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Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness Movie Review

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022) movie poster
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

Theatrical Release: May 6, 2022 / Running Time: 126 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Sam Raimi / Writer: Michael Waldron

Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch (Dr. Stephen Strange / Doctor Strange), Elizabeth Olsen (Wanda Maximoff/The Scarlet Witch), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Baron Karl Mordo), Benedict Wong (Wong), Xochitl Gomez (America Chavez), Jett Klyne (Tommy Maximoff), Julian Hillard (Billy Maximoff), Rachel McAdams (Dr. Christine Palmer), Michael Stuhlbarg (Dr. Nicodemus West), Haley Atwell (Peggy Carter/Captain Carter), Anson Mount (Blackagar Bolton), John Krasinski (Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic), Patrick Stewart (Professor Charles Xavier/Professor X), Charlize Theron (Clea), Bruce Campbell (Pizza Poppa)

 

Making a Doctor Strange sequel has never seemed like a high priority for Marvel Studios. After the Benedict Cumberbatch sorcerer was introduced in the fall of 2016, the studio moved to introduce other new Avengers on the way to the epic 1-2 punch of 2018’s Infinity War and 2019’s Endgame. After that game-changing phase finale, we all needed a bit of a reset from Marvel. Instead, we got a global pandemic which proved to be more enduring than anyone foresaw. If we can credit a Marvel movie for shaking off the cobwebs from cinemas, it was the Labor Day release of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. If we can credit one movie with restoring a semblance of normalcy within the world of moviegoers, it was last December’s Spider-Man: No Way Home, which performed with the all-time box office greats.

No Way Home, which made prominent use of Strange, also proved to be an epic culmination of multiple franchises and thus what the world needs now from Marvel is another reset. We get that in the form of Doctor Strange in The Multiverse of Madness, which opens this week 5 1/2 years after its predecessor.

America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), Wong (Benedict Wong), and Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) face opposition in this and other universes in "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness."

The stakes are decidedly lower here than they were in the exhilarating and almost-exhausting aforementioned benchmarks. We open in the throes of adventure as the white-streaked, jet black-haired surgeon turned savior Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) is joined by a girl with tremendous power in a battle against formidable otherworldly forces. It turns out to be just a dream. Or is it? That girl, one America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), soon enters Strange’s conscious life, appearing at the center of a disturbance outside the Manhattan wedding of Strange’s colleague and former lover Christine (Rachel McAdams). America blows Strange’s mind with the information that dreams are really the events taking place in alternate universes, one of which she’s from and more than seventy of which she has visited.

The monster that had been targeting America drives Strange to consult with someone who knows a thing or two about magic: Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), the star of the recent Disney+ one-off series "Wandavision." But instead of teaming up with the Doctor to save the world, an embittered Wanda threatens to destroy it unless the girl is handed over to her. It’s a somewhat puzzling development, but one which enables Disney to put another strong female superhero in the foreground without placing the weight of an entire film on her shoulders and the crosshairs of Internet masculinists on her back.

The concept of a multiverse has already twice been explored to great returns as it pertains to Spider-Man. Here, it seems to occupy our interests largely as a way for Marvel to introduce some iconic new characters which it can quite rapidly dispose of with little consequence. In his journeys, Stephen meets another version of the one that got away and his friend turned foe Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor). He also encounters the Illuminati, an alternate universe's council of superheroes whose identities are seemingly meant to be secret and two of which drew audible gasps from my enthusiastic advance screening audience. Suffice it to say, the Internet’s dream Fantastic Four re-re-reboot seems a lot closer to happening now.

From heroine of the Disney+ series "Wandavision" to principal villain here, Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) has evolved more than any other Avenger.

The proceedings are entertaining without being all that weighty or substantial.
Stunt casting is often fun, but nothing here is going to land with the same impact of putting twenty years of Spider-Man cinema nostalgia to work.

As it turns out, one of the biggest shapers of Spidey cinema is back here: director Sam Raimi picks up his first superhero credit since helming the 2002-07 Tobey Maguire trilogy. There’s an entirely different landscape to superhero cinema now and even Raimi, one of the most distinctive and passionate filmmakers around, is unable to shake up the behemothic machine that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There are really only two ways to recognize that Raimi is in the director’s chair here: the mandatory Bruce Campbell cameo (which extends to an amusing post-credits scene most will deem worth sticking around for) and the Evil Dead vibes that come from a climactic plot point in which Doctor Strange must remotely puppet the reanimated corpse of another universe’s version of himself. It’s the closest we get to really seeing a director’s personality, which has always by design been subservient to Marvel’s bigger, ongoing plans.

It's tempting to just fully submit to those plans. The Marvel movies have consistently boasted reliable entertainment value and agreeable storytelling sensibilities. But their success has had some devastating effects on the art form, including largely eliminating mid-sized filmmaking and unbranded gambles, reducing online discourse to a banal blend of extreme debate and blind loyalty, and even making young moviegoers cast doubt on the film IQ of Martin Scorsese. These changes didn’t happen overnight and likewise, they won’t be disappearing anytime soon. Many of the takeaways that movie studios have drawn from the MCU’s stratospheric success have proven to be flawed or inimitable, as assorted disappointments from the past two years have shown (most recently, the underperforming Morbius and Fantastic Beasts sequel). Is it possible to enjoy Doctor Strange and other Marvel movies without thinking about the damage that risk-taking and originality have suffered as a direct result? Of course. In fact, that’s exactly what I would guess the vast majority of the hundreds of people at my screening did. And they’ll do it all over again when the new Thor movie opens in two months.

Related Reviews:
Now in Theaters: The Extraordinary Weight of Massive TalentThe NorthmanMorbiusFantastic Beasts: The Secrets of DumbledoreSonic the Hedgehog 2
Doctor StrangeAvengers: EndgameAvengers: Infinity WarSpider-Man: No Way Home
Directed by Sam Raimi: Spider-ManSpider-Man 2Spider-Man 3

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Reviewed May 6, 2022.



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