Back in the day, an ending that I really hated was the climax of the original 1978 Superman, in which, confronted with multiple developing disasters across the world, Superman flies round the globe so quickly that he reverses the passage of time and saves the day. Not only was the visual for this extremely poor, but it raised the question; why doesn’t Superman solve everything the same way? Surely we could all live in a perfect Groundhog Day world if such a solution was possible; for a character supposedly learning about his own powers, Superman’s ability to stop and reverse time makes zero sense and breaks every narrative rule going.
Rules are important, and that’s part of the problem with Marvel’s popular character Dr Strange; Sam Raimi’s 2022 blockbuster probably should be called Doctor Strange 2, even though the sorcerer has appeared in several recent films in the Avengers/Spiderman franchises and it feels like Dr Strange and his sh*tbag emphorium are never aff our screens. But with all current narrative roads leading to the ‘infinite multiverse’ again and again, it’s hard to tell if this is a sequel, a reboot, a rehash or just another adventure for Steven Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch). Creating multiverses may be a studio executive’s dream, allowing creative to mix franchises, characters and actors like mashing action figures together in a giant toy-box, but with infinite possibilities and infinite lives, it’s hard not to draw the conclusion that nothing really matters anymore in such baroque, fancy-dan, data-dump narratives.
‘This isn’t sorcery, it’s witchcraft,’ someone explains, and these are the battle-lines of Raimi’s MCU entry; The Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) wants some magic book that gives her control over all possible multiverses so that she can hang out with her kids in the one happy scenario that she wants to protect. Access to this book seems to be via America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) who sports a ghastly jacket made from the US flag, and who has the ability to punch holes between multiverses, but only as the plot requires. Dr Strange has to protect America, in every sense, and defeat the Scarlet Witch to save the world as we know it. The End.
Confused? Just take a look at the film’s Wikipedia page and be none the wiser; here’s an extract. ‘When Strange refuses to surrender Chavez, Maximoff attacks Kamar-Taj, killing many sorcerers. Chavez accidentally transports herself and Strange across the multiverse to Earth-838. Maximoff uses the Darkhold to “dream-walk” into the body of her Earth-838 counterpart, who lives a suburban life with her own Billy and Tommy. A surviving sorceress sacrifices herself to destroy the Darkhold and break the dream-walk. Maximoff then forces Wong to lead her to Mount Wundagore, the source of the Darkhold’s power and the location of a shrine to the Scarlet Witch, allowing her to reestablish the dream-walk with her Earth-838 self. While searching for help, Strange and Chavez are arrested by Earth-838’s Karl Mordo and brought before the Illuminati…’
The MCU can write this kind of stuff, but I’m not sure that many of us are really getting the gist; I thought they were saying ‘the dark hole’ every time ‘the darkhold’ was mentioned, which didn’t help. There’s also a long hiatus during which, vague spoilers alert, we take a break-neck world-building tour and meet the Illuminati including The Fantastic Four’s Reed Richards, played by The Office’s Jim Halpert (John Krasinski) and a brief revival for the X-Men’s Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) . And this being a Raimi film, there’s also a few of his affectations mixed in, goofy-eyed zombies, some horror tropes and a Bruce Campbell cameo, so there’s quite a melange going on in this particular multiverse. At least Tilda Swinton is MIA, which is always a plus.
You either dig the idea of ‘being held hostage by your alternate self’ or not; the multiverse promises all kinds of interesting metaphysical questions, but the slam-bam nature of the MCU doesn’t allow many answers. As usual, we just jog on the spot, increasing our step count, but not actually going anywhere; as with the previous Dr Strange film, the Multiverse of Madness has lots of flashy visuals, a few decent jokes, but gets us all precisely nowhere, saving the best IP for another day or film. Films like this seem to be catnip to fan-boys, but for the rest of us, it’s just a resigned shrug and whatever; even with an endless set of universes with infinite possibilities, I’m bored rigid with yer multiverse already.