Doctor Stephen Strange has his hands full in this installment, straightening out the multiverse-mess he caused in Spider-Man: No Way Home. Strange also has to protect a multiverse-jumping new character, America Chavez (played by Xochitl Gomez) from an evil Scarlett Witch, all while delivering one-liners and his version of a Blue Steel side-eye. Toss that with constantly shifting realities and mind-blowing special effects and well…it’s a LOT.
Marvel movies have certainly suffered from too-many-apples-not-enough-bag syndrome before but they had the benefit of well-developed and beloved main characters. Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness drops it all into the starched lap of Stephen Strange and, despite Benedict Cumberbatch’s enormous charm, he just can’t carry the whole thing. We came to love Wanda Maximoff through WandaVision but this variation of the character feels brand new. The core of the movie centers around America Chavez and, while fans of the comics will cheer, the rest of us will utter, “Who?” The result is a film that feels like the pilot for a TV show we’ll like eventually, but not yet.
I can’t really fault Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness for its shortcomings because it simply has so much to do. At least it keeps the story moving and looks fantastic in the process. I also appreciate the 2 hour, 6 minute runtime, making it one of the shortest Marvel films I’ve seen in ages (there are two post-credits scenes so yes, stay those extra six minutes). Final verdict: Keep your expectations in check and you’ll enjoy Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Plus, if you don’t see it you’ll just be confused by the next Marvel films. (B-)
PARENT REVIEW: Parents of young children who want to see Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness should know that it’s rated PG-13 for “intense sequences of violence and action, frightening images and some language.” It’s also directed by Sam Raimi. He’s known for his work on the earlier Spider-Man movies but Raimi has also directed loads of horror films. His Evil Dead and Army of Darkness roots really shine through here (watch for Bruce Campbell!), which is a big step away from your usual Marvel fare. It’s great for Raimi fans but the zombie references and horror-winks might be tough for little kids. Use The Walking Dead as your guide. If your kids can comfortably sit through those zombie scenes, they should be fine here.