Film review: ‘DR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS’ by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

The seemingly endless Marvel movie parade careens ahead with the latest cgi-drenched action extravaganza, Dr Strange in The Multiverse of Madness. While as visually inventive and eyeball pummelling as any film in the various Marvel universes (MCU, Spiderverse) this movie seriously lacks the energy and fun of the best Marvel movies such as the recent Spider-Man No Way Home and succumbs to that superhero film plague, the incoherent plot.

Set a few months after the events of No Way Home, Multiverse of Madness sees Benedict Cumberbatch’s suave and extravagantly coiffured wizard, Dr Stephen Strange, once again called upon to save the world. Here, he tries to enlist Wanda Maximoff aka the Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) to aid him in protecting a mysterious young woman American (Xochitl Gomez) who holds the key to traversing multiple universes and whose life is threatened by apparently sinister and powerful forces.  As often seems to happen with the good Doctor, though, his choices lead to chaos and potential global and interdimensional disaster.

This scenario is largely an excuse for a series of magic battles between Strange and various adversaries with much of the film dedicated to them attempting to blast each other with multi-coloured energy beams.  It also allows for some trippy universe-hopping sequences as Strange and America flit from a familiar present-day US, to a dinosaur inhabited world, to an underwater world to, among others, a universe in which they’re animated figures.  These are clever and inventive sequences but would have been much more effective had we not seen almost exactly the same thing done better in the recent psychedelic freak out film Everything Everywhere All at Once.

While the multiverse concept is mostly used for over-the-top spectacle, like Everything Everywhere, this film at least touches on the idea of the multiverse as a metaphor for life choices and opportunities. Here, Strange sees a chance to resurrect a failed relationship with the love of his life Christine (Rachel McAdams).  Rarely, though, do these superhero films strike powerful emotional chords and this attempt at a love story doesn’t have much impact.

The big problem with this film is that it is so immersed in special effects that it almost drowns the characters and plot.  We can be impressed (at least initially) by the scale and spectacle of some of the more elaborate set pieces but they start to feel increasingly hollow.  Consequently, the film lacks not only emotion and meaningful human connections but it becomes confusing (especially with all the waffle about the implications of stuffing around with the multiverse) and a little dull.

Still, the leads are fairly impressive.  Cumberbatch once again manages to give Strange dignity, a little sly wit and make him reasonably empathetic.  Olsen makes Maximoff a convincingly troubled and at times menacing figure although people who have not seen the TV series Wandavision might be a little confused by her motives.  Rachael McAdams, Chiwetel Ejiofor (as possible enemy wizard Karl Mordo) and Benedict Wong (as wryly humorous Sorcerer Supreme, Wong) also lend strong support.

These films have become very much about fan service with the now obligatory surprise cameos designed to thrill those more invested in the Marvel mythology.  The cameos are on offer here and I won’t spoil them although some have already been revealed online.  Another form of fan service is the return to the Marvel fold of legendary horror director Sam Raimi who helmed the Spiderman films from the 2000’s.  While there’s both artistic and nostalgic value in having Raimi on board, despite a few signature demonic touches, he seems constrained by the need to comply with the tropes of this this gargantuan franchise with its emphasis on elaborate CGI light shows.  Consequently, he ends up delivering a fairly generic if noisy and messy film.

There is a fatigue factor with the cgi onslaught in this film and it’s entirely likely that, seen without any of the previous Wagnerian Marvel epics, Multiverse of Madness would have been more impressive, at least on the level of sheer spectacle.  While Multiverse was a bit tiresome, movies like No Way Home at least let us know there’s still a spark of life in the world of Marvel cinema adaptations.

Nick’s rating:   1/2

Genre: Superhero/ action/ sci-fi.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Sam Raimi.

Release date: 4th May 2022.

Running time: 126 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


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