Marvel and the madness of cameos: Doctor Strange continues to make a mess of the multiverse; it’s like a badly done SNL sketch
Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness: There is so much potential with the concept of multiverse, but it all gets mowed like Scarlet Witch’s victims in the name of fan service.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is busier than it’s ever been — to the extent that even the diehard fans need to pause a little and revisit the Marvel lore from the past decade. A new superhero is served to us every month, packed with heavy exposition of laws and new concepts that need Google search before you can get the hang of it. There’s so much happening that it’s exhausting to try and keep up at times. Sigh, where are the simpler days of Iron Man and Black Panther where you could just focus on the story at hand and not be dragged off into confusing alternate universes at a frenzied pace as if Vin Diesel’s at the wheel?
After the explosion of the multiverse in Spider-Man: No Way Home, which was essentially a fan service to bring in all the three Spideys from the different franchises, we’re back with the multiverse in Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness, and it’s exactly what the title promises: It’s madness. The madness and chaos is very much there, as you would expect from a Sam Raimi film. He pulls off all the tricks from the Sam Raimi book to bring out the undead thrills, symphony battles, goofs, and horror jump scares. I won’t deny that I was far more involved in this film, more so than I had been during Spider-Man: No Way Home, owing to the grisly twists and sheer breathlessness of the spectacle. Yet, it’s the feeling when you get off a dizzying rollercoaster ride — you begin to process the film and realise — Marvel’s made a mess out of the multiverse.
The madness of cameos
To paraphrase Spider-Man, with infinite universes comes infinite responsibility. The joy of the concept of the multiverse is to see what would have happened had a particular character made, or not made a particular choice, something that the delightful What If had encapsulated. In the last two films, it’s now a poor excuse for celebrity cameos, just to induce gasps. Yes, we’ll hoot and cheer — but could we have a fleshed-out story please? Instead, we are taken through different universes at debilitating speed and have to watch Strange and America underwater, then become cartoon characters and then find themselves in a world where ‘red’ means go for traffic. That’s as deep as it goes. Oh, and a pizza roll.
In Spider-Man: No Way Home, for some reason, Doctor Strange decided to mess with the timelines and help out a distraught Peter Parker and opened up the Multiverse. Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock, Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin, Sandman, along with several others from the much-cursed Andrew Garfield franchise burst forth. After the first few gasps of excitement, I began to wonder where the story was exactly going. The annoyance was compounded after Peter Parker decided to take the moral high ground and ‘help’ the villains. After that completely blew up in his face, we exchanged another few gasps and hooted as Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire showed up. The three Spideys discussed their love lives with respective MJ’s, fought in a grand scene, and Tobey Maguire almost got skewered, but recovered quickly enough, so no harm done. The cameos were great, but the story was negligible and faltered and the final conclusion made no sense as now no one knows who Peter Parker or Spider-Man is. It’s the old amnesia trick, but Marvel-esque.
In Doctor Strange, we’re dropped right in the middle of chaos, within the first ten minutes itself. It has Defender Strange and multiverse-hopping teenager America Chevez racing towards the Book Of Vishanti as monster tries to ravage them. It’s not the Strange we know, and he dies anyway, just in case we got slightly invested in this character. Back to the Doctor Strange and the world we know, he realises he needs to stop moping for his ex-girlfriend Christine and go save America, as the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) is on a rampage and demands her power so she can fuse with the Wanda Maximoff from another universe. That Wanda is the mother to two children, Tommy and Billy — she possesses a semblance of a happy life that the Scarlet Witch doesn’t have. After several sky-high battles and the destruction of Kamar-Taj, Strange and America hop into hastily sketched out universes and all we find out that in each universe, he and Christine don’t have a happy ending.
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And then, we meet the Illuminati — a group of superheroes who become roadkill for Scarlet Witch in seconds. Patrick Stewart’s wise Professor Xavier emerges, only to expound the same logic that he has been repeating throughout the X-Men franchise—helping a person who has gone astray. There’s John Krasinski too, and I’m sorry I couldn’t help but giggle, because I was unable to take him seriously. I suddenly felt as if I was watching a Saturday Night Live sketch, but just a badly written one. There’s Hayley Atwell’s Peggy Carter and she battles with Scarlet Witch only to be incinerated too. How can I not believe that her scene was written in just so that we could hear the words, ‘I can do this all day?’ I mean, a couple of minutes after that Wanda annihilates her. I really want to believe that this version of Illuminati was not cast by fans, but the film didn’t do a great job of convincing me otherwise.
In the film’s credits we see Charlize Theron, who takes Doctor Strange on another adventure. Sure, why not. Might as well have introduced Tom Cruise’s Superior Iron Man too.