[Screen It]


(2022) (Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen) (PG-13)

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Superhero Action: A sorcerer superhero must stop a villain from obtaining the ability to control access to the multiverse.

Superhero sorcerer Dr. Stephen Strange (BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH) and his friend/assistant Wong (BENEDICT WONG) are used to having to save the world. While attending the wedding of his ex, Christine Palmer (RACHEL McADAMS), Stephen is called into action to save teenager America Chavez (XOCHITL GOMEZ) from a gargantuan monster, something he succeeds at, but also has him confused as he previously "met" the girl in a dream.

It turns out she has the power -- when frightened -- to open portals into the multiverse and travel through them, and the villain behind the monster attack wants to extract that power. Believing he needs another powerful ally, Stephen turns to fellow Avenger Wanda Maximoff (ELIZABETH OLSEN), a.k.a. the Scarlet Witch, for help. But he soon learns that no one's to be trusted as he ends up traveling across universes in hopes of stopping the villain.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10

"Are you happy?" In the ever-developing world of mental health, that's a question that should be asked more. But in the regular old world it's still mostly relegated to a spouse, significant other, or family member asking that to another in relation to some desire being met such as "The Johnsons canceled dinner tonight. Are you happy now?"

While "How are you?" allows the answerer to skirt the question if they desire, "Are you happy?" is more direct and to the point, and even if it's brushed aside with an "I'm okay," one can often get the real answer by observing non-verbal clues.

That comes into play in "Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness," a sequel to the 2016 origins film and a follow-up to the character's other appearances in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as well as what separately transpired in the Disney+ TV series, "WandaVision."

The question is asked of Doctor Stephen Strange (a returning Benedict Cumberbatch) several times during the film's slightly longer than two-hour running time, but we first hear it from his ex-fiancée, Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), at her wedding reception. He replies that he is, but she and we can see through his facade.

But before that can be further explored, the superhero sorcerer is once again called into action to save the day. And in particular, a teen, America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), who's trying to avoid a gargantuan, one-eyed octopus monster that's straight out of some old 1950s monster flick.

With the help of his loyal friend and assistant, Wong (Benedict Wong), Strange succeeds but wants to understand why the girl was in his dream (in a sequence that opens the film where he's killed, sort of) earlier that morning, how she can hop through the multiverse, and who the villain is that wants to extract the teen's power.

Sensing some sort of witchcraft is at play, Strange seeks out Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) for help and answers, but finds her longing for something tied to the dream she likewise had during her slumber. And that's being a mom with two happy young boys, something she repeatedly dreams about and thus has her believing an alternate version of her is currently living that life in a parallel universe.

As directed by Sam Raimi from a script by Michael Waldron, the film addresses that and what drives those who aren't happy with their current situation, all as mixed with the usual Marvel superhero movie trappings. That obviously includes lots of action and bits of humor, but also a bit more psychological depth exploration, not to mention a definite horror film vibe courtesy of Raimi who's no stranger to the genre.

He even gets to throw in an undead character for good measure, as well as several cameos with unexpected outcomes, thanks to the "anything can happen" in the multiverse realm of storytelling. It feels both like and unlike your typical Marvel movie, and that will have some critics and regular moviegoers deriding or applauding that dichotomy depending on what side of the response they fall.

While not the best Marvel offering (it meanders at times and could have used some tightening), I liked the changeup and new addition as well as fresh coats of paint applied to the usual trappings. In the end, the question to be asked as the final credits roll is "Are you happy?" I was, and thus give "Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness" a 6.5 out of 10 score.

Reviewed May 2, 2022 / Posted May 6, 2022

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