Synopsis: Dr. Strange juggles multiple plotlines whilst traipsing across universes. (Streaming on Disney+ and Amazon Prime as of August 2022)
Dr. Strange 2 deserves a gold star for its awesome title: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. More gold stars for Benedict Cumberbatch’s flinty take on Stephen Strange, MD. Benny lets us know that, in spite of appearances, his character has a heart of gold. And fling in another gold star for his sidekick Wong, imbued with wisdom and courage by actor Benedict Wong. Twinkle twinkle, one last gold star for Elizabeth Olsen’s sensitive, yet murderous, Wanda/Scarlet Witch. She’s def the colleague or neighbor you want to text first to gauge their mood before meeting in person.
Be ready for a pattern of moviemaking that is: Mystical Gibberish**ACTION** Mystical Gibberish** ACTION. I don’t know how actors like Benedict Cumberbatch and Chiwetel Ejiofor can say some of these dumb lines without laughing. For example: Dreams are windows into our multiversal selves.
Viewers might need a reminder that Dr Strange, while a Master of the Mystical Arts, is not the Sorcerer Supreme; Wong is. Well, he has put in his time and seems content to stay put guarding the magical library. I’m sure that his job title encompasses more, but I’ll leave it at that.
Meanwhile, Dr Strange is busy protecting not just the Earth, but the multiverse as well. When he gets into battles he leans heavily on his trick of the “kaleidoscope mirrors” to confuse his opponents. And I guess he memorized plenty of spells from the books at Kamar-Taj. And don’t forget that he can open portals. In the first movie, Doctor Strange, Tilda Swinton as an Asian master, yeeted him into the Himalayas to force him into really concentrating on making a return portal if he wanted to survive.
When Dr Strange is not on assignment, he entertains more of a ‘Stephen’ vibe, and pines for Christine (Rachel McAdams). But he has a very poor work-life balance, what with work crises, so instead of dating Christine in his minimal downtime, it appears he works on his dashing facial hair grooming. Sigh, I hope he gets significant bonuses and stock options (from somewhere) for his dedication to keeping humans safe wherever they may be.
I don’t read the MCU comics so I don’t know much about America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) who is introduced to viewers at the beginning of Dr Strange 2. She’s a teen who is running for her life across the multiverse. The movie shows us that she first gained powers (ability to blow stuff up) when she was stung by a wasp. She also has the power to open some book of spells that some unknown entity wants. Not Mads Mikkelson this time around. Lots of biblio-thieves in the MCU. I think the book they want is the Dark Hold aka the Book of the Damned. For all I know it could be something written by Stephen King or Anne Rice. Anyway, the screenplay tells us that whoever has the book has the power to “rule or annihilate the cosmos.” Maybe Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has it.
Dr Strange wants to protect America so he goes to visit Wanda. She lives in some orchard she created with her mind. She’s not too interested in his problems though because she is preoccupied figuring out how to get her two sons back. They have old timey names like Billy and Bobby or something. She’d do anything to get her boys back. She tells Dr Strange that and he looks at her askance. She says: I’m not a monster. I’m a mother. This is something like the defense Full House’s Aunt Becky used when cops nabbed her for bribing her daughters’ way into college.
Dr Strange 2 has a lot going on, but the basic plot is, once again, Dr Strange has to find and retrieve a stolen book. This involves much mutiverse travel and fights that demolish much acreage. In addition, a book is stabbed and Dr Strange’s magic cloak is injured.
In one universe he is like Hamlet in a modernist Shakespeare production, shuffling around in a black turtleneck looking like he’s having an existential crisis. In another universe he looks like a wretched Ethan Hawke, picture him as the unkempt abolitionist John Brown in 2020’s The Good Lord Bird.
And because this is an MCU production with lots of cash to throw around there is another plot/meaningful thesis, wherein Wanda/Scarlet Witch is tearing apart universes looking for her missing kids. When she is Wanda, she meditates, folding her legs into a criss cross applesauce yoga pose. When she is Scarlet Witch she hovers around, making threats and throwing concussive waves at various settlements. At one point she screams at Dr Strange: You hypocrite! And I thought they were friends.
Then! Characters pop up and ask the hardworking, sardonic Dr Strange if he is happy. Very deep indeed. Oh my gosh, and I almost forgot that the new character America is running around in her little denim jacket with sponge-art printed stars on it, forced to breathlessly yell all of her lines over her shoulder to Dr Strange as he whisks along behind her.
After two hours of looking for books, kids and following the action in countless fights, I was on the verge of madness myself. Maybe Dr Strange 3 can be focused on Dr Strange cultivating and combining tea leaves for a new Mystical Teas line. We could use the break.