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May 6, 2022


written by: Michael Waldron
produced by: Kevin Feige
directed by: Sam Raimi
rated: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, frightening images and some language).
runtime: 126 min.
U.S. release date: May 6, 2022 (theatrical)


What we’ve come to know of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) began and revolved around Tony Stark years ago, but now that he’s gone, that responsibility has been passed to actor Benedict Cumberbatch to take over, positioning his sonorous character, Doctor Stephen Strange, as the link to many other characters and storylines. While he’s appeared in four other blockbusters since his self-titled 2016 debut, “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is the character’s first sequel bearing his name and one would hope we could now take time for some character study while possible going into new and different territory. With veteran director Sam Raimi at the helm maybe we would even journey into some terror-tory as well! After all, the Master of the Mystic Arts is ripe for such a tale. While Rami hasn’t directed a feature film since 2013’s “Oz the Great and Powerful”, let us not forget he gave us the original Spider-Man trilogy and delivered horror genre thrills and chills with a style and a sense of humor in the likes of “Darkman” and “Army of Darkness”. This could be a great chance for Disney and Marvel Studios to let a filmmaker’s sensibilities shine through instead of just being the next chapter in a franchise, but then again Chloe Zhao put her stamp on the MCU last fall and “The Eternals” was deemed “boring” for some.

The sequel opens with a shirtless Strange (does he sleep in the nude?) awaking from a realistic dream. One gets the idea this isn’t the first time in which he dreamt that he was being chased by a creature through a kaleidoscope universe, but this time there was a teenage girl he was protected. Also, he looked quite different or maybe he didn’t notice that. Nevertheless, he carries on with this morning, dressing up to attend the wedding of his ex, former colleague Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), who’s getting married to another man. (It’s fun to watch him tie a necktie using sans hands). Smart move for her considering how the arrogance and smugness that Strange had long ago as a surgeon hasn’t been completely eradicated. The wedding is predictably awkward for Strange as would be for anyone attending the big day of their former on-and-off-again lover – but if you recall, it’s not as if he ever treated her right or that they were a legit thing. So, how bad should we feel for a guy who was a jerk?



There’s an odd scene at the wedding with an actor I totally forgot was in the last movie. An unrecognizable Michael Stuhlbarg sits next to Strange at the church and it’s even more awkward than attending the wedding itself, because it feels as if we’re supposed to know him. The actor is playing a disheveled character who tells Strange all he lost during the Blip (or the Snap, whatever you want to call it) and bitterly asked if there was anything Stephen could’ve done to prevent what occurred when Thanos attacked. This scene feels odd, primarily because I didn’t recall Stuhlbarg was even in the previous Doctor Strange movie (in my research I was reminded that he was a competitor surgeon of Strange’s, one of many who Strange treated like crap), but also because the actor’s name is on the poster, yet he has at most about 2 minutes of screen time. Say what? It’s also odd because it’s one of those “previous viewing required” scenes, in which it’ll be impossible for viewers who aren’t rabid MCU fans who’ve seen “Doctor Strange” twenty-five times to fully understand what’s going on, but more on that later.

The festivities of the event are interrupted by the sound of crashing and screaming and people running in one direction, which has become typical in just about every Marvel movie set in Manhattan. In a smooth operator move, Strange jumps off the high-rise balcony, as his apparel magically changes from wedding guest appropriate to sorcerer and animate cloak garb, and floats into the commotion and winds up battling a giant octopus monster from another dimension. This creature (which resembles Suma-Gorath, from the comics) is its eye on the teen girl who was in Strange’s dream. When Strange’s colleague, Sorcerer Supreme Wong (Benedict Wong) joins the fight against the tentacled threat, they both learn that the girl is America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) and she has the ability to jump across multiverses and she let’s them know that this is one of many creatures that “a dark force” has sent after her in order to harness her abilities. Intent on protecting the girl, he seeks assistance from Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), because she is an Avenger who’s well-versed in magic (albeit chaos at that) and can hopefully assist in the protection of America. No stranger to mistakes, Stephen soon realizes that it’s been Wanda all along who’s been behind the pursuit, believing the girl is the key needed to reunite her with the experience of motherhood she is desperate to reclaim.



A battle commences between Wanda’s all-powerful Scarlet Witch persona and Strange and his sorcerer horde that begins at Kamar-Taj (their refuge in Nepal) and continues across several multiverses, where Strange encounters bizarre and surreal alternate realities, along with different versions of himself and those he’s familiar with, like Christine and former ally-turned-foe, Karl Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Along the way, we learn of McGuffins – a good one that needs to be acquired (the Book of Vishanti) and an evil one in Wanda’s possession or is it in possession of her? (that’s why it’s called The Darkhold) – yet, it’s unclear why Wanda needs America’s multiverse jumping powers when she has The Darkhold. But, things happen so fast here, screenwriter Michael Waldron expects us to question nothing and just go along with all the supernatural mystical superhero stuff.

Now, some may feel it’s a spoiler to even mention that the Scarlet Witch is the antagonist here, but it seems absolutely ridiculous not to mention who the threat is in a review for a superhero movie. I’m certainly not gonna feel bad about it considering Disney and Marvel Studios have gone out of their way to reveal spoiler-ific appearances by certain members of the Illuminati in their trailers and teasers for “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness”. You can Google “Illuminati Marvel” all you want, since I’m not gonna go into it any further, even though I’d love to considering how many problems I have with that secret group appearing here.

Despite the wrangling of the octopus creature in NYC at the start of the movie, it takes a while for “Multiverse of Madness” to feel like something that comes from Raimi. What we get initially and mostly, feels like what we’ve come to expect in the MCU. We’ve seen the humor that the Cloak of Levitation brings in other movies. It’s still fun, but nothing new or different is done with it here (except that needs repairing here), which is what we want from someone like Raimi. Unfortunately, there are only spurts of Raimi present, in a movie that feels like the director was tasked to mainly continue stories already told on Disney+ (“WandaVision”, “Loki” and “What If…?”) or previous theatrical releases. It takes a while to get to those spurts, yet even when Raimi’s trademark quick cuts (he reunites with frequent collaborating editor Bob Murawski), floating head transitions, and talk of magic books or screaming demon spirits, are there, you immediately wish there was more.



That being said, the cinematography by John Mathieson (“Gladiator” and “Logan”) is often quite captivating, especially when we visit the different environments of the multiverse. The moody and mysterious location where an alternate Strange resides, one that is corrupted by The Darkhold, is cool to look at and the fight sequence involving musical notes is the kind of straight-up Raimi I wanted more of. The Utopian parallel universe America comes from is filled with visual curiosities, a metropolis where money isn’t needed, horticulture is prominent, and traffic light colors are reversed for some reason. This is where we see the welcome and requisite Bruce Campbell cameo that is in just about every Raimi movie. It’s a fun bit that’ll pick up in the very last end credit scene as well. This is where we also see a little backstory on America, to a time when she uses her powers for the very first time and in turn loses her mothers.

Visually, these are all very memorable, but the best visual sequence is when Strange and America literally trip through a variety of multiverses that are completely unlike anything we’ve ever seen and often turning their bodies into different states (such as cartoon or paint), giving Strange a totally new experience that he has to lean on America in order to adjust. The only problem with that sequence is it all takes place too quickly. Sure, there will be memes, screenshots, and YouTube breakdowns, but I was thinking to myself, “Hey, waitaminute!” while it blew past me. Ah well.

In the middle of Waldron’s story, about where Strange meets the aforementioned Illuminati, it feels like it’s only happening to elicit jawdrop moments for certain viewers. That whole part of the story (that’s being generous) could’ve been cut out and the whole magic vs. magic fight between Stephen and Wanda could’ve continued. Is it cool to see these comic book cameos? Yeah, but it also feels cheap considering this is likely the only time we will see them. This is also where we get a good deal of exposition that really doesn’t pay off. So, just manage your expectations.

If you come to this sequel having only seen 2016’s “Doctor Strange” you are going to be severely lost. I can’t imagine anyone doing that, but I suppose it’s possible. If you are a loyal fan of the character that reclusive writer/artist Steve Ditko created back in 1963 then you’ll know that Stephen Strange’s adventures continued after that live-action debut  (which was written by Jon Spaihts, Scott Derrickson, and C. Robert Cargill and directed by Derrickson) when he was forced to team with Earth’s Mightiest Heroes (and then some) in “Avengers: Infinity War” (2017) and “Avengers: Endgame” (2018) in order to defend the Earth from Thanos, which saw the character often being the reasonable adult in the room (albeit a snarky one), seeing the widest range of probable outcomes, and also getting snapped out of existence and then pulled back in for a battle royale to finally defeat the mad titan. Before all that, you may recall that he also appeared in his most comical take in 2017’s “Thor: Ragnarok”, briefly lending the God of Thunder some assistance.



When last we saw the not-so-Supreme Sorcerer, he was putting mystical band-aids across the many cracks that loomed over the Manhattan sky in last year’s “Spider-Man: No Way Home”, casting a spell that hopefully returned good and bad guys to their respective universes, aka alternate Earths that look a lot like the MCU we know (it’s labeled 616 in the comics and now in this movie) with slight alterations. That all happened because of Strange’s arrogance. He was told not to mess around with a spell that would make people forget that Peter Parker was Spider-Man, but when the spell he cast screwed up, he had to come in at the end of the third act to correct it after much damage and loss.

Ultimately, there hasn’t been much time to pause and really delve into what’s going on with Strange and while typically you should be able to do that in a movie headlined by the title character, in this “Multiverse of Madness” sequel, we mostly get quantity instead of quality…meaning there are at least four different iterations of Stephen Strange to follow (one we kind of  know, one that is mainly referred to, and a couple others we briefly see) in a story that’s heavy on plot and universe jumping and light on any tangible character arc or at least any affective one.

As great as it is to see Cumberbatch and Olsen return to their roles, I think they’ve done better work as Strange and Wanda in other arenas. It could also be that I’ve kind of grown tired in Cumberbatch’s Strange always being impatient with those around him, or never truly surprised or afraid in situations, moreso just frustrated or annoyed. His snarky remarks and supposedly witty comebacks have become old. We had Robert Downey Jr. do all that with Stark and eventually his character softened, showing Stark truly had a heart after all, but it’s taking way too long for any change to come with Strange. Yes, the interaction between Stephen and America gradually becomes a welcome one, because he realizes she truly needs his assistance, but initially he just kind of seems annoyed by her and that’s tiring considering Strange has been annoyed by a lot of characters in other movies. Olsen was truly great in “WandaVision”, but here the dialogue she has to work with combined with some of the line delivery, it just feels like she’s “acting” to the point where it’s almost laughable at times. That pains me considering she’s done some standout work as Wanda in the past.

This will be a gateway horror flick for young viewers because let’s face it their parents will take them to see it no matter what. I’m fine with that. I saw “Poltergeist” when I was ten year-old and look how I turned out. That being said there’s no way “Poltergeist” should been rated PG and the PG-13 rating for this movie is a joke as well. There are demons and the undead and it’s fun to see Raimi play with them, I just wish there was more playful macabre going on here to really jump scare us into a different corner of the MCU. Many will say that “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is doing just that, but for my tastes there’s just a bit too much familiar MCU beats and not enough strangeness (heh) that could’ve come from the imaginative mind of Raimi. The movie ends with “Doctor Strange will Return”, but with the way this thing ends I’m not sure if I’m all that interested in where any of this is gonna go.

As for the first end-credit scene? It’s very much like “The Eternals” one in which a very recognizable star plays dress-up and (maybe) only comic book geeks (like myself) will know who they are cosplaying. Many will be lost and off to the internet they will go.





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