Marvel’s invasion of the multiverse is now well under way, and in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness this dense network of alternate realities sets the stage for a race to save – what else? – the world. Which world? Dunno. Our world, the most important one, at least, but maybe all the others too.
While director Sam Raimi has history with superhero movies, having helped to bring the genre to a new maturity with his Spider-Man trilogy, it’s his low-budget horror experience he brings to bear on the MCU – there’s more than a little Evil Dead in here. It’s surprising and invigorating, and the low-rent, rough and ready feel it conveys integrates well with the expensive computer-generated embellishments we’re used to from Marvel. Multiverse of Madness is visually dazzling.
Sadly, it’s not dazzling anywhere else, its plot overstuffed, its thematic through lines unsatisfying and problematic. It relies quite heavily on specific knowledge obtained from previous films and television programmes in the series; the less of that context you have, the less this story will mean to you. And magic and the multiverse are quickly becoming the cheap, mechanical get-out clauses they’ve always had the potential to be, rather than thought-through, coherently applied storytelling elements: write yourself into a corner? Make up anything you like! Magic and multiverse can paper over any cracks your plot might have. The result is a disappointingly joyless experience whose visual splendour can only fleetingly distract from some fundamental issues with the story and themes.