Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness – Review

Worth seeing: for the spectacular visuals as the protagonists travel between universes, rather than the nonsensical complexity of the plot
Director:Sam Raimi
Featuring:Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Rachel McAdams, Sheila Atim, Xochitl Gomez, Benedict Wong, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Stuhlbarg
Length:126 minutes
Certificate:12A
Country:US
Released:5th May 2022

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

While Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is attending the wedding of the woman he truly loves, Christine (Rachel McAdams), he’s forced to jump into his super-hero alter-ego to save New York City from a giant octopus-like creature that’s ripping the city apart.

It’s trying to find a teenager, America Chavez ( Xochitl Gomez), who’s developed the uncontrollable power to jump between alternate universes – or multi-verses. Someone is trying to take that power for themselves, at any cost.

When Dr Strange meets her, he recognises her from a dream – until he realises that every dream is actually another reality – the pair really have met before.

Guilty at how their last encounter ended, he sets out to save her this time and seeks the help of a fellow Avenger, Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen).

He soon realises that this was a bad call; it turns out that it’s Wanda herself – under her Scarlet Witch alter ego – who is trying to steal the power to take herself to a universe where she has the one thing she really wants.

WHAT’S IT LIKE?

This is one of those films where the distributor, Disney, has asked critics not to give too much away about the plot; this is probably less about giving away spoilers than it is about not exposing the impenetrably complex and nonsensical narrative.

Using dark, magical forces to travel between universes, to protect an innocent young woman from an unexpected nemesis, Dr Strange does his best to help his new sidekick, with the help of associates from his own universe and others.

Aside from a handful of Marvel Maguffins, plot problems include the fact that the villain of the piece – who’s prepared to do anything to be able to travel between universes – already seems perfectly able to travel between universes in pursuit of the power, and the idea of of the multiverse – recently explored in two other Marvel films, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and last year’s hit Spider-Man: No Way Home – no longer feels exciting; it’s more of a convenient plot device than anything else – and in one particular case, a hugely clunky expositional tool.

For the uninitiated, it’s never really clear what Dr Strange’s super powers are – he conjures up neon shields from out of nowhere with a martial-arts-type flourish and manages to project and expand his movements at a distance, enabling him to cut off a monster’s limb with the flick of a wrist. Essentially, there’s a bit of magic and a bit of Far-Eastern mysticism – but given that there are hundreds of others in the Himalayas who appear to have the same powers as him, it’s never explained why he’s any more special than them .

But this sequel – the latest entrant in Marvel’s ever growing cinematic universe – is not for the uninitiated; it’s for people who have seen not only its big-screen predecessors, but also Disney+ TV shows including WandaVision and What If? – without which both major plot points and humorous asides will be missed.

There are some thought-provoking ideas in there about important themes – such as motherhood, loyalty and duty – but they’re largely buried under the rubble of several cohabiting universes and an already overloaded script that brings in even more from TV universes many cinema-goers won’t have visited.

The tone feels somewhat uneven; with Sam Raimi at the helm and Scott Derrickson serving as an executive producer, it ventures into the realm of horror – far enough to alienate fans of the more upbeat super-hero films but not far enough to reel in those who prefer the darker adaptations, such as the recent Morbius or Batman adaptations.

For the right audience, this film will wash some Marvel magic over you, as you sit back and enjoy the effects and a handful of cameo turns. But for many viewers – even those versed in comic-book adaptations – this will be more mind-numbing than mind-blowing, as you feel like you’re following Doctor Strange into a Multiverse of Nonsense.