I wanted to love Doctor Strange 2. I took time off to see it on Thursday afternoon, and then I practically ran home later that night to write about the Doctor Strange 2 post-credits scenes. Unfortunately, though, I wound up giving it the same rating (2.5/5 stars on Letterboxd) that I gave to Morbius.
As a coworker told me, I was either underrating Doctor Strange In The Multiverse of Madness or overrating Morbius. Maybe it's a little of both. But my frustration with Doctor Strange's latest adventure stems from the fact that it suffers from three of the most annoying issues of the MCU.
Sure, the film has its high points, but these three flaws just took me out of the whole experience, as the film's villain, visuals and fan service all fell flat in one way or another.
And without those three things thriving? A Marvel movie doesn't hit right at all.
Of course, beware Doctor Strange 2 spoilers below! And don't miss our ranking of all of the Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness cameos.
Doctor Strange 2 puts Marvel's worst CGI front and center
If I remember 2021's Black Widow for anything (other than Scarlet Johansson suing Marvel and seemingly ending Disney Plus Premier Access in the process, or that cover of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" for the opening credits), it's the very obvious CGI from one of the final scenes.
General Dreykov's office, where Natasha head-butted her way to a win, looked shockingly fake to me. That wasn't the first obviously bad Marvel movie CGI, though, and it wouldn't be the last.
That's because the first big fight scene in Doctor Strange In The Multiverse of Madness gave me a reminder that something is wrong at Marvel Studios' CGI labs. As Strange, Wong and America Chavez deal with a giant tentacled monster, practically half of the shots in this whole fight had obviously mismatched lighting, and — none more obvious than a moment where Strange stands in the foreground and the beast is behind him.
Not too long after that — when Strange, Wong and Chavez were standing on a rooftop where they'd soon bury another universe's Doctor Strange — I had another flashback to Black Widow. The wide-shot of that rooftop looked like a very obvious sound-stage shot that NYC had been CGI'd onto. I don't know who was supposed to be fooled here, and I kinda hoped director Sam Raimi would have avoided these issues.
For an example of how to do CGI right, Marvel should take a look at Stranger Things season 4.
Doctor Strange 2 gave us the least worthwhile fan service
We knew going into Doctor Strange In The Multiverse of Madness that this film was going to give fans some red meat, as Charles Xavier had been teased since the Super Bowl ad below. And it all started once Doctor Strange was arrested by Baron Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), but sadly, it practically ended in the same breath.
The fan service began with a Christine Palmer variant (Illuminati scientist is a great gig) telling Strange and Chavez that they're in Earth-838 — as opposed to Earth-616, their home universe. Those numbers probably sounded like gobbledygook to folks who haven't read the comics, but I bet plenty of folks in your theater got plenty excited to hear this.
The definitions of 616 and 838 universes has been a long-known thing in the Marvel comics, and it sounded like this was a huge moment for the MCU.
Things got even more awesome for fans when the Marvel Fantastic Four movie fan-casting of John Krasinski as Reed Richards actually came true. Then, we got the already-teased reveal of Patrick Stewart as Professor Charles Xavier in the MCU.
This all would have been great, and I would have probably only blogged about the above CGI had it not been for the fact that all of this was basically nullified by Wanda Maximoff/The Scarlet Witch killing all of the Illuminati, save for Mordo. Huge buzzkill.
Sure, Earth-838 may now be canonical in the MCU, but does it feel like this is going to have a lasting impact if it's sans-Professor X and Reed Richards? While Richards notably leaves a widow (Sue) and their children, and Xavier's got a whole school for the gifted young mutants, I don't believe either of Marvel Studios' Fantastic Four or X-Men projects will take place without those characters.
All of this, to me, means this Earth-838 doesn't actually matter. That it's the equivalent of Ralph Bohner, the fake Pietro from WandaVision. Something to get us excited that we soon realize is meaningless. Fun.
Doctor Strange 2 is recycling MCU storylines (from 2021)
While I did pop a little for the 838/616 stuff and the Reed Richards appearance, I was brought back down not too long later. The moment that completely dislodged me from Doctor Strange 2 was when I realized that Wanda has been turned evil thanks to her experiences reading the Darkhold, which led to visions of her sons. That's a complete rerun, but not from WandaVision — it's from Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
That entire movie revolves around one central plot conceit: Shang-Chi's father Xu Wenwu (Tony Leung) being tricked into thinking his wife (Shang-Chi's mother) was still alive and inside the mythical land of Ta Lo, behind the Dark Gate. This may have slight differences from Wanda Maximoff's story, but "mythical item corrupts" is too bland and simple a plot device to run in back-to-back years.
Yes, Wanda's story is more complex — and Elizabeth Olsen's performance is strong — but her plan was so short-sighted (what about those other Wandas, Wanda?) that I just felt like I was eating reheated leftovers.
Outlook: What can be done to fix this?
There are solutions, though. If the people working on all these movies and scripts could work with a little more awareness of each other's projects, maybe we don't see the Ten Rings and the Darkhold corrupting in back to back years.
Marvel could also make a point of not delivering fan service cameos if they're going to be undone in short order. Lastly, well, I'm not a film producer — and I imagine Covid-19 restrictions hampered production for this film — but I'd love Marvel to not release films that have scenes that look like that opening fight scene.
That said, I'm still excited to see Thor: Love and Thunder and the other upcoming Marvel movies. My expectations, though, are more tattered than Doctor Strange's cape. People I've talked to have widely different thoughts about the film, though nobody's frustrated with how it handles the source material (speaking of, Marvel's Kevin Feige warned fans about Ms. Marvel differences).
How does this all hurt Marvel? Why should they care? Well, I'm most certainly less interested in rewatching Doctor Strange 2 on Disney Plus, and if others feel the same, it means that Disney Plus subscriptions might not be as important to folks when we're in between new Marvel and Star Wars shows. Relatedly, our streaming editor is concerned he's going to cancel HBO Max soon, even though he absolutely loves it.
Disney's got one of the best streaming services, but quite a bit of Disney Plus' strength is in its back catalogue of Marvel movies — which need to get better.
In other entertainment news, Avatar 2's teaser trailer is finally online and the next Doctor Who star is Ncuti Gatwa. It's also Morbin' time over on Netflix, with Sony's maligned Morbius hitting streaming