Director Sam Raimi is back after ten years away from the biz, bringing to the Marvel movie universe a thrilling and maybe a tad overwrought tale of superhero mayhem, featuring Benedict Cumberbatch’s second solo feature outing as the titular character Dr. Strange.
The movie opens in an otherworldly universe with Stephen Strange attempting to save a young woman, America Chavez, from the clutches of a raging monster, a glowing and glowering dragon-like creature that spews fire with the best of them.
The beat-down renders Strange incapable of saving his young charge and it appears he dies in the act. So, we know right away this is a screenwriter’s deception, because it’s just minutes into the movie and there’s a lot more adventure just ahead. Sure enough, the good doctor wakes from this jam-packed CGI nightmare at home and safely in his bed.
But was it really a nightmare? Perhaps yes and perhaps no.
There’s a lot of two-handedness in this strange stab at explaining the multiverse. Raimi pulls the rug out from under us on several occasions and not always in the service of the actual story.
Still, every good superhero saga needs a good villain and here it’s Elizabeth Olsen’s unhinged Scarlet Witch. Except that she also appears as Wanda Maximoff playing the doting mother to two precocious boys and reveling in the role of caregiver.
Olsen’s Witch is a force to be reckoned with and there are times you begin to wonder if there’s any character with enough chutzpah or, even better, supernatural ammo to take her down.
This is made clear in the second act when Raimi reveals a high council of multiverse protectors called The Illuminati. Cameos abound with famous faces but even they appear helpless against an increasingly powerful Witch.
There’s an argument to be made here that the movie is more about Wanda’s inner conflict than it is about anything Dr. Strange is feeling. And Chavez, a blank slate of a character with almost no back story, is given little to do until the end.
The duality of Wanda/Witch in the context of parenting two boys seems to be the engine driving the narrative. But as Dr. Strange reminds the Scarlet Witch, she was never really a mother. Yet It’s a fever dream she returns to again and again, as though she can will something into being that exists only in her increasingly distorted imagination. In other words, Mother’s Day, but with unbridled fury instead of the usual cake, cards and flowers.
I saw a hint of “The Wizard of Oz” here and its central theme: “There’s no place like home.” There might be madness in the multiverse, but the most powerful weapon in our heroes’ arsenal turns out to be, strangely enough, a mother’s love.