Armed with a title that nods to H.P. Lovecraft and director Sam Raimi at the helm, it’s no surprise that Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is an atypical Marvel movie that delivers on its title – with the emphasis on strange and madness.

Marvel’s Master of the Mystic Arts, Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) has been a prolific and pivotal player in the MCU since his introduction back in 2016, but this is only his second stand-alone film and boy, does this new one attempt to compensate for that!

The surreal tone is established in the opening scene, with Strange careening through a spiralling Multiverse in the company of a teenaged girl and a tentacled monstrosity hot on their heels.

But what is quickly revealed to be simply a nightmare soon becomes reality when the wedding of Strange’s former flame, Christine (Rachel McAdams), is rudely interrupted by a giant octopoid monster rampaging through the street in pursuit of the very girl from Strange’s dream. She is America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), an inhabitant of an alternate reality with the power to jump between universes – a power that’s coveted by dark forces.

Strange seeks help from Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), only to discover that she has turned to the dark side and embraced her inner Scarlet Witch in order to permanently connect with the children she has mothered in another reality, thus threatening the stability of the Multiverse and unleashing chaos…

Chaos certainly reigns in the Multiverse of Madness, an arcane adventure that pummels the audience with a kaleidoscope of visual effects, crazy plot twists and nightmarish horror elements. Viewers would be wise to pay close attention in order to keep up with the film’s frenetic pace and melting pot of crazy concepts, but the fact that the movie often struggles with cohesion actually works to its advantage in terms of the ‘anything goes’ nature of the Multiverse.

This is Raimi’s first film as a director since 2013’s Oz the Great and Powerful and he unleashes all the pent up creativity of the last nine years in a blast of pure insanity, even dragging his Evil Dead universe kicking and screaming into the MCU – complete with a book of the damned, flying eyeball, levitating Deadites and of course Bruce Campbell hamming it up in an amusing cameo. With a menagerie of demons, dark spirits and the undead all fighting for screen time, as well as several surprisingly gory bits, this one is strictly off limits to kids.

Kudos must go to Marvel overlord Kevin Feige for giving Raimi free reign to put his own bonkers stamp on the MCU in much the same way that James Gunn brought a wacky sensibility to Guardians of the Galaxy, proving once again that along with astute casting, the success of the MCU is driven by recruiting diverse and unconventional filmmakers.

While fans of Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness are well served by all the supernatural shenanigans and fan service, so too are the Marvel faithful, with the alternate reality hopping roping in some beloved and new characters from the comics that will drive fans wild, as well as some connective tissue with the WandaVision and What If…? series.

Chaotic, surreal and often exhausting, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness marks a welcome return by Raimi to a genre he left behind following the maligned Spider-Man 3, and it’s obvious he’s having a ball here. Moreover, it captures the trippy tone of the Strange comics much more successfully than the character’s debut film. The non Marvel-savvy may be left wondering what the hell they just watched, and perhaps the diehard devotees as well.

In cinemas: May 5, 2022
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Benedict Wong
Directed by: Sam Raimi

Doctor Strange at JB Hi-Fi