constraint he needed to worry about was the next Thor film, not to set up countless others, so he was able to step out of the typical conventions of Marvel movies substantially more than any of his predecessors and have a lot more fun with the film overall.
With Ragnarok Waititi was able to infuse his signature humor and challenge the absurdities of superhero movies, something that Raimi nor the Russo brothers could do due to their large amount of obligatory cinematic universe constraints.
At this point a Marvel Cinematic Universe movie just has a major burden from being in a cinematic universe, causing a sacrifice in pacing for fitting into the universe. Not to mention you have to be extremely committed to the MCU to experience the full film to its fullest. And sometimes directors do not even do that, Sam Raimi, director of the movie, only watched clips of Wandavision (The Mary Sue) that were vital to know in order to set up the character, and because of him only watching those clips there was a major discrepancy between the personality of Wanda in Dr. Strange 2 and Wandavision.
Due to all the constraints and commitments that directors have to make in order to take part in the MCU it makes sense that many, especially critically acclaimed directors, have stepped away from directing mid-production. Edgar Wright, creator of cult classic and critically acclaimed films like Hot Fuzz and Shaun of The Dead, did just this, he stepped away from Ant-Man due to the creative constraints he was given by Marvel (similarly to Raimi, he was not able to implement much of his tone due to all of the things he was obliged to add in order to fit inside the universe).
It was even seen in this film, Scott Derrickson, director of the original Doctor Strange and mainly known for his direction of horror films, left Dr. Strange 2 after experiencing “creative differences” (Screenrant) with the Marvel team; a Marvel writer explained that Derrickson wanted to make a rated R horror movie but Kevin Feige, the Chief Creative Officer of Marvel movies, said that the movie had to be PG-13, and that it was necessary for him to add Scarlet Witch and America Chavez, which completely destroyed all of the visions that the Doctor Strange director had.
Martin Scorsese, widely seen as one of the best directors in Hollywood, once said that Marvel movies weren’t cinema, more like attractions than anything (NY Times). At the time, 2019, I felt like this was not true. Black Panther was just recently released, which had a great narrative and direction by Ryan Coogler, and felt like it was free to have its own tone.
Now, though, I am afraid to say that Marvel movies are becoming more and more like attractions filled with lots of action-packed scenes and neat crossovers.
Marvel movies were never promised to be like a Wes Anderson or Alfred Hitchcock or Spike Lee film, never to be groundbreaking and always following the ‘Marvel formula’, but at this point that ‘Marvel formula’ is taking away anything artistic about their movies. Let’s just hope they don’t continue to trend that way.
Marvel’s next movie, Thor: Love and Thunder, doesn’t seem to have that much cinematic consequence and I would find it near impossible to take away Taika Waititi’s directorial charm no matter how much is required to fit into a movie. Time can only tell.
Final Score: 6.5
Reasoning: The movie is a great watch, but does not have any real substance