All fans of Doctor Strange wanted was to see Benedict Cumberbatch’s surgeon-turned-superhero return in his own movie rather than pop up in various Marvel Cinematic Universe productions. What they have been given is numerous iterations of Doctor Strange waging a battle for control against Wanda Maximoff as well as the visual effects department.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness arrives six years after the first film and mere months after the cloaked wizard’s crucial intervention in Spider-Man: No Way Home. In keeping with MCU credo, the film is one of the hyperlinks in a multi-billion multiverse that continues to spawn films and spin-off shows.

The standalone series WandaVision helps explain the transformation of Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) into an extreme version of her alter ego Scarlet Witch. Wanda is after the unharnessed power of youngster America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), who runs into Doctor Strange first in his dreams and then in the real world.

America is a time-space bending traveller across parallel universes – the perfect excuse to trot out several Doctor Stranges for the price of one ticket as well as imagine different outcomes for the same triggering incident.

As Doctor Strange and his aide de camp Wong (Benedict Wong) strive to save America from Wanda’s wrath, familiar faces and new entrants turn up. These include the grumpy sorcerer Karl Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Doctor Strange’s former lover Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams). The additions include characters who have recently become available to Marvel following corporate mergers and takeovers.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022).

Sam Raimi’s film has an old-fashioned schlock-horror quality. A giant octopus with a very red eye lays waste to a big city. Superheroes from other MCU branches get treatment that does not befit their status. Wanda’s angst, to do with her twin sons, is straight out a dark fairy tale.

Michael Waldron’s screenplay is as tidy as a computer screen with many tabs open at the same time. The frequently incoherent plot, which toggles between Wanda’s rampage, America’s transformation and Doctor Strange’s emotional upheaval, is more concerned with fitting into the larger MCU franchise than giving its charismatic hero his own playground.

The film is a computer-generated imagery extravaganza, in which the expression of sentiment is as cold as one of the many worlds in which Doctor Strange finds himself. Never have the words “I love you,” uttered by the self-absorbed and ascetic superhero, sounded so unconvincing or out of place.

Benedict Cumberbatch is in top form, balancing physical exertions with withering wit. Although perfectly cast in the lead role, Cumberbatch’s talents are wasted in the chaos of trying to find something to do for every member of the cast.

Benedict Wong is as entertaining as ever, with quips and comebacks that make an inconsequential role memorable. But the show belongs to Elizabeth Olsen, in commanding form as the only human element in a frequently plasticky and humourless production.

Elizabeth Olsen in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Courtesy Marvel Studios.

The “madness” promised by the title is reduced to a bunch of eye-popping set pieces. If anything, the first Doctor Strange film from 2016, directed by Scott Derrickson, was far more outre in its imagination.

Any depth to the idea of Doctor Strange confronting other versions of himself is quickly buried under the several piles of CGI rubble. In one of the most spectacular sequences, a zombified Doctor Strange creates a new cloak out of a bunch of dead spirits. It turns out be a metaphor for… nothing.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022).