BY MATT TUCK, BLOGGER SUPREME
FB@The Comic Blog
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness has arrived, but it’s the Scarlet Witch who works her magic to steal the show. [WARNING: SPOILERS]
SCARLET WITCH SHINES
Doctor Strange’s name may be in the title, but this was a Scarlet Witch movie. As the appropriately titled MOM initials spell out, she was the antagonist and best character in the film. In fact, it should have been titled, Scarlet Witch in the Multiverse of Madness. WandaVision hinted at her being a larger threat to the MCU, and MOM established her as the biggest threat to the entire Multiverse.
The heart of the movie is Wanda Maximoff’s pain for her lost children. As we saw in the post-credits scene after the WandaVision season finale, she uses the evil Darkhold to search the Multiverse for Billy and Tommy. What she discovers is that they don’t exist in the Marvel-616, so she combs other universes, looking to pull a Rick Sanchez and replace that world’s Wanda. She needs the interdimensional powers of America Chavez to make this work, and Scarlet Witch goes full monster mom when Strange and Wong resist her will. That sets up a dimension-crossing, magical battle that ushers in (and quickly ushers out) the Illuminati.
Despite Doctor Strange being the marquee name on the title, the Scarlet Witch was the film’s real star. Despite a mostly mediocre film with clunky dialogue and cliché-riddled performances, Elizabeth Olsen shined. Playing multiple Wandas from the Multiverse, Olsen seamlessly transitions from the loving mother to a broken woman missing her family to sympathetic monster.
Although Scarlet Witch fans may have preferred to see her as a hero, MOM was the full evolution of her character. From Age of Ultron to Civil War, and Infinity War, we witnessed Wanda Maximoff growing from a scared child with exponential power to full-fledged Avenger. WandaVision hinted at her full abilities as she took up the Scarlet Witch mantle. MOM finally gives us an unhinged, Darkhold-powered Scarlet Witch, and she is magnificent.
SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF
The further the MCU expands, the audience’s suspension of disbelief grows thinner, and that was on display in MOM.
One thing I have been noticing about Marvel movies as of late is the dwindling special effects. Don’t misunderstand me. Every Marvel movie is a grand spectacle with bright colors, flashing lights, and massive CGI battle scenes. For the most part, the CGI isn’t the problem, and the MOM effects looked about like every other Marvel movie’s CGI.
My complaint is with the sets, and MOM’s sets didn’t come across as natural. Several times, they looked exactly like actors on a soundstage. True, nothing is real in a movie. However, the idea behind a movie is to make the audience believe it’s real, at least for a couple of hours. Unfortunately, Marvel’s sets look less and less believable. I noticed the trend beginning with Black Panther, specifically the cliffside fight scenes when T’Challa fought M’Baku and later Killmonger. Nothing about it seemed real, and it took me out of the fantasy world the filmmakers were trying to create. It was clear these were actors standing next to rock-shaped foam in front of a giant green screen. Instead of watching a movie, I felt as if I was watching a play.
It was a similar case with MOM. Whether it was America Chavez stomping a slab of concrete on Gargantos’ head, Wong lying on a cliff face, or a key scene on a rooftop, there was little suspension of disbelief. It was painfully obvious that actors were reciting scripted lines on a soundstage made to resemble these things. That may sound like a small point, but those little problems add up to larger problems. It prevented me from being fully connected to the story and its characters because I was constantly being reminded that, indeed, I was watching actors play pretend. It emphasizes the importance of the audience’s willingness to accept this fiction as reality, at least for a couple of hours. That’s becoming increasingly harder to do in regards to the MCU.
The real kickers were the dialogue and the campy performances. MOM had a mostly solid cast led by the always-excellent Benedict Cumberbatch. For his part, he delivered a performance equal to what we saw in Doctor Strange, but with a lesser script from which to work. Then there was Olsen, who was outstanding.
The weak link was Xochitl Gomez, who plays the dimension-punching America Chavez. There was nothing believable about her performance whatsoever, and she came off like a dropout from high school drama class. Some moments were laughably bad, such as when Mordo drugged the tea he served to Strange and America. Granted, Sam Raimi appeared to be asking for cliché moments from his actors, but Gomez pushed the scene into unintentional comedy with her melodramatic “faint” and campy slump into her chair. At least she was more tolerable than Billy and Tommy, who were insufferably cute and adorable. Remember the disgustingly cute Cindy Lou Who from 1996’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas? Billy and Tommy were on that level, especially when they sang their atrocious ice cream song. Enjoy that one.
In the actors’ defense, the dialogue for MOM was particularly bad. Very little of it sounded normal or believable even in the capable hands of Cumberbatch. It was on the level of Spider-Man 3 bad, and I halfway wonder if Raimi wanted it that way.
A TOUCH OF HORROR
Whenever Raimi’s name is attached to a film, most of us think of horror. Afterall, before Spider-Man, he cut his teeth on the Evil Dead trilogy. While he delivers some classic horror tropes to MOM, it’s less Evil Dead and more Army of Darkness with campy moments galore. On the plus side, the touch of horror elevated Scarlet Witch as a villain. Seeing her turn into a full-fledged, homicidal monster helped her stand out from the litany of Marvel villains we have seen in the expansive MCU. It peaks with her invading the Illuminati’s sanctuary, leading to an attack that was far more brutal and violent than I was expecting from the family-friendly Marvel Studios.
Matt Tuck is the author of the novel, Lost Bones of the Dead. He is a professional writer, avid comic collector, former teacher, and the Blogger Supreme. You can follow him on his Facebook page, The Comic Blog, or on Instagram at matt.tuck.writer.