Dir: Sam Raimi. Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Xochitl Gomez, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Michael Stuhlbarg. 12A, 126 minutes.
I had always thought that the allure of the multiverse lay in its infinite possibilities. Imagine if the only limit to existence was the breadth of our own imaginations – that anything we could summon could be out there, born in an alternate universe. Thanks Marvel for showing me how wrong I was. It turns out that the point of the multiverse and from Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, is not his creative potential. It’s his cameos. A million universes could exist, and they would all contain surprising appearances of people and things for fans to hoot and holler about before being bought as toys on the way out of the cinema.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is essentially Spider-Man: No Way Home minus all the pink nostalgia or the one man charisma machine that is Andrew Garfield. It also doesn’t have an ounce of fun with its central conceit being 2018 Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse did, minus a single sequence of the magically gifted Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) stumbling through one portal after another, one universe after another. One is still ruled by the dinosaurs. One where people are made of paint splatters. Another that is entirely two-dimensional. The audience can wave at them as they pass before Strange returns to the same New York street set with a little extra CGI in the background.
Any opportunity to truly bring the “madness” to this multiverse is spoiled by the overfilled, overlapping desires of its three main characters. Strange, having already destroyed the multiverse once No way homeHe’s still navigating the same struggles he’s grappled with since his 2016 solo film — between personal responsibility and personal risk. Meanwhile, Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) has fully transformed into the headstrong and tragic Scarlet Witch personality she discovered in last year’s limited series WandaVision, which aired on Disney+ (yes, if you haven’t been keeping up with the TV shows, this movie will show you no mercy). She will stop at nothing to be reunited with the two sons she brought into being with her mind. A brand new hero, America Chavez (a likable Xochitl Gomez), also happened to fall out of a portal. As we soon find out, she tends to hop through universes when pressured.
The film begins with a violent exhibit dump, but then begins to cave in under the weight of its extensive lore and magical MacGuffins. There are two very important grimoires – one good, one bad – and an exhaustive list of weapons, names, legends and committees. But it’s hard to find much joy at this level of world building when Multiverse of Madness is ruled by two feverish, chaotic emotions: watching MCU boss Kevin Feige attempt to lay the groundwork for the next phase of his grand franchise plans, while simultaneously attempting to mop up loose ends from what has come before link.
But these are structural loose ends, not emotional ones. While screenwriter Michael Waldron employed intricate character work in his recent MCU TV series Loki – starring Tom Hiddleston – here he’s effectively a construction worker mechanically figuring out how to connect with that person, rather than being guided by individual fears and desires. Strange, for example, still pines for Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), even though her character has practically disappeared from the face of the planet since his solo film. And not in the literal, Thanos-snatched way.
With the reintroduction of Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster in the upcoming Thor: Love and Thunder, this really appears to be part of one of Marvel’s “sorry, we forgot all the female love interests” apology tours. But it’s hard to build on a relationship that wasn’t ultimately central to Strange. He’s a guy, after all, still wrestling with the fact that he helped temporarily wipe out half of all life in order to ultimately save the universe.
But the greatest victim of Multiverse of Madness‘s machinations is Olsen’s Wanda. As a supporting character who spent most of her screen time and was subjected to nothing but misery, she was finally granted depth and emotional richness WandaVisiononly for multiverse to reduce her to the single character trait of the “desperate mother”.
She embodies an odd assumption the MCU has repeatedly been guilty of – that if we’re given a single opportunity to bond with a character, that built-in affection alone will be enough to carry us through any future contractual appearances. And it’s a particular shame for Olsen himself. Remarkably, she still delivers as raw and honest a performance as possible while floating in front of a green screen and repeating the same “I’m not a monster, I’m a mother” variation ad nauseam .
Given all of this, hiring Sam Raimi almost feels like a distraction — a clever one, but still a distraction. Multiverse of Madness gives us what many MCU fans have been craving: first, real gore, gore and violence, while also delivering it in the most family-friendly way possible. Second, a little more brightness and color. Raimi is the ideal director to deliver both. We know the Raimi from the Evil Dead trilogy and drag me to hell brings us gouged out eyeballs, resurrected ghouls and shaky, demonic camera angles. The Raimi who directed the original Spider-Man trilogy offers us a handful of sequences that feel like they were ripped from the pages of a comic book. They delight in the seriously goofy exploits of pure-hearted superheroes.
but Multiverse of Madness is necessarily a Raimi film only in aesthetic terms – a bit like spoiling a sewer rat, putting a pink bow on its head and selling it as a Chihuahua.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness opens in UK cinemas on May 5th
https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/reviews/doctor-strange-2-multiverse-of-madness-release-review-b2072036.html Doctor Strange 2 review: Sam Raimi can’t save the total mess in the Multiverse of Madness