Six years after Doctor Strange entered the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the red-caped magician finds himself leaping and time-travelling through the multiverse encountering various versions of himself. We saw Spider-Man experiencing something similar in the 2021 film Spider-Man: No Way Home, where he encountered Dr Strange and Wong in one of the universes.
Sam Raimi takes the reins to direct the latest addition to the ever-expanding cinematic universe. Stephen Strange, reprised by Benedict Cumberbatch, awakens from a dream, in which he is battling a demonic creature while trying to save a teenaged girl. In an alternate dimension, Strange and fellow sorcerer Wong (Benedict Wong) unite to protect America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), who is being pursued through Manhattan by a gigantic one-eyed octopus-like creature. Learning that the monster is an emissary of the real baddie who wants to harness America’s powers, Strange and Wong decide that they must help save the girl and the world. But they cannot do this unassisted. Enter a grieving Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), Scarlet Witch from the Avengers, unable to overcome her own ghosts. Evil is on the loose and magic must battle the dark arts in order to protect America.
Raimi and writer Michael Waldron weave together a multiple dimension/alternate realities tale represented by the dreams we have. Raimi cranks up the dial on visual effects: a fight where musical notes are harnessed as weapons accompanied by a crazy score is inspired. Some scenes are dark and dystopian, zombie-like creatures, ghouls, witches, warlocks, Stormtrooper-like guards pop up and, as portals open, ‘other’ Stephen Stranges show up. Much of what we see feels repurposed and that the all-powerful Wanda has a single-point agenda makes her seem more unhinged than foreboding.
In the spirit of MCU films, there are some old faces and some borrowed from other dimensions (cameos galore). Raimi offers a genre mash-up—humour, horror, action, fantasy.
Cumberbatch and Olsen are the perfect sparring partners, balancing their superhero status with the human condition. While Doctor Strange is trying to save multiple dimensions all at once, he’s also lamenting the loss of his love Christine (Rachel McAdams). Wanda is trapped in her grief state. But this is the multiverse and realities can be altered, so there’s little need to dwell on what-ifs. Interestingly, the recurring question of the state of happiness goes unanswered in every dimension.