Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness ruined the MCU’s best character

When you’re armed with the best character in a franchise, a literally infinite number of in-universe possibilities and a top-tier actor like Benedict Cumberbatch, it should be extremely difficult to churn out a bad film. Unfortunately, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness ends up being just that.

This felt like last chance saloon for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. WandVision and Spider-Man: No Way Home aside, nearly everything released since the start of 2021 has been below-par at best and horrendous at worst – by messing this installment up so badly, it will be tough to find a way back to the highs of the Infinity Saga.

The movie is a mess from start to finish. Rather than with Doctor Stephen Strange himself, however, it’s probably suitable to start with the character who should have made this movie a masterpiece – Wanda Maximoff. 

Elizabeth Olsen was nothing short of astounding in WandaVision. Her portrayal of grief, depression and mental illness was testament to her stunning acting, and in the first half of Multiverse of Madness she is given the chance to show that off. The issue is that her character is torpedoed by incompetent writing.

Image Credit: CNET

Reports suggest that director Sam Raimi didn’t watch the show before this film, and instead tuned it to the ‘important moments’. This demonstrates extreme laziness; it is literally your job to write good stories for these characters, so have the courtesy to do some basic research.

That lack of research is clear to see throughout Wanda’s arc in this film. When WandaVision ended, the newly-crowned Scarlet Witch had started to come to terms with her grief. She accepted that what she had done was wrong, released the town of Westview from her magical grip and willingly let go of her children and Vision (again).

This was heartbreaking. Of course, the series ended with Wanda using her magic to look through the Darkhold. We are told that the book takes a hold of anyone who comes into contact with it, but that simply doesn’t do enough to explain how Wanda has transformed from a grieving mother into a murdering pyschopath since we last saw her. There is no explanation given.

For the first half of Multiverse of Madness, Olsen’s acting prowess just about holds the character (and the film) together. There are a number of scenes in which she impresses, picking up right where she left off. However, the writers just about throw her off a cliff after that.

For the last hour, she has no growth in any direction as a character. She is utitlised as a plot MacGuffin and a horror device, now evil in every sense of the word. That isn’t earned, and neither is her inevitable switch back to normality at the slightest hint of moral conflict.

On top of that, she seems to have forgotten all about who Vision is. She mentions his death fleetingly, but aside from that her only motivation is getting to her children. Does she no longer yearn for her dead husband, whose passing set WandaVision into motion in the first place?

Image Credit: Flickering Myth

It’s difficult to put into words just how catastrophic this writing is. You have the best, most fleshed-out character left in the MCU coming straight out of a series in which they went through trauma of the highest order and battled through to the other side. The potential was endless.

Of course, that potential wasn’t realised. Instead, Wanda is thrust into the spotlight as a major villain (which would have worked had it been earned), is handed a half-hearted redemption attempt and then dies in what will go down as one of the most underwhelming death scenes in all of the MCU.

She’ll obviously be back – the character is too powerful and Olsen is surely too good an actress to have been forced into bowing out like that. But the way Multiverse of Madness treated the franchise’s star was shocking, and undid so much of the good work in WandaVision.

The titular character isn’t treated particularly effectively either. We and Doctor Strange are constantly force-fed the question of ‘are you happy?’, which is obviously an attempt to show us that Strange, like Wanda, isn’t pleased with the way his life has turned out.

This is, once again, a blatant breach of the ‘show don’t tell’ rule. Rather than utitlise some good acting, a competent script and a realistic character arc, we are simply told that Strange is unhappy. It’s out of nowhere – this hasn’t been hinted at whatsoever in his numerous cameo appearances since his first solo film back in 2016 – and there is no resolution.

Has Strange developed at all by the end of the film? Is he any happier or unhappier? I don’t think so. He doesn’t really learn much, blatantly breaks his own rules throughout and goes unpunished. He wasn’t exactly the most riveting of lead characters.

Image Credit: Variety

As for America Chavez, portrayed by Xochitl Gomez, she could have been left out of the film entirely and it wouldn’t have made any difference. She was shoehorned in to an already over-crowded cast lineup and looked miles out of her depth. Some of her line deliveries were appalling, and her character is unbelievably shallow. She wasn’t needed.

She wasn’t the only one whose acting wasn’t up to scratch; Rachel McAdams was poor, and Benedict Wong was only really on hand to shout some cringeworthy one-liners.

Those one-liners were littered throughout the runtime and were painful to watch. Strange continually shouting ‘crap’ springs to mind – when has he ever said this?

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Equally poor was the film’s pacing, which is horrendous. I’m not sure why so many blockbuster films are forgetting that they are supposed to have opening, middle and third acts, and Multiverse of Madness is no different.

We jump into the adventure right from the off and we never slow down; we fly through problem after problem, solution after solution, adventure after adventure. There’s barely a second to pause and spend some time with the characters, which is in part a reason why they are so underdeveloped.

The film blobs together into one ever-flowing timeline, and it suffers for it. It’s so basic. The issue is probably best summed up by the ending, which is unbelievably abrupt and comes out of nowhere. Was it an attempt at something of a cliffhanger? If so, it didn’t pay off at all.

Shortly afterwards came the mid and post-credit scenes, which were the worst the MCU has produced so far. Genuinely, the less said about them the better.

There are also a number of shambolic plot contrivances which scream of an amateurish writing team. Wanda has the Darkhold, which she gained possession of in WandaVision, and the writers want rid of it quickly because they don’t know what to do with it – so what they do?

Well, that’s easy. They invent a random character and have her somehow survive Wanda’s original attack, sneak up on her while she uses the book and destroy it – and then die. How unearned does that feel? It’s infuriating.

Image Credit: Screen Rant

I genuinely believe that this film, like many of the recent MCU projects, suffers massively because of its reliance on CGI characters and enemies. It can’t be easy to act when you’re not actually talking to someone, and have to pretend a living thing is in front of you. It shows, with so many lines lacking emotion or depth.

This is a huge problem. I don’t understand the writers’ obsession with throwing random computer-generated monsters into every film at the moment – in Multiverse of Madness, is there really a need for the Lord of the Rings-style creatures that help Wanda to guard Mount Wundagore? The answer is no.

There’s no point in them. They lumber about aimlessly, look miles out of place and die the first time they are attacked. Why the scripting team thought they were necessary is beyond me – fans surely don’t want them?

Similarly, the giant octopus-like alien that attacks America Chavez at the start of the film just looks ridiculous. It doesn’t work and comes across as cheesy.

As is Disney commonplace nowadays, the writers tried to cover up their shortcomings with a number of superstar cameos. Unfortunately, they fell so flat that they made the film even worse. Audiences have been waiting for a Reed Richards appearance for a long time, and this is how they thought they’d do it?

Captain Carter was selected to last the longest when fighting Wanda despite being the weakest of the ‘Illuminati’ (don’t ask). A different version of Captain Marvel dies after being crushed by a statue (really?), while Professor X goes out with a whimper. These appearances were pointless and futile – they didn’t work.

Image Credit: Bleeding Cool

So, how do you fix this film?

For starters, cut out the over-reliance on CGI. Focus on the characters you already have at your disposal, and don’t pad the run-time with idiotic monsters that nobody wants or cares about.

Raimi should have taken the smart option and made this movie a pysochogical one. On one hand, you have Wanda – the most powerful character in the MCU who is suffering with mental illness. On the other you have Stephen Strange, who with a bit of fine-tuning could be thrust into a similar situation due to his ‘unhappiness’.

The film should kick off with Wanda struggling after the events of her own show. She knows what she did was wrong, but she can’t seem to shrug off a desire to get her children back – and isn’t being helped by her use of the Darkhold. We need to see that conflict in her.

Then, show that Strange is unhappy. He is constantly dwelling on Christine, and is perhaps spying on her and her new husband. He longs for a life with her, and won’t be satisfied until he gets it.

Wanda experiments with some sort of dark magic, testing out the possibility of travelling to another universe to live with Vision and her children (no need for CGI monsters or the pointless America Chavez). Strange is alerted to the attempt, and travels with Wong to confront her.

Image Credit: Book and Film Globe

However, after learning that she has managed to travel through the multiverse, Strange could become tempted. He knows it is wrong, but he now knows it is possible for him to live a happy life with Christine somewhere out there.

The middle section of the film would consist of both characters battling their inner demons; do they go against their better judgement, selfishly helping their own cause, or settle for an unhappy life in their own universe? Some sort of caveat could be that in order to live in another universe, you have to kill the version of yourself already living in it.

Eventually, after some useful plot developments, Strange will snap out of his desire and realise that one person shouldn’t define his happiness. He will learn that he can be content in his own universe with Christine as a friend – there is your character growth.

Wanda, on the other hand, would be unable to control her emotions. She just can’t stop herself, going on to kill and replace another version of herself. She now demonstrates the full capacity of her power, killing a large number of people and cementing her place as a full MCU villain. I believe that would work.

The film could then end with a magical confrontation between the two with no real winner; Wanda lives and can come back as a villain in future projects, with her character still intact. Maybe there are flaws in those changes, but I certainly think it would have made for a better movie than what we got.

Image Credit: StyleCaster

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness ruined a number of characters (and contained some pointless ones), was badly paced, had no discernible acts, overused CGI, contained awful acting, was poorly written and had superstar cameos that fell flat. It couldn’t have been much worse considering the potential it promised.

Was this the MCU’s last chance saloon? I think it might have been. If you can ruin a character as brilliant as Wanda Maximoff, you can ruin anything.

Rating: ☆☆

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