Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness(12A)
Director: Sam Raimi
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Benedict Wong, Xochitl Gomez, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Rachel McAdams
Running time: 126 mins

At Christmas, while bemoaning my wretched lot and parading the stigmata inflicted by another year of film reviewing, I announced I was fed up with comic book/superhero movies. Then, asked which films I was most looking forward to in 2022, all I could come up with was The Batman and this.

There were legitimate reasons to have high hopes for this follow up. The first Dr Strange movie was one of Marvel’s livelier offerings and this is their first full dive into the multiverse business (parallel universes, alternate realities, sprung from a token understanding of quantum mechanics) previously pioneered in two Spider-Man films: the animated Into the Spider-Verse, and the global box office kick-starter No Way Home.

Having concluded The Avengers story with Endgame, Marvel needs some new gimmick to tie all their upcoming films (and telly shows) together and for the near future, it's the multiverse.

Plus it’s Sam Raimi, director of the original Tobey Maquire Spider-man trilogy, making a superhero film again. In fact, just Sam Raimi making a film again.

The Evil Dead creator is one of the most purely talented American filmmakers, yet has precious few classics to show for it. He hasn’t made a film since Oz The Great and Powerful almost a decade ago, but having seen this maybe he should stick to producing various TV series and other people’s films.

Whatever individualism or vision a director might bring to a Marvel product tends to get bent to the larger needs of the cinematic sprawl. Most times that’s fine. Nobody is so good or so bad that they show up the others, but this is one of their dullest efforts.

Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlett Witch is the baddy (for reasons that you probably need to have seen Wandavision to fully comprehend.) The fate not just of the universe, but all possible universes rests on a girl called America (Gomez.) Which ought to make her interesting but largely doesn't. The film is taken up with lots of dark overcast mumbo jumbo witchcraft that made me yearn for the simple stick pointing of Harry Potter.

There are a few nice visuals, an inventive sequence using musical notes as weapons, and it starts with a giant octopus attacking New York. But after that, it’s remarkably drab looking for a film in which alternate realities collide and overlap.

Anyone expecting the joyous frivolity of Spider-Man: No Way Home will be disappointed. True, that was an exercise in lazy fan service – giving people exactly what they wanted, just when they wanted it. But who couldn't get a little excited at seeing the three Spider-Men together?

This though is pedantic nerd service. At one point, certain characters turn up unexpectedly. It’s all a big secret and I’m not allowed to say, but, to be honest, I didn’t know who half of them were anyway. The nerds did though, and they whooped with evangelical glee.

Even the numbers of the different universes got them banging their tambourines. Initially, I thought it might take a year for the novelty of these parallel worlds and cross-promotional marketing opportunities to wear off, but I’m heartily sick of them already.

Their multiverse is such a depressing vision of creation: an infinite number of earths in an infinite number of universes where everything is exactly the same except the Marvel superheroes are all slightly different.