Genre: Superhero, Fantasy, and Sci-Fi Adventure Running Time: 2 hrs. 6 min.
Release Date: May 6th, 2022 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Sam Raimi Actors: Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Benedict Wong, Rachel McAdams, Xochitl Gomez, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Stuhlbarg
lagued at night by bad dreams of an alternate reality wherein he must sacrifice the life of a child, Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) awakens to a living nightmare when universe-hopping America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) arrives on Earth 616, chased by an enormous, one-eyed octopus demon. After dispatching the beast and saving the girl, Strange learns of Chavez’ incredible power: the ability to open portals between the universes of the multiverse. Such a monumental gift attracts the attention of the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), a former Avenger corrupted by an accursed book of spells from the Dark Dimension. Intent on obtaining Chavez’ mystical talent at any cost, the sorceress begins hunting America and Strange across the multiverse, leaving a trail of carnage and corpses in her wake.
It starts right in the middle of the action – the kind overstuffed with fire, ice, smoke, and flurries of lightning sparks crackling across crumbling structures as monsters bound toward fleeing protagonists. Any sense of gravity is routinely defied as characters glide across floating terrain and leap past clutching claws, scrapping in front of alien atmospheres while tossing around magical projectiles; as with most Marvel pictures, the fighting is so chaotic that it’s impossible to sort out exactly when blows are landed. And once the story proper begins, it’s not long at all before more of the same ensues, utilizing a weirdly corresponding creature (a ghastly, viscous variation of something from “Monsters Inc.”) to stalk human prey through the modern streets of Strange’s domain.
“That wasn’t a dream … it was another universe.” The multiverse is a holdover from other films, but at least its existence and basic qualities are known without the need for much reiteration. But when the Scarlet Witch appears, this “Doctor Strange” sequel quickly reveals itself to be a follow-up to far more properties than its namesake; audiences will be expected to have caught up on Wanda’s separate streaming series, as well as a smattering of other exclusive Disney projects, to fully understand how she ended up being involved in this latest adventure. At first it’s only a couple of lines of dialogue to sum up her previous fate; but then those nods turn into full conversations, with complementing references and visuals that will have fans who have only seen the Marvel theatrical entries finding themselves missing plenty of details.
Ultimately, however, the story doesn’t make much difference, since the characters and their abilities are – once again – extremely vaguely designed (and even more inconsequential within a multiverse, considering that alternate sets of personas allow for death and destruction that don’t affect the primary existences). Every few minutes it seems as if the heroes are bracing for war, with flying and posing and grimacing and shooting neon energy beams from their fingertips constituting the conflicts. Casual mentions of a magical book of good, a tome of the damned, sorcerer supremes, cursed souls, and cross-world possession reenforce the notion that the plot is essentially made up as it progresses, adhering to zero pre-established rules; this is never more apparent than when the villains must undertake an intricate, time-consuming set of ancient rituals rather than simply killing their opponents or stealing their superpowers with a snap of fingers.
Yet, clearly, those bits of witchcraft are in line with director Sam Raimi’s interests, as he crafts a horror movie of sorts, employing his trademark styling of playful scares (borrowing from the singularly family-friendly thrills of something like “Poltergeist”). From camera gimmicks to screeching musical cues to haunted house sets to boo moments (such as a sudden flash of a gore-soaked visage or a mangled body), Raimi’s influence is apparent, even as the use of Marvel properties tends to stifle the auteur’s effectiveness (perhaps most obvious with the restrictive PG-13 rating). It hardly matters, as the more impactful sequences tend to involve familial revelations or glimpses of a love story, which are considerably more memorable than all the combat choreography and rambunctious showdowns between invincible spellcasting demigods – scenes utterly saturated by showy but commonplace computer graphics.
Disappointingly, with all of the infinite possibilities of a multiverse, this episode explores very few – dwelling on a couple of dull ones at that (complete with holes and inconsistencies, such as commentary on the differences between realities that are far more corresponding than the odds would suggest). The finale introduces a clever concept or two, but it takes entirely too long to get to that point, failing to capitalize on the potential of its limitless arena. And with the main premise existing between other storylines, while the conclusion closes with additional loose ends and teaser snippets for upcoming movies, “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” resembles the “Fantastic Beasts” series, serving as a mere middle piece that only marginally pushes the larger picture forward.
– The Massie Twins