‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ conjures frustration

(Warning, Spoiler Alert: this review explains the “WandaVision” (2021) streaming series and therefore, Wanda Maximoff’s motivation in this film.)

“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” (2022) – “Things just got out of hand.” – Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch)

After watching “Doctor Strange 2”, yes, the Good Doctor is correct, but this critic had a different thought. Despite some big moments in the multiverse and director Sam Raimi raising Cain in some glorious spots, this Doctor Strange sequel conjures frustration.   

First of all, Marvel Studios misnamed the movie because the title character feels like a secondary one.  “Wanda the Movie” is a more appropriate moniker.

You see, in “WandaVision”, the 2021 Disney+ streaming series, Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) feels distraught because her partner, Vision (Paul Bettany), died in “Avengers: Infinity War” (2018).  Actually, she killed him for the greater good, and then the 8-foot purple baddie, Thanos (Josh Brolin), turned back time and ended him too.

Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen)

In the aforementioned TV show, Wanda wanders into the “Back to the Future”-like town of Westview, and to her surprise, Vision is alive, and this Android-Witch couple spawns a couple of kids, Billy and Tommy.  Before you can say, “Well, we all stepped into ‘The Twilight Zone’,” the boys – suddenly and magically – become about 10 years old.  It turns out that Wanda created her vibranium-made beau and her kiddos out of thin air, but by the end of the series, she loses her family.

Fast forward to this flick, and she wants them back.  Well, Wanda pines for Billy and Tommy, but – inexplicably – she makes no overture for Vision.  Wanda believes that the multiverse – and via Brittanica.com, the definition is “a hypothetical collection of potentially diverse, observable universes” – is her best option to find a version of her kids, so she can be “Mom” again. 

Being a wife again never crossed her mind.  Good to know….and poor Vision.

For answers, Wanda turns to Strange and his new sidekick, America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), a teenager sporting a jean jacket.  So, Wanda, America, Strange, and his trusted colleague/the Sorcerer Supreme Wong (Benedict Wong) travel the multiverse. 

Hey, since Wanda conjured up Billy and Tommy once, why couldn’t she summon the kiddos again…in our realm, Earth-616?

The thought never crossed her mind? Okay, then.

Wong (Benedict Wong)

“Doctor Strange 2” is Wanda’s movie, as screenwriter Michael Waldron addresses the woman’s challenging, complicated emotional journey.  She’s a bit lost, but Ms. Maximoff hopes that she finds her offspring by traveling across realities.  Olsen carries a commanding presence as Wanda (aka Scarlet Witch) and convincingly delivers her character’s angst and massive power upgrade.  In fact, at the end of “WandaVision”, we see Wanda reading a forbidden book of spells called the Darkhold, which appears to be the equivalent of pouring nuclear fuel in a DeLorean. 

1.21 gigawatts, anyone?

By comparison, the script relegates Stephen Strange to an inconsequential arc.  Is Stephen fulfilled?  Is he happy?  Strange slightly ponders the question for a minute here or there, but our lead/supporting character does have a meaningful conversation with Dr. Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) for a pleasant moment.  To follow up, Disney+ could create a six-episode run where Stephen talks to a therapist.  Hey, Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) can lend his counselor’s number, right?

Waldron scribes several significant minutes for McAdams’ Christine, and she enjoys a profound impact in this film.  Let’s hope her narrative continues in a future Strange sequel, and quite frankly, McAdams should star in everything.  Cumberbatch carries the Strange flag…err cape with gravitas and gusto.  However, Wong (a constant voice of reason and a welcome sight in every scene) is now the Sorcerer Supreme. Stephen was snapped during “Infinity War”, so he lost his title.  Our magical hero wobbles with a tad of loneliness too.  Oh brother.  Hopefully, a third film will offer more substantive personal challenges and superhero growth.  Well, Raimi teases/promises Strange’s return to the big screen at the movie’s end.

Dr. Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams)

Speaking of Raimi, his fans will enjoy callbacks to his “Evil Dead” movies, including not one but two magical books.  Now, “Doctor Strange 2” isn’t exactly a horror movie, but Sam includes several sequences that feel like old times, as this flick is the closest that the MCU has reached the said genre.  Some scenes might be too intense for young children, but Marvel made a PG-13 film, so in no way is this movie “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (1974), “Saw” (2004), or “Martyrs” (2008).  Although a gory rated-R Marvel film would be a “gutsy” (pardon the pun) choice, a PG-13 rating is not a fatal sin.

It’s a multiverse movie, so the possibilities are endless.  Raimi, Waldron, and company treat us to peeks into many trippy, kooky, and fascinating universes, primarily during one scene as America and Strange travel on a “magical, mystery tour.” 

Since this Marvel installment is called “The Multiverse of Madness”, are there life-altering forces that could wreck existence?  Are there damaging aftereffects from “Spider-Man: No Way Home” (2021), where villains and heroes trekked back and forth between other universes? 

The answers are not really and no.

Doctor Strange Variant (Benedict Cumberbatch)

While we spend our precious time in dazzling places where life feels out of sorts, like a “Black Mirror” episode on steroids, Wanda hopes to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for Billy and Tommy again. (For a second time, why can’t she whip up a new Billy and Tommy in our universe and save herself the aggravation?)

To do an explore-the-multiverse film justice, one might need 150 to 180 on-screen minutes to work through an infinitely complex storyline.  However, “DS 2” features a more limited conflict – one that isn’t particularly cataclysmic – so the 126-minute runtime is probably the right decision.

Here’s another decision.  Raimi and Waldron offer about 10 to 15 minutes of stand-up-and-cheer sequences to make comic book and MCU fans giddy with teenage glee and include 50, 60, 70, and 80-somethings in the adolescent joy.  No joke, it becomes impossible to listen to the on-screen dialogue while the theatre erupts with deafening praise.  No complaints, because that’s a good thing.  

The problem, however, is that the precious 600 or 900 seconds do not last forever (and note, I didn’t look at a stopwatch), and the fact that these moments didn’t extend to 3,600 or 5,400 seconds in this film is borderline criminal or plain foolish. It feels like the filmmakers lead us into an amusement park, walk us past three dozen towering, riotous roller coasters, and offer – and we take – a ride on just one.   After the single dizzying spin, they rip us out of our seats and shove us out the exit door. How frustrating.

Sigh. Doctor Strange is right. Things just got out of hand.

⭐⭐ out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Directed by:  Sam Raimi

Written by:  Michael Waldron

Starring:  Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Benedict Wong, Xochitl Gomez, Rachel McAdams, and Chiwetel Ejiofor

Rated: PG-13

Runtime:  126 minutes

Image credits: Marvel Studios

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