Kimberly Reyes chases a demon in space between universes.
I sat in the theater for the latest Marvel blockbuster, the sequel to Dr. Strange (which came out eight years ago!), trying to put myself in the shoes of a casual Marvel fan, someone who is perhaps accompanying their Marvel-obsessed partner/friend (who may or may not be dressed in full-on Scarlet Witch or Dr. Strange gear) to the theater. And I wondered: Would this person be able to follow the storyline and enjoy themselves? The answer is… well…no and yes.
The necessary investment, in every Marvel Studios (and its correlated Sony Pictures) universe, to truly understand every plot point, every cameo (Zombie Strange!), and every reference, cannot be understated—this may be the most intricate comic book movie ever made. But it also may be the most true-to-comic-book-form, non-illustrated, movie ever. From its Dalí-like CGI surrealism to a fantastic, Danny Elfman-buoyed scene in which the musical score literally jumps off the page during a fight scene, this film stimulates the senses in a way that should keep nearly everyone entertained.
The two hour and six-minute journey goes by way faster than many other films in this universe. And the plot is simple: Dr. Strange must help a teenager with special abilities while dealing with the fallout of the “blip” (when half of all living beings were wiped from existence for five years) that he single-handedly allowed to happen in order to defeat Thanos (you know, in those other films).
For the rest of us (the nerds), those of us who grew up reading the comics and who have seen every Marvel-related film and every episode of every Marvel Disney+ series, our devotion most certainly pays off. The movie has some issues, namely a few wait, who exactly is more powerful? moments that are distracting, but seeing certain, beloved figures on screen at the same time (yes, The Illuminati is really happening!) makes up for the movie’s shortcomings.
No longer playing to fair-weather fans, writer Michael Waldron (of Disney+’s Loki) fearlessly explores what it truly means for Dr. Strange to be the “master of mystic arts.” Sam Raimi also doesn’t hold back. The film requires its PG-13 rating as we see reverberations of Raimi’s Evil Dead, Drag Me to Hell, The Quick and the Dead, and even Xena: Warrior Princess creations throughout. Scarlet Witch also takes us to new Marvel hero/villain places (this is more of an Elizabeth Olsen film than a Benedict Cumberbatch film, but that’s whole ‘nother story) as she navigates grief and PTSD, vacillating between a screaming banshee (no really) and a bloodthirsty Terminator.
I’m walking a fine line of not giving too much away, but let’s just say there’s a certain cameo that opens the door to the possibility of the X-Men reclaiming their space as the proper heirs to the Marvel throne. And the introduction of America Chavez, endearingly played by Xochitl Gomez, confirms an exciting and necessary new chapter in the MCU journey.
One of the pluses of social media is that it dispelled the myth that only white male incels are comic book fans. Quite the opposite is true, in fact many of us from marginalized communities have always seen ourselves reflected in those who have been ostracized by societies who have simultaneously always been happy to exploit our “special” abilities. So, it’s wonderful to see America make fun of a version of Dr. Strange who can’t speak Spanish, or to have Strange reference America’s two moms, casually, without it becoming a cringeworthy, teachable moment in the film. Thankfully, all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Phase Four projects (which began with Wanda Vision and Black Widow in 2021) have been inclusive by normalizing representation.
At the end of the day, this campy and action-packed movie is the second-strongest MCU Phase Four film—after Spider-Man: No Way Home (obviously). Armed with pluck, this film finally makes it a bit easier to care about Stephen Strange. And from this point on, any declaration of love that doesn’t sound like: “I love you in every universe,” will be lacking in necessary madness and magic.
Dr. Strange In The Multiverse of Madness is in cinemas from 6th May 2022.