“Did it have to happen that way? Was there any other path?” With Tony Stark and Steve Rogers gone, Doctor Stephen Strange is left as perhaps the most visible and easily recognisable of the Earth based Avengers; the Infinity War was won but at a cost, and in the aftermath the question is a valid one, but it is asked by those who weren’t there, who didn’t have to make the choices, who didn’t ultimately end up saving not only the world but half the population of the universe from the purge of Thanos.
But what if things were different? What if there were other universes where different choices had been made, other courses of action presenting themselves, tiny changes which accumulate to produce vastly altered outcomes over a lifetime. It is beholden upon those who find themselves labelled as superheroes that their lives are apart from the rest of the world, that they can never be regarded as normal, that sacrifices are part of the package. What if that changed?
The twenty-eighth film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it can safely be said that the premise and characters are now firmly established, and taking their cue from the door ripped off its hinges in Spider-Man: No Way Home and explored more comprehensively in the animated series What If…? writer Michael Waldron and director Sam Raimi upend the understood order of things in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
Attending the wedding of his ex-girlfriend Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), the celebrations are interrupted by a monstrous tentacled creature pursuing teenager America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), displaced from another dimension; rescuing her and investigating Doctor Strange and the Sorcerer Supreme (Benedict Cumberbatch and Benedict Wong) turn to Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), living in seclusion following the events of WandaVision.
The Marvel universe now running in parallel across multiple media, events in other areas will inevitably cross over and impact each other but for those not quite up to date or simply overwhelmed Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness provides sufficient explanation to understand what is going on in the game before upending the board and tipping the pieces through a kaleidoscope of tangled possibilities, mirrors reflecting realities never experienced.
The best of the Marvel films having reinvented themselves to offer something previously unseen – Ragnarok, Black Panther, Shang-Chi – the dimensions of the Multiverse of Madness instead recreate known places and characters, presenting a very different Scarlet Witch, seeking the source of her dreams of a better place, holding onto the hope of a past which never was, but with a fractured narrative the momentum is abandoned every time the film feels like it is just about to get going and some moments simply feel superfluous.
That said, for any studio to have produced such a wealth of material in such a short time, Iron Man only having been release in May 2008, is an achievement in itself, and to have held the bar so consistently high is nothing short of astonishing; to say Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is not the best is only to set a level of expectation within the context of superlatives, and certainly it is more entertaining than the recent disappointment of Eternals.
Raimi’s first film for Marvel though not his first superhero film, despite the promise of its title the Multiverse of Madness never becomes as truly crazy as it needs to be, lacking the humour of Guardians of the Galaxy and more restrained then Ragnarok, perhaps predictably featuring Bruce Campbell and zombies but at its best when it surprises with the truly unexpected in moments recalling the Bach and Mussorgsky sequences of Disney’s original Fantasia and a set of guest characters unfortunately who, due to the circumstances, are unlikely to be seen again, frustrating hints of what might have been which is ironic considering the theme of the film.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is currently on general release and also screening in IMAX