Decades after helping to kickstart the modern superhero genre (and I’m not talking about Darkman), Sam Raimi returns to Marvel to juggle scripture, magic and a whole lot of people called Benedict. Like the papacy. Without the sex crime. Joss Whedon is no longer involved.
Picking up the threads of both WandaVision and Spider-Man: No Way Home, Raimi reunites three titans of the British sitcom multiverse: Errol from 15 Storeys High (Benedict Wong), Martin from Cabin Pressure (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Wanda from Chucklevision (Elizabeth Olsen). Wanda Maximoff is enjoying a Nexus-like existence with her simulated creepy children and intends to keep it that way, even if it means “dream-walking” into an alternate universe and murdering everybody.
For this she needs America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), a teenager with the power to travel between universes and a name that makes everyone sound like they’re impersonating Monique Hart on Drag Race. Stephen Strange meanwhile is lonely because his ex (Rachel McAdams) just got married and doesn’t wanda max-him-off. Before you can say “Benedict Cumberbatch”, the good doctor is battling the resident evil in a convoluted parade of portals, zombies and the Necronomicon.
So far so Raimi (to quote Julie Andrews). But for a film called Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness it feels almost restrained, offering little of the trippy visual language that justified the existence of the original. The sequel squanders the potential for multiverse madness and largely takes place in a universe where the only major difference is that Rachel McAdams has different coloured hair.
There is a messy disconnect between Raimi’s horror movie and Marvel’s multiverse building, which also goes nowhere due to the expendability of characters in other dimensions. It contributes little to the saga (unless you count its worst ever scene), making this a good one to sleep through at the next MCU marathon. Even the showdown between two Stranges elicits less humour than a “doctor doctor” joke.
As a protagonist Strange lacks the range to carry a movie, and the extremely non-threatening Scarlett Witch is more Earl Grey than Jean Grey. The dialogue stretches from the cheesy (“The best surgeon and the best superhero, but you still didn’t get the girl.”) to the downright curdled (“You’re not like all the other Stephens.”).
MCU #28 is a bottom-tier entry whose problems seem strange for the series: aimless storylines, purposeless characters and sterile environments that betray the film’s extensive reshoots. Especially after Spider-Man just did the same idea so well (without Sam Raimi), this can’t help but feel like the dregs Benedict.