Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness review: An overstuffed sequel
Ivan Radford | On 22, Jun 2022
Director: Sam Raimi
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, Rachel McAdams, Xochitl Gomez
Multiverses, in case you haven’t noticed, are everywhere these days, from Spider-Man and Everything Everywhere All at Once to, thanks to Loki, a growing number of Marvel projects. This time, it’s Doctor Strange’s turn to get the multiverse treatment – and, in a rather apt quirk of fate, Sam Raimi has hopped over from the Spider-Man franchise to direct the ensuing madness.
The fact that it’s been six years since the last Doctor Strange film, and yet we’ve seen Benedict Cumberbatch’s wise-cracking wizard multiple times in the interim, tells you just how busy the Marvel Cinematic Universe has become. That crowded feeling not only requires an encyclopaedic memory of the MCU to date, but also bleeds into the film itself, with the whole narrative becoming tangled in threads of what-ifs – including, most distractingly, what-if-this-character-was-played-by-so-and-so.
Our entry point into this winding web of ideas is teenager America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), who has the ability to hop from one dimension to the next. The only problem? That power comes with a price on her head, with beasties and critters chasing her across existence – and so when she lands on the doorstep of Doctor Strange, he works to protect her, and work out what’s going on. Except, perhaps inevitably, we’ve already seen Doctor Strange and America in action before then, in a space-set battle involving tentacles, lava and a mythical book that, it turns out, features a different incarnation of the sorcerer entirely.
Before you can pause to gather your thoughts, the film has already raced to Kamar-Taj, where an epic showdown ensues that’s worthy of Marvel Phase 1 film – and we’ve also stopped off to pay a visit to Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), whose experiences in WandaVision have led to her becoming an expert in multiversal matters (and given her tragic character a moving dose of pathos that continues to pay off here). Throw in the scene-stealing Benedict Wong as Strange’s weary but warm sidekick, Wong, and Rachel McAdams getting a welcome chance to do more as Christine, and you have an ensemble that’s just enough to ground the spiralling chaos.
At the helm, Sam Raimi is dizzyingly inventive, coming up with surprisingly dark and nasty flourishes that make you think he got the family blockbuster confused with that other film involving monsters, fire and an all-powerful book. One jaw-dropping fight sequence sees the notes from a sheet of music come to life in gorgeous colour against a monochrome backdrop, and watching those waves of creativity ripple through the spectacular set design is a genuine thrill.
But despite its impressive visuals and committed cast, this overstuffed sequel repeatedly threatens to drown any distinctive sense of personality in the messy swamp of multiverse connections. One segue amounts to little more than a parade of purportedly fan-pleasing cameos, which leaves the stronger elements of the script little time to land or make an impression. The result is entertaining but bizarrely unmemorable, an excessive barrage of possibilities but without the discipline to choose between them. It’s a sequel that promises more, but leaves you wanting less.