At first, I wondered if one might have to go through 'WandaVision' to really appreciate this. I might not deem it 100% necessary, but I might say you'll get more of a connection to this in watching that, as opposed to just the first 'Doctor Strange'. I'm also gonna go ahead and say, straight up, that this is one that was made for Raimi fans. We take the fun of his original 'Spider-Man' trilogy, mash it up with the oddity that is his 'Evil Dead' trilogy, allow Raimi full creative control this time, and this is the product.
The biggest takeaway I got from this was that it was a lot of fun in the same ways the 'Guardians' and the latest 'Thor' movies are. The only difference is that this is, as advertised, quite a bit darker. This was originally advertised as being Marvel's first horror movie, but we're talking about the "horror" we see in a movie like 'Army of Darkness' - it's a bunch of cornball elements blended with a jump scare here and there and out of this world (literally) ideas and effects. The only real downside to it is that at its core, the story is basically a simple "escort mission" meant to introduce a powerful new character in Ms. Chavez - a girl with the ability to "dimension-hop".
The film opens up with a chase, as we see America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) and an alternate Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) being pursued between dimensions by some sort of demon. In Chavez's fear, she inadvertently triggers a gate to Earth Dimension 616 (which is where our MCU stuff takes place) where she runs into our Strange and Sorcerer Supreme, Wong (Benedict Wong) who both rescue her from the creature. It's here where her powers are divulged, and her interdimensional-hopping ability is what these demons are after. A set of witchcraft runes then leads Strange to Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) who he, despite recent events involving hurting innocent people (aka 'WandaVision'), still considers an Avenger.
Soon enough, we realize that Wanda is actually the one behind these attacks. If she can use the Darkhold (think a sort of "Book of the Dead" for the MCU) to aid her in capturing Chavez, she can further use it to harness her abilities, and finally live a life of peace alongside her children, Billy and Tommy (Julian Hilliard and Jett Klyne, respectively). If you're wondering where her kids came from, all of those answers are presented in 'WandaVision', which again gives you a reason to maybe check that out beforehand. In the meantime, it's all about Strange and Wong doing what they can to protect Chavez, as they search for the mythical "Book of Vishanti" (a sort of counter to the Darkhold) and fight a new, formidable foe in the form of their former Avenger teammate.
While the plot is actually quite simple, this is another case of the execution being that thing that truly sticks out. One bit about this I truly appreciate is how the multiverse comes across. We do get a cool scene where Strange and Chavez do a bit of dimension-hopping all at once, and a lot of the creativity behind these dimensions lends itself to the idea of infinite realities. Without giving too much of the scene away, we see, for example, a reality where they are both animated. What makes this so much cooler is the concept of "dream walking". We learn that our dreams are, apparently, us seeing other versions of ourselves in other dimensions. Regardless of what science says dreams actually are, I quite honestly love this idea.
Beyond some cool ideas and concepts, however, I thought it was cool to see Wanda go full-villain here, and her purpose wasn't to "take over the multiverse" or anything like that. Her motives are simple - she just wants a happy life with a happy family. Although she was never really my favourite MCU character, I have to admit that she is probably one of the best developed (especially when she "outgrew" her Russian accent). In many ways, this is actually kind of her movie - it just needed a hero, and Strange makes the most sense for it. Having said that, there was no real disappointment in watching this unfold.
This is a Marvel movie full of cool things. It's probably worth seeing more than once, just to pick up on the things you missed, scattered throughout the film. Perhaps the most intriguing is the introduction of a Marvel-based Illuminati, featuring a handful of cool, new Marvel characters as well as a Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart - who basically everyone knows is a part of this by now) that's probably done better and more accurately than any 'X-Men' movie in the past has done him. With everything involved in this, there's still a few minor but neat things I haven't touched on, worth seeing. Of the "Beyond Infinity" films released so far, this is easily one of the most fun.
MID-CREDIT SCENE: Strange is approached by a sorceress named Clea (Charlize Theron) who warns him that his actions have triggered some kind of attack. He then follows her into the Dark Dimension.
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