Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Benedict Wong, Xochitl Gomez, Michael Stuhlbarg, Rachel McAdams
Written by Michael Waldron
Based on the Marvel Comics character Doctor Strange created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko
Directed by Sam Raimi
Produced by Kevin Feige
Cinematography by John Mathieson
Edited by Bob Murasaki and Tia Nolan
Music by Danny Elfman

Just so everyone’s caught up, it’s worth repeating and noting–again, for the second time in just a few weeks and the third time in just a few months–that the science fiction, fantasy, horror and supernatural gimmick of multiple universes existing along side of, or on top of, each other, but in different dimensions, or whatever sci-fi mumbo jumbo is used to describe this trope, was already approaching becoming a tired cliche about fifty-five years ago; the gimmick was already a fully-confirmed tired cliche thirty years ago; and the gimmick has been such a horrendously over-used tired cliche during the last twenty years, it’s been reduced to being simply a sorry, sad, pitiful, laughable joke. And not a joke of the ha-ha, funny humorous kind–a joke in regards to being just plain idiotic, moronic and ridiculous.

And it’s true. The multiple universe trope just appeared in the dreadfully disappointing, depressing, downer and confusing “Everything Everywhere All at Once” just weeks ago. The trope ruined the most recent Spider-Man movie, from just a few months ago. The trope essentially ruined nearly the entire run of the offensively overwrought, overdone and over-produced Marvel Comics comic book superhero movies during the last twenty years. The trope destroyed the ultimately failed attempted reboots of the “Star Trek” movie series. And the trope has been embarrassingly over-used in a barrage of similar, rip-off, copy-cat television shows, movies, comics, stories and books in recent years. The multiple universe cliche has become its own real-life entertainment world multiple universe monster, enveloping and engulfing and ultimately destroying anything and everything in its battered, old, unoriginal, repetitive, confusing, cluttered, too-easy-to-fall-back-on, tired path of demolition and ruination.

Everyone, even including diehard fans, has been saying, and agreeing with, and shouting out about, all of the above for years, even decades, now. And yet Hollywood–mostly in particular Disney, Warner Bros., Marvel Comics, DC Comics and Kevin Feige–just doesn’t listen. They’re so wholly consumed by that never-almighty, always-destructive dollar, bottom line and profit margin, they just keep churning out these mindless, faceless, machinery cogs that only occasionally resemble real, actual, fully-formed, intelligent, well-produced, well-directed, well-acted and well-witten memorable mature and respectable films. Talk about a multiple universe of madness.

Thus, it’s extremely sad–yet again–to report that that assembly line of mediocrity and madness’ latest movie cog, the utterly hopelessly disappointing “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness”–yes, that’s actually the real name of the movie–is once again just another loud, overdone, cluttered, noisy, clanging, exploding, imploding, confusing, unoriginal and cliched Disney/Marvel/Kevin Feige disappointment. It’s another big average movie, or average big movie. It’s not horrible, but it’s definitely not above-average, either. It’s just another mediocre B-movie–yes, it’s essentially a big B-movie–full of eye candy spectacle, razzle-dazzle, dogs and ponies, and superheroes and special effects and all that comes with all of that. But in the end, it’s all just another big average movie.

Besides having as it’s basic foundation and premise that tired multiple universe trope and cliche, which is immediately destructive from the start, “Strange” also mainly fails due to its overall equally-cliched story, plot, script and dialogue–all of which bring absolutely nothing new to the Marvel movies or even the Doctor Strange world. Again, and please believe it, the story, plot, script and dialogue are just tired and cliched in nearly every shot and scene. It’s all so familiar, the movie is not just tired in the cliche sense, but the actual movie becomes literally tiring to sit through–and it’s only about two hours long, which is miraculously short in the current comic book superhero movie world. But there’s just so much of the same old, same old, piled on top of more of the same old, same old, well, it’s just tiring.

You know a movie is in trouble, really, when your A-list director–in this case, the great Sam Raimi; your A-list cast that includes Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Benedict Wong and Rachel McAdams; your A-list post-production crew of special and visual effects wizards who are the best in the business; and one of the best film score composers of the last thirty-seven years, Danny Elfman, still can’t save the movie. “Strange” may be the product of the dedicated hard work of hundreds of talented, creative cast and crew–supported by a budget said to be in the $200 million range–but when all of that hard work by all of those hard-working people can’t overcome the mediocre, tired and cliched story, plot, script, dialogue and equally-stalled plot, story and character development and, at times, some equally mediocre acting, well, no amount of razzle-dazzle is going to save the movie.

The story and plot centers on Cumberbatch’s Dr. Stephen Strange and his loyal comrade in wizardry, Wong, played in an appropriately subtle, dry and deadpan style by Benedict Wong, battling a wholly psycho lunatic crazed superhero known as the Scarlet Witch, who wants to steal, control and use the superpower to leap across multiple universes that is held by the beautiful, captivating teenager named America Chavez.

The witch, whose name is Wanda Maximoff, mainly wants to use America’s power to re-connect with two invented fantasy kids in an alternate universe who she loves, but can’t be with in the real world. And–if you can believe it, stomach it and bear it, this weird wacky Wanda witch is willing to kill people, kill more people and kill even more people–just to end up in some suburban house with two invented fantasy kids—for some vague, barely explainable, barely understandable reason, or reasoning. Even in a big-budget comic book superhero science fiction fantasy supernatural $200 million movie, that basic story and plot foundation and premise just don’t hold up, stand up or sustain any possible level of suspension of disbelief. So, naturally, when filmgoers can’t even invest their believability or support in the movie’s basic storyline, not much else is going to work after that.

Oddly, Elizabeth Olsen seems to be struggling in her role as Wanda witch. She appears at times unsure about where and how and why, exactly, her dual characters exist and co-exist with each other. And Cumberbatch seems to be at the same level–he’s far less assured and confident with his Doctor Strange character here than he was in the far-superior, actually quite good and entertaining origin story movie “Doctor Strange” from 2016. Maybe playing Strange in a seemingly endless string of generally generic and mediocre and disappointing comic book superhero movies during the last six years has just caught up, and tired out, Cumberbatch.

Elfman’s musical score is excellent, and it’s such a welcome change from the droning, non-melodic, noisy and flat-out awful noises that attempt to pass as film scores in too many movies in recent years. There has been a general alarming lack of quality film scores in recent years–an issue that deserves closer scrutiny–and it’s refreshing to see yet another quality score appear from Elfman.

And the extremely psychedelic, hallucinatory and bizarro–in a good way–special and visual effects are superb in “Strange.” There are numerous scenes where the effects are just razzling and dazzling. These wondrous effects are produced by hundreds and hundreds of artists who work for some of the best effects shops in the business, including Weta and Industrial Light and Magic. Their work is truly amazing.

And along with the effects, the film’s production, set and art design are equally dazzling.

Yet, again, all of these high-level elements just can’t save the movie from itself.

It’s far past the time for everyone in film, television, books and comic books to just please put this creaky, dusty, anything-goes, too-loosy-goosy, cliched multiple universe trope to a long rest–perhaps in some alternate reality, alternate multiple universe where no one has to ever sit through another production using this plot gimmick ever again.

And, really, for the love of movies and all that is entertainment, it’s–still–also far past the time for Disney, Warner Bros., Marvel Comics, DC Comics and Kevin Feige to please just step back, take a break, take a breath and give this entire comic book superhero universe of madness a good, long rest and temporary retirement. For many tired and fed-up movie and entertainment fans, that would be a universe we’d all be happy to live in.


Matt Neufeld

Matt Neufeld

Matt Neufeld is a longtime journalist, actor and film critic in the Washington and Baltimore areas. He has participated in many local film events and projects in the region, and he has appeared as an actor, supporting actor and extra in more than 45 films projects, at all levels, during the past 20 years.