‘DR. STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS’
Rated PG-13. At AMC Boston Common, Regal Fenway, AMC South Bay, Landmark Kendall Square and suburban theaters.
A surprisingly amusing, if also typically overlong and expository addition to the MCU, “Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is the brainchild of its director, the comic-book buff and genre veteran Sam Raimi of those classic “Evil Dead” films and the Toby Maguire “Spider-Man” films. It should therefore come as no surprise that this entry boasts a rotting zombie and other flamboyant, genre-film touches. This includes an opening involving the fabled Book of Vishanti that is so reminiscent of “Lord of the Rings” that I expected Strange to intone the words, “You shall not pass.”
If you can take your eyes off of Cumberbatch’s phony hairline, you’ll notice that Master of the Mystic Arts Strange is given the care of a young woman named America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), whose superpower is that she can leap from one universe in the multiverse to another, a power she cannot control.
But it is one coveted by Wanda Maximoff aka the dangerous, super-powerful Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen, a giant asset). Wanda wants to capture America so much that she raids Dr. Strange and fellow sorcerer Wong’s (Benedict Wong) fortress and lays waste to much of it, killing Wong’s sorcerer soldiers in the process.
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Strange and Wanda cannot leap to other universes. But they can “dreamwalk” someone else in another world, even their other selves, using the other person as a “puppet.” Strange also accompanies America when she opens a portal. In Wanda’s case, she uses another version of herself, who is the mother of two young sons (Julian Hilliard and Jett Klyne), as her puppet. We hear a reference to Westview, N.J., the fictional town Wanda lives in in the TV series “WandaVision.”
Written by Michael Waldron (TV’s “Loki”), “Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is a reworking of the 1939 classic “The Wizard of Oz” with America as a modern Dorothy Gale of Kansas, Wanda as the Wicked Witch of the West and Dr. Stephen Strange as the Scarecrow, the Lion and the Tin Man all rolled into one. You may recall that Raimi directed the 2013 “Oz” prequel “Oz the Great and Powerful.”
Just in time for the universe-leaping, indie hit “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” the witch chases America and Strange across Oz-stand-in versions of Strange’s New York City hometown, including one in which pedestrians cross streets on the red light (they do that here, too).
Dr. Strange’s “sentient cloak” makes a good case for being the real stand-in for Ray Bolger’s floppy-legged Scarecrow. Rachel McAdams’ love interest Dr. Christine Palmer is back, although she is only important at the beginning and end. Also returning is Chiwetel Ejiofor as Baron Mordo, who here leads a secret society to little effect. Cameo appearances by other characters from the Marvel universe are not much more than fan service.
Considering all the portals America and Strange fall into, it is no wonder that Wanda’s giant henchmen recall the horned demon dogs of “Ghostbusters.” The frequently thundering score is by the great Danny Elfman. Keep an eye out for a cameo by a fan-favorite Raimi regular. I won’t argue if you think Wanda turns into the Terminator in the third act. Strange and Wong have good chemistry once again. But Wong does not figure as much he should.
In one bit of supernatural whimsy, Dr. Strange hurls notes from piano sheet music at Wanda like razors, while she recombines them and hurls them back at him, making the sound of Bach’s Toccata & Fugue in D Minor.
I say the real wizard of this happily demented “Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is its director.
(“Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” contains violence and disturbing images.)