(director: Sam Raimi; screenwriters: Michael Waldron/based on the Marvel Comic Books by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko; cinematographer: John Mathieson; editors: Tia Nolan/Bob Murawski; music: Danny Elfman; cast: Benedict Cumberbatch (Dr. Stephen Strange), Elizabeth Olsen (Wanda Maximoff, Scarlet Witch), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Mordo), Benedict Wong (Wong), Xochitl Gomez (America Chavez), Rachel McAdams (Dr. Christine Palmer), Michael Stuhlbarg (Dr. Nicodemus West), Julian Hilliard (Billy), Jeff Kyne (Tommy); Runtime: 126; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer; Kevin Feige: Walt Disney Pictures; 2022)

“Magnificent visuals.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Sam Raimi (“The Evil Dead”/”Drag Me to Hell”), the master of campy scares and great filmmaker of the Spider-Man trilogy in the early 2000s, directs in a zany, geeky and gory manner this over-bloated but inventive big-budget MCU film. This franchise film, seemingly a commercial to promote more such Disney franchise films, is technically sound, with magnificent visuals and CGI created monsters, but lacks any emotional impact. It’s a sequel to Marvel Comics’ 2016 standalone film directed by Scott Derrickson (who was not retained because of creative differences, as he wanted to make things scarier). Writer Michael Waldron picks up the multiple sci-fi story lines left over from other MCU versions in this character-packed bizarre sci-fi adventure story.

The amiable Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) returns as the surgeon/superhero, on a mission
to protect a teen who can visit parallel universes, and Wanda Maximoff Elizabeth Olsen), Strange’s former Avenger friend now the Scarlet Witch, also returns but as a villain.

We’re in the multi-worlds of Doctor Strange, who has a goatee and casually strolls around in a velveteen costume with a cloak. He’s still heart broken that
Dr. Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), the scientist he fell for has married another. As further personal torture, he shows up as a guest at her wedding. Outside the NYC wedding hall a giant one-eyed octopus/cyclops creature (a CGI made disaffected creature from the Avengers) is on the street trying to kill the teen America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez). She is someone Strange saw in a dream he was in. The girl has the ability to “dreamwalk” – to enter into other parallel universes when stressed. This ability, which she can’t control, does not make her a superhero but has enraged the demon, who wants to steal that power. Strange realizes it is his mission in life to be her protector, and he’s helped by the Sorcerer Supreme (Benedict Wong) as they together rescue America from the demon (note the symbolic use of the name America).

Strange upon realizing the Scarlet Witch has completely possessed Wanda, tries avoiding her as the sad single mother’s sole desire for being is to find her two boys (Julian Hilliard & Jeff Kyne), who are somewhere in an alternate universe.

Once rescued, America opens a portal and goes with Strange to a remote dimension where they try and overcome the Scarlet Witch. They will fast speed through
various multiverse realities and meet all sorts of characters in the Multiverse, and will find that not everyone is who they appear to be. In one Multiverse, Strange comes face-to-face with his own life and death scene. In another multiverse, the world is made entirely of poster paints. In a multiverse version of New York City, the streets are decorated with plants and flowers.

Chiwetel Ejiofor plays with gusto Strange’s old enemy Mordo, a doppelgänger of Strange’s. Meanwhile Strange takes on the “dark hold”, a corrupting power that enables the user to dreamwalk (the opposite is the  protective light force, called the Book of the Vishanti).

It’s a tale of nightmares and reality, a story that includes universal intruders, zombies, demons, the grotesque (in the form of a
severed eyeball) and a twisted dark humor. It’s  a weird film of Dr. Strange as a superhero.

I was never comfortable with the mind-bending film because it expects the viewer to have a deep knowledge of its bac
kground story to fully grok it, which I don’t have and therefore felt lost in all its characters, its many subplots and its subtleties. It also raises questions about its time travel story that are passed over because it’s mumbo-jumbo. But, even though convoluted and filled with nonsense, it’s a bewitching Raimi film filled with fun moments and oddly filmed witchcraft scenes. It hits its stride in the third act when it delivers what I take as a hopeful message that America, used here as the name of a Puerto Rican child, to tell us the country is in trouble from evil sources, but lets us know “Just because someone loses their way doesn’t mean they’re lost forever.”