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film review

Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Stephen Strange in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.Jay Maidment/Courtesy of Marvel Studios

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Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

Directed by Sam Raimi

Written by Michael Waldron

Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen and Rachel McAdams

Classification PG; 126 minutes

Opens in theatres May 6

There may be a universe in which I feel the barest thread of emotional connection to even one thing that happens during the 126 minutes of loud, smeary nonsense that is Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. But I doubt it.

Full disclosure: I dip in and out of the Marvel Universe at random. And I do not care much for parallel universe movies, because unless the writing is very, very clever – shout out to Everything Everywhere All At Once, the mother-traversing-parallel-universes-for-love movie you should see – I start yawning early. After all, if anything can happen, nothing matters.

That said, I do know what a movie should have, which is character, plot and dialogue. I do know what a story is, and I know when there isn’t one.

“Please don’t reveal key spoilers,” a publicist said as we filed out. As if I possibly could.

Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff.Courtesy of Marvel Studios/Courtesy of Marvel Studios

Here is how I imagine this script reads: Pink and purple sparkly place. Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) run toward magic-magic book. Glowing monster fights! Hand gestures! Impaled! But phew, wake up! Sad wedding because Strange lost the love of Christine (Rachel McAdams) in some prior movie. Michael Stuhlbarg appearance that is connected to absolutely nothing else that goes on. End of human drama, because one-eyed octopus attacks! Strange can cut a bus in half with his CGI laser circles, but for some reason he cannot cut more than an arm off the octopus! Octopus wants to kidnap Chavez because she can hop around the multiverse. Deep line No. 1: “Dreams are windows into our multiversal selves.”

The Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) is mean because she misses her children from a television show. She’s a witch but she fights with fire balls! She wants Chavez’s power so she can multiverse-hop, too. Deep line No. 2: “If there was a universe where you were happy, wouldn’t you want to go there?” But first she dream-walks (goes into another universe and takes over a body), and it’s unclear why that isn’t good enough for her!

Chavez and Strange tumble through a lot of super-expensive-looking multiverses and land in the Cameo-verse, where famous actors show up as the superheroes we know, just slightly different! Strange learns that he may be the bad guy! The Scarlet Witch does her best to be scary by borrowing stuff from other, better movies, like being covered in blood like Carrie, contorting her limbs like The Exorcist, and slouching and wearing her hair in a sheet like The Ring.

There’s an evil version of the magic-magic book called the Dark Hold, and an evil Strange with a third eye. Our Strange says Deep line No. 3 to Christine, “I love you in every universe,” and then there’s a trick ending and the usual credit sequence teasers and Fin.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a loud film that convolutes the multiverse and Dark Hold concepts.Courtesy of Marvel Studios

Actually, I’m making this movie sound more action-packed than it is. What mostly happens is that the multiverse concept and the Dark Hold concept are so insanely convoluted that all the other characters, even the allegedly fun cameo ones, spend their screen time standing stiffly, explaining to Strange what’s happening – “See, you’re an invader in our universe, which could destroy your universe and ours and there was an ancient prophecy and runes were carved into a mountain and a final threat remains …” – and on and on and on and on.

Seriously, what do the actors in a movie like this whisper to one another when they think no one is listening? Because the Marvel Cinematic Universe assembles some of the best actors in the world and then gives them nothing to say and nothing to play. I lost count of the times that the eyes of Cumberbatch, Olsen and McAdams fill with tears – either because they are trying so hard to infuse a moment, any moment, with some kind of emotion, or because they are bored to actual tears.

Maybe there’s a universe where they get to star in a superhero movie that has characters and heart and a story that means something – Spider-Man: No Way Home, you’re looking good right now – but The Multiverse of Madness is not that universe.