Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness visits many parallel universes. Few are especially interesting but some are presented with visual extravagance bordering on the surreal.
Too bad director Sam Raimi scurries through these alternate realities too quickly for us to savor the oddities he concocts. That might have taken the sting out of what can feel like an over-crowded assemblage of half-baked ideas.
One of them involves something called the Darkhold. What's the Darkhold? Something that, I suppose, means something to Marvel fans and which the exposition-heavy Multiverse strains to explain.
About these alternate realities: The multiverse concept already has become shopworn thanks partly to the recent success of Everything Everywhere All at Once. It's also been used in previous Marvel efforts.
In Raimi's telling, Benedict Cumberbatch returns as Doctor Strange, star of the 2016 solo effort that bore his name. Flourishing his red cape and sporting a goatee, the once-brilliant surgeon travels from one universe to another, I suppose to preserve the fundamental order of things.
That order is threatened by the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). The witch — a.k.a. Wanda Maximoff — wants to find the universe in which she can play mom to two boys, the generically named Billy (Julian Hilliard) and Tommy (Jett Klyne). Poor witch. All she wants is the solace of normality.
I’ve read that those who are familiar with WandaVision, available on Disney+ and also starring Olsen, will get more out of the movie. That wouldn’t be me.
Raimi's appointment with Doctor Strange leans heavily on bloated displays of digital invention as Strange — with occasional help from the sorcerer Wong (Benedict Wong) — tries to stop the witch’s scheme.
Oops. I forgot to mention America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), a teenager who can leap from reality to reality. America doesn’t know how she accomplishes this astonishing bit of multiverse jumping.
In Marvel language, that means America has yet to master her powers. Don't worry, she's sure to do so in another movie.
Other characters pop up including Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Karl Mordo, a foe of Strange, and Rachel McAdams's Christine Palmer, the woman Strange loves.
There’s more. Tons more, but the movie has a repetitive feel, and watching characters hurl fiery swirls of light at one another quickly loses its charge.
At one point, an evil version of Strange turns up sporting a third eye, which might help him if he has to find a compelling through line in this hodgepodge of a movie.
I hadn’t been in a theater in more than a month and I was primed for a “big” movie, particularly one from a director who did admirable work in several Spider-Man movies and who early in his career earned recognition as a bold horror maven with 1981’s The Evil Dead.
My expectations will have to wait. Raimi offers a few amusing cameos and occasional captivating sights: a vision of New York City adorned with flowers, Strange's macabre late-movie encounters, and an imaginative bit involving animated musical notes.
Otherwise, this latest helping of Marvel Mania whirls, twirls, and dashes from one set piece to another, leaving little but comic-book detritus in its wake.
Out of such detritus, more Marvel movies likely will emerge. That's not magic; it's business-as-usual.