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Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness review: What a movie

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ave you done your homework? The internet would have us believe that to appreciate the twists and turns in this cheeky, multi-verse-obsessed MCU sequel, we need to be au fait with the 2016 origin story that first introduced us to Benedict Cumberbatch’s brainy neurosurgeon-turned-sorcerer, Doctor Stephen Strange. That we should also be up to speed with the two live-action Disney+ TV series, WandaVision and Loki, and the cartoon series, What If…?, plus all seven of Fox’s X-Men movies, not to mention Captain Marvel, The Fantastic Four, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers Endgame, and Spider-Man: No Way Home.

Nerds love homework (I’m allowed to say that, because I am one). Yet, as it happens, no swotting is required to follow Disney’s sophisticated, beautifully-acted, emotional and very funny romp, directed by Sam Raimi (taking over from Scott Derrickson).

Of course, if you want to understand the strange behaviour of Marvel fans (why whole sections of the cinema will whoop and writhe with joy when, say, a green minotaur pops up) why the hell are you wasting time reading this review? Get cramming.

Over the course of these two hours we meet many versions of Strange. In a typical line, our hero refers to, “Another other, other, other me.” And yet story is really very simple. Three powerful characters – Strange; the witch Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen, fantastic) and a teenager, America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) – are all suffering from trauma. Loved-ones have been lost (lovers, as well as parents and siblings) and our protagonists, paralysed and/or putrified and corrupted by survivor’s guilt, must face their demons.

Because this is Raimi, the demons/ghouls/living dead are the coolest thing ever (Zombie Strange has possibly the most repulsive, ie. adorable, ponytail on the planet). And aside from a draggy middle-section, your eyes will never stop popping. A sequence in which Strange and America hurtle through the universe(s) and temporarily become gurning blobs of paint is as memorable as anything in Pixar’s Inside Out. The bit where Strange does battle with himself via weaponised musical notes is one long stroke of genius.

God bless America, too. A Latina super-hero with two mums, Chavez induces the same kind of tingles as Tom Holland’s Peter Parker/Spidey does in Captain America: Civil War. The future is here and it’s super-bright. That said, I wish I’d known that, despite being gay in the Marvel comic books, the character is totally asexual here. I was waiting for and anticipating a coming-out scene that never came. You have been warned.

But what a movie. The doctor will see you now and all the doctors are worth seeing.

126mins, cert 12A

In cinemas from May 5

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