Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness (2022)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 5/9/22
Director: Sam Raimi
Music: Danny Elfman
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Xochitl Gomez, Benedict Wong, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Hayley Atwell, Lashana Lynch, Charlize Theron, Patrick Stewart, John Krasinski, Bruce Campbell

A dimension-hopping teenager named America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) arrives on Earth-616 while being chased by a demon and is rescued by Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Sorcerer Supreme Wong (Benedict Wong). Driven mad with grief and trauma, Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) covets Chavez's power and is corrupted by dark magic in her efforts to find peace and solace. As one of the most powerful beings in the entire universe, being mentally broken and emotionally unstable while under the influence of evil makes Wanda a threat to all of existence, and only the powerful Book Of Vishanti can combat her. Naturally, it's up to Dr. Strange to find the book and utilize its magic before Wanda gets to Chavez and all is lost.

The film is a visual feast full of spectacle and mind-fuckery, and provides a wonderful playground for director Sam Raimi to go wild. His sensibilities are readily apparent, which is both a benefit and a detriment to the film. The horror elements that he brings to the screen are superb, and the Scarlet Witch is truly terrifying. She is vicious and calculating, and it's surprising that the film got away with a PG-13 rating given the intense brutality of her actions. Where the film stumbles is in its absurdist humor, and while there are some genuinely funny moments, not everything works. The very nature of the multiverse is also problematic and impossible for a rational mind to comprehend, which makes the oversimplification of the plot feel overly contrived. And like most Marvel movies, the final act goes completely off the rails with melodramatic CGI excess, which is pretty impressive considering how totally bonkers the film is in the first place.

Benedict Cumberbatch once again impresses as Dr. Stephen Strange, and while I wasn't a fan of the first film, I love watching Dr. Strange do weird Dr. Strange stuff. Similar to Captain Marvel's disappointing origin story, Strange is far more interesting as a fully realized character who kicks ass all across the universe. Curiously, the film isn't really about him. It's actually a continuation of "WandaVision" and Wanda is arguably the main character. Having a complex, compelling, and even sympathetic (if not entirely evil) villain always makes good cinema, and Elizabeth Olsen's performance is spectacular. She owns the film and everyone else is just along for the ride, assuming they're not destroyed in her wake. Xochitl Gomez gives a delightful and endearing performance as America Chavez, and I hope to see more of her in the future. The film includes a handful of jaw-dropping cameos that are fantastic across the board. The audience literally could not contain their excitement when various characters showed up. Danny Elfman's music score adds a nice touch of campy insanity to the proceedings and helps position the film's unique place in the MCU. It's not a perfect film and several things rubbed me the wrong way, but overall I really enjoyed this side trip into Marvel madness.