At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness “2022”

MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Superhero/Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, Xochitl Gomez, Michael Stuhlbarg, Rachel McAdams, Patrick Stewart, Topo Wresniwiro, Mark Anthony Brighton, Julian Hilliard, Jett Klyne/ Runtime: 126 minutes

I think it is fairly safe to say that, from a general point of view, I usually see myself getting a heck of a lot more revved up for a superhero slice of cinema that is a follow-up rather than one that belongs in that subgenre known as the “origin saga” with a few exceptions of course. This is because, due to being a die hard, and uber passionate fan of the comics spanning from DC to Marvel and everything in between, I am not bragging when I say that I already have a fairly comprehensive familiarity in regards to a lot of the major players, their origins, and how they come into possession of the unique gifts that make them the characters that they are. In other words: the very kind of material that is usually covered quite passionately in every single cinematic debut for every single hero that makes the choice to rocking a wicked awesome costume (cape proving to be completely optional of course) and kick some serious bad guy butt. When you get to the sequels however, we see that by and large they aren’t usually saddled with that distinct kryptonite (pun intended of course). This is because since the major players have usually been introduced and with that and significant narrative exposition having been handled in the previous film, this provides the sequel with the terrific chance for a new (or returning) film helmer to come on board and give audiences a novel narrative that does a wonderful job of utilizing the superhero in question whilst also constructing some thematic concepts that prove to be invaluable in propelling the hero in question and their respective narrative onward to further adventures. With all of that in mind, I think it is safe to say that the 2022 Marvel superhero slice of cinema, and latest entry in the MCU, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is easily one slice of superheroic cinema that had quite a bit of potential in that department and in the process be an extremely engaging and phenomenal movie.

Unfortunately, as it is ultimately delivered to us, this is one slice of cinema that tragically sees a lot of its bigger triumphs cut down to size by the flaws that are equally as present. Yes this slice of superhero cinema does prove to be quite amusing with utilizing the multiverse of the title. At the same time however, those of you out there who were praying to see a significant amount of multiverse insanity in this might be a tad bit let down to learn that the amount of alternate universes that this slice of cinema winds up going to is nowhere near as plentiful as you might have liked (though the fact that this slice of cinema runs for only 2 hours and 6 minutes including credits might have something to do with that). Of course, it goes without saying that this slice of cinema’s titular magician is one that is most definitely worthy of being given the spotlight in this slice of superhero cinema and yes his powers do manage to give this film quite a bit in the way of truly incredible flair and visual effects majesty. At the same time however, this slice of cinema is guilty of not being willing to give this important cornerstone to the MCU in the aftermath of Avengers: Endgame and even some of the more recent entries like Spider-Man: No Way Home with an arc that feels particularly meaningful or even pathos-driven for that matter. Worse yet is the fact that even though this superheroic slice of cinema does manage to locate and attempt to utilize a fairly brilliant and fitting way to propel forward the narrative of another MCU hero that being Wanda Maximoff a.k.a. Scarlet Witch in the aftermath of what went down in the MCU show after WandaVision, this slice of cinema even with a terrific performance from Elizabeth Olsen still manages to bumble up her narrative in this with some paths the narrative goes down in the final stretch. Suffice it to say that yes Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is comprised of a delightful group of characters that are played phenomenally well in a narrative that does inspire the chance for some truly wonderful surprises to occur. However, by being void of some truly tight-knit thematic concepts this intriguing and engaging new chapter to the MCU may be a fun ride to be had, but trust me when I say that a perfect slice of cinema this most assuredly is not.

The plot is as follows: So right out of the gate we see that Multiverse of Madness is kicked into high gear pretty much from the word go courtesy of a taut and engaging introduction to a young woman by the name of America Chavez. Miss Chavez, we are rather quickly able to learn and/or perceive, is a teenage girl who is in possession of a rather novel gift. Namely that she can when she so desires make portals that then permit her to go between the layers of the vast and highly unpredictable space that comic book fans know….as the multiverse. Yet for all the potential positives such a gift could bring, it’s also one that sees this young heroine when our film opens being pursued by vicious beasts that have been dispatched by someone so she can be brought before them so they can utilize her power for less than admirable ends. Thus it isn’t long before we see this young heroine arrive in the universe we know as the MCU and where she is swiftly rescued by Doctor Strange and Wong who, upon hearing her incredible story, resolve to help her in any way they can. Of course, we also see that, due to comprehending just how bad a nefarious force being able to make their way through the multiverse could be if not thwarted, Strange decides to try and recruit Wanda Maximoff to aid him and Wong in protecting Chavez. At the same time however unfortunately, we quickly see that what Strange is unaware of is that Wanda is not exactly in the best state of mind due to still reeling from both the demise of her one true love Vision as well as the disappearance of the twin boys she conjured up for herself whilst she was wallowing in her magic-tinged grief back in Westview and now she is willing to do whatever it takes to get back to those two boys. Suffice it to say that it is this goal of Wanda’s that now places our two heroes on opposite sides as we see that Strange is dead set on keeping Chavez safe no matter what whilst Wanda has no scruples whatsoever about hunting her down and taking her unique power and utilizing it for her own ends no matter what the cost to reality. Thus it is now up to Strange and Wong to keep Chavez safe from Wanda’s machinations. Yet as Wanda’s actions become more and more unstable and the multiverse starts to descend into chaos the question soon becomes can Strange find a way to get her to stand down before it’s too late or will no less than reality as we know find itself being thrown face first into a permanent state of complete and utter madness? That I will leave for you to discover for yourself dear reader….

Now right off the bat can I just say how fantastic it is to have Sam Raimi actually directing a slice of cinema again after all this time? Indeed issues I may have with this slice of cinema aside, easily one of the finest elements that Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness has going for it is the fact that this is a slice of superhero cinema with Sam Raimi’s distinct touch added into the mix. A fact that is very much made apparent right from the word go when we are shown the quite visceral end to the opening battle Strange and Wong have with the octopus-like creature seen in the trailers. Yet it’s not just Raimi’s gonzo and macabre ways that this slice of cinema utilizes, but also his distinct touches in the cinematography and editing departments respectively as well. Yes there are some Marvel touches on display in this that are perhaps prerequisites especially when it comes to costumes and visual effects work. At the same time though, these elements are not in any way a hindrance to what Raimi is trying to achieve and, if anything, they just root this slice of superhero in the MCU which we all know and love whilst also permitting Raimi’s distinct flair to be even brighter than usual. This is especially noteworthy in regards to several jump scares in this that prove to be truly wonderful at maybe not permanently scarring you, but will certainly make your seat miss you while you climb back down after jumping so high. Sadly for all the fun that comes with having Sam Raimi directing a superhero movie, and one rooted in the realm of horror at that, this slice of cinema does have its fair share of problems and a lot of them can be attributed to the scale this film is operating with. By that I mean this slice of cinema is one that puts the bar for what is at stake at quite the height though when what is at stake is pretty much the entirety of reality that does make sense. At the same time however, this is something that the viewer is not able to see for themselves and is instead only talked about by the characters in this. Of course, if you wish to know where the root problem for this issue lies it would be in the fact that we are only treated to a literal handful of other universes besides the MCU and thus we are never really given an immersive analysis of the magnitude of the problem. Yes there is a moment in the film where two characters are propelled through the multiverse in such a way that we are able to see perfectly the madness for ourselves, but this is then quickly followed up by them arriving in a universe where the distinct difference between it and the MCU is that the symbols on a traffic light are skewed and pizza on the street is found in ball rather than slice form. Now this is not to say that this particular reality doesn’t have some surprises in store that will delight the fans because trust me it does. At the same time though, it does prove to be a tiny bit of a letdown that this slice of cinema stays in this universe quite a bit after making us aware that there also exists a universe where significantly more insane things are afoot.

Now I feel that the narrative in this being as constricted as it turns out to be would not give off the vibe of trashed potential if the film really gave us more in regards to further fleshing out the titular character. Unfortunately by and large that doesn’t really happen in this slice of cinema even with yet another terrific performance from Benedict Cumberbatch in the part. Indeed not only does Strange come to learn yet again the lesson we thought he had learned by the end of his first solo outing, but by and large he does seem to be pretty much the same character we have seen before even if he does seem to be a significantly more decent and caring superhero figure than we saw in his earliest appearances in the MCU. Of course I would be completely amiss if I didn’t point out that, in other reprisals from prior films, Benedict Wong is once again fantastic in the role of Wong and I love the back and forth he and Cumberbatch have with one another, Chiwetel Ejiofor as the returning Mordo proves to be just as wonderful as ever even if his screen time in this installment is a bit more restrictive, and Rachel McAdams is actually provided in this slice of cinema with a much more meaningful part in the proceedings this time around and she gives one heck of a performance particularly in regards to how things play out in the final act of the movie. With that in mind however, there are still a pair of MVPS to this cast and trust me when I say that they are both phenomenal in their respective parts. This starts with Xochitl Gomez as America Chavez and she is absolutely terrific. Indeed not only does Gomez actually feel like her take of the character is one that seemingly just came right off the page straight to the screen, but with a terrific power set, a plucky attitude, and a riveting arc, I can easily see this character being one that the fans will come to adore and thus ensure we hopefully see her in future MCU projects. Now since she first showed up back in 2015’s Age of Ultron, I have always been of the belief that Elizabeth Olsen was a terrific choice for the role of Wanda Maximoff. Yet whilst it was in 2021’s WandaVision that we saw Olsen take the character to another level, it is with her role in this film that Olsen is able to give a take on this character that is just downright chilling. Yes Wanda is now operating very much as a stone-cold antagonist, but there is not a single instance where her choices, right down to slaughtering people with no qualms whatsoever, aren’t to some degree understandable even if they continue to pose the very real threat of the complete and utter collapse of reality as we know it. Heck even when Wanda eventually does go too far in this it’s still difficult not to on some level show her some empathy even though the path she is going down doesn’t really guarantee a chance for her to be redeemable in any way. Suffice it to say that Olsen does a truly fantastic job in this and despite being crippled a little bit with a fairly disappointing winkle in her narrative towards the end, still manages to make her arc in this easily one of the most heart wrenching arcs seen in an MCU film to date.

All in all and at the end of the day, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is, flaws aside, an appropriately dark and both phenomenally cast and helmed entry in the MCU that I have no doubt superhero fans will enjoy time and time again. More than anything though, at the core of this distinct narrative is a fairly basic narrative about the toll to be happy and what some people may be willing to do in order to pay that toll. Indeed in a now vast and seemingly infinite universe that has time and time again made its characters very much aware of how small they are in the grand scheme of things, it also takes just as much time to let them know that their every action, however big or small, do have consequences on the bigger universe around them. Suffice it to say that in a slice of superhero cinema that features sorcery, different dimensions, and otherworldly creatures to name but a few elements it is that aforementioned component that makes them the very definition of “super” for better or for worse. Make of that what thou will dear reader. On a scale of 1-5 I give Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness a solid 3.5 out of 5.

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