REVIEW: Studio-driven ‘Doctor Strange 2’ short on substance

Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been pretty poor so far.

Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) starts off this latest Marvel adventure on a down note, having to attend a wedding where the woman he loved is getting married to someone else. Any negative feelings about that have to wait, though, when a giant monster attacks a young woman nearby.

The woman is America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), who has the power to travel to different universes, but can’t quite control it yet. After rescuing her, Strange seeks counsel from Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), as she might be able to help with her knowledge of magic. However, Wanda sees an opportunity to use America’s powers for herself so that she can find a different universe where she can be happier.

The latest adventure of Dr. Strange was helmed by Sam Raimi, and the filmmaker known for many iconic projects certainly leaves his mark on the picture. Raimi has experience in both the super hero arena and the horror genre, and both are incorporated here with a coating of Raimi’s signature style.

The result is a movie with plenty of unique and well-made action set pieces, as well as some creepy visual moments. An example of the former is a scene where Strange is casting a spell involving musical notes to battle an enemy that’s quite inventive.

Unfortunately, while the film is high on style, it’s woefully lacking in substance. Despite introducing a new character and having its protagonists hop into alternate universes, the film continuously feels shallow.

The movie is mostly driven forward by plot devices, from a pair of magic books to the character America herself. It also noticeably appears to be just a cog in the larger Marvel machine.

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Courtesy Marvel Studios.

The picture is very much a follow-up to the miniseries “Wandavision” and its final frame is a clear sequel tease. “Multiverse” also uses its premise to trot out a few Marvel cameo appearances that die-hard fans can celebrate.

There’s just not much for a viewer to dig into for a more immersive experience, though. The lack of any richness when it comes to the film starts with the main character himself. Strange acting as a sort of mentor to America and becoming a bit more selfless is somewhat charming, but also a bit redundant.

He wasn’t a mentor to Spider-man , but he showed a willingness to respect the younger hero, and he appeared to become more selfless in the first “Doctor Strange” movie. By the end, one wonders what value had been added to the character.

There’s somewhat of a theme at play about finding happiness in life, with both the protagonist and antagonist of the picture having to consider if they’re happy with how things have turned out. Yet it feels haphazardly put together in the writing.

This is especially true with Wanda, who is still in a state of mourning from the events of “Wandavision.” Now with the moniker of Scarlet Witch, Wanda sets her sights on finding a way to get to a universe where she can live with her sons that were featured in the Disney+ miniseries.

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To do so, Wanda takes a face-heel turn to villainy that would make Anakin Skywalker blush. Wanda’s grief, and the five stages usually associated, could have been interestingly explored with nuance. Instead, the film just makes her a typical big bad on a war path. It’s an underdeveloped, poor continuation of Wanda’s story.

Another underdeveloped character is America. She’s a young, wise-cracking hero, that at times it feels like the template for Tom Holland’s Spider-Man was retrofitted to her.

A character who has gone to so many different universes seems like one who could be rather interesting, but outside of her power, she seems like just another MCU hero.

It’s a shame that these characters fall short in being compelling because the cast is perfectly capable. I’ve praised Olsen and Cumberbatch plenty of times for past MCU performances as these characters, but the material this time around doesn’t do them many favors. They’re fine on screen, but the characterizations are lacking.

Despite boasting a talented cast and strong director, “Multiverse of Madness” is a disappointment. While there is some entertainment value, the film never escapes feeling like a collection of underdeveloped ideas stitched together to meet the wants of a studio. 2 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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