The MCU: Cinematic Multiverses of Madness

I consume a lot of media. Like, a lot a lot. It has now become physically impossible for me to eat without having some kind of video playing in front of me, be it an actual movie, a series, or even just a YouTube video – Markiplier and his friends acting dumb have provided me with literal, not figurative, hours of entertainment. I’ve come to this conclusion when I was revisiting my 2022 resolutions (yes, I’m still on about that) especially the one where I promised myself to read more. I have been reading more, but as you can see I don’t limit myself to just literary or Western works. I read manga, comics and even Economist articles. It’s just that I’ve realised – on top of that, I watch movies, tv series, anime and YouTube videos. And I do a lot of those.

So I feel like I might begin to record my thoughts on the various media I consume. No, I’m not copping out and starting to review movies instead, I am still going to be reading and posting my thoughts on the books here. However, I feel that if I could record my thoughts on other media that may be more well known you might get a better gauge of my tastes, what I like and dislike, as well as the breadth of the kind of media I consume. You’d hardly find Korean media here, for example, so that limits the tropes and storytelling techniques that I would be exposed to which are unique to the Korean space. Therefore if I say something is unique which isn’t in Korean media, you could point that out to me and I can expand my tastes even further.

I guess what I am most interested in is stories, regardless of medium. I like following a well spun yarn, so to speak. I like learning about characters from their behaviours, their dialogue, and their actions. I like seeing what happens next, and seeing how these characters change (or don’t) over time, I like being surprised with a strange turn of events. With movies or comics, the more visual media, I like seeing new ways to interpret the world we live in, because the world we live in is boring.

Reality is boring. Yeah I said it. Give me high drama and fantastical elements or I might lose my mind.

The latest of Marvel’s cinematic offerings is high in both of those. Dr Strange 2, or to use its full title, Dr Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, is technically a sequel to the first Dr Strange movie that introduced the Sorcerer Supreme to the MCU way back in…(googles) 2016? Why does that seem so long ago. Oh yeah…pre – pandemic. Anyhoo, this is technically a sequel to that, but it is more of a sequel to the marvel streaming series, especially WandaVision and What If. It continues the story from where WandaVision left off, and it also incorporates a lot of themes and elements from What If. So it is more related to those series than its own series, which is rather strange (no I’m not going to say I’m sorry for the pun. I saw it and I meant it, also from now on I am not going to note any more ‘strange’ puns if I make any).

When you consider a sequel, you normally have to consider the movie prior to it. A good sequel expands and elaborates on concepts in its prior movie, as well as further the overarching plot within its own boundaries. Judging a sequel by itself is certainly possible, but by its very nature a sequel invites criticism of the work based on its first incarnation. This is why when Rachel Weisz was replaced in The Mummy 3 (the one with Jet Li in it) they had to have a scene lampshading why Rachel Weisz wasn’t in the movie. Anything from having a different actor (or actress) to having wrongly coloured lightsabers was fair game for critique.

But what about Multiverse of Madness? Here we have a special situation because of the interconnected nature of the MCU. While Strange has only ever had one movie prior to this, he has appeared in various other films like the Avengers movie, or Spider – Man. To directly compare him in this appearance vs his own film only would be a disservice. He’s no longer Sorcerer Supreme in this film, for one thing – Wong is, and to ignore the intervening films would be to ignore Strange’s development as a whole. If this sounds like a huge rabbit hole you’re going to have to fall into just to get the whole picture of the story as woven by the MCU, then as a lifelong comics fan let me say:

Welcome to comics. It’s mahvel baybeeee

CURLEHHH MUSTASSHHHH

But then again, it’s hard to consider the character of Dr Strange in the works that this movie is actually a sequel of, because he isn’t actually in WandaVision. While we can judge Scarlet Witch from her appearance in this film and WandaVision because she’s in them both, we can’t do that for Strange. In the larger canon of the ‘Wanda deals with Vision’s death’ story, Dr Strange as a character only appears towards the end to mess things up for Wanda.

Strange, isn’t it?

Our only recourse is to treat this story in a way that is unique to comic book lore and history – we need to consider each work independently, though it relies on elements introduced in other works. The whole ‘Vision and Wanda’ thing started as early as Age of Ultron, and to fully grasp the whole thing you’d need to watch Age of Ultron, Civil War, Infinity War, Endgame and WandaVision before watching Multiverse. 

IT’S MAHVEL BAYBEEEE

This is the video that convinced me that Mag and Neto were two separate names. His middle name is ‘Fuckin”. As in “Mag Fuckin’ Neto”

So this movie already has more dimensions in it than anything America Chavez slaps. There’s two, actually – the overarching MCU, and the movie itself. This movie provides the swansong, the end of Scarlet Witch’s subplot within the overarching MCU, and needs to be considered in that sense with all the baggage – the plot, the character development, all the beats. It is also a complete work by itself, and needs to be able to stand on its own.

I feel like the overarching nature of the MCU across its various media gets lost in a lot of discussion about Marvel movies. A lot of the time, each movie and series is judged by itself, without any relation to the MCU canon from before or after, and that misses a lot of decisions that made the film what it was. Of course each entry has to be judged by itself – all movies stand alone in a final analysis – but to only do that misses the point of having an MCU in the first place. Even criticism levelled at the MCU level tends to ignore the film’s place in that level. A lot of MCU fans have criticised the current phase as being without proper direction, that it feels aimless, but that’s a criticism at the overarching story, and not at the work within that story itself. Definitely not at Multiverse of Madness and its place within that phase of the MCU.

I feel like we’d have better discussions if we did consider the movie at all levels. We could then discuss the usage of trippy, mind bending visuals in the movie that might have only been included just because it’s a Dr Strange movie. How come there’s no trippy effects in WandaVision? Both characters use magic. Instead we have Wanda and Agnes throwing different coloured balls of goo at each other and the occasional Darkhold runes floating in the sky. Strange grabs hold of America Chavez for an instant and we’re treated to a gorgeous spectacle of visuals as they hurtle through different dimensions. Why the disconnect?

The scene I was talking about.

Don’t give me that budget excuse. They’re Disney. They have exactly Fuck You amounts of money. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if they have an accounting line item that just says Fuck You in their financial statements.

I honestly thought we’d have more interconnected films like the MCU back when every studio wanted to have their own cinematic universe. It would have elevated film to a different level in my opinion. Alas, it was not to be, but an analysis of MCU movies at the levels mentioned would have revealed to them why their endeavours failed – they had focused too much on the overarching plot and ignored the movie by itself. And yet – we have a new issue, because not every movie in the MCU falls to the same standard. Some are outright stinkers. Yet the MCU succeeded where other endeavours failed.

Love it or hate it, the MCU is a huge success, and we can’t blame the big studios from wanting to try it. I personally would have welcomed it, in fact. It wouldn’t have meant the dearth of ‘one shot’ stories, of course, but we’d have a new layer of cinema to consider when watching movies. An entire canon of lore would lie behind every decision in movies, from character development to foreshadowing to plot hints. The MCU could have paved the way for a new way to tell stories which was previously the domain of comic books – as part of a shared Multiverse of Madness.

That’s when things would get really Strange, wouldn’t you agree?


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