When you bring Sam Raimi into the Marvel Cinematic Universe you can bet you are going to get something different, and that is definitely the case with his pretty scary take on the latest MCU entry, Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness. Though Raimi is well versed in the Marvel comic book world having directed the first Spider-Man trilogy he is just as well known for many other genres, certainly for his horror filmography including The Evil Dead and Drag Me To Hell among a lot more, and here he successfully and entertainingly gets to mix that kind of dark terrifying storytelling with beloved established characters in the MCU.
Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Dr. Stephen Strange, a magician and sorcerer and superhero who can conjure up all sorts of colorful spells to save the day, just as he did in his first stand alone 2016 film, and again in MCU movies like Thor: Ragnarok, Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame, and most recently bringing his unique tour of parallel Universes in considerably lighter form in Spider-Man: No Way Home. For this one he travels the multiverse, encountering different sides – as it were -of key players including himself. Most notably though is the reunion with Wanda Maximoff aka Scarlet Witch played to the hilt by Elizabeth Olsen who steals this film lock, stock, and barrel. No shock there as she is coming off her own Disney + take on the character in WandaVision which acts as a nice setup for what begins to transpire here when Strange enlists Wanda to help him deal with a young girl named America Chavez (Yochitl Gomez) who it turns out has the keen ability to traverse many multiverses but doesn’t know how to control her powers.
When Strange suddenly leaves the wedding of Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams returning) in order to fend off a giant octopus creature called Gargantos who is chasing America thru the streets of the city in order to capture her and take her powers for herself, it is just the beginning of a beautiful and complicated relationship. America becomes the target number one for the spellbinding and blinding Scarlet Witch, the evil side of Wanda now trapped in another dimension and looking for her way back to motherhood and two young sons she has visions of in an alternate universe and very different life than the take -no-prisoners existence in which she now uses her extraordinary powers to decimate anyone and anything that gets in her way. She must get America’s abilities in order to get back to her kids – or so she thinks. She becomes the main nemesis for Strange and company. In light of all this, Mother’s Day weekend seems the perfect release date Disney picked up to unleash this particular box office monster. And regarding monsters there are plenty of them of display as well.
As for where it all goes, the less said the better because there are also plenty of surprises, and that includes numerous unbilled stars turning up that got whoops of delight at Monday night’s press screening in Century City, and believe me there will be lots of buzz about them, as well as those who appear in the obligatory end credits scenes where we are assured “Doctor Stranger Will Return’. After this very Raimified version I am hoping Strange returns with this filmmaker because, with the help of screenwriter Michael Waldron (Loki), this feels like the most auteur-driven Marvel movie yet, at least one not afraid to deviate from the expected MCU marching orders, but also quite faithful to the comic book bible in keeping the story in line with the overall arc of these intertwined things. It is a win-win all around.
Cumberbatch is having some delicious fun this time in several incarnations of Stephen Strange including fighting opposite himself, and this actor makes all of them unquestionably his own, even if Olsen swoops in with such fierce power that she takes total command when she is on screen. McAdams has some nice moments, as does the ever reliable Benedict Wong, now promoted to Supreme Sorcerer Wong for this sequel. Gomez is a swell find as America. Chiwetel Ejiofor is in for a bit of reprising his role of the strait-laced Mordo. and so is Michael Stuhlbarg as Strange’s ex-colleague Dr. Nic West (they have an especially funny scene early on in church). It is especially heartening that so many women, also including the wonderful Sheila Atim, get such a strong showcase in a film like this.
The film delivers on all fronts, including a terrific Danny Elfman score, and looks great even if the overwhelming amounts of CGI psychedelic imagery is a bit overdone. This thing rarely slows down to breathe in the 2+ hour running time. Fortunately it doesn’t wear out its welcome for fans, and they will inevitably be coming in droves when it opens Friday following Thursday evening previews. Producer is Kevin Feige, of course. Rest assured that though there is a plenty of up, something Raimi is very capable of taking to the limit, it is a hard PG13 handling of it all here, stopping before it becomes too stomach churning for families.
Do you plan to see Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness? Let us know what you think.