DOCTOR STRANGE AND THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS | ©2022 Marvel

DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS | ©2022 Marvel

Rating: PG-13
Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Xochitl Gomez, Benedict Wong, Rachel McAdams, Chiwetel Ejiofor
Writer: Michael Waldron, based on the Marvel Comics
Director: Sam Raimi
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Release Date: May 6, 2022

DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS has a slightly misleading title. We certainly have Doctor Stephen Strange, the powerful sorcerer portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch. He is most definitely running through the multiverse (that’s multiple universes, for latecomers to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, aka the MCU). But while we see quite a few of the multiverses in flashes, and spend more time in several of them, none really qualify as “mad.” That is, unless we’re accounting for the Sam Raimi factor.

As MCU viewers know, Raimi directed the first three SPIDER-MAN films (the ones starring Tobey Maguire), back before all the stories started overlapping and interlinking. Raimi has in fact made all sorts of movies, but he made his bones with the EVIL DEAD films in the ‘80s, and that spirit is very much with us here.

That spirit is mischievous and darkly humorous. Raimi has a fondness for the absurd, and though there are guide rails with Marvel, his sensibility is on display: kinetic, with plenty of forward momentum, and characters that have purpose and appeal, but a bit less less nuance than some other Marvel leads.

The subject of multiverses has come up before in Marvel projects, most recently in this past December’s SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME. Since Strange was a big part of that story, it’s a bit surprising that the multiverse breach in DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS turns out to have a different cause altogether. (Indeed, that earlier film is discussed in such a way as to leave it an open question as to whether this movie is taking place in a slightly different universe than that one.)

In any case, when a giant monster crashes Manhattan, Strange finds himself coming to the aid of teen America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez). America has the unique (albeit involuntary) ability to open portals between universes. Someone is trying to kill her to take America’s power for themselves. Strange and Supreme Sorcerer Wong (Benedict Wong) resolve to protect America, especially since reality everywhere seems to be in danger should her power be stolen.

Meanwhile, the witch Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) really misses her two little boys. With this part of the plot, it helps to have seen the limited series WANDAVISION, which premiered last year and is still available on Disney+.

As scripted by Michael Waldron and directed by Raimi, DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS starts out sprinting and keeps moving pretty much throughout. There are some fun surprises, a few flights of fancy that we might wish lasted longer, some rules and exposition that either aren’t explained well or don’t make sense, and good acting all around.

There are also some interesting philosophical flourishes, including how both Strange and Wanda deal with introspection. The suggestion of how all of us may be subconsciously aware of our multiverse existences may strike various viewers as charming or disturbing, but it’s imaginative.

The VFX land pretty much squarely on the border between Disney and horror, which seems appropriate for a PG-13 film that is a Disney release. There’s not a lot of gore, but there are some visuals that may upset sensitive souls.

This being a Marvel movie, there is of course both a mid-end credits sequence, which suggests where a new film in the DOCTOR STRANGE franchise may go, and a post-credits sequence, which is simply but thoroughly amusing.

DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS is enjoyable, well-made, and maybe a little overly energetic. At the end, we’ve had a good time, but our eyes and ears have had more of a workout than our emotions did.

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