DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS [2022]

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Directed by:
Written by:
Starring: , , ,

USA

IN CINEMAS NOW

RUNNING TIME: 126 mins

REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera

Dr. Stephen Strange is trying to come to terms with the way his life is going, with his ex, Christine, getting married to another man. Plagued by bizarre dreams featuring a girl fleeing from demons who’s helped by an alternate version of himself who’s then killed,  the girl – teenager America Chavez – crashes into his dimension. She’s on the run from demons because she can create doorways throughout the multiverse, and another one soon turns up. Wong the Sorcerer Supreme, turns up to aid Strange in slaying the monster. Recognising runes of witchcraft on the demon and the alternate Strange’s corpse, Strange consults Wanda Maximoff the Scarlet Witch, only to realise that she’s in fact responsible for the demons hunting America, looking to take possession of her for very personal reasons….

I’ve said for some time that Sam Raimi’s Spiderman films – well certainly the first and second ]the third has its issues but I still find it to be highly underrated] – have yet to be bested, and probably never will be, no matter how many films featuring the webslinger are made successively. This is because the former have genuine heart to them, and were a passion project from its creator. By contrast, the others seem soulless, made under strict studio control, by folk just doing a job. So it’s quite exciting that Raimi, who also don’t forget made the also rather terrific Darkman way before, has now returned to the world of super heroes, and in a climate where Marvel seem to be giving their writers and directors a bit more independence [I bet Edgar Wright isn’t happy].  Much was made of Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness being Marvel’s first horror film, which along with Raimi’s participation really ignites the imagination, but I would lower your expectations considerably; oodles of sometimes grotesque but essentially harmless CGI is thrown at the viewer, there are a few mild jump scares, and a variation of Evil Ash turns up near the end except that he’s not evil. But that’s just about it expect for one genuinely startling sequence in the middle where some familiar characters from the MCU are killed off in elaborate ways. During that scene, for the first time in a Marvel film, it feels as if things could go almost anywhere. As for Raimi, there’s some of his infectious goofiness and a great Bruce Campbell cameo, and Raimi’s presence is perhaps why there’s a bit more genuine emotion in some moments than we usually get with Marvel, but obvious heavy cutting [his original cut ran 160 minutes] doesn’t give us enough time to savour it.

So generally, despite being obviously influenced by works as diverse as Inception and Back To The Future 2, this is best just looked at as another episode in the Marvel saga, which has already been exploring different dimensions for a while, while the Master of the Mystic Arts’s first cinematic adventure in 2016 presented some genuine psychedelia. It was the best Marvels outing in some time, though it would have been even better it weren’t for that smarmy humour intruding into every scene, even ones that were ostensibly serious. But it did make slight excursions down different pathways, before Strange became a supporting player in the last two Avengers sequels, helping out against Thanos and his lot, before making a mess of the multiverse in last year’s Spider-Man: No Way Home, which played like a very bad sitcom on drugs. Thankfully this film is significantly better. For a start the tiresome quip-a-minute approach is dispersed with; there are laughs, but they don’t take over, and important scenes are allowed to play out with us actually being properly invited to care. Yet on the other hand most of the dialogue involves people explaining the plot to each other, screenwriter Michael Waldron not proving very impressive in his first cinema assignment. The pacing is truly kinetic; in fact this may be speediest Marvel film of them all, rapidly throwing action scenes at you and the plot never stopping for breath, and but it’s almost too speedy at times, particularly in terms of the character of American Chavez. Despite her importance in the tale she’s sidelined for much of it, at least in the cut we get here; this one really begs for a longer version to one day be released as so much seems obviously missing. But on the other hand Marvel have really been improving in the villain department of late, and here we have one of the best; genuinely menacing but also relatively multi-layered, even though there’s one aspect relating to her which is Marvel at its very worst.

So we begin in the space between the universes, and, even though it’s hard to be impressed by CGI these days, quite interesting this locale looks too; against a psychedelic background are loads of often bizarre floating constructions. America and Dr. Strange are being chased about by a boringly generic monster while near the Book of Vishanti which they’ve been searching for. Strange is killed and what we see turns out to be a dream of – Dr. Strange on Earth, or Earth-516 as we should probably call it. After so much superheroing he’s been thinking about his place and his life. He still gets on with his ex Christine and even attends her wedding, but then he espies trouble. A big octopus has arrived to cause some havoc, though it’s really after America. She’s able to travel through different universes, though she achieves this by accident. The film’s best action set piece is here, as Strange and then Wong as well battle the huge creature while many things are smashed. We probably shouldn’t give Raimi too much credit here, seeing as the pre-vis department are more the creators of such sequences, but shots are held for slightly longer than is the norm now, meaning that we can more clearly see what’s going on, which even include an eye-ball gag! Eventually the kaiju is dispatched and Strange consults Wanda Maximoff who tells her that she’s responsible for these demons. She now has the Darkhold aka the Book of the Damned or the Book of Sins, and looking a bit like the Book of the Dead from the Evil Dead films. This ancient evil tone contains powerful dark magic spells and is the most potent record of dark magic. Wanda therefore already has great power, but, as is usual for such villainous types, she wants more. She believes that controlling the multiverse with America’s power will allow her to reunite with Billy and Tommy.

Now I didn’t have a clue who Billy and Tommy were and a couple of lines weren’t anywhere near enough. A couple of minutes surfing told me that they’re the children Wanda created during her time in Westview in the TV series WandaVision, but why the hell should I have to have watched this in order to know this? So now you don’t just need to have seen all the films to understand any of them, meaning that you can’t just dip in randomly, you have to have seen the flipping TV shows too? Screw you, Marvel! Okay, calm down Doc. Anyway, Strange refuses to surrender America, so Wanda attacks the magical stronghold of Kamar-Taj, killing many sorcerers. American then accidentally transports herself and Strange across the multiverse to Earth-838, where its Strange triggered and barely averted a universe-destroying “incursion” in fighting Thanos, and which is ruled by an Illuminati comprising of some very familiar faces, but Wanda is soon behind them. It all becomes a bit of a blur of digital spectacle and folk explaining what’s happening and/or what they must do. Things never slow down, but the characters, different versions of characters, and different worlds are crammed in too tightly, and the finale is disappointing considering some of what came before, though I suppose we can be pleased that Marvel have decided not to give us an endless final battle. As it is, the CGI can’t help but be a mixed bag seeing how prevalent it is. This is the case with all of the more recent Marvel outings because digital effects houses are being so overstretched. Surely the answer to this would be to do some effects practically which was the case when Marvel began their world-storming journey, but no, we clearly can’t have that now according to Kevin Feige and the other Marvel honchos. It’s very depressing really.

The visual highlight is probably when America and Strange fall through lots of different dimensions that we can only just make out. Some time is spent in an alternate universe where elements have two Earths have collided and colour has virtually disappeared, plus one which is all white except for bits of ink, but the parallel Earth we spend the most time in isn’t all that interesting except for two things I’ve already described and a place which stores your memories for you do you don’t have to. Now that’s a scary thought seeing the terrifying way that we seem to be headed. Action tends to avoid intense physical brawling except for a one-on-one where, amazingly, Benedict Cumberbatch actually looks quite convincing in kicking and punching, even if one appreciates that anyone can be made to look doing such things nowadays. The high point of the many magical duels must be a battle involving no less than musical notes. It’s very silly and probably just what you’d expect from Raimi with an enormous budget, and matters don’t seem particularly constricted by the ‘PG-13’ rating in terms of what we see: while there’s hardly any blood [the MPAA really do have a problem with blood these days], there is some borderline surreal gruesomeness. But, despite several types of monsters, any real menace is left to Elisabeth Olsen, and she really comes through here, definitely doing justice to one of Marvel’s most interesting characters with a genuinely tragic journey, even if her final scenes don’t quite attain the emotion and the power that they perhaps should. Cumberbatch, who gets to play three versions of himself, is fine again of course, though we already know that he’s perfect at playing very restrained emotion. His scenes with Michelle McAdams as two versions of Christine are delicate, yet in the second one Strange is able to say most of what he’s actually thinking. But Xochitl Gomex, as America, is largely wasted, which is a real shame seeing as she’s a really lively presence.

Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness benefits from a grand, archetypal Danny Elfman score that also incorporating Michael Giacchino’s theme from the first film and even transitions into rock at one rather glorious moment, and it’s even given a good sound mix. It also helps to smooth over the obvious gaps where missing material once existed, though the good work by many can’t override the essential flaw with this “Multiverse” lark; it removes the stakes. Someone can be killed in one universe, but not the other. And now having all these dimensions means that the construction of a cohesive plot isn’t important. Anything goes, which is both good and bad I suppose. This latest Marvel extravaganza is a wild ride that can’t help but excite on a basic level. Sound and fury again. Loads of it. But, to partly quote Shakespeare, does it signify anything really? Well, there are the probably expected themes of fate, responsibility and finding yourself. But, after so many films, shouldn’t we have the right to expect a bit more? Though at least this one actually feels shorter than it is, which is a rarity indeed these days.

Rating: ★★★★★★½☆☆☆

 

About Dr Lenera 3141 Articles
I'm a huge film fan and will watch pretty much any type of film, from Martial Arts to Westerns, from Romances [though I don't really like Romcoms!]] to Historical Epics. Though I most certainly 'have a life', I tend to go to the cinema twice a week! However,ever since I was a kid, sneaking downstairs when my parents had gone to bed to watch old Universal and Hammer horror movies, I've always been especially fascinated by horror, and though I enjoy all types of horror films, those Golden Oldies with people like Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee probably remain my favourites. That's not to say I don't enjoy a bit of blood and gore every now and again though, and am also a huge fan of Italian horror, I just love the style.

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