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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



Dr. Strange-The Multiverse of Madness, Review: Averse, obverse, inverse, diverse, reverse, converse, traverse, transverse

Dr. Strange-The Multiverse of Madness, Review: Averse, obverse, inverse, diverse, reverse, converse, traverse, transverse

Of all the screen movements in Dr. Strange-The Multiverse of Madness, floating and jumping are the main competitive events, closely followed by light rings that are twirled and hurled as weapons by either side. If you can excel in these events, you win the battle. The battle, yes, but the war, no. It is a completely unequal war, with a witch who keeps winning any which way she can, against a multiperse…multitude of protagonists. While u crane your neck to keep pace with the proceedings with a russ here and a russ there, proceedings that are averse, obverse, inverse, diverse, reverse, converse, traverse, and transverse, to get to two books rare, that hold the keys to knocking the broom out of the witch. They are called Darkhold and Vishanti. Vroom vroom, here’s another chapter from the Marvel Comics Universe that will ensure boom boom, and an adrenaline rush, among the fandom kingdom.

Stephen (pronounced Steven) Strange attends his ex-fiancé Christine Palmer's wedding, where Strange apologises to Palmer for being unable to make their relationship work, and they tell each other that they are both happy. Suddenly, a magical octopus is seen wreaking havoc on the streets, hurling cars and destroying building, in order to capture a young girl. Dr. Strange battles with the creature, but is overpowered. Wong, who is now Sorcerer Supreme, due to Strange being blipped for five years, joins the fight, and the two eventually kill the creature, while saving a girl, who introduces herself as America Chavez. America says that she possesses the power of travelling from a universe to another, across the multiverse, at will, and it is this power that her unknown enemy is after. She also reveals that the other Strange, who died, after killing Thanos, attempted to take her power, while protecting her from the octopus, which is the same as Stephen Strange's dream of the previous night. Chavez takes Strange and Wong to the dead Strange's body, and they deduce that the enemy uses witchcraft.

Strange meets with Wanda Maximoff, who has already been corrupted by the Darkhold book, and turned into the Scarlet Witch. After Strange tells Maximoff about the girl, she accidentally slips and names her, though Strange never mentioned her name, revealing that she was the one controlling the creature. She intends to take Chavez's power to be with her children Billy and Tommy, that she created during her time in Westview. Strange refuses to give her to Maximoff, so she attacks Kamar-Taj. During the attack, Chavez's powers are triggered and she and Strange escape in a portal, leaving Wong behind in Maximoff's captivity. Maximoff begins to conduct a Darkhold spell known as "dream walking", to find and control the body of a version of Wanda Maximoff in the universe where Strange and Chavez escaped into. Strange and Chavez end up in an alternate universe, designated as "Earth-838", where they are arrested by this universe's Mordo. Strange meets this universe's Palmer who designates his universe as "Earth-616". Mordo takes Strange to the Illuminati, consisting of Mordo, Peggy Carter, Black Bolt, Maria Rambeau, Reed Richards, and Charles Xavier.

A relative newcomer, Michael Waldron, who has so far written a few episodes in the TV series Rick and Morty, Loki and Heels gets his big break as full credit writer of this film. A lucky run brought the film his way: Doctor Strange - earlier version - director and co-writer Scott Derrickson had plans for a sequel by October, 2016. He was signed-up to return as director in December, 2018, when Cumberbatch was confirmed to return. The film's title was announced in July, 2019 along with Olsen's involvement, while Jade Halley Bartlett was hired to write the film that October. Derrickson stepped down as director in January 2020, citing creative differences, with Waldron and Raimi joining the next month and starting over. There are three problems with the script. Firstly, it is terribly over-written. Secondly, the dialogue is stilted and incongruent. And thirdly, it seems too unrealistic that a witch can annihilate an entire pantheon of super-heroes in battle after battle. Repeated references to Dr. Strange as one who “insists on holding/using the knife” (he is a neurosurgeon by profession) sound awkward and affected. A witch wanting to raise children is a noble thought indeed, but it cuts little ice when the witch in question is wreaking havoc upon hordes of valiant noblemen. The idea is to instill as much emotion as possible. Strange’s heart-break, America’s ‘innocent victim being given protection by strangers’ track, the witch who wants to be a doting mother angle, the fallibility of Strange, the devotion of Wong…these are all meant to balance the flying objects and flying humans/humanoids, but they are not well integrated into the screenplay.

Over the last 20 years, director Sam Raimi has given us Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, Spider-Man 3, Man with the Screaming Brain, Drag Me to Hell and Oz the Great and Powerful. The last of these was released in 2013, so he is returning to the director’s chair after nine years. There is a token reference to Spiderman, which is a good example of an insider joke being carried well. Raimi is not afraid to give several negative traits to Dr. Strange and make him look absolutely hideous in several scenes. Of course, you cannot tell whether the Strange you see is from Universe 123 or 456 or 789. At least one of them, if not more, is dead. But that will not prevent him from appearing and reappearing in sequels. The same goes for all the other super-heroes. The appearance of these super-heroes and the Spiderman joke evoked applause and whistles from some corners of the crowd at the preview to which I was invited. Since there is a minuscule footage allotted to the super-heroes, the length of 126 minutes results in a bit of drag. Add to that the extra-cold air-conditioning and the repetitive encounters on screen, you could end up with a bit of shut-eye around the middle of the film.

For most fans, Benedict Cumberbatch can do no wrong. As Dr. Strange, I have a problem with the basic casting, but having donned the cape (of good hope), which is not really a cape but a Cloak of Levitation, given to Dr. Strange by the Ancient One for defeating Dormammu, he makes good use of it and is far too seasoned an actor to let you down. He goes through all the motions, on foot, in the air, in inner space and outer space, with amazing grace. Even when he is made to look hideous, you do not feel any repulsion, rather, you admire the manner in which he pulls it off. Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch, a former Avenger gone astray, and Xochitl Gomez as America get to emote a lot. While the senior is expected to go through the emotions easily, and does, Xochitl (this is only her second film) has a bright future.Chiwetel Ejiofor as Karl Mordo, who turns from Strange’s friend to foe, is his confident self.

An alternate version of the former Master of the Mystic Arts and mentor-turned-enemy of Benedict Wong as Wong (the only character whose real name is also his screen name) as the Sorcerer Supreme is less deadpan than most Oriental-featured actors, but tends to mumble his dialogue and swallow certain words.

Good support comes from Michael Stuhlbarg as Dr. Nicodemus West and Rachel McAdams as Christine Palmer.

Reprising their earlier roles in cameos are Patrick Stewart as Charles Xavier/Professor X, from 20th Century Fox's X-Men film series, and other Illuminati members: Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter/Captain Carter; Lashana Lynch as Maria Rambeau, Captain Marvel in her universe; Anson Mount as Blackagar Boltagon/Black Bolt (he is the subject of Wanda’s wrath and what she does to him is a good piece of writing.; and John Krasinski as Reed Richards/Mister Fantastic. Two boys, Julian Hilliard and Jett Klyne, reprise their respective roles from WandaVision as Maximoff's sons Billy and Tommy. Charlize Theron makes a cameo appearance as Clea in the mid-credits scene, while Bruce Campbell, makes two appearances, as a vendor of an alternate universe restaurant called Pizza Poppa, both during the film and its post-credits scene. The second one is the last shot on screen and raises a few laughs.

Images are captivating and colourful, as required, courtesy cinematographer John Mathieson. Editing by Bob Murawski and Tia Nolan could have been crisper, avoiding inclusion of scenes that are highly similar. Music by Danny Elfman is strong, full bodied, using an array of instruments, and dominating, sometimes unnecessarily so.

Dr. Strange-The Multiverse of Madness just about makes it to the watchable category, thanks to very high production values, CGI, VFX, SFX and all other FX. Sam Raimi is capable of better stuff, while Benedict Cumberbatch makes every role his own.

Rating: ***



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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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