'Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness': Does another poor Marvel Phase 4 film signal decline of MCU
'Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness' is all set to give the 'Eternals' a run for its money as the most pathetic MCU flick as far as critic reviews are concerned. From being lambasted for being disjointed to calling it an exhaustive 126-minute affair, the Benedict Cumberbatch-starrer has already been panned before the movie hits the big screens. Sure, the fan opinions do eventually outweigh the content viewed from the lens of those who understand cinema, and will almost definitely rake in some healthy moolah at the box office, but surely, Marvel movies are not the same as they were. New direction, new vision, and new heroes? All good. But the lack of substance and the "What makes Marvel films a Marvel" is clearly absent.
The folks at Burbank wouldn't have seen this coming, and if they thought they could do this all day, they couldn't have been more wrong. Not after the success of 'Spider-Man: Far from Home' and 'Shang-Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings' at least. These flicks, especially the latter, showed promise and gathered appreciation just as much as Ryan Coogler and the late Chadwick Boseman's 'Black Panther'.
Just to give an idea of how good Simu Liu's mega-budget ballet was, it grossed over $432 million worldwide, making it the ninth-highest-grossing film of 2021 compared to the other films that followed. 'Black Widow' ($379 million) and 'Eternals' ($402 million) were bombs that fizzled out, and Tom Holland's 'Spider-Man: No Way Home' owing to some sheer star power, and brilliant writing fared better by making over $1.8 billion.
The green aside, what these movies have sorely missed was the Marvel touch, something MCU's phases 1-3 brought in copious doses. It was always about the bigger picture. There was continuity and the storytelling had characters all relatable, complex, yet inspirational at the same time. Throw in some brilliant cast additions and cutting-edge tech, these movies became more than just superhero content. They were larger than life, something that the head honchos at DC grudgingly agreed upon.
'Man of Steel' writer David S Goyer successfully explained why the MCU was successful, at least from the content perspective: “One of the other things that have made Marvel incredibly successful is all of their adaptations are true to the source material. Ant-Man feels like Ant-Man. The Hulk feels like the Hulk. They don’t try to change things up. I would say, try to hew closer to what was the original intent. So, it’s having a consistent universe, having consistent leadership, and staying true to the source material.”
However, things have changed. Phase 4, supposedly set to usher new heroes into the world, has been met with a lukewarm response, the fact that 'Spider-Man' fared better shows how much the world misses the OG group of heroes who made some of these Marvel movies worth remembering. Flicks like 'Avengers: Infinity War' and 'Avengers: Endgame' were once-in-a-lifetime experiences where the world cried, laughed, clapped, swore, and screamed with excitement and agony at the same time. Deaths were mourned, and wins were celebrated. And now, sadly, it doesn't seem to be the case, not especially when a movie with one of the heroes with links to the previous phases falters.
Sometimes, it's only fair to ask whether the decision to kill Robert Downey's Tony Stark/Iron Man, Scarlett Johansson's Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow, and retire Chris Evan's Steve Rogers/Captain America was a good one. There are two arguments — one, to look at the future, one has to leave the past behind, a philosophy that Marvel Studios seems to have embraced. The second is to perhaps give these characters the sort of an end that also gave them a window of opportunity to come back in the future.
For instance, Iron Man was one of the original members of the Illuminati (they are confirmed to appear in the sequel), so would bringing back Tony Stark (and not killing him in 'Endgame' ) have helped revive the fortunes of a dwindling franchise? Or would it have taken away the spotlight from Cumberbatch's spry and snooty wizard? The same argument can be applied to 'The Falcon and the Winter Soldier'. No disrespect to either Anthony Mackie or Sebastian Stan, but perhaps the addition of an Evans cameo could have made a solid difference. This again, is pure wishful thinking and speculation, but from the way these movies have been unfolding, could the studios have planned Phase 4 better?
In the list of worst Marvel Movies not considering Phase 4, 'Thor: The Dark World' was supposed to be at the bottom of the barrel, but now, it's hard to pick a loser in the latest phase. Surely, the 'Eternals' are right up there as far as the absymal is concerned with 'Black Widow' coming in a close second. Wonder how 'Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness' will fare. The closing statement: The MCU is in disarray. It was supposed to get better by the movie but seems to have lost the winning formula that DCEU seems to have rekindled (more on that later), but for now, this dynasty run has ended. Perhaps a time travel is in order to rediscover the magic mantra?
'Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness' releases on May 6 in the US.