Following “Avengers: Endgame” the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) moved to “phase 4” with numerous spin off TV shows and more diverse casting. This was largely the result of key actors contracts expiring and most characters completing their story arc.
However, “Dr Strange” (Benedict Cumberbatch) and “Wong” (Benedict Wong) coming later to the Avengers, still have mileage to run. Following a late change of director, we now have celebrated horror and Spider-man director Sam Raimi‘s version of a super hero movie.
Anyone without a PhD in the MCU will struggle with this film as it makes no allowance for an audience not steeped in the previous mythology and overarching story line.
The film launches cold into a titanic struggle with Dr Strange fighting a huge monster protecting a young girl he doesn’t know. Without pausing for breath, the story moves to an epic city street battle with a giant one eyed Octopus, something you don’t see every day.
Eventually pausing for a moment, we meet “Amercia Chavez” (Xochitl Gomez) with the ability to move between Universes, a skill “Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch” (Elizabeth Olsen) desires for very personal reasons.
Attempting to sketch the story is an exercise in futility but the film remains true to the title, emphasising Multiverse and Madness in equal measure. Whether viewers will find this fun or just confusing is debatable.
Raimi pushes the censorship boundaries for a MCU entry, with elements of horror, “crispy critters” and jump scares making this the darkest of the canon thus far. At times the film moves into surrealistic territory, leaving the viewers with no anchor aside of bright primary colours.
Expanding the MCU into the multiverse has undoubtedly enabled Marvel to recycle, repeat and generate infinite opportunities.
However, despite brilliantly staged set piece battles, will anyone care?
If characters can live, die, or seemingly re-appear in different time-lines or universes at will, can an audience really engage emotionally with the characters or what befalls them.
As you would expect Cumberbatch, Wong and Olsen prove their worth, acting almost exclusively within a green screened virtual world, with a few brief scenes grounded in anything resembling reality. Rachel McAdams also gets an extended cameo as Strange’s on/off girlfriend, depending which universe we are in.
Newcomer Xopchitl does not disappoint and the film enjoys many high level cameos. Captain Carter (with Britain’s Union Jack) also appearing briefly, seemingly invincible only to be cut in half by her own shield, which seems appropriate post Brexit.
Special effects are just that, because a director can show a rotating door unattached to anything with characters jumping through into other universes, should they? Although a fight utilising notes from a music score is fun and creative, without needing to ask why.
A solid and competently made entry in the superhero genre but feels increasingly like the MCU is running out of steam. The usual post credits sting gets weirder still, so expect more of the same.
Whilst treating the multiverse makes good business sense, this arguably dilutes the brand. However $955m at the box office suggests audiences are happy with MCU “weirder & darker”.