Review: ‘The Pod Generation,’ starring Emilia Clarke and Chiwetel Ejiofor

February 23, 2023

by Carla Hay

Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rosalie Craig and Emilia Clarke in “The Pod Generation” (Photo by Andrij Parekh)

“The Pod Generation”

Directed by Sophie Barthes

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in New York City, in an unspecified future, the sci-fi/comedy/drama film “The Pod Generation” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some black people and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: After some initial disagreements, a married couple decides to have a baby through a technological invention where an unborn child grows in a portable, egg-shaped pod until the child is born. 

Culture Audience: “The Pod Generation” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners, sci-fi movies that lampoon technology, and stories about expectant parents, but viewers should not expect anything particularly clever in this movie.

“The Pod Generation” is a futuristic satire about family planning that starts off very promising, but then the movie drags with repetition and fizzles out with an underwhelming ending. The talents of the cast members are squandered in this shallow film. “The Pod Generation” (which had its world premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival) also raises many questions that the movie never bothers to answer.

Written and directed by Sophie Barthes, “The Pod Generation” takes place in an unspecified future in New York City. This future has some technology that already exists in the early 2020s, but this future has other technology that did not exist at the time this movie was made. For example, in this future shown in “The Pod Generation,” people use artificial intelligence (A.I.) programs similar to Alexa (from Amazon) and Siri (from Apple Inc.) for a variety of functions and tasks.

In “The Pod Generation,” the protagonists use a talking A.I. program called Elena for various information and duties that are similar to what a personal assistant would perform. Another talking A.I. program in the movie is called Eliza, which acts as a psychiatric therapist and counselor. Both of these A.I. programs are shown in the form of creepy-looking eyes.

Elena is a single white orb (about the size of a grapefruit) with a black pupil; the orb is attached to a small stand. Elena can also rotate while on this stand. Eliza is a two-dimensional eye that looks like a wall art that is large enough to take up an entire wall space. Eliza has a more psychedelic appearance than Elena, since Eliza’s iris/pupil area is surrounded by a pulsating kaleidoscope design.

As compelling as these A.I. programs are to look at in “The Pod Generation,” they still can’t make up for the weak narrative throughout the movie. The story centers on married couple Rachel Novy (played by Emilia Clarke) and Alvy Novy (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor), who are having disagreements about how to conceive their first child together. Rachel works as some kind of office employee at a corporate company called Folio. She has a higher income than Alvy, who is a botanist and a teacher of hologram plant design. Alvy wants them to conceive a child naturally, while Rachel is more open to using the latest technology to have a child.

The movie implies that in vitro fertilization treatments are not out of the question for this couple, but Alvy is adamant that he wants Rachel to carry the unborn child in her own womb, instead of using a surrogate. “The Pod Generation” doesn’t go into details about how long Alvy and Rachel have been trying to have a child together, or even how long they’ve been married. However, the implication is that it’s long enough where it’s reached a point that Rachel (who is in her mid-30s) is growing desperate, because she feels that time is running out for her to conceive and carry a child naturally.

Alvy is about 10 years older than Rachel, although they do not discuss their age difference in the movie. “The Pod Generation” has subtle and not-so-subtle ways of showing how a male perspective and a female perspective can be different from each other, when it comes to pregnancy and childbirth. Because of menopause, women have a “biological clock” where time runs out on when they can conceive and carry a child naturally. Men have no such time pressure and can be involved in natural conception as long as they have the right sperm count for it.

“The Pod Generation” clumsily addresses these gender issues in ways that grow increasingly frustrating, not just for the couple at the center of the story but also for viewers of this movie. “The Pod Generation” does not adequately explain the legal issues involved in the new technology that Rachel and Alvy (after many arguments) decide to use to conceive and carry a child to term. The general feeling that viewers will get is that “The Pod Generation” was a screenplay written with a lot of repetitive dialogue and a “make things up as you go along” approach in crafting this futuristic world.

In the first third of the movie, Rachel and Alvy do a lot of bickering and debating about how they want to conceive a child. A company called Pegazus offers an alternative for people who can’t or don’t want to have an unborn baby growing inside a human body. Instead, Pegazus offers a portable, plastic pod in the shape of a large egg to do all the “in utero” work. It’s technology that’s available to those who can afford it—and it doesn’t come cheap, which is one of the reasons why Alvy is dead-set against this option. He doesn’t want any of his or Rachel’s money to be spent on it.

But what a coincidence: Rachel has recently found out that Folio has added this Pegazus pod program to Folio’s health insurance plan for employees. Rachel is told this information when she has a meeting with a Folio human resources executive (played by Aslin Farrell), who doesn’t have a name in the movie. This HR executive makes a lot of cringeworthy and illegal comments to Rachel during a one-and-one meeting in the HR executive’s office. This nosy HR person says a lot of inappropriate things that she probably wouldn’t say to a man. It’s obvious that “The Pod Generation” filmmakers want viewers to notice this sexism.

Rachel is told that she is being considered for a job promotion at Folio. And then the HR executive asks her what Rachel’s husband does for a living. When Rachel tells her, the unprofessional HR executive then snootily says, “So, you’re the primary source of income.” Instead of Rachel balking at this line of illegal questioning, Rachel meekly says, “Yes.”

The questions and comments get worse. The HR executive asks Rachel: “Any plans on extending the family?” Someone with more common sense and self-respect would put a stop to these illegal questions, or at least point out to this odious HR person that Rachel’s family planning is not the company’s business, and it’s illegal to ask these questions when being considered for a job, raise, or promotion.

But apparently, Rachel is too ignorant or she just doesn’t have the courage to stand up for herself and point out these facts. Instead, she stammers this answer: “I’m sure we will at one point. Not in the near, near future, but not immediately.” The HR executive then makes another heinous comment disguised as a semi-compliment: “You’re having a great, great year. It’d be a pity to lose that momentum.” (In other words, what she’s really saying is: “Forget about the promotion if you’re going on maternity leave.”)

And that’s when the HR director mentions that Folio will now cover Pegazus costs in the Folio health insurance plan: “Should you go down that route, we can even help you with the down payment. It’s our hottest perk. We just want to make sure we maintain the best and brightest women.” (In other words, what she’s really saying is: “We don’t want to be reminded that women who get pregnant and give birth have the right to maternity leave, because we think women who take maternity leave are less productive than women who don’t take maternity leave.”)

It’s not spoiler information to say that Rachel eventually convinces Alvy to use the Pegazus way of pregnancy. Alvy and Rachel have the popular option to choose the gender of the child in advance, but they choose not to take that option. Rachel and Alvy also decide not to find out the child’s gender until the child is born. Their unborn baby gestates in a pod that provides all of the fetus’ needs in the same way as if the baby were growing inside a human womb. Just like a human womb, the pod can be part of ultrasound screenings, while the fetus inside can hear any sounds that are nearby. The pod is not supposed to be opened until the time of childbirth.

All of the computer technology connected to each pod is at the Pegazus womb center, which is essentially a pod control center. The pod can be left at the womb center, or the parent(s) of the unborn child can take the pod to pre-approved locations. It’s mentioned that a pod can be autonomous from the womb center for a maximum of 48 hours, in case the person with the pod needs to travel.

Rachel and Alvy attend orientation and counseling sessions with other couples and mothers who are using Pegazus pregnancy pods, but the movie doesn’t present the other people in these sessions as anything but anonymous extras. It’s a huge missed opportunity for more character development. In fact, almost everyone in contact with Rachel and Alvy are anonymous and generic, with a few exceptions.

Rachel has a talkative co-worker friend named Alice (played by Vinette Robinson), who had a Pegazus pod pregnancy with her husband Josh (played by Benedict Landsbert-Noon), who is the passive one in their marriage. Alice had the most influence on Rachel wanting to have a Pegazus pod pregnancy, because Alice is constantly raving about the experience. The Pegazus pre-natal orientation and counseling sessions are led by the Pegazus womb center director Linda Wozcheck (played by Rosalie Craig), who is a perky control freak.

The founder of Pegazus (played by Jean-Marc Barr) is one of many characters in “The Pod Generation” without a name in the movie. He is shown doing a TV or video interview, where he gives off a vibe of being like a combination of a cult leader and a smarmy salesperson. He’s a smooth talker who looks like he’s accustomed to convincing a lot of people to do what he wants them to do.

He says to the interviewer (played by Troy Scully) about Pegazus’ intentions: “At Pegazus, we want fulfilled mothers. We want them to pursue their careers and dreams. Let us do the heavy lifting while you enjoy your babies. We are highly scientific. We use intuition and heart where needed.”

Of course, anyone who’s seen enough of these sci-fi cautionary tale movies will notice that this mysterious Pegazus founder used the phrase “where needed” when talking about intuition and heart. Who gets to make that decision? Rachel and Alvy are supposedly educated professionals, but they never ask a lot of basic questions that people with any common sense would ask before they signed away the pre-natal caregiving rights for their unborn child to Pegazus. And that’s why watching “The Pod Generation” becomes increasingly irritating as it goes along.

This disappointing movie goes into superficial soap opera territory when Rachel doesn’t bond with the fetus in the pod as much as she thought she would, while Alvy bonds with the fetus in the pod more than he thought he would. Rachel starts to get the feeling that the unborn child likes Alvy more than the child likes Rachel. And she’s jealous about it, which leads to more arguments between Rachel and Alvy, as well as more relationship therapy sessions with A.I. program Eliza. (Alvy never completely trusts Eliza, because she is not a human being.)

Meanwhile, Rachel sometimes attaches the pod to her stomach to make it look like a real pregnancy underneath her clothes. It leads to brief moments of her feeling connected to this pregnancy. But then, Rachel gets a harsh lesson in pregnancy body shaming when she brings the pod to her office job. She gets weird looks from co-workers during a conference room meeting when she proudly brings the pod to the meeting.

After the meeting, Alice discreetly advises Rachel (when they’re alone together in an office room) to leave the pod in the employee break room where other expectant parents are keeping their pods. Alice also suggests that from now on, Rachel should leave the pod at the Pegazus womb center until the baby is born. Rachel hates the idea because she wants to spend as much time as possible with the pod. “You don’t want to be labeled ‘the distracted mom,'” Alice warns Rachel about how their co-workers might think of Rachel.

For a movie that has a lot to say about sexism against women (especially when it comes to pregnancy and family planning), none of the characters in “The Pod Generation” gives any pushback or stands up to this sexism. This lack of resistance to sexism from anyone in “The Pod Generation” looks as fake and hollow as one of the movie’s empty pods. Perhaps writer/director Barthes wanted to make some commentary about how this supposedly “progressive” tech-oriented society of “The Pod Generation” is actually socially backwards when it comes to treatment of women and complacent in how technology has taken over their lives.

However, it isn’t the technology that is sexist. The human beings are the ones being sexist, with their cutting remarks and attitudes that aren’t controlled by technology. If “The Pod Generation” is supposed to be a commentary about women losing control of their pregnancies to technology, the movie doesn’t really prove that point either, because Rachel is given access to the pod for most of the movie. “The Pod Generation” never shows the pregnancy journey of any other women except Rachel.

The middle of “The Pod Generation” is a boring rehash of Rachel and Alvy’s marital problems. You don’t need to be a couple’s therapist to see that this pregnancy is not going to solve these problems. And “The Pod Generation” fails to convince viewers why Rachel and Alvy (who aren’t very compatible) fell in love in the first place. Clarke and Ejiofor are perfectly fine in delivering their lines of dialogue, but they don’t have believable chemistry with each other as people who are supposed to be spouses.

Perhaps the biggest letdown of “The Pod Generation” is that it’s a “bait and switch” movie. The movie keeps dropping hints—the sexism, the increasingly controlling ways of Pegazus, the intrusive assumptions of the A.I. technology—that it’s all leading to something very big and very sinister. There is a suspenseful sequence toward the end of the film, but it’s misleading, if you take into consideration how the movie ends. And for a movie that the filmmakers have labeled a “comedy,” there isn’t really anything amusing (not even in a darkly comedic way) about “The Pod Generation.” The movie comes across as technically competent, but soulless—much like the A.I. technology that “The Pod Generation” is aiming to spoof.

UPDATE: Roadside Attractions and Vertical will release “The Pod Generation” in select U.S. cinemas on August 11, 2023.

Review: ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,’ starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, Xochitl Gomez, Michael Stühlbarg and Rachel McAdams

May 3, 2022

by Carla Hay

Xochitl Gomez, Benedict Wong and Benedict Cumberbatch in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” (Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios)

“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness”

Directed by Sam Raimi

Some language in Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City and various parts of a multiverse, the superhero action film “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Superhero sorcerer Doctor Strange, also known as surgeon Stephen Strange, goes on a quest to save teenager America Chavez, who has a special superpower that a villain wants to steal. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of comic book movie fans, “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen and the Disney+ superhero series “WandaVision.”

Elizabeth Olsen in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” (Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios)

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has now become the world’s first cinematic franchise where you need encyclopedia knowledge of certain comic books to know what’s going on and to fully enjoy the movies and TV shows in the franchise. There are many MCU fans who’ve invested years of watching every Marvel movie and every Marvel TV show that comes along. And that investment has its rewards in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.”

But what about people who aren’t die-hard Marvel fans and just want to see a good superhero movie? Simply put: “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is a convoluted but entertaining experience that should not be a viewer’s first MCU movie. It’s a movie that can be considered the tipping point where at least one Marvel show on Disney+ is essential viewing to understand the entire film.

For “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” that essential Marvel show is “WandaVision.” It also helps, but it’s not crucial, to watch the Disney+ animated series “What If…?,” which explored alternate storylines for Marvel characters. If you don’t want to watch any of these Marvel shows, then “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” has this message for you: “Too bad, because you will be left behind, and you will feel ignorant about storylines and nuances in any upcoming MCU movies.”

Viewers also need to see (or at least know what happened in) the following movies to fully appreciate “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” and its complex plot: 2016’s “Doctor Strange,” 2018’s “Avengers: Infinity War” and 2019’s “Avengers: Endgame.” If you don’t know about the supervillain Thanos or the five-year “disappearance” that he caused, some of the dialogue in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” will not make sense to you. Viewers who have no prior knowledge of any Marvel movie will just be hopelessly lost and will just have to try to enjoy “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” for the movie’s high-energy action scenes and compelling visual effects.

The movie’s screenplay, written by Michael Waldron, keeps transporting characters from Multiverse scene to Multiverse scene with such dizzying regularity, the best way to know these characters is by seeing them in previous MCU stories. “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is just like very eye-catching and detailed icing on a cake. It will appeal to many people but be completely unnecessary to others.

Sam Raimi—a filmmaker known for helming the first three “Spider-Man” movies and horror classics such as the first two “Evil Dead” films—directed “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” as someone who is clearly an ardent fan of the MCU. But he also directed “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” as an ardent fan who expects everyone watching to be all caught up in almost everything related to Marvel on screen prior to the release of “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.” And that includes some of the Marvel movies released by the studio formerly known as 20th Century Fox, because some characters from those movies make cameos in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.”

Here are the basic things that people need to know before watching “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness”: New York City-based superhero sorcerer Doctor Strange, also known as brilliant surgeon Stephen Strange (played by Benedict Cumberbatch), is going on another “good versus evil” quest. Fights and chase scenes ensue. And the “Multiverse” in the MCU is really just another word for “different versions of comic book characters existing in different universes.” After the blockbuster success of 2021’s “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” which had three different versions of Spider-Man interacting with each other in the same movie, there’s no point in being coy about what “multiverse” means if it’s part of a Marvel story.

However, there’s a reason why spoiler-free descriptions of “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” are so vague: The movie is filled with more spoilers than a typical superhero film. And those spoilers include describing which characters encounter different versions of themselves in the Multiverse. It should come as no surprise that viewers can expect to see more than one version of Doctor Strange, whose rescue mission in the movie is to save superhero newcomer America Chavez (played by Xochitl Gomez), who’s about 16 or 17 years old, from being robbed of her extremely rare superpower.

What is her superpower? She can travel through the Multiverse with ease. But in this movie, she doesn’t know how to control the power. All she knows is that she can exert this power in moments when she feels extreme fear. America doesn’t know yet that she’s a superhero, so “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” can be considered the introduction to her discovering her superhero identity. One of the things that America knows about herself is that she has not found other versions of herself in the Multiverse.

The movie also has a brief flashback to America, when she was about 7 or 8 years old (played by Aliyah Camacho), being separated from her two lesbian mothers—Elena Chavez (played by Ruth Livier) and Amalia Chavez (played by Chess Lopez)—who were involuntarily yanked into a portal that took the mothers into another universe. Ever since then, America has been looking for her mothers, and she fears that her mothers might be dead.

America feels a lot of guilt because she caused that portal to appear after she became frightened by a bee, not knowing that her parents would be taken away from her. In the Marvel comic books, America is openly a lesbian, but her sexuality is not mentioned in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.” She’s too busy running around trying not to get killed to think about dating or having a love interest.

And who exactly is targeting America for her Multiverse superpower? It’s Wanda Maximoff, also known as Scarlet Witch (played by Elizabeth Olsen), a character who is a hero or a villain, depending on which version of this character is in the scene. And because this movie is all about the Multiverse, the Wanda/Scarlet Witch character can sometimes be a hero and a villain in the same scene.

In “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” Wanda is a single mother to fraternal twin boys Billy (played by Julian Hilliard) and Tommy (played by Jett Klyne), who are about 8 or 9 years old. Billy and Tommy have superpowers in “WandaVision” that might or might not be on display in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.” Wanda’s motherhood is crucial to her motivations in almost everything she does in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.” Her motherhood is used as a way for her to manipulate people and how she is manipulated herself.

Viewers who last saw Wanda in 2019’s “Avengers: Endgame” without knowing what happened in “WandaVision” might be utterly confused over when she became a mother. “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” explains (in a “WandaVision” spoiler alert) that Wanda/Scarlet Witch used her magical powers to create these children. She quips in response: “That’s what every mother does.” Doctor Strange scolds Wanda/Scarlet Witch for using her magic to mess with reality, which is completely ironic and hypocritical considering what he does later in the movie.

What “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” doesn’t explain adequately is why Wanda created these children. The twins were raised by Wanda and her superhero love partner Vision (played by Paul Bettany) up until a certain point in “WandaVision.” People who know what happened in “WandaVision” also know what happened to Vision, which is not explained in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.” What happened in “WandaVision” helps people understand why Wanda, as the Scarlet Witch, has turned to the “dark side,” which in this universe is called the Darkhold, an ancient book of spells.

Don’t expect this movie to have any meaningful “WandaVision” flashbacks to further reveal Wanda’s family situation in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” but her family motivations are supposed to make her look more sympathetic in doing the things that she does in the movie. It also gives her character more emotional depth to viewers who know her family history, compared to viewers who don’t know. It’s all part of a cross-marketing plan for Disney-owned Marvel Studios to get people to subscribe to Disney+ to watch the Marvel shows on Disney+ so that viewers can fully understand Marvel movies. It’s also called creating viewer FOMO (“fear of missing out”) to full effect.

Certain characters from 2016’s “Doctor Strange” make their return in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.” Stephen’s ex-girlfriend Christine Palmer (played by Rachel McAdams), a surgeon who worked with him at the same hospital, gets married to a man named Charlie (played by Ako Mitchell), who is a fan of Doctor Strange. Stephen is invited to the wedding, where he privately tells Christine that he regrets not trying harder for them to stay together. (They broke up because he’s a workaholic and because all those superhero duties got in the way.)

Christine responds, “Stephen, it was never going to work out between us. Because you were always going to be the one holding the knife. I could respect you for it, but I could never love you for it.” And there are more heartbroken and emotionally wounded moments for Stephen/Doctor Strange in the movie, with some of those moments involving Christine.

Doctor Strange’s loyal superhero colleague Wong (played by Benedict Wong) also makes his return. Wong is now the Sorcerer Supreme, who oversees sorcerer training in Kamar-Taj, which is located in another dimension. Doctor Strange and Wong fight side by side in some scenes, but there’s a stretch of the movie where Doctor Strange and Wong are not in the same universe and have to fight separate battles. There’s no story arc for steadfast and dependable Wong in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” which is a missed opportunity, because Wong deserves to have more character development in the MCU.

Also returning is Karl Mordo (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor), who became an enemy of Doctor Strange in the first “Doctor Strange” movie, but Mordo might or might not have the same type of personality or life story in other parts of the Multiverse. Dr. Nicodemus “Nic” West (played by Michael Stühlbarg), the surgeon who operated on Stephen’s hands after Stephen was in a near-fatal car accident in the first “Doctor Strange” movie, makes a brief appearance (less than five minutes) in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” where Dr. West is a guest at Christine’s wedding. In this scene, Dr. West sits next to Stephen and smugly tells Stephen that although Doctor Strange likes to think that he is the “best surgeon and the best superhero,” in the end, Stephen/Doctor Strange “didn’t get the girl.”

Other than America Chavez, “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” doesn’t do much with new characters in the MCU. These new MCU characters include mystic artists Sara (played by Sheila Atim) and Rintrah (played by Adam Hugill), who are both disciples of Wong in Kamar-Taj. The purpose for Sara and Rintrah in the movie is exactly what you think it might be in forgettable roles. As far as introducing new characters, “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse” is all about making America Chavez a newcomer star of the MCU.

Scarlet Witch is the movie’s main villain, but there are some monsters that also cause mayhem. One of them is a giant one-eyed octopus that appears during Christine’s wedding. It’s a somewhat awkwardly staged scene, where the octopus suddenly appears on the streets of New York City, and Doctor Strange quickly puts on his magical cloak (don’t call it a “cape,” according to him) and jumps off of a balcony to fight the monster. Some generic-looking demons also make appearances during the fight scenes.

Visually, the movie has its dazzling moments. In terms of its story, “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is a mixed bag. At times, it gets repetitive and jumbled as you think it can be when people jump through portals and enter different universes during chase scenes. And that’s not the only repetition: “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” repeats the MCU formula of superheroes making wisecracking jokes during action scenes. There are also parts of the movie that repeat a scenario where someone has to “prove” their identity and show evidence that what they’re saying is the truth, because the Multiverse is supposed to make people feel disoriented about what’s real and what isn’t real.

The movie also repeats a theme of the main characters looking for their definition of happiness. More than once in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” someone is asked, “Are you happy?” And then it’s followed up with some version of saying, “Are you really happy? Don’t lie to me because I can tell you’re not really happy.” Is this a superhero movie or a therapy session?

Other times, the movie works very well when it comes to laying the groundwork for developing the story of America Chavez and how she became an ally of Doctor Strange and Wong. Some horror movie elements kick into high gear in the last third of “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” which handles horror better than 2022’s “Morbius” movie, the origin story of Marvel’s vampire anti-hero Morbius. Raimi’s experience as a horror filmmaker greatly benefits “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.”

There’s nothing really spectacular about any of the acting in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” but the acting isn’t terrible either. Stephen Strange/Doctor Strange is known for his arrogance and impatience, but in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” he shows more humility and emotional vulnerability than in previous Marvel movies, and Cumberbatch plays the part accordingly. McAdams doesn’t have a lot to work with for her Christine character, who has a stereotypical action movie role of an ex-girlfriend thrown back into an ex-boyfriend’s life so she can be in the action scenes too.

Olsen is very good in her role as Wanda Romanoff/Scarlet Witch, but she was better in “WandaVision,” which required her to show a wider range of personalities in vastly different scenarios. Viewers’ reactions will largely depend on how emotionally connected they feel to Wanda Romanoff/Scarlet Witch, considering she has presented many different sides of herself in the MCU. Gomez portrays America with credibility as someone who is an awkward, slightly rebellious teenager who feels like a lost soul. She and Doctor Strange eventually learn to trust and respect each other, but their clashes just retread the “smart-alecky kid paired with a reluctant adult mentor” formula that’s been in many other movies.

The most emotional moments in”Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” will have the greatest resonance with people who’ve seen “WandaVision” and the aforementioned MCU movies. Everything that has to do with Wanda/Scarlet Witch can best be understood by people who know what happened in “WandaVision.” And when you need to watch a TV series first to understand a movie’s chief villain, that could be a problem for “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.”

“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” also has the expected mid-credits/end-credits scenes that tease what will happen in other movies or TV shows that are part of the MCU franchise. Charlize Theron is in the mid-credits scene as a character who becomes a very important part of Doctor Strange’s life, based on this character’s Marvel Comics storyline. The movie’s end-credits scene is a throwaway joke that has no bearing on subsequent storylines, but it’s a reference to a spell that was cast on someone in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.” Some of the “surprise” cameos just further establish that certain franchise characters that were kept separate from the MCU have now become a part of the MCU.

If you yearn for a time when watching a new superhero movie sequel didn’t have to entail seeing at least three other movies in the franchise and possibly a TV series related to the franchise, in order to understand what happens in the sequel you’re watching, then get used to this MCU reality, because that simpler time is over. Also long gone are the days when having a maximum of five superheroes in a movie sequel was considered too much. Nowadays, not only has the MCU raised expectations for each MCU movie sequel to have numerous superheroes (as main characters and as cameos), but “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” has also ensured that viewers can expect different versions of these superheroes to pop up at any time. It’s a superhero party for superfans, but regular fans or casual fans will feel like they’re at a party where only certain people understand the inside jokes.

Disney’s Marvel Studios will release “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” in U.S. cinemas on May 6, 2022. Disney+ will premiere the movie on June 22, 2022.

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