“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is about the terrifying experience of “living” in parallel universes, as seen through the eyes of Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch). When we first met this character, he was a gifted, self-obsessed playboy surgeon who loses the use of his hands in a car crash and then travels to a faraway land where he’s trained by a mystic a.k.a. The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) and he develops a new gift—creating weaponized circles of light where he faces a group of equally gifted zealots who have the same abilities, zipping between the multiverses.
“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is a movie that’s set in several universes, all at once, and to keep us on our toes, it keeps shooting off into crazier dimensions of an alternate reality.
What’s real? What does it matter? This story explodes and where I was expecting good, old-fashioned sci-fi, what’s actually presented is a CGI horror multipack, brainteaser, and, at moments, it’s downright hard to watch. In short, it’s an engaging mess but a mess nonetheless.
We begin with Strange attending the wedding of Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), a colleague he still cares about. And then an angry monster with octopus tentacles is tossing cars. Strange gets help from the Sorcerer Supreme Wong (Benedict Wong) where we learn that the monster is only the messenger that was sent to capture America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), a teenager who possesses the ability to leap between universes.
An exciting reveal is a multiverse version of Wanda; here she’s a single mother of two boys. This is the life she wants but needs the power of multiverse-hopping to fuse with it, but Doctor Strange can’t allow this because, frankly, it would wreak havoc on the entire multiverse. After taking his young protégé to a failed fortress because Wanda destroyed it while fighting an army of warrior monks, Strange and America escape to a different universe—a New York City with overgrown vines, where red lights mean go and pizza comes in balls.
Here they get trapped in giant cubes created by Christine, who in this universe is a respected multiverse researcher and has had a relationship with a slightly different Stephen Strange, but they’re still versions of the same people. The question that looms is why are there slightly different versions?
“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is directed by Sam Raimi and he does help Olsen deliver a performance that generates an operatic fire moment that’s gleefully over the top but it works.
In many ways, this is an old-fashioned chase movie but one that goes in and out of universes. It’s an interesting choice that one of the three Stephen Stranges turns out to be a rotting-zombie Strange accompanied by feral beasts but this is fantasy, so there are no rules of what can or can’t be done.
There’s a lot of visual wizardry to back up the wacky story points and in the end “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” earns the viewer’s attention.
In terms of visuals, “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is ten-out-of-ten. These visuals aren’t just about action or color but express ideas. Talk about man vs. man—in one universe Doctor Strange is battling a version of himself from another universe, and the two Stranges are throwing music at each other.
The character development, dialogue, and acting are strong, and Elizabeth Olsen, the Scarlet Witch, gives what will go down as one of the finest performances of the year.