Dazzling and intense but only for hardcore fans

Dazzling and intense but only for hardcore fans

Multiverse of Madness

Film comes with fair bit of homework and viewers will need to have seen a string of films to understand plot

Film comes with fair bit of homework and viewers will need to have seen a string of films to understand plot

British actor Benedict Cumberbatch arrives for the Los Angeles premiere of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
British actor Benedict Cumberbatch arrives for the Los Angeles premiere of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

Photo credit: AFP

The Marvel Cinematic Universe must be so much more dangerous if you don’t have any superpowers. It seems like every few weeks, reality in the MCU faces an existential threat so overwhelming that it’s almost a miracle that the superheroes haven’t really lost once. Either they’re really good at their jobs as superheroes – or they’re magnets for apocalypses.  

Doctor Strange is no different, and the Multiverse of Madness will tell you as much. After having just saved the world with Spider-Man, it’s once again up to Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to stop reality from folding in on itself.  He meets a young woman named America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) who has the ability to travel between dimensions of the Multiverse. The good doctor is shocked to learn that America is being hunted by The Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) who wants her for her powers, and soon he realises the threat posed not only to his reality, but to all. 

With some dark twists and turns and a generous sprinkling of Sam Raimi’s directorial style, Multiverse of Madness’ stakes are especially high. The dimensional hopping makes for energetic sequences with computer generated imagery that can be so intense that I’d almost recommend you bring sunglasses if the film wasn’t so dark in tone. 

It’s certainly not subtle – Raimi never is – and the thin line between horror film ghastliness and superhero goofiness is often muddled. Like Doctor Strange himself, Multiverse of Madness is a all a bit much sometimes and literally all over the place. 

Do your homework

We all know how it’s going to end: the superheroes will, inevitably, save the day and learn a few precious lessons along the way. There will be scenes where someone is hanging off the edge of a tall building or cliff; a scene in which everything seems lost until a character that was swept aside by the bad guy comes back in the last possible moment to save the hero. Of course there will be a couple of cameos thrown in for good measure. 

The film comes with a fair bit of homework, too. You will have to have at least seen the first Doctor Strange film, which is fair enough. You will also have to have seen the third Spider-Man film, No Way Home, to understand how all the Multiverse Madness started. 

Then there’s the Disney Plus exclusive series WandaVision; essentially required viewing if  you want to understand the basic good-guy versus bad-guy tension of the plot. If you don’t have a subscription to that specific streaming service, perusing its plot synopsis online might just have to do instead. 

These films are layered thickly with references and wider themes throughout that might go over the heads of many. Going in blind to see something like Multiverse of Madness (that is, without all too much knowledge of Marvel lore) must be a rollercoaster of tongue-in-cheek winks and nods that you just wouldn’t get unless you’ve spent hours and hours watching the films and researching the tidbits you might have missed. 

But being in the know in the Marvel Cinematic Universe certainly pays off since the cultural currency in which it trades is to such a large extent based on self-referential nostalgia. There are quite a few interesting twists and implications to Marvel’s rich world of characters which will surely delight fans who have kept up with the wider plot.  

Dazzling, colourful, intense

Marvel has developed its own cinematic language at this point and is hesitant to fix what is not broken. Rather, the main attraction seems to be the pace of franchise-wide escalation. Every film adds another layer that has implications for every other instalment that follows, perhaps most obvious in the MCU’s over-indulgent post-credit sequences.  

Essentially, the franchise now has the freedom to mix and match any characters from any timeline. They can introduce whatever new ones by simply opening up the Multiverse. It could even serve as a set up for a Marvel-DC crossover further down the line. 

What so plagued Morbius was the stagnant feeling which has haunted Marvel since Avengers: Endgame. As I point out in my review of it, it perhaps best highlights how the MCU had at that moment written itself into a narrative slump. The big climax of the Avengers films had come and gone, and Morbius arrived well after the party had ended.  

But it seems that with Multiverse of Madness, Marvel seems to be building back up towards a new, franchise-spanning narrative which will see new and old heroes and villains battle on an interdimensional plane. The film seeks to show off this new-found potential as a gateway for new characters to enter a stage bursting with novel tensions.

It may have taken a couple of years and a fair few films, but it seems as if the MCU is re-accelerating. Provided you have an inkling of what is going on on-screen in terms of Marvel backstory, Multiverse of Madness is fun enough as a stepping-stone film whose purpose is really to unlock a new dimension for the franchise. 

It’s a dazzling, colourful and intense entry into the world’s biggest film franchise that at least entertains (unlike Morbius) and is sure to excite hardcore fans with its various easter eggs and implications for the future of the MCU, even if it’s spread a bit thin at times.

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