SCREEN TIME: 'Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness'

'Chaotic but pleasant spectacle over character'

Photo credit: Courtesy of Marvel Studios
WHICH WITCH?: Elizabeth Olsen returns as the Scarlet Witch in ‘Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness.’

It's not a shock that a film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe would prioritize spectacle over character. The kind of spectacle delivered by Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, though, turns out to be a chaotic but pleasant surprise.

Fresh from his supporting role in winter’s blockbuster hit Spider-man: No Way Home, Master of the Mystic Arts Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) rescues a young woman (Xochitl Gomez) from an outlandish octopus monster on the streets of Manhattan. Her name is America Chavez, and her power to cross between alternative universes has made her the target of a mysterious force. To help America, Dr. Strange seeks an ally from the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), who’s still reeling from the events of the Disney+ series “WandaVision” (filmed in Georgia).

Revealing more would give away the film’s secrets, but as Strange and America make kaleidoscopic jaunts between dimensions, Cumberbatch’s dry, steadying presence keeps the film grounded, whether he’s enduring high-impact slapstick or being bedeviled by CGI monsters. With Strange’s character arc being a perfunctory and America’s almost nonexistent, Elizabeth Olsen emerges as the MVP of the actors even as her character is not the best-served by the script. Generally the story prioritizes the continuity between the various Marvel films and streaming series, so you really need to have seen “WandaVision” to get the most out of it.

But no spoiler to say that the real hero of Multiverse of Madness is its director, Sam Raimi. Beginning in 2002, Raimi’s splashy, high-spirited Spider-Man set the tone for at least two decades of superhero movies. Over more than two dozen films, the MCU tends to flatten the personalities of its individual filmmakers in the name of the franchise’s house style (No Way Home is a prime example). In Multiverse of Madness, Raimi proves that he still has a flair for visceral visuals, applying the same high-energy inventiveness that he brought to his Evil Dead trilogy in his formative years.

Multiverse of Madness is generally brightly-lit and colorful, setting a headlong pace (abetted by a high-energy Danny Elfman soundtrack) and proving full of surprisingly violent, horrific imagery for a PG-13 film from the Disney corporation. If the Marvel Cinematic Universe feels like a sprawling, over-controlled theme park, Multiverse of Madness at its best plays like haunted funhouse ride cranked up to unsafe speeds.

‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ B. Stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen. Directed by Sam Raimi. Rated PG-13. Opens Mar. 6 at area theaters.