Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness Marvel movie with Benedict Cumberbatch directed by Sam Raimi review
REVIEW: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (12A)
Benedict Cumberbatch is back as Doctor Strange, master of the mystic arts, in this Marvel sequel which is half super-hero blockbuster, half horror.
Director Sam Raimi has form in both genres, having cut his teeth on the Evil Dead franchise, the first of which was a notorious 'Video Nasty', and then graduating to the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man trilogy which helped to kick-start the modern super-hero movie juggernaut.
This film opens with Dr Stephen Strange attending the wedding of Dr Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), his erstwhile girlfriend from the first film, but the ceremony is rudely interrupted outside by a one-eyed octopus-type creature chasing a teenage girl, America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez).
It transpires America – yes, her jacket has stripes as per the US flag – has the largely-unexplained and uncontrolled power to travel between the worlds of the Multiverse, which Strange had experience of in last year's Spider-Man: No Way Home.
In the plot to kidnap miss America, Stephen suspects that witchcraft may be involved, so enlists the help of the only practitioner of said profession he knows, Wanda Maximoff AKA the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). So cue references and exposition regarding the recent Disney+/Marvel TV series, Wandavision, and from the famous epic Avengers/Thanos conflicts in Infinity War and Endgame.
However, Wanda has her own agenda since she still pines for the two children she had in a separate reality, and away we go for two hours.
Strange, America and Wanda go on a wild quest for the Book of Vishanti (think: good MacGuffin) and the Darkhold (think: bad MacGuffin) which will complete the journey towards their various goals.
Of course I'm using MacGuffin as a term adopted by Alfred Hitchcock: an object, device, or event that is necessary to the plot and the motivation of the characters, but insignificant, unimportant, or irrelevant in itself.
The film is a visual treat and the depiction of the myriad different worlds is fascinating. Strange and America briefly encounter a world made of paint, they meet multiple versions of Strange, and end up in a New York adorned with flowers and where pedestrians cross the street on a red light and stop for a green...
Raimi's touch is evident and you can see classic horror references to Thriller, The Ring and so on. The well-known critic Mark Kermode spotted an homage to Carrie, but I must've missed that.
It's well-acted by leads Cumberbatch and Olsen, with able back-up from the likes of Benedict Wong.
The problems are two-fold. One: we were promised a proper 15 (or R-rated Stateside) certificate horror film. Instead, we get a neutered Raimi-lite, with only family-friendly hints of gore or violence.
Two: Strange sometimes ends up being a guest-star in his own film – this one could easily have been called 'Scarlet Witch'.
This is because too many elements, characters and concepts are introduced and you are reduced to being force-fed Next Marvel Product Coming Soon rather than a satisfying story in itself. America herself is one giant MacGuffin and you feel a PhD in superheroics is needed to keep score.
Overall it feels like a missed opportunity. Still enjoyable, but a greater movie was hidden in there somewhere.
• Any Easter eggs? Tons of character cameos, which I won't spoil, but in their descent through the Multiverse I'm sure I spotted obscure cosmic being The Living Tribunal in the background to Strange and America's journey...
Needless to say, you should stick around after the credits.