3 out of 5
OK, so I'm a little late with this review. Other commitments, together with me not really knowing what I thought of the film stalled my writing. Having said that, my reviews are normally spoiler free but in this review there might be one or two small spoilers but nothing that will ruin it for you. However, teasers and trailers for "Doctor Strange 2" (as I'm calling it as it's just easier to write) were somewhat misleading as to the Scarlet Witch's motivations and purpose, so brace yourselves for a sly bait and switch.
It was essentially a foregone conclusion that director Sam Raimi would bring his trademark horror show to Marvel's sequel to 2016's "Doctor Strange 2" and the results are a troubling, phantasmagoric mind trip into untapped depths of insanity linked to a spotty narrative that is often puzzling.
Raimi cut his cinematic teeth with popular cult horror flicks like "Evil Dead," "Evil Dead II" and "Army of Darkness" before venturing into more mainstream fare when Hollywood harnessed his twisted visions in the "Spider-Man" trilogy of the 2000s starring Tobey Maguire.
The last time Raimi directed a feature film was back in 2013, when he helmed "Oz the Great and Powerful," and SFX technology has made major leaps forward since then, allowing the him to present some truly jaw-dropping special effects, including a cyclopean space squid, musical notes turned into magical shrapnel, and a paint dimension of splattered colour. By the way, we only see these three universes, despite the films title.
"Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" again showcases Benedict Cumberbatch as the titular wizard, Benedict Wong as Wong, Rachel McAdams as Dr. Christine Palmer and Chiwetel Ejiofor as Karl Mordo. Also appearing for the magical pyrotechnics show are Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch and Xochitl Gomez as America Chavez.
This newest Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) film, long in development, is a convoluted mess at times, becoming exhausting by the final smackdown. Whereas Derrickson's origin film "Doctor Strange" offered a more measured approach to the character and delivered genuine pathos in his origin story, Raimi's bombastic sequel feels like too many cooks spoiled the narrative broth.
His flair for dramatic Dutch angles, undead heroes and cackling demons is evident, and if your idea of a killer Doc Strange flick is a putrefying zombified sorcerer clashing with a witchy mom trying to unite with her imaginary kids, then you'll be thoroughly entertained.
One gaping plot hole is Vision, or lack of Vision. If Wanda wants her family back, she only ever pursues her children with hardly a mention of Vision.
The film is loud, often visually arresting, oddly unengaging and rushed all at the same time. Clocking in at just a hair over two hours (including the interminable credits) it's one of the shortest MCU films in recent memory. Whereas 2016's "Doctor Strange" felt like a sophisticated, adult-aimed film, "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" is bolted together as an adrenalized after-school special on acid with a teen protagonist who's not very compelling, at least not enough to anchor an entire MCU movie.
The special effects are a revelation here, and the interdimensional contortions Cumberbatch experiences will leave you feeling like you've been strapped into a looping hyper-coaster for two hours. The obligatory post-credit surprise sets up the MCU's future Multiversal War as the sorceress Clea (Charlize Theron) appears to tell Strange he's caused a dimensional incursion that must be fixed.
There are necessary references to Marvel TV shows like "WandaVision" and the "Avengers" films, and having a strong handle on past events in the MCU are necessary to ingest all that occurs. The disjointed screenplay, written by Michael Waldron (Disney Plus's "Loki"), does present some unexpected jump scares and paranormal fireworks, but it makes little sense if you dare pause to think about it too much.
In the comics, America Chavez is a powerful lesbian Latina superhero raised by two mothers, but here, she's reduced to a generic teen wearing an Old Glory demin jacket and sporting a rainbow flag pin. There was a chance to create an intriguing team-up here, but that never really manifested. Her pairing with Doctor Strange and his sympathy toward her seem awkward at times, with inconsistent tones and an utter lack of chemistry.
One bright note we can attest to is that Raimi-film alum Bruce Campbell ("Evil Dead" trilogy) makes a fun cameo as a food vendor selling pizza balls in an alternate Earth. When Doc Strange zaps him with a spell, he reprises his famous self-inflicted face-punching scene from "Evil Dead II."
Despite its express train pacing, tiring exposition dumps and extra-large plot holes, all of the performances are rock-solid, and it will be interesting to see if "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" flies or fails at the box office.
Should there be a moratorium on multiverses in Hollywood? Yes, please!