*. Perhaps I’m too hard on the Marvel movies. Or, put another way, perhaps I come to them expecting too much. These are, after all, comic-book movies, so why should they be any more repetitive and formulaic than the source material?
*. Why should they be better? I think I’m justified in having some higher expectations. Because of the immense resources in terms of money and talent lavished on them. Because of the way they bestride the entire entertainment ecosystem like a colossus. Comics are no longer a despised art form. They’ve gone both mainstream and highbrow.
*. So I often go into these movies expecting more. As here. There were reasons to be cautiously optimistic. Sam Raimi was returning to the Marvelverse for his first comic-book effort since Spider-Man 3 in 2007. But then, Raimi hadn’t been directing much of anything in the years since, and his production credits were mixed. Also, Benedict Cumberbatch was back as Doctor Strange, and he’s a great actor who’s well cast in the part. But he’s playing opposite Elizabeth Olsen as the Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch, and Olsen isn’t great. Not that her character makes any sense at all in the first place. I mean, she says she’s not a monster, but a mother. Do you get it? Because I didn’t.
*. Then there’s the story. I was looking forward to something a little off the beaten track with doors opening up into a multiverse that would be, well, madness. But instead we only a visit a single alternate universe, Earth-838, and it’s not so weird. The rest of the connecting tissue is just the usual CGI-land. The opening scene has Doctor Strange and a girl we’ll later learn is America Chavez jumping from platform to platform like Mario or Sonic grabbing gold coins in a video game while running from a monster level bad guy. Yes, we’re stuck in a video game again. I could have pulled the DVD right then.
*. Things don’t get any better. Once again the villain, this time the Scarlet Witch, is seeking an immensely powerful artifact (a Necronomicon-like grimoire called the Darkhold) that, if she gets it, will make her ruler of the entire multiverse. Bwahaha! The monks of Kamar-Taj try to stand in her way, with entirely predictable results. Then Doctor Strange hopes to stop the Scarlet Juggernaut by finding the Book of Vishanti, which is like a good version of the Darkhold, but it turns out to be absolutely useless.
*. There are some CGI slugfests and then Wanda figures out she doesn’t really want her rotten kids back anyway — which was the point of all this and I’d advise you not to consider it too deeply. And America Chavez awakens her woman warrior within. And everything’s right again. In a mid-credit sequence Charlize Theron in a truly horrible get-up makes an appearance and something in me died a little. Et tu, Charlize? How much are they paying you?
*. OK, I left some stuff out. But nothing important or even noteworthy. Except for maybe zombie Doctor Strange, who was kind of neat. Xochitl Gomez is good as America Chavez, the diversity hire (Hispanic with two moms, American-flag jacket with a pride pin). Bruce Campbell shows up in a silly cameo. But none of it adds up to anything. It’s not dark or funny, which is a bit surprising given Raimi being at the helm.
*. But was Raimi really in charge? This is an MCU movie more than a Sam Raimi movie, and there are rules. Rules which are, in turn, defined by a look. A look that, turning again, reflects a certain view of reality: a cosmos (or multiverse) that is infinitely plastic and without meaning.
*. The perverse thing about this sort of moviemaking/storytelling is that for all its big-budget flights of fancy there’s something in it that’s antithetical to the imagination. The world of imagination is now seen as something digital, formulaic, expensive, and fake. There’s a nihilism at the core of the MCU that makes it like a snake swallowing its own tail. These movies present us with uplifting (and clichéd) messages about overcoming prejudice and adversity and believing in yourself, while at the same time suggesting that none of this really matters anyway. The MCU does the same thing to morality or humanity as it does to reality: turns it all into a mush of pixels that aren’t meant to have any relation to life as any of us experience or understand it.
*. I genuinely feel sorry for young people who have been raised on this shit. It’s not escapist fantasy so much as it’s driven by the rejection, even hatred of reality, and by that I don’t just mean tossing the laws of physics out the window. But maybe I’m looking too hard into all this.