The “Doctor Strange” movies are the trippiest in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The mystical superhero’s introduction, 2016’s “Doctor Strange,” was a kaleidoscopic mix of images and ideas. The new film, “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” starring Benedict Cumberbatch and now playing in theatres, kicks it up a notch. With a visual style that suggests M.C. Escher on an acid trip, it is a hallucinogenic ride that will make your eyeballs spin.
The action begins in Dr Stephen Strange’s (Cumberbatch) universe with the introduction of America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), a teenager with the ability to navigate the multiverse and access portals into alternate realities. In the search for her parents, she has explored 73 universes, each with their own, unique sets of rules, all the while pursued by a demon who wants to steal her powers.
This is not sorcery, Strange says. As old Blue Eyes once sang, it’s witchcraft, so who better to consult than Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen), former Avenger and powerful practitioner of witchcraft?
He’s looking for advice that will help him save America, but instead is sent off on a wild and dangerous trip into a series of alternate realities to fight a power that threatens to subjugate the entire multiverse.
“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” begins with a bang. A loud and proud action scene kicks things off with an exaggerated H.P. Lovecraft creature terrorizing Chavez. It sets the wild and wacky tone that applies to most of the picture. A mix of action, horror and comic book comedy, it recalls the sweet spot that made director Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead” movies such a blast. Raimi brings a kind of anarchy here that is missing from the carefully controlled Marvel films and when it is fun, it’s really fun. There’s even a battle of the bands, a musical showdown, that is equal parts ridiculous and rad.
But there is much more to the story than interdimensional shenanigans.
At its heart “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” isn’t a story about magic, it’s a tale about the things we do for love. Whether it is Wanda’s search for family, ably brought to life by Olsen’s poignant performance, or Strange’s attraction to Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), this story has a strongly beating heart.
Unfortunately, it also has a bumpy, uneven script. As it careens toward the Marvel friendly climax it loses steam as the action becomes muddied and the script begins to sew up any loose ends left dangling across then universes.
“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” doesn’t have the weight of “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” another recent examination of the multiverse, but despite its unevenness, it’s a good, and sometimes gory, time at the movies.