Always satisfying to see a British actor, anex-Hamlet no less, as a Hollywood superhero.
And you can see why Marvel — for whom one macrocosm is noway enough — needs our Benedict Cumberbatch as conjurer Dr Stephen Strange, trespasser in multiple worlds. He has a suavely impassive, slightly depressed look, like a camel with a secret anguish.
As this ripping yarn opens, he hops around giant agony pipework in space, battles pistols, vaporises someone and puts his tie on by magic to attend a swell New York marriage. From which he instantly hops from a window to battle a huge octopus, deliverance a teenager and slice a machine in half.
And that is just the warm-up, before discovering that the sprat — Xochitl Gomez as America Chavez — is a exile between worlds. It may be incompletely Strange’s fault about the resemblant worlds, because he traduced natural laws in the 2021 film doing a favour for Spider- Man.
But hey, fantasy fabrication has long been stepping through doors to other worlds from Narnia to Harry Potter’s Platform 9 ¾, so why not?
Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch Wanda is back, this time refusing to cooperate as a kickshaw and get herself’ back on the lunchboxes’ ( good Marvel retailing joke). She wants to kill youthful Chavez in order to return to whichever macrocosm it was in which she last saw her imaginary children (cue noble cumbrous line’I am not a monster, I am a mama’).
It’s a largely amusing two hours, indeed if, like me, you gave up superhero pictures 50 times agone.
This is Marvel on amphetamines, with a pleasingly lunatic, scrapbag diversity of artistic references from every century, religion and Saturday matinee commonplace.
There are futuristic sword robots and a antique giant squid; telekinetic brain irruption and plain fisticuffs; a sacred Book of Ashanti and a minatory exploration institution.
There are ice fields and coverts, mountains, grottoes, citadels from ancient legends, stumping ogres from puck tales and indeed the Illuminati.
And there is good old Benedict Wong with his ancient Chinese legionnaire hunters. They’ve magic securities, but also curvatures and arrows and 16th-century lines similar as’It’s an honour to court death alongside you formerly again.’
Marvel’s own history is nicely substantiated, too, when all the old superheroes turn up as a kind of commission.
Oh, and there is a zombie. You’ll really like the zombie. So elaborately perished yet so recognisable and sexily paternal.
There is a new thing, too dreamwalking between your other characters, which creates nice cod ‑ psychiatric issues, because all superheroes are potentially prone to joining the dark side.
As for emotional issues there is buried tragedy, stock contest, resentment, motherly grief, lost love and for a crack in the LGBT box ( youthful Ms Chavez has two Mammies — both misplaced in a wrong macrocosm, but I am sure they’ll be back).
I rather loved it. The geographies are fabulous, especially Multiverse 838 where New York is covered in blowing trees and the pizzas are globular. There is a really beautiful battle using musical notes as dumdums and Cumberbatch throws himself around courageously. Patrick Stewart has a gem on a kind of weird unheroic mobility vehicle, and freshman Gomez (from The Baby-Sitters Club on Netflix) is a sweetheart.
Moviegoers on dates will also nod resentfully when Strange says his love life is’ complicated’and the sprat asks’ More complicated than being chased by a witch through the multiverse?’
Yes, he says. It is.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness – What the critics are saying…
Clarisse Loughrey writes: ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is, essentially, Spider-Man: No Way Home minus all the rose-tinted nostalgia and the one-man charisma machine that is Andrew Garfield. It also has not one ounce of the fun.
‘It is inevitably, a Raimi film in aesthetics only – a little like if you pampered a sewer rat, popped a pink bow on its head, and sold it as a chihuahua.’
Peter Bradshaw writes: ‘The multiverse madness is treated with genial high-energy panache, though I have to say that this infinite profusion of realities does not actually feel all that different in practice from the shapeshifting, retconning world of all the other Avengers films.
‘And infinite realities tend to reduce the dramatic impact of any one single reality, and reduces what there is at stake in a given situation. Nonetheless, it’s handled with lightness and fun.’
Ian Sandwell writes: ‘Much like the first Doctor Strange movie, the overall feeling you’re left with is one of frustration. It does feel unique in terms of the MCU and there are strong sequences throughout, right up to the understated finale. Yet there are obvious flaws elsewhere with rote characterisation and an underdeveloped plot.
‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is far from a horror show, but you can’t help that feel somewhere in the multiverse, there’s a better version of this movie that exists.’
Owen Gleiberman writes: ‘Is this the future of comic-book cinema? Let’s hope not. For just because you followed it all doesn’t mean that ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ earns every one of its elaborate and at times exhausting convolutions.
NEW YORK TIMES
A.O. Scott writes: ‘There isn’t much of a love story here. There isn’t much of anything, even as there’s too much of everything. That’s how the Marvel Cinematic Universe functions. Maybe it could be different. Maybe interesting directors like Raimi and Chloé Zhao (who followed the marvelous ‘Nomadland’ with the forgettable ‘Eternals’) could be allowed to do something genuinely strange with their assignments. But maybe that way madness lies.’