Why 'Doctor Strange 2' Is Marvel's Most Subversive Movie Since 'Iron Man 3' – Forbes

Why 'Doctor Strange 2' Is Marvel's Most Subversive Movie Since 'Iron Man 3' – Forbes

Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff in Marvel Studios’ DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.
Disney is reported yesterday that Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness earned $187 million in its domestic debut, which is a whopping $102 million jump from Doctor Strange’s domestic debut ($85 million in November of 2016) and $449 million worldwide. Marvel and Disney sold this as more than just a Doctor Strange sequel, hinting at buzzy multiverse cameos, promising a continuation of Disney+’s WandaVision, parlaying the goodwill from Spider-Man: No Way Home and otherwise presenting Sam Raimi’s flick as the first mythology episode since Avengers: Endgame three years ago. It worked, even if the B+ Cinemascore, good-but-not-great reviews (75% fresh and 6.5/10 from Rotten Tomatoes) and weekend multiplier (2.07x its $90 million Friday and only 5.2x its $36 million Thursday preview gross) leave concern about post-debut legs. Doctor Strange 2 is a courageously troll-ish repudiation of obsessive fandom and online discourse aimed at those who seemingly only care about the connective tissue and Easter Eggs along with those who are too invested in these fictional characters.
It’s not a mythology episode.
All pre-release buzz to the contrary, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is “just” a Doctor Strange sequel. It is a Stephen Strange-centric “monster of the week” that requires little to no deep-dive MCU knowledge. My ten-year-old son had a grand time despite having only seen the first couple of WandaVision episodes. Like most solo MCU flicks, it requires only knowledge of the actual Avengers movies, which is fair considering those mega-hits tend to be seen by anyone with even a modest interest in the MCU. Have you seen Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame? You’re fine. Nor is The Multiverse of Madness a status quo-shattering event flick with (at least initially obvious) repercussions across the MCU. The film ends with the threat defeated and the status quo mostly restored. That’s how it’s mostly been since Iron Man, but the perpetually online have spent a decade convincing themselves that every MCU movie requires deep knowledge of every other MCU movie and holds huge consequences for the overall narrative.
The cameos provide only exposition and cannon fodder.
Yes, much of the pre-release chatter was related to the possibility of multiverse-related cameos. The rumors ranged from X-Men being inserted into the MCU to Tom Cruise playing a variant of Iron Man or Doctor Doom getting a musical number. The cameos were merely what was promised in the film’s second trailer, namely alt-universe members of the Illuminati with Hayley Atwell’s Captain Carter, John Krasinski’s Reed Richards, Lashana Lynch’s Captain Marvel and Anson Mount’s Black Bolt (reprising his role in ABC’s ill-fated Inhumans series) being led by Patrick Stewart’s Professor Xavier (implicitly playing the version from the 1990’s Fox cartoon). These appearances existed merely to supply exposition related to their universe’s Doctor Strange coming fatally undone due to that “always gotta be holding the knife” character flaw. However, they were also there to be mere cannon fodder. The film’s mass-murdering villain (Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch, but more on that later) almost at once shows up and slaughters every single one of them in comically violent ways.
Marvel gets a statue dropped on her while Bolt’s head explodes from the inside. Mr. Fantastic affirms that he does have children whose mother will now have to raise them alone as he gets turned into human spaghetti. Captain Marvel gets chopped in half by her shield, while Charles gets his necked snapped. It’s a shocker of a sequence, and frankly is where much of the otherwise absurd “This movie should have been rated R!” chatter comes from. My ten-year-old liked it fine, correctly noting that it might be too much for his six-year-old brother to see in theaters. It’s also, if you’re someone who has rolled their eyes at the increasing media and fandom obsession with cameos and Easter Eggs and nonexistent clues to not-yet-written sequels, the film’s biggest crowdpleasing moment. The fans got their wish for Krasinski to play Mr. Fantastic, but only to set up his gruesome death. That their respective performances are awkwardly stilted seems to be an in-on-the-joke artistic choice.
Wanda Maximoff is the Daenarys Targaryen of the MCU.
In terms of objectively seeing the events of WandaVision, during which Wanda Maximoff used her powers to kidnap and essentially enslave an entire small town to live out a fantastical sitcom suburbia existence where Paul Bettany’s Vision was alive and she had two young sons, it would make sense that such unpunished actions would only result in her trying to achieve the same goal through more clandestine means. Granted, Tony Stark should have been sent to the Hague after Age of Ultron, but I digress. Whatever sympathy one has for Wanda (who lost her parents at an early age only to watch her brother and then her lover die by Avengers-related violence), no one is going to watch The Twilight Zone’s “It’s a Good Life” and come away thinking that young Anthony was a sympathetic hero. That so many fans seemingly put Wanda on a #girlboss pedestal was odd, and the events of this movie seem to imply that Raimi and writer Michael Waldron agree.
Wanda is revealed to be studying the cursed/evil “Darkhold” before she goes full villain. She pursues American Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) to kill her for the sake of stealing her multiverse-hopping powers. Wanda tries to kill a child, slaughters countless Kamar-Taj sorcerers and murders a few fan-favorite MCU heroes only to perish at the end. Her most passionate fans can now sympathize with the Game of Thrones fans who named their daughters Daenerys before Emilia Clarke’s anti-hero scorched an entire civilian populace in the penultimate episode. That Marvel saw the online/social media reaction to the Game of Thrones finale in 2019 and still let Wanda go full give into the dark side is almost an act of courage. Moreover, as Doctor Strange eventually realizes, the only person who can save the day is a young, untested female Afro-Latina superhero. That last part isn’t new (see: the finale of Cars 3), but it’ll piss off the worst people on the Internet so I’m choosing to count it.
How will audiences react to the movie they got?
The legs for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness will be an interesting test case in terms of online discourse not necessarily equaling general audience sentiment. It’s not a new notion, as we’ve seen a decade or so whereby movies are excessively anticipated online only to flop among actual paying moviegoers. That goes both to nerd-friendly biggies (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World) and seemingly “What we say we want” studio programmers (Widows, In the Heights, etc.). The Internet claims audiences want Birds of Prey, but Joker grossed $1.073 billion worldwide. Likewise, I’d argue that general audiences have a better understanding of why Marvel works (consistently “decent-to-great” character-specific action-fantasy films from interesting directors populated by eclectic ensembles with the bonus of comic book interconnectivity) than do the media pundits and the most obsessive MCU fandoms which swear that the connectivity is the main appeal and that everyone only cares about the credit cookies. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is another Iron Man 3-level test.
Shane Black’s (great) Iron Man 3 earned strong reviews and an A from Cinemascore in May of 2013. We saw online backlash over its distinctly Shane Black-ness and the plot twist which revealed that The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) was a racist caricature created by a white scientist (Guy Pearce) to distract from the deadly consequences of his failed experiments. The film still earned $1.215 billion worldwide. Earlier “fans hate it” blockbusters like Star Trek into Darkness and Star Wars: The Last Jedi both earned strong pre-release reviews and an A from Cinemascore while earning as expected ($465 million and $1.333 billion worldwide) box office grosses. Even Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3, which did not get pre-release raves or much audience adoration, earned $890 million worldwide in the summer of 2007 to become (until The Dark Knight) the biggest-grossing comic book superhero movie ever. Ditto The Rise of Skywalker, lousy reviews and mixed reception (including a B+ from Cinemascore) aside, still earned $1.073 billion worldwide.
Doctor Strange 2 is engineered to provoke online backlash.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is almost gleefully “problematic” and rubs the audiences’ noses in the notion that Marvel movies should be expected to be morally pure or make a positive difference beyond demographic representation. It introduces America Chavez and then mostly pushes her to the margins (often damsel-ing her) while showing no mercy to its supporting cast (Sheila Atim, America’s two doomed moms, etc.) no matter their demographic. Warts and all, the film presents a very explicit portrait of what the MCU usually is (especially in the first three phases) as opposed to what it’s often perceived to be by those creating the media narratives. Maybe it will have legs closer to Captain America: Civil War ($409 million from a $179 million debut) than Thor ($181 million/$65 million). Heck, all those outcomes get the film over $400 million domestic, although legs on par with Batman v Superman ($330 million/$166 million) would leave it essentially tied with The Batman ($369 million).
The online pundits found Black Widow’s conversation about sterilization offensive, but audiences pushed Avengers: Age of Ultron to $459 million domestic and $1.405 billion worldwide. Most moviegoers, even most fans, who go to a movie like Spectre or Transformers: Dark of the Moon see it once or twice in theaters (often with their kids) and find it some degree of “fine, whatever” before moving on with their lives. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is absolutely aimed less at the hardcore/passionate MCU fan and more at the general audiences who just show up to Marvel movies because they represent dependable IMAX-worthy theatrical entertainment. The horror elements might scare off some parents, but the lack of pre-Top Gun: Maverick competition still makes it the only big game in town. Either way, the next few weeks of global box office will be an interesting test case as to whether online discourse remains separate from general audience interest or whether the two are merging.

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