Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

I remember being underwhelmed by the first Doctor Strange movie, as well as by Oz the Great and Powerful, Sam Raimi's last feature as a director, which reeked of studio watering-down. So I was more cautious than optimistic when going in to watch what for the sake of brevity we'll call Dr. Strange 2. Happily, the film has undone the curse both on the franchise and on the director. Wild, imaginative, and unpredictable, Dr. Strange 2 is a real trip – and a real treat for Sam Raimi fans. This is much closer to his Evil Dead films and Drag Me to Hell than it is to his Spider-Man outings. He even throws in Bruce Campbell and a flying eyeball.

The premise unfolds rather quickly: Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch, now inseparable from the role) learns of a teenage girl named America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) who is able to teleport between parallel universes, albeit not exactly at will. So Strange enlists the help of former Avenger Wanda Maximoff, a.k.a. the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), only to discover that Wanda has gone mad and wants to kidnap Chavez so that she herself can be transported into a parallel universe in which she is the loving mother of two young boys. In short, the Scarlet Witch is the villain of the picture.

What follows is lots of universe-hopping, with fun alternate realities, demonic books, nifty cameos, and impressive visual effects. What makes the film stand out from other Marvel titles, of course, is Raimi, with his flair for the eccentric and the macabre. With a title as grandiloquent as Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, he clearly intends to give you what you came for.

The screenplay is by Michael Waldron, who also created and wrote the Disney+/Marvel series Loki, which went down similar rabbit holes. He was not involved in the other Disney+/Marvel title WandaVision, which is not necessarily a prerequisite before watching Dr. Strange 2, but it sure helps: that series did much more to develop Wanda Maximoff's character than any of the big-screen Marvel features ever did. Olsen, for her part, delivers a nuanced and compelling performance as a character whose agenda in this film is perhaps overly simplified. She's the best thing in a really good movie.