When a young girl from a nightmare Doctor Strange has suddenly appears in his world, he soon embarks on a journey across the multiverse that forces him to face one of his greatest enemies: himself.
It's been six years since we were first introduced to Benedict Cumberbatch's Doctor Strange in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Since then, the Marvel Comics sorcerer has appeared in Thor Ragnarok, Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers Endgame and last year's Spider-Man: No Way Home. It's been fun to see Benedict's character threading together the latest iteration of the MCU, especially as the Universe continues to explore the complexities of the "Multiverse" -- which basically opens up the sci-fi realm to include all kinds of alternate versions of characters. 2022's Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness plays in the Multiverse sandbox, but it's never as fun or impactful as last year's Spider-Man film.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is less a sequel to 2016's Doctor Strange - although it does continue some of the characters introduced exclusively in that storyline - and is more like a tool that continues the evolution of the MCU. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness simultaneously continues what last year's Disney Plus series WandaVision began, carrying Wanda Maximoff's story into this one, and giving it some of the resolution that WandaVision didn't have. Sam Raimi, who originally directed the three Spider-Man movies in the early 2000's that starred Tobey Maguire, makes his MCU debut here (or is it technically his fourth entry, since Spider-Man: No Way Home kind of brought Tobey's movies into the fold as a branch of the story?), and he's given free reign to make Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness the MCU's first "horror movie." Now, while I'm not sure it's a full-blown "horror movie" by definition, it does have some very horrifying elements -- most of which are born out of witchcraft and spells that show us demons and monsters from a supernatural plane. It's pretty unsettling at times, and Raimi isn't afraid to go all-in with violence and gruesome deaths either. Because he has the Multiverse to play around in, he relishes in the opportunities to introduce interesting (and sometimes exciting) new characters and then given them violent exits just the same.
There's a lot to unpack with Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and after experiencing it once, I find myself having mixed feelings afterwards. The movie is never boring, and it keeps you guessing as to where exactly it's headed along the way, but there's just so much happening and so many visual treats being thrown at the viewer, that you may hardly feel finished processing what you just saw before the next thing is vying for your undivided attention. Still, with all that to process, I still was surprised at how much it actually didn't cover. At one visually scrumptious point, we see some characters crash through alternate reality after reality (after reality after reality...), but it's so quick and so brief that it feels like just a tease. I expected a significant multiverse traversal, but we really only get to see a couple alternate universes along the way. Cumberbatch is his usual reliable talent as Doctor Strange here, but I'd argue that Elizabeth Olsen steals the show returning as Wanda / Scarlet Witch. It's a bittersweet story no doubt, but Olsen proves she's a force to be reckoned with, and The Multiverse of Madness has her in full display (Seriously, if you see this movie without watching the WandaVision series, you're missing out on its impact).
New to the MCU is a teenage girl named America Chavez. Before this movie, I'd never heard of her character before, but apparently she has been around in the comics since 2011. She's gifted with the powers to be able to travel between dimensions and realities, with her not having any other version of herself in any other universe; she's one of a kind. Sadly, played by Xochitl Gomez, the character just isn't that interesting. To be fair, Gomez isn't given much to do besides look scared, super worried, and helpless at times, and when she does get a chance to shine, it doesn't seem to do a whole lot. Even sadder is the character is further utilized by Disney and Marvel to push their bizarre same-sex agenda. In a flashback scene, she talks about (and we see) her two "moms" and it's treated as an entirely normal thing. While her comics history defines her as a lesbian, the only hint to this being the case for the character in the movie is that she wears a little rainbow flag pin that features the always-growing-more-inclusive triangle symbol on the side. It's somewhat subtle, but on display in almost all of her scenes. As an audience member, I knew nothing of her character before the movie, and the pin was the first thing I noticed before she mentions her "moms." A year ago, The Mitchells vs. the Machines used the same gimmick where the Mitchells' teen daughter, who's a main character, is wearing a rainbow button the entire movie. At the end, it's revealed in dialog that she has a girlfriend in college (and her mom asks casually when she's bringing her home to meet her). But, social politics aside, America Chavez (which is also a pretentious name, let's be honest) just isn't a very interesting character - although I suppose she could be (and maybe eventually will be?). The movie also utilized the same idea from 2000's X-Men where a villain wants to drain a teen girl's powers - in that case, Rogue's - but here it's done over and over (and over) but although the surprisingly long process always gets interrupted, there never seems to be any power loss or transference; it's weird and rather tedious.
The content for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is definitely PG-13, but it also really pushes the boundaries of the rating with some pretty gruesome violence -- which is especially unfortunate since it's guaranteed some parents will take their kids to see this. Without spoiling too much (and I'll go into greater detail in the content summary below), some characters sustain wounds that surprisingly the camera will briefly focus on. Other times, we'll see dead bodies with discolored skin and deep bloody gashes. In one action scene, a tentacled monster's limbs get sliced off, and we see a gigantic eyeball get impaled and removed from its body. A longer action scene shows several characters meeting their brutal demise, with some bursting (internally and externally), having their neck broken, or being sliced in half (the latter of which isn't shown in detail, but Raimi also makes you feel it). We see a decomposing corpse (calling to mind a little bit of Two-Face from The Dark Knight) in a long sequence, and we see characters get impaled a couple times and burned up into charred remains a couple times. Aside from that, there are a couple jump scares along the way, as well as the sight of giant demon monsters (which reminded me a little bit of Shazam), and black ghostly demonic spirits. This movie is not for the kiddies and is anything but light. The spells delve deep into a fantastical representation of "witchcraft," which I found a little uncomfortable regardless, but it's made clear that the witchcraft is evil (and so there's a clear distinction between good and evil). Otherwise, there is no sexual content beyond the aforementioned "moms" reference, but there is some language. There are at least 4 uses of the "S" word and 1 "g*dd*mn," as well a sort-of unfinished "S.O.B" and some other more minor cuss words.
With Disney pushing polarizing social politics in pretty much all of their films these days, it's making it tough to just sit back and enjoy the ride anymore. Aside from last year's fantastic Spider-Man: No Way Home, the post-Endgame MCU continues to be a little hit-and-miss (Can we please forget the Eternals ever happened?), and only time will tell how the next two movies - Thor: Love and Thunder and Wakanda Forever land. But, as it stands currently, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a pretty good new MCU entry that is a bizarre tonal shift that I don't think is really the right direction for this franchise. The movie has its moments for sure - and I'm curious how repeat viewings will be - but as it is, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness maybe a bit too mad for its own good.
Regarding extra scenes after the credits begin, we do see a mid-credits scene that introduces a new character and sets up further adventures for Doctor Strange. Then, after the credits, there's a very very brief joke involving a comedic cameo from earlier in the movie.- John DiBiase (reviewed: 5/6/22)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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