Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures
Release Date: May 6th, 2022/ June 22nd on Disney+
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Xochitl Gomez, Elisabeth Olsen, Rachel McAdams, and Benedict Wong
Directed by: Sam Raimi
Produced by: Kevin Feige
Written by: Michael Waldron
Plot: Upon attending his lost love’s wedding (Rachel McAdams as Christine Palmer), Doctor Strange has a rude awakening when an interdimensional monster and a young girl on the run from another version of him show up triggering a series of events that threaten the foundation of the multi-verse.
Review: Upon his initial introduction into the Marvel Cinematic Universe several critics noted that Doctor Strange was somewhat of an also-ran in comparison to Tony Stark. It is not until they fight alongside each other in Infinity War that Stephen Strange is given the rich purpose he deserves. Now in a Tony Stark-less world, it seems not even the capable hands of director Sam Raimi can Marvel escape the second episode slump that has plagued heroes such as Iron Man, Ant-Man, and Thor.
Doctor Strange 2 initially saw the return of the first film’s director Scott Derickson and his writer C. Robert Cargill. However, as with Edgar Wright and Ant-Man, and Jon Watts and the upcoming Fantastic Four, ol’ Hollywood creative differences reared their ugly head and the Spider-Man trilogy director stepped in. Apparently over discussions of tone and horror elements. So Derrickson opted to make The Black Phone. Sam Raimi, a friend and colleague of producer Kevin Feige, has a background in horror with the Evil Dead series, PG-13 horror in Drag Me to Hell, and a hand in Walt Disney blockbusters with Oz The Great and Powerful. He’s a natural fit to the material, and the most accomplished director Marvel Studios has had. A zombified Doctor Strange operating from another dimension, as well as Evil Doctor Strange, remind us of the director that gave us Army of Darkness. There’s also some impressive camera wizardry. with an impressively F/X laden trip through all kinds of dimensions some exclusively animated or black & white. And one twisty-looking sequence that perfectly matches cuts between one character (Wanda) operating simultaneously across two dimensions in a tight shifted closeup.
Still, the aforementioned MCU tax is among the highest it has ever been for a movie. You will need to see the first film along with Avengers 3 & 4 in order to understand this movie. With this also being a Phase 4 film, some cursory knowledge of the TV shows; Wandavision, and What If would help too. The script comes from the writer of Loki and unfortunately, it is a TV-quality script with only 40 minutes worth of plot. The central character in this film is America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez unrecognizably older than she was in The Babysitters Club), a character we know nothing about from the jump other than she was betrayed by Doctor Strange in another universe. We find out that she has the power to jump between universes but can’t control it, and may have accidentally sent her parents to another dimension when she was a child. But the movie takes her character for granted and does not meaningfully develop her conflict to give the audience a reason to invest. She is a thinly sketched plot device that will cause any casual viewer to ask: “Who is that?” The answer is yet another barely written character from recent comics introduced to sell plots for future films. Is she human? What is the extent of her powers? Going by the plot of this movie, audiences won’t know or simply won’t care.
The logic of the story makes no sense. Wanda is possessed (a Raimi staple), obsessed, and now completely accent-less. She wants to be with her fake children from another dimension and believes she can only get there get by killing America. SPOILER ALERT BEGINS: America sends her there by fighting her at the end of the film, indicating that all of this simply could have been avoided. SPOILER ALERT ENDS.
Wanda Maximoff and Stephen Strange have no pre-existing relationship. Aside from saving the world together on opposite sides of the board in Infinity War (Strange with the Iron Man, and Maximoff with the Cap and Thor), there’s no meaningful cursory conversation they have before the central conflict begins like Strange had with Spider-Man in No Way Home. Wanda (Age of Ultron, Civil War, Wandavision) is further in the odd position of being in more films and around longer than Strange (his title film, and No Way Home) yet not getting her own solo film. And instead of using that familiarity to leverage a tragic arc for Wanda, the writers simply fail to commit. The actors themselves remain either confused or uninterested.
In regards to where Phase 4 of the MCU is headed: the same complaints have arisen. Where is this all going? Kevin Feige has promised answers, but 5 films in with no clear end in sight, there is a growing frustration. The integration of TV shows into this phase is bold but tedious. And with much of the discussions of these last few lousy films (Sony’s Spider-Man notwithstanding) hanging on which celebrity cameo is going to show as which character, the franchise is running on creative fumes. When Charlize Theron shows up in your franchise, it’s getting late.
Superfans who enjoy their headcanon will find a lot of fun in this bad film made by talented people. But the underdeveloped plotting and special effects give off an episodic vibe that feels like the MCU is treading water until the next installment arrives. Meanwhile, the casual audience is drowning.