Wednesday, 4 May 2022

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness: Movie Review

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness: Movie Review

Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Xochitl Gomez
Director: Sam Raimi

Not content with creating just one single cinematic universe, Marvel has now fully adopted the multiverse in a move that will signal endless possibilities for its characters and various iterations over the coming years.

While some elements were explored in Spider-Man: No Way Home and Disney+'s animated series What If?, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness embraces the possibilities in a movie that's more about the FX than the emotions thanks to a strangely underdeveloped plot that seems to hinge predominantly on Benedict Cumberbatch's brilliant surgeon Dr Steven Strange, as he ponders the question if he is truly happy.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness: Movie Review

In this latest, Strange is pondering his own happiness while attending his ex Christine Palmer's wedding when he's interrupted by a threat destroying downtown and determined to abduct a seemingly helpless girl America Chavez (Gomez, lacking the material to leave anything indelible on proceedings, but still proving solid). But after Strange rescues her, he realises he's seen her in his dreams the night before.

So with forces amassing against America, and with the implication being that they're magical, Strange turns to former Avenger and self-exiled grieving mother Wanda Maximoff (Olsen, easily one of the best parts of the film) to see if she can help.

But soon, Strange finds himself thrust into a fight he never expected and new worlds of possibilities - and dark dangers.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a first for the MCU - a film that dabbles with horror and delivers some truly nightmarish sequences that push the boundaries of family friendly fare. Necks are snapped, demons float in the skies, there's voodoo, possession and corpses - to be frank, it's no surprise Evil Dead's Sam Raimi is on board in the director's seat. Raimi delivers touches of Drag Me To Hell and the kind of jolts you'd expect from Evil Dead type horrors throughout - but they're not quite enough to offset the fact there's not much of an emotional heft to proceedings.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness: Movie Review

It's an FX-heavy moody melancholy film that continues to pursue the new MCU raison d'etre - trauma, grief and coping with its emotional after effects. It's almost as if Marvel is internalising conflicts rather than the usual CGI world shattering finales. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness also delivers more of the kind of internal schisms we'd seen before with Captain America: Civil War, but in truth it doesn't really build on them and offer anything new on the narrative front.

It's great to see Rachel McAdams get extended screen time in this sequel, and along with some fan service moments, there's a subtle performance from Cumberbatch in all his different forms as Strange in the film, with little nuances adding to the overall takeaway of the movie.

The visual effects employed throughout make Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness soar. From a trip through multiverses (including one where characters are paint) to creeping mist and murderous animated corpses, this is a film that will be remembered for its game-changing visuals, as well as building on the Inception-esque kaleidoscopic visuals that the first Doctor Strange employed some 6 years ago.

But there are also some stumbles, in a film that, in truth, could have dabbled a bit more into the darker arts and provided something edgier rather than safer fare from the stable.

America Chavez feels very one note, a MacGuffin in a story where she should have been the emotional thrust. Despite a solid performance from Gomez , she's extended only the most cursory of backstories when a more beefed-up involvement could have helped raise the stakes to more monumental levels.

Equally, audiences will need an idea of what happened in WandaVision to fully be on board with Olsen's performance - and there are moments when she teeters dangerously close to the hysterical woman stereotype which is worrying. 

Ultimately, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a different detour for the Marvel genre - it may not always successfully achieve its end goals, and while it offers a solid outing for the blockbuster, it really doesn't quite revel in its own possibilities to hit the highs of a timeless genre-redefining classic.

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