Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed in this review are solely those of Marlon Wallace and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of WBOC.
This is the 28th entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Seeing all of those films is helpful to understanding all of the things presented here. However, if you haven’t seen all 28, then I would recommend Doctor Strange (2016) and Avengers: Infinity War (2018). In addition to the 28 films in the MCU, there are also a series of television programs that have been offshoots of the events of Avengers: Endgame (2019). Of the six programs that have aired thus far, WandaVision (2021) and What If…? (2021) are very much referenced in this film. Beyond all of that, the MCU didn’t begin until 2008, but, Marvel Comics were involved in films prior to the official MCU. One of which is X-Men (2000). Knowledgeable viewers will recognize that X-Men is also referenced in this film, directed by Sam Raimi.
If people thought that Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021) was the ultimate sequel in terms of what and how much previous material it references, then this one tops that blockbuster by a landslide. Ever since producer Kevin Feige decided to bring The Avengers (2012) to the big screen, the idea of incorporating characters from different stories, combining them and referencing numerous previous stories have been the name of the game. It’s been the point of these films, building a serialized story that builds and builds upon itself. Having seen all those stories and all those references, there was still stuff about this film that confused me.
Benedict Cumberbatch (The Power of the Dog and The Imitation Game) stars as Doctor Stephen Strange, a former surgeon who became a mystical wizard. He’s basically a magician but one who wields cosmic powers. He can cast spells that can do various things but presumably anything. Yet, there’s apparently a limit to his abilities. There are ways that he can increase his powers or ways that he can level up. In the 2016 film, Stephen learned from books as to how to be a wizard, as well as from other magic wielders, but in this film there are other books, which he’s never read that can level him up in either dark ways or other ways.
The problem though is that there seems to be inconsistency in Stephen’s powers. Last year, in Spider-Man: No Way Home, we see Stephen cast a spell that opens up the multiverse, or other universes that are similar but slightly different. When people from other universes come into this one, Stephen is able to create a spell that sends them back. In that 2021 film, Stephen even casts a spell that makes the whole world forget something. Yet, here, he apparently has none of those powers or abilities.
Elizabeth Olsen (Wind River and Martha Marcy May Marlene) co-stars as Wanda Maximoff, a woman from an eastern European country who was the subject of an experiment that gave her cosmic powers also. She realized that there was this legend of someone called the “Scarlet Witch.” She realized or she believes that she is that Scarlet Witch, which is arguably the most powerful witch in the world. She used her powers to create two young boys who became her children. That spell called the Hex was what she used to create those children. The Hex had to be stopped because it took over an entire town called Westview and was hurting the people in it. Losing her children though drove her crazy and makes her want to do anything to get her children back.
However, there seems to be no consistency in Wanda’s powers either. It’s never explained why she can’t cast another spell that can bring her children back. Why can’t she cast another Hex or something similar that can return her boys? Even if we accept that she can’t cast a spell to bring her children back, when she meets with Stephen, it’s odd that she doesn’t ask Stephen to cast a spell to bring her children back. He cast a spell that brought people from other universes to this one, so bringing her children back would seem to be in his purview. Otherwise, he could have just cast a spell to make her forget.
Xochitl Gomez (The Baby-Sitters Club and Gentefied) plays America Chavez, a teenage girl who has the power to travel from one multiverse to another at will. Yet, she doesn’t have full control of her power. She first discovered that she had this power as a little girl when she accidentally opened a portal that sent her two moms into another universe. We never learn what happens to her moms or where she grew up, but, now a demonic spirit wants to steal her power, so America is on the run. She goes to Stephen for help. She hopes that Stephen can protect her from this demonic spirit, which has sent all kinds of monsters after her.
A lot of the action and fun set-pieces involve Stephen fighting these various monsters. It is interesting to see the kinds of tricks, illusions or even spells that Stephen casts in his various battles. Yet, again, compared to what we’ve seen him do before, there feels like there’s inconsistency or for some reason the makers of this film have him hold back. At times, he feels a bit neutered. There is one particular magic trick where Stephen fights using musical notes that I thought was inventive, colorful and clever. Otherwise, the set-pieces come and go at a pace where I never felt bored. I’m not sure I was particularly thrilled or horrified. Often, I kept wondering why characters weren’t using their powers to full effect or making dumb decisions.
Spoiler alert! Spoiler alert! Spoiler alert!
One of the trailers to this film revealed that a certain person was in it that’s meant to be somewhat of a surprise. That person is Professor Charles Xavier, aka Professor X, played by Sir Patrick Stewart, reprising his role from the X-Men franchise. When Stephen and America travel to other universes, one universe is referred to as Earth-838. In that universe, Professor X is the leader of a group called the Illuminati, which consists of super-powered beings. Unfortunately, Professor X and the other Illuminati are rather lame. Professor X is meant to be the most powerful telepath in the world, but the film does him dirty and makes him seem like a doddering fool whose abilities are of no use or not as strong as they’ve been portrayed previously.
John Krasinski (A Quiet Place and 13 Hours) plays Reed Richards, a man who has the ability to elongate or stretch his body. His actions seem dumb though with regard to the battle in which he puts himself. To think he has the power to stop a certain enemy is ridiculous.
Rated PG-13 for violence, action, frightening images and some language.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 6 mins.