BY CHRISTOPHER HASKELL
MAY 6, 2022
“You break the rules and become a hero. I do it and I become the enemy. That doesn’t seem fair.”— Wanda Maximoff / Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen)
Doctor Strange is back. It has been six years since Doctor Stephen Strange’s origin movie premiered, where we met the award-winning surgeon who shattered his hands and then dedicated his life to the mystic arts. Since then, he’s been an integral part of films like “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” In his latest venture, “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” he ushers in the first actual new step forward in the MCU’s overarching narrative since Thanos started hunting stones.
As the title suggests, it’s multiverse time. The concept is introduced almost immediately after meeting America Chavez, a girl whose power is to break star-shaped portals to different universes. But she can’t control her powers yet. And there’s a villain from another universe that’s hunting her. When newcomer Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) shows up, I wasn’t entirely sure I would like her. However, she won me over by the end, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of her.
“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is fun. There is action from the second the movie begins and unforeseen characters galore. Kudos to Marvel for keeping these cameos under wraps because there were little to zero hints about them heading into this release. I’m being vague to avoid spoilers.
Speaking of spoilers, even discussing who the villain is pretty much a spoiler, so I’ll avoid mentioning them by name. But that, too, was a pleasant surprise. I loved the choice they made for the villain. Much like Thanos, there’s a pathos to them that justifies their means. Even if you know the motives are evil, you can’t help but sometimes root for them to get what they want. The villain in this film is one of my favorite villains of any Marvel film thus far.
Sam Raimi’s real-life superhero redemption story is on full display here. Shunned from superhero flicks after the colossal disappointment “Spider-Man 3,” Raimi himself described how he never thought he’d be allowed to do another superhero film. His style is smeared all over this one, and it works wonders. Using his background in horror, Raimi brings his unique touches to scenes involving demons, zombies, and a stalking murderous entity. That may be at odds with what Marvel is known for, but I would say it sets this particular entry apart from the rest.
I question whether “Wandavision” and “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” had to be separated. Overall, “Wandavision” could have easily been added to this film to make it all flow a bit better. It’s hard to buy the chasm left between the two productions. One could have poured into the other much more effortless and could have produced a better story arch for all involved instead of the two drastically different arcs within each.
As far as we’ve come in the world of visual effects, we still have a long way to go. And the silly part is that many of the large-scale sequences are breathtaking. It’s the small stuff that ends up sticking out. The main culprits are backgrounds and set extensions. A fight against the one-eyed monster Gargantos on a New York street is the perfect cross-section of this problem. The beast itself and the ensuing battle are entirely believable. It is the street itself that ends up giving away the magic. One of the first face-offs with the central villain occurs in Kamar-Taj. Again, the storm and carnage brought by the villain look fantastic. It’s the lighting and mountain backdrop that grabs your attention.
With “multiverse” in the title, you would have thought we’d get more of it than we did. But you’ve got to hand it to Raimi and Marvel for simply dipping their toe in the multiverse pool rather than cannonballing into it.
As a fan of Marvel’s darker fare (“Thor: Dark World” is often much higher on my rankings than anyone else’s), “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is definitely in my wheelhouse. Also, Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man 2” is still my favorite superhero film ever, so getting to see Raimi return to form is exhilarating.
People have been shunning Marvel throughout Phase 4 for the lack of direction. In their defense, they deserved a bit of a break after “Avengers: Endgame” and the epic 23 film lead-up to that achievement. But word on the street is that the next huge event series they are building toward is “Secret Wars.” And holy crap, if that’s true because if you thought Thanos and the rings were a culmination of a lifetime, “you ain’t seen nothing yet,” in the words of the great Bachman–Turner Overdrive.
Not only that, I believe what looks like randomness in the MCU at the moment is still a carefully crafted work of art. I think Kevin Feige and crew are laying out the groundwork for the NEW Avengers. Many of the latest installments have provided us with young characters like America Chavez, Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld), and the soon-to-come She-Hulk. These will be the seeds of the new era of MCU, and I cannot wait. Remember, the Infinity Stones appeared in films far before anyone even knew that’s where Marvel wanted to head. I have a feeling what currently looks like broad strokes at the moment will turn out to be carefully calculated strategies leading to some mind-blowing overarching stories for future films. And I’m here for it.
May 6, 2022
Walt Disney Pictures
(for intense sequences of violence and action, frightening images and some language)
Benedict Cumberbatch … Doctor Stephen Strange
Elizabeth Olsen … Wanda Maximoff
Chiwetel Ejiofor … Baron Mordo
Benedict Wong … Wong
Xochitl Gomez … America Chavez
Rachel McAdams … Dr. Christine Palmer
Michael Stuhlbarg … Dr. Nic West
VIEWED: MAY 6, 2022
AMC BURBANK 16
Now in Theaters