The Marvel Cinematic Universe has officially jumped the Stark.
Its wobbly Phase Four (“Eternals” was vile, “Black Widow” was OK, “Shang-Chi” was a lot of fun) has been joined by one of the worst films so far in the bloated 27-movie franchise — not to mention one of the worst of the year — “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.”
That, unbelievably, is a movie title and not a doctoral student’s 250-page dissertation.
Running time: 126 minutes. Rated PG-13 (intense sequences of violence and action, frightening images and some language.) In theaters.
Now we have a firsthand idea of what it was like to witness the fall of the Roman Empire. Marvel was once, quality-wise, one of the surest things in Hollywood. A rotten film was released here and there, sure, but generally speaking there was a baseline standard that was usually met. “Black Panther” was a 2018 Best Picture Oscar nominee.
Now, as the money-grubbing studio pumps out endless TV shows and yearly films like Instant Pots at Christmas, the MCU has warped into a mindless parade of over-stuffed duds.
A movie as incompetent as “Doctor Strange 2” could only have resulted from executives being spread too thin to actually read the script. Anybody who tells you the story makes a lick of sense is probably a family member of writer Michael Waldron.
Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is back casting spells on Bleecker Street, jumping through magic fire circles with Wong (Benedict Wong) and doing his mind-bendy trick that was much more entertaining in the 2016 flick.
This time, he meets America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez, devoid of a personality), a superhero who can hop between realities in the “multiverse” — a word that should make you shudder. The stupid “multiverse” is turning into Marvel’s annoying houseguest who won’t leave. Yet again, we visit a bunch of alternate realities, meet bizarro versions of the main character and get walloped by confusion.
At one point toward the end of this movie, Strange goes, “There might be another, other, other me.” That’s the plotting and dialogue that $200 million buys.
The various versions of earth are pretty lame, too. One alternate Manhattan is covered in flowers for some reason, and — golly gee — you drive at red lights and stop at green.
The kinda villain is Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), who wants to live forever in one of the multiverses because she’s a mom with two cute little kids there.
Wanda and Strange drop comic book terminology rapidfire: the Book of Vishanti, some other competing tome, the Darkhold, the Illuminati. A few cameo appearances get those sad cheers you hear at sci-fi conventions. Fan service is wonderful, but not if it means everybody else needs a manual.
Many diehards, in their slavish, zombie-like subservience to the MCU gods, will tell you that Sam Raimi (brilliant on the 2002 “Spider-Man”) has directed a horror movie. Lies! It’s as scary and visually arresting as “Van Helsing,” “Underworld” and “Hellboy 2.” There are unexplained ogre henchmen, a flying bird made out of corpses and Wanda’s evil lair is just the dining room at Tao. Everything, including the overabundance of CGI, is ugly as sin. Wanda turns into Carrie White for a spell, but it mostly amounts to an insult to Brian DePalma.
Strange is, easily, the least likable character in the MCU because he shows little to no emotion and magic is too formidable a power. Even though his love interest Christina (Rachel McAdams) is back again to give this talking block of dry ice something to fight for, there’s no drive to the character and his incomprehensible story. There’s nothing Cumberbatch can do except deposit his paycheck at Chase.
As hard as Raimi and Marvel try to make Doctor Strange epic, in the grander scheme he’s slighter than Doogie Howser, M.D.