Reviewed by Tim Robins
The Film: In Marvel Studios’ Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, the MCU unlocks the Multiverse and pushes its boundaries further than ever before. Journey into the unknown with Doctor Strange, who, with the help of mystical allies both old and new, traverses the mind-bending and dangerous alternate realities of the Multiverse to confront a mysterious new adversary.
The Review: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is deliriously silly and a lot of fun; don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. True, the superficially chaotic story ends in a predictable MCU CGI fight, with monsters and heroes zapping each other with pugilistic energy beams, but director Sam Raimi’s interests and enthusiasms make the film an enjoyable romp through alternate realities.
In advance of the rest of this review I am re-emphasising the spoiler warning that opened this item, because pretty much everything in the movie plays a part in making this cinematic sprawl a success.
A companion piece to Spider-Man: No Way Home, the film sees Doctor Strange encounter various incarnations of himself, some dead, some un-dead and some so arrogant that they have broken the world up like a bumper bucket of Lego. Unsuprisingly, Benedict Cumberbatch steals the show, bringing these other selves to deliciously melodramatic life. Against Strange is fellow former Avenger Wanda Maximoff, now corrupted as The Scarlet Witch and played with crazed conviction by Elizabeth Olsen. Between Strange and the Witch is America Charvez (Xochitl Gomez), whose powers to hop dimensions make her a valuable asset in a battle of the pair’s super-wilful desires.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is the MCU’s second solo take on Doctor Stephen Strange, sometime Sorcerer supreme, who lost his ability to operate after a car accident, turned to Oriental Mysticism and now uses magic to counter all manner of supernatural threats (although the MCU explains magic as a quantum energy, plus spells). An early addition to Marvel’s comic books, Strange has had a checkered career, but has attracted excellent artists. The first movie replaced artist and co-creator Steve Ditko’s surreal universe with somewhat tedious, twisty, turny, CGI cityscapes – a geometric effect aided by an abundance of interiors with parquet floors.
The first Doctor Strange movie also wrote Strange as an Iron Man surrogate, all flash watches and sardonic comebacks. Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness doesn’t abandon those aspects, but it does have a more wicked sense of humour.
So yes, we get to see Strange using a “spell” just to knot his tie but we also get to see Bruce Campbell as a hot dog vendor who Strange curses to repeatedly punch himself in the face all the way to the final end credits scene. And there’s a bizarre injury to the eye motif which sees a cyclopean character lose an eye at the beginning of the film and another character gain a third eye at the film’s end.
The new film collides the Ditko and Rami ‘verses in an eye-boggling story that sees Doctor Strange and America Charvez cross the Multiverse to confront the dark forces of The Darkhold, a cursed book of the kind Raimi fans will recall from The Evil Dead. Holding the quixotic plot together is a morality tale that teaches us that happiness is in what you have, not what you may otherwise wish for. Script writer Michael Waldron (WandaVision) is to be congratulated for finding a clear through-line to disparate parts that could easily have fallen apart and for stopping the audience being bored with exposition.
The plot is a Multiverse of McGuffins. Doctor Strange seeks closure for his failed relationship with Christine (Rachel McAdams), Wanda Maximoff searches for a world where her imaginary children (last seen in WandaVision) are actually real, and Chavez uses her dimension hopping powers to search for her missing parents.
Offering help or hindrance along the way are Wong (now Sorcerer Supreme) and the (Marvel Comic) Illuminati, whose members include Patrick Stewart’s Professor X – in a ludicrously confining yellow bath chair – and Anson Mount, reprising his role as Blackagar Boltagon (Black Bolt to you and me), from the ill-starred Inhumans TV series.
With Raimi in the director’s chair, Doctor Strange in The Multiverse of Madness is a wild ride from the get go, gleefully dispensing with action scenes anticipated in the trailers in the opening moments. I think we can now also dispense with online “easter egg” hunts by critics eager to predict the plot, but falling on their butts. So there is a throw-away big monster resembling the Lovecraftian Shuma-Gorath but, for legal reasons, it is unnamed in the movie (even if merchandise calls the creature ‘Gigantos’). More to the point, Raimi uses the creature in a way that recalls the stop-frame animation of Ray Harryhausen – specifically in his film, It Came from Beneath the Sea. And Raimi can afford to give the creature more than four legs.
There are a number of film references. When our heroes arrive to dump the roof of Wundagore on the Witch, the design of Scarlet Witch’s altar room echoes the temple of Kali in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad. The film’s score, which reunites Raimi with Danny Elfman, teases audiences’ memories with knowing musical stings. So when Wong uses a ‘Mystical’ rope to scale Wundagore Mountain, we hear a riff on the Mission: Impossible theme. When Professor X arrives on the scene, Elfman briefly reprises music from the 1990’s animated X-Men series.
The film’s visuals are audacious, from scenes of characters literally crashing through alternative Earths, including one ruled by bees, another where everyone wears hats and another where Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s farcical Garden Bridge has become the model for an entire city’s architecture. Raimi also evokes the spirit of Disney, notably in a scene in which a host of candles gather around Strange and in a battle where musical notes from a piano and a harp are brought to deadly life as quantum energy.
I wasn’t looking forward to this movie, but Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is the most significant entry into the MCU’s latest phase. I am also more than happy to welcome back Raimi to superhero movie making. Although not particularly attuned to comic book sensibilities, Raimi’s sci-fi-horror take, last seen in his Spider-Man trilogy, turns comics into a cinematic celebration of the four-colour form.
Go see it now – the power of the Vishanti commands you!
Reviewed by Tim Robins
Dear reader a review is an opinion, not a statement of fact – other opinions are available, including yours
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is in cinemas across the globe now
• Marvel Select: Doctor Strange – Under The Knife, published by Panini UK, by Mark Waid and Kev Walker, is available from all good newsagents now, and from Panini direct – or buy it here from AmazonUK (Affiliate Link)
A new chapter begins for Doctor Stephen Strange thanks to the miraculous regeneration of his damaged hands. With his nimble fingers once more able to perform the most delicate surgical procedures, the world-famous surgeon can now return to the operating theatre. But what does this mean for his life as a master of the mystic arts? Can he be both a neurosurgeon and the Sorcerer Supreme? All magic comes at a cost, and it seems that this is one boon the good doctor will be paying for in the most deadly way!
A freelance journalist and Doctor Who fanzine editor since 1978, Tim Robins has written on comics, films, books and TV programmes for a wide range of publications including Starburst, Interzone, Primetime and TV Guide.
His brief flirtation with comics includes ghost inking a 2000AD strip and co-writing a Doctor Who strip with Mike Collins. Since 1990 he worked at the University of Glamorgan where he was a Senior Lecturer in Cultural and Media Studies and the social sciences. Academically, he has published on the animation industry in Wales and approaches to social memory. He claims to be a card carrying member of the Politically Correct, a secret cadre bent on ruling the entire world and all human thought.