Doctor Strange 2 review: Sam Raimi can’t rescue what amounts to a total mess in Multiverse of Madness

Dir: Sam Raimi. Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Xochitl Gomez, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Michael Stuhlbarg. 12A, 126 minutes.

I’d all the time thought that the enchantment of the multiverse lay in its infinite risk. Think about the one restrict to existence being the breadth of our personal creativeness – that something we might conjure could possibly be on the market, birthed into existence in an alternate universe. Properly, thanks, Marvel, for exhibiting me how unsuitable I used to be. It seems that the purpose of the multiverse, and of Doctor Strange within the Multiverse of Madness, isn’t its artistic potential. It’s its cameos. One million universes might exist, and so they’d all comprise shock appearances by folks and issues followers can hoot and holler over, earlier than being bought as toys on the way in which out of the cinema.

Doctor Strange within the Multiverse of Madness is, basically, Spider-Man: No Means Residence minus all of the rose-tinted nostalgia or the one-man charisma machine that’s Andrew Garfield. It additionally has not one ounce of the enjoyable with its central conceit that 2018’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse did, minus a single sequence the place the magically endowed Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) finds himself tumbling via portal after portal, universe after universe. There’s one nonetheless dominated over by the dinosaurs. One the place individuals are made up of paint splatters. One other that’s fully two-dimensional. The viewers will get to wave at them as they go by, earlier than Strange returns to the identical New York Metropolis road set with a bit of further CGI within the background.

Any alternative to actually put the “madness” on this multiverse is spoiled by the crowded, intersecting needs of its three major characters. Strange, having already damaged the multiverse as soon as in No Means Residence, continues to be navigating the identical struggles he’s been tussling with since his 2016 solo movie – weighing up private duty and private threat. Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), in the meantime, has absolutely shifted into the wilful and tragic “Scarlet Witch” persona she found in final yr’s restricted collection WandaVision, which aired on Disney+ (sure, in the event you haven’t stored up with the TV exhibits, this movie is not going to grant you any mercy). She is going to cease at nothing to be reunited with the 2 sons she conjured into being together with her thoughts. A model new hero, America Chavez (a likeable Xochitl Gomez), has additionally randomly dropped out of a portal. As we quickly uncover, she tends to hop universes at any time when she’s put beneath duress.

The movie kicks off with a heavy exposition dump, however then begins to buckle additional and additional beneath the load of its huge lore and magical MacGuffins. There are two essential spell books – one good, one unhealthy – and an exhaustive string of weapons, names, legends, and committees. However it’s exhausting to search out a lot pleasure in that stage of world-building when Multiverse of Madness is dominated by two feverish, chaotic emotions: watching MCU head Kevin Feige attempt to lay the foundations for the subsequent section in his grand franchise plans, and concurrently attempting to tie up free ends from what’s come earlier than.

However these are structural free ends, not emotional ones. Whereas screenwriter Michael Waldron deployed delicate character work in his current MCU TV collection Loki – starring Tom Hiddleston – right here he’s virtually a building employee, mechanically determining how this particular person can hook up with that particular person, reasonably than permitting particular person fears and needs information the movie’s leads. Strange continues to be, for instance, pining after Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), regardless of her character having mainly dropped off the face of the planet after his solo movie. And never within the literal, snapped-by-Thanos sort of method.

With the reintroduction of Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster within the forthcoming Thor: Love and Thunder, this actually does appear to be half one among Marvel’s “sorry we forgot about all the female love interests” apology tour. However it’s exhausting to construct on a relationship that in the end hasn’t been of central concern to Strange. He’s, in spite of everything, a man nonetheless wrestling with the actual fact he helped quickly obliterate half of all life with a purpose to in the end save the universe.

Rachel McAdams, Benedict Cumberbatch and Xochitl Gomez in ‘Doctor Strange within the Multiverse of Madness’

(Marvel Studios)

But the most important sufferer of Multiverse of Madness’s machinations is Olsen’s Wanda. A aspect character who spent most of her time on display screen having nothing however distress inflicted on her, she was lastly granted depth and emotional richness in WandaVision, just for Multiverse to whittle her all the way down to the one character trait of “desperate mother”.

She embodies an odd assumption that the MCU has been repeatedly responsible of creating – that if we’ve been given a single alternative to bond with a personality, that in-built affection alone can be sufficient to hold us via each future contractual look. And it’s a selected disgrace for Olsen herself. Remarkably, she nonetheless delivers as uncooked and sincere a efficiency as you’ll be able to whereas floating in entrance of a inexperienced display screen repeating the identical variation of “I’m not a monster, I’m a mother” advert nauseam.

With all of that in thoughts, the hiring of Sam Raimi feels virtually like a distraction – a intelligent one, however nonetheless a distraction. Multiverse of Madness provides us what many MCU followers have been clamouring for: firstly, some actual blood, gore, and violence, even when it’s been delivered in essentially the most household pleasant method potential. Secondly, a bit of extra brightness and color. Raimi is the best director to ship each. The Raimi we all know from the Evil Lifeless trilogy and Drag Me to Hell brings us gouged-out eyeballs, resurrected ghouls, and shaky, demonic digicam angles. The Raimi who directed the unique Spider-Man trilogy provides us a handful of sequences that really feel like they might have been ripped out of the pages of a comic book. They delight within the earnestly goofy heroics of pure-hearted superheroes.

However Multiverse of Madness is, inevitably, a Raimi movie in aesthetics solely – a bit of like in the event you pampered a sewer rat, popped a pink bow on its head, and bought it as a chihuahua.

‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ is in UK cinemas from 5 Could

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