IN LOCAL THEATERS: Review: Marvel pits Scarlet Witch against Doctor Strange in madcap sequel

Elizabeth Olsen in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness / Marvel

Director Sam Raimi amps up the weird quotient a couple of degrees in Disney’s 28th and latest venture into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is a messy and whacky thrill ride that lacks emotional depth but delivers a fun time at the movies as long as you just eat your popcorn and don’t think too much about it.

The movie is dynamic, colorful, and madcap as it pits Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) against Wanda the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) in a fantastical battle of wits, witchcraft and sorcery that spans multiple universes and alternate time lines and includes a gaggle of doppelgänger characters with Olsen and Cumberbatch playing multiple versions of their characters.

You see, Wanda begins to fracture parallel timelines as she seeks to reunite herself with her wish-craft conceived sons Billy (Julian Hilliard) and Tommy (Jett Klyne), who were introduced in the Disney Plus streaming series “WandaVision.”

Of course, it’s Doctor Strange’s job to stop her from altering reality along with partner Wong (Bendict Wong) and America Chavez (Xochiti Gomez), a new super human introduced in the film who has the ability to open star-shaped portals between parallel universes.

Now, for comic-book and sci-fi readers that kind of stuff is par for the course. How it goes down with the four-quadrant, general audience Marvel movies are made for will be interesting.

Raimi plops the audience right in the middle of the action and explains as he goes, which I found thrilling. The movie never lingers. It whisks by despite an inordinate amount of exposition by numerous characters. Danny Elfman’s wonderful score helps solidify that break-neck pacing that keeps you from asking too many questions about what you are seeing.

As Marvel has done with most of its offerings, the movie is a take on a classic movie genre. This time out, it is horror. There is PG-13-level scares, scenery, and violence that some children might find frightening, but overall its mostly fun, even the gruesome parts.

The strengths of the film are the performances by Cumberbatch and Olsen. They are excellent in the roles as the arrogant master of mystic arts and the powerful witch, who is willing to stop at nothing to be reunited with her children. Rachel McAdams is also compelling in her return as Christine Palmer, Doctor Strange’s former lover.

The movie contains a number of cameos from several Marvel characters, some of which have been hinted at or are outright revealed in the marketing of the film. They should be quite enjoyable for comic book and super-hero movie fans, but the interlude that includes them detracts from the main thrust of the story.

However the key weakness to the movie is that it has prerequisites for full enjoyment. Not only should viewers watch the first “Doctor Strange” film but also the Disney Plus series “WandaVision” and the animated “What if” to gain the movie’s full impact.

I personally enjoyed the flow of this story from the “WandaVision” series into this movie, but others might find it a hinderance.

As the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which began with 2008’s “Iron Man,” continues to expand, its weight might become cumbersome for fans instead of being the draw that such continuity had been in the past.

(PG-13) 2 hr. 6 min.
Grade: B-

  New in Local Theaters

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (watch trailer) / (PG-13) 2 hr. 6 min. / AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Pinnacle, Malco Towne, Skylight, 112 Drive In

The Duke (watch trailer) / (R) 1 hr. 36 min. / AMC Fiesta Square

Classic Corner – TCM celebrates Hepburn on May 12

Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant in Holiday

Few actresses in the golden age of Hollywood had as varied or as successful of a career as Katharine Hepburn.

Whether playing a debutante or a spinster, a business woman, an evangelist or even a queen, Hepburn, who won four Best Actress Oscars, brought a fiery spirit to the screen from her 1932 debut in “A Bill of Divorcement” during the Great Depression until her final film appearance “Love Affair” (1994), which starred Anette Benning and Warren Beaty.

Turner Classic Movies is celebrating Hollywood’s grand dame on Thursday, May 12 with a cross section of her films, including several prominent ones and a few of her lesser-known projects.

Here is the schedule:

7 a.m. – A Woman Rebels (1936)

8:45 a.m. – The Sea of Grass (1947)

11 a.m. – Without Love (1945)

1 p.m. – Mary of Scotland (1936)

3:15 p.m. – Holiday (1938)

5 p.m. – Desk Set (1957)

The final two films of the day “Holiday” and “Desk Set” are my favorites among the six films. Cary Grant co-stars in “Holiday,” while Spencer Tracy does the honors in “Desk Set.” Both are comedies that stretch the bounds credulity, but are charming, showing that Hepburn could be a deft comedienne as well as a dramatic force on the screen.

The chemistry between the leads in both films simmers without boiling too hot. Of course, Hepburn had a longtime relationship with Tracy that lasted from the 1940s until his death in 1967, but the two never married.

Though “Holiday” isn’t as strong a film as 1940’s “The Philadelphia Story,” which also co-starred Hepburn and Grant, the same chemistry between the co-stars is on fine display in the comedy about blending lifestyles when a couple happens to come from different sides of the track.

“Desk Set” is a workplace farce with a great deal of charm as Tracy’s TV executive struggles to resist Hepburn’s allure as the network’s research librarian.

As strong as Hepburn is as a dramatic actress, her comedic performances have always been more of a personal draw for me. However, with TCM’s selection of films on Thursday, there is something for Hepburn fans of all stripes.