‘I’ ON CULTURE
The new Marvel movie Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness is different from many of its predecessors in the series. Yes, it is still exciting, but it offers many things we don’t usually find. For example, zombies. It is long, but it holds your attention.
We focus on Dr. Steven Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), a great sorcerer, proud and arrogant. Remember, he was willing to let Thanos wipe out half the life in the universe for a chance, a tiny chance, to eventually win. But despite all his derring-do, Strange lost, even as the rest of the universe won.
We find him at the wedding of the great love of his life, Dr. Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), and he is not the groom despite the fact that it is clear that he still loves her. But being a Marvel film, after a minute of sadness, a giant octopus-like monster appears from another universe chasing young America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez). After a rousing fight, Strange and Master Wong (Benedict Wong) kill it and find out that Chavez is perhaps the only being in the multiverse who can jump from one universe to another, and that someone or something has been chasing her.
Strange, realizing that witchcraft is involved, goes for advice to Wanda Maximov, the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) for advice. It turns out that Wanda is the evil force after Chavez. From here, it helps if you watched the Disney+ series WandaVision, where she created a fictitious life for herself as a housewife with two kids. It didn’t work quite right, and Wanda wants to find a universe where her children are real and take over the body of that Wanda. In the resulting chase, Strange and Chavez wind up in another universe where there are somewhat different Avengers. There’s all sorts of fighting, and there are several different Dr. Stranges — and the conclusion is both dramatic and reasonable. Even slightly touching.
The film is helped by spectacular special effects that help keep the story moving. You just don’t have time to notice anything that might not be perfectly correct, and there’s enough fun you don’t worry much about it anyway. Director Sam Raimi knows how to make this just a bit scary while still keeping a bit of fun.
He is assisted by really good performances. Cumberbatch is a superb actor, which is necessary to make a man as different and arrogant as Strange sympathetic. He manages this, and in his scenes with McAdams brings a tenderness never before seen in him, at least in this universe. McAdams is also great. In the first movie, she was just sort of shuttled aside, the rejected love interest, who could not keep up with his changes. In this film, in one of the key universes, she is a strong woman, a complete match for Strange, and we are able to see that if it were possible, there could be a future for them. Gomez is also fine as the young woman who finally discovers there’s a lot more to her than simply the ability to roam through the multiverse. And Wong proves clearly that his character is a superhero as well, worthy to stand with the others.
But Olsen dominates the film, giving what might be the best performance ever in a Marvel movie. She manages to make tiny changes in her facial expressions that contain so many different levels of feeling. She desperately wants the motherhood, desires the children, and will destroy anyone and anything that get in her way. And yet there is a pathos to it. We want her defeated, yet we can’t hate her. She is a tortured soul trapped within her own madness.
Raimi keeps things moving. This is a sort of horror movie, with many quick turns, but never quite moves into that genre. We know that Dr. Strange will win in the end. But we move through a half dozen differently styled battle scenes, character twists and turns, and generally have a ball.
I like the film a lot. It is long but moves fast, has interesting, well-played characters and probably the best performance of the more than 25 films in the series. It is worth the price of admission. See it.