“You Doctor Stranges are all the same,” tuts Rachel McAdams’s Christine Palmer, as Benedict Cumberbatch’s nimble-fingered wizard embarks on yet another risky mission where the fate of the world is at stake. Christine, who is something of a multiverse buff, is referring to the various versions of Marvel’s goatee-bearded hero that exist across various realities.
But at this point, she might as well be referring to the Marvel films themselves, which have become largely indistinguishable dollops of branded digital gloop in which the same rota of characters take turns to squabble and mope about things which happened in a previous instalment while pretending to shoot pretend fireballs at the pretend scenery.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is the second film to be dedicated to Cumberbatch’s character, though it’s also tied to a number of other franchise entries, including the Disney+ series WandaVision – which, along with Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, was the last time this now noticeably cumbersome franchise had a spring in its step.
Both WandaVision and Shang-Chi were released only last year, though the sheer volume of Marveliana to have been ladled out since – four further series and two further features, amounting to 24 hours and 43 minutes of superhero plate-spinning –makes it feel as if they emerged at some point during the age of steam.
The latest flare-up revolves around Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), aka the Scarlet Witch, who’s keen to relocate to an alternate dimension where she’s a stay-at-home mother of twin boys, rather than an embittered childless hermit. (In Michael Waldron’s script, motherhood turns out to be little more than an excuse for an inter-dimensional killing spree.) The answer to Wanda’s problems is America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), a young woman with the ability to jump between realities at will: Wanda sends a giant marauding octopus to New York City to catch her, which is certainly one way of doing it, and Strange thwarts the attack without working out who was behind it.