Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness Review: More Maddening than Strange


Imagine this.

You take a walk and end up, at some point, in a room. A green room. A green room with green walls, a green floor and a green ceiling. In this lurid, liminal chamber, at its centre, stands a man dressed in a bold blue robe, adorned by a stiff, earthy red cape, and he is dancing.

He throws his arms out from side to side, swooshing them through the air, twisting his fingers around invisible spheres, muttering and straining his face. And as you draw closer and get a better look at the man’s face, you realise that it’s not any ordinary man – it’s Benedict Cumberbatch, and he’s not dancing. He’s acting.

There isn’t much to discern the latter from the former in the ‘Phase Four’ Marvel brand of filmmaking where post-production has usurped performance, computers have overshadowed character and apocalypse has eclipsed authenticity. For all the promise of a Sam Raimi-helmed swashbuckling superhero saga with limitless, multiversal potential and an omnipotent wing of graphical gods at its beck and call, the evocatively named Dr Strange in the Multiverse of Madness fails to separate itself from the other competing, bionic limbs of the Marvel robo-mollusc.

To hold event films such as these to arthouse standards is a fruitless endeavour, but it is in comparison to earlier movements of this cinematic behemoth, and the director’s own prestigious comic-book legacy, that Raimi’s universe-traversing quasi-horror falls flat. Yes, there are flashes of the director’s unique visual touches, but the free-form fun of his Sony Spider-Man is sporadically applied, delightfully evident in the inspired, Elfman-penned musical duel between corrupted man-bun Strange and, er, normal…Strange but underwhelmingly absent in the undead Strange’s showdown with Scarlet Witch, which displays as much colour as a Khrushchyovka.

Yet again, the battle lowers two fantastic actors to a CGI dance-off while tediously upping the stakes from Marvel’s usual world-ending catastrophe to a universe-breaking “incursion”, a move which itself illogically safeguards the characters from such a disaster, at least while Marvel have plans for the continuation of their franchise.

2021’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings trudged through identical motions, beginning as a largely colourful and kinetic, if otherwise cinematically unremarkable film, trivialised to the point of self-parody by a predictable combat denouement afore a staggeringly grey landscape.

Like Shang-Chi, Multiverse of Madness finds time for vibrancy and playfulness in its brief exploration of alternate dimensions and realities, sending Strange and MCU debutant America Chavez hurtling through a prism of universes, in which they appear as paint, cubes and a menagerie of other forms besides. There are battles with cycloptic octopi, chase sequences among interstellar clouds and a sextet of cameos to keep pulses adequately raised. Indeed, watching Wanda turn the smug and in-need-of-a-rebrand Illuminati into various states of matter is briefly satisfying.

But, in truth, none of this is enough to elevate Strange’s sequel beyond the clutches of mediocrity. The movie goes big on horror and big on cool but, in doing so, skimps on the vital meatiness of solid, simple filmmaking. Strange battles heartbreak as his darling Christine rejects his advances unanimously and multiversally, America Chavez struggles with the guilt of her parents’ disappearance, and Wanda wrestles with an array of issues which will be totally alien to the Wandavision-less.

After such knowledge, what revelation? Between the fighting and the posturing, the verbals and the visuals falls the fleshless shadow of theme, neglected for the alluring blank canvas of infinite space.

Because, you see, the multiverse is a great power, but with great power co–, ah forget it.

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