Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

Doctor Strange encounters multiversal threats once again as he goes on a journey across realities with America Chavez, Wong, and Wanda Maximoff.

This sequel certainly lives up to the madness part of its title by providing a journey of visual marvel throughout alternate universes, a concept that’s been set up in other Marvel properties like Loki and Spider-Man: No Way Home but is explored here in full effect. Sam Raimi’s direction provides what feels like a true creative vision, including amazing, adventurous grandeur and use of CGI as well as some horror undertones in certain scenes that is some of the darkest a Marvel Cinematic Universe film has gotten. But to add to that, there’s genuine excitement and thrills to be found in nearly every frame — the pacing is fast and wastes no time doing anything but moving the story forward. Benedict Cumberbatch does a great job as the witty Strange but also some of his more unhinged variants from other universes. Elizabeth Olsen, who was Emmy and Golden Globe nominated for her performance in WandaVision — which I’d call a required watch to understand the events of this film — continues her journey into Wanda’s darker side and wonderfully delivers the pain she experiences and the empathy she conveys with the audience even when her inability to properly grieve from the events of Avengers: Infinity War has gotten people hurt. Together with the preceding show, Olsen creates one of the most tragic and powerful performances in the MCU. Xochitl Gomez is a lovely addition to the franchise as the young America Chavez, who shares a lot of fun scenes with Cumberbatch.

With the vast possibilities of alternate realities comes lots of excitement as to what could happen, as well as genuine thrills and suspense weaved within the many magical rules of the world of the Sorcerer Supreme and the Scarlet Witch. Sam Raimi goes back to his horror roots with some of the dark undertones in certain scenes, that still blend in well with the cheerful and wondrous MCU tone we’re used to. The one thing that gets lost within the gigantic adventure is Strange’s own character arc — Strange’s growth through the film as an actual person has the right setup, but the payoff feels underwhelming and his internal journey needed more of a through line, which was felt more in his first solo movie. Chiwetel Ejiofor is fun to see as Mordo but his inclusion feels haphazard and incomplete. It’s also easy to get lost within all the explanations and world-hopping events that require some attention, with some exposition that ends up being unnecessary. Ultimately though, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is one of the most creatively rewarding MCU films in a while, though not the most emotional, funny or heartfelt, it’s filled with moments of edge-of-your-seat action, epic imagination, breathtaking visuals, campy horror, and insanity that have to be experienced in a theater, creating a sensory overload like no other superhero movie or blockbuster.

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

Nicolas Cage, down on his luck at a creative, financial and personal crossroads, attends a superfan’s birthday party in Spain for $1 million, but must soon become a real life action hero when he finds himself in real danger and conflict.

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is refreshingly meta about the movie industries and its stars — a sort of hybrid between Adaptation and Lethal Weapon. It’s a tribute to the magic of movies and movie stars, and the diversity of Nicolas Cage’s films, including the absurdity of some of his roles and personas, as well as the large fan following he’s retained throughout the years. The movie has some direct references to his various roles, from his Oscar-caliber roles in Leaving Las Vegas and Adaptation to his action blockbuster hits such as Face/Off, The Rock and Con Air, and his more recent indie ventures like Mandy. But they also namedrop Moonstruck, National Treasure, Gone in 60 Seconds, and even The Croods: A New Age, I mean what more could you ask for in a movie about Nic Cage? Within all of this, it’s both a meta commentary to the kinds of scripts and films audiences like — as Cage has been in some of every type — and a laugh-out-loud buddy comedy between Cage and the wonderful Pedro Pascal. Though Cage embraces and pokes fun at himself as, well, himself, Pascal plays Cage’s biggest fan and new best friend who may or may not be a dangerous arms dealer. Pascal’s line delivery, exaggeration and lovability makes him an undeniable delight to watch. So it has something for people looking for an intricate script about scripts, a tribute to an iconic actor, and an action-packed laugh-out-loud comedy. Not to mention there’s some heart involved as the movie tries to parody the idea of a “mature movie about people and relationships” while genuinely getting you interested in the main two friends.

Though it helps to have watched some of Cage’s most iconic movies (on a personal note, my favorites of his are Face/Off, Adaptation and Raising Arizona), it’s also on the stronger end of crowd-pleasing action comedies and has a little something for everyone, definitely living up to the Massive Talent part of its title.

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore

Newt Scamander and crew join Albus Dumbledore in a quest to stop the evil Gellert Grindelwald from taking control of the entire Wizarding World and starting a war between wizards and Muggles.

Though the Harry Potter films have a fanbase that will stay strong for generations to come, the Fantastic Beasts films yet again fail to capture that same magic, and by now it feels like they’re not even trying to. The strengths still come in its production value and cast — the production design is very impressive and the musical score is top-notch. The cast is sufficient, especially Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander who was perfectly cast in the role. His bond with the titular beasts is very touching and gives the films an arc of compassion and heart. Jude Law also gives lots of nuance to the younger Dumbledore as his conflict with Grindelwald is explored deeper. Mads Mikkelsen also gives his fair share of menace and is much better than Johnny Depp, who came off as annoying in the last film. However, this is Jessica Williams’s first time as a lead in this film and she steals her scenes. Her charisma and energy are on another level and she’s going to be recognized by more audiences after this role, hopefully. However, Ezra Miller’s performance is still irritating, and feels rather deadpan and directionless. I don’t appreciate them giving Miller’s character so much screen time when they instead could’ve emphasized Katherine Waterson or Zoe Kravitz as main characters in this series (though Waterson still appears in a minor role).

The first one, though not amazing, still had its fair share of charm and excitement, but the following two installments became needlessly slow and gloomy when the Wizarding World thrives on being touching and cheerful; even in the darker Potter installments, the story is rooted in friendships and themes of goodness and courage. Thematically, these films suffer from a lack of direction in comparison. Though The Secrets of Dumbledore is a big improvement over The Crimes of Grindelwald, it still suffers from the same tonal issues, like feeling too much like a slow-burn drama for its own good and lacking thrills. The movie’s climactic battle is fairly thrilling but the buildup isn’t strong enough to give us much payoff. Where Warner Bros. really messed up here is writing this as a series of five films instead of a trilogy. The last 2 movies in the franchise were very dragged out and unrewarding from a story perspective and this way of pacing the story is costing the films a lot of excitement and coherence. The Harry Potter films were 8 movies and even the less eventful installments are memorable because of the nuances and world-building, but times have changed and having the same story and villain for five movies isn’t something audiences are looking for, as blockbuster films need to feel like a rewarding event when people buy a ticket — and here it’s once again evident that they should’ve stuck to the original plan and kept it at three films.

Though the potential for an exciting story and conflict are there, Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore suffers from pacing and tonal issues that Wizarding World fans may be able to ignore for fantastical visuals and some strong performances, but it can’t bring the stakes and direction to the level such an epic-scale story needs to hit home.

Morbius

Biochemist Michael Morbius tries to cure himself of a rare blood disease that has rendered him handicapped his entire life, but he inadvertently infects himself with a form of vampirism instead and must fight for control of himself.

After lots of delays and unconvincing trailers, Morbius pulls off the impossible — it’s even worse than expected. It’s one of the worst superhero films to date and one of the worst films I’ve ever seen in a movie theater. Academy Award winner Jared Leto continues a streak of subpar acting choices with a miscast, creepy turn as Michael Morbius, who’s supposed to be a social outcast doctor turned hero the way Benedict Cumberbatch so convincingly was in Doctor Strange, but Leto brings forth no charm or charisma and actually comes off as an unlikable hero who’s distant from the audience for the whole runtime. Matt Smith also delivers a horrible performance with a character you can’t stand and whose every move is predictable. Adria Arjona and Jared Harris try their best but are stuck with poor writing that doesn’t serve their skills or characters any well. Speaking of which, the characters’ morals, decisions, and conflicts feel so hollow they’re almost non-existent and simply there to check off boxes on the list of superhero origin clichés.

The movie attempts to be darker than the Marvel Cinematic Universe films in the main Tom Holland Spider-Man continuity, but unlike The Batman, another dark superhero film this year, Morbius has no energy, tone or clear objective to exist. The CGI makes the fights hard to watch, especially the vampire look and powers which look like images from a video game. The action is done in a way where it’s impossible to tell what’s going on and the lighting and score are dark and gloomy, sucking any life out of this sad movie that feels more like a first-draft concept idea than an actual movie made for an audience’s entertainment. But it’s not only embarrassingly bad to watch — it commits the unforgivable sin of being boring. Although at 1 hour and 44 minutes, it’s one of Marvel’s shortest movies ever, it feels so much slower than any other superhero film and I was begging for it to end. There comes a point where even when you find yourself drifting off and the movie has become beyond saving, it still finds a way to outdo itself and become simply unbearable and laughable in the final act. Even the bland Venom movies (which are set in the same universe as Morbius) have had aspects to offer some fans of the source material, but to any fans of comic-book movies, vampire movies, or just good movies, please spare yourself — the only thing you’ll get out of this movie is the desire to forget it immediately after you watch it.

The Lost City

A reclusive romance novelist on a book tour with her cover model gets swept up in a kidnapping attempt that lands them both in a cutthroat jungle adventure.

Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum make a fun pair in this romantic action-adventure comedy that had me laughing out loud. The leads have great chemistry and they both get to exercise their comedic skills to this wide-appealing genre film. Da’Vine Joy Randolph also steals the show as Bullock’s best friend and Brad Pitt makes an outstandingly thrilling appearance. Though the story is very similar to other recent films like Jungle Cruise and Uncharted, the silly, almost self-aware touch is what makes it a delightful, harmless time. It’s easy to tell where the ride is going, but it’s also very tempting to go along with the ride due to Bullock and Tatum’s chemistry, enough to go to the theater and enjoy with others.

The Batman

This reboot of one of the most beloved movie characters focuses on a dark, crime-ridden Gotham City. When the Riddler, a sadistic serial killer, begins murdering key political figures in Gotham, Batman is forced to investigate the city’s hidden corruption and question his family’s involvement.

Despite already having a magnificent trilogy for the character in the Nolan Dark Knight films, Matt Reeves’ reboot is unpredictable, fascinating, and masterful — even reaching the heights of Nolan’s films. Robert Pattinson delivers an incredible performance as a man who fights crime but also finds himself as Batman due to his own misery and demons, and the film explores Batman as a sign of fear towards criminals, as well as a detective and antihero. But gone is the glamor of Bruce Wayne’s rich life — Pattinson portrays a lonely, depressed man who can only find meaning for himself by going out and finding a fight. He gives off the vibe of Ryan Gosling’s reserved, morally ambiguous performance in Drive, and I’d also compare this most to Pattinson’s role in The Lighthouse. Zoe Kravitz surpasses past portrayals of Catwoman from actresses like Anne Hathaway and Michelle Pfeiffer by making Selina Kyle feel incredibly human and as interesting of a character as Batman, instead of being part of the story just for him. Paul Dano is menacing and terrifying as the Riddler, but Colin Farrell is unrecognizable as the Penguin, under so much convincing makeup but still delivering a scene-stealing performance. Andy Serkis is also great as Alfred and Jeffrey Wright is another standout, wonderfully cast as Gordon and his relationship with Batman is very interesting to watch grow.

But this movie isn’t only packed with great stars. Reeves’ direction, as well as award-worthy cinematography and score (Michael Giacchino — known for The Incredibles, Inside Out, Up, Spider-Man, and more — delivering his best live-action score yet), brings to life a riveting, nail-biting crime mystery noir atmosphere reminiscent of cynical murder mystery thrillers like Se7en and Zodiac — even more grounded than The Dark Knight, which feels like a crime epic but still had a larger scale than this. This dark, mysterious atmosphere makes the film nail-biting and never slow, even at 3 hours. The conspiracies and mysteries that unravel are intriguing and the fights are gritty for a PG-13 superhero movie. By the last hour, it genuinely becomes difficult to tell what is going to happen next, which feels rare for blockbusters of this size today, due to the darkness that envelops the characters and their world.

The Batman is more than up to the task of delivering a mind-blowing reboot that surpasses expectations and earns every minute of its runtime. It’s packed with memorable performances, a meticulous atmosphere, and edge-of-your-seat tension, ultimately making one of the best superhero films of recent years that has to be seen on the big screen.

Uncharted

Street-smart Nathan Drake, is recruited by seasoned treasure hunter, Victor “Sully” Sullivan, to recover a fortune amassed by Ferdinand Magellan, and lost 500 years ago by the House of Moncada.

Video-game movies are always a concerning subject, and with Uncharted being one of my personal favorite video games (not being a huge gamer myself), this film does translate the set pieces and globe-trotting style to the big screen, but much of the wonder is lost in translation. Tom Holland plays a younger version of Drake than seen in the games, and its his charisma and energy that elevate his take on the character, and even when his dialogue feels lacking, it’s Holland’s spirit and star power that do the heavy lifting. Mark Wahlberg shares some good chemistry with Holland, but on its own, his performance as Sully falls short. His character’s writing can’t quite decide what it wants to be, and it feels like a case of less-than-stellar casting with Wahlberg’s delivery. Sophia Ali also does a good job as Chloe, but again, it’s the script that can’t take her character in a satisfying direction. Even famous Oscar nominee Antonio Banderas has an all-in-all boring presence — as if that was even possible for him. The writing also fails to make the origin between Drake and Sully’s meeting feel unique, and ultimately the entire film suffers from being cliché. The editing feels watered down and studio-like, despite some exciting action which feels visually imaginative, but the actual CGI work looks digital and unbelievable. The exposition to explain the adventure can’t quite pull you in and the twists are easy to see from a mile away. Like I said, the scenes they’ve come up with are interesting, whether it’s journeying through ancient underground rooms looking for clues or hanging off planes while fighting bad guys, but the way it’s shot and edited makes any sense of originality or wonder and discovery feel lost. In the hands of a better director and more creative freedom and realistic-looking green screen, this could have been something special. While the action scenes are certainly watchable and bombastic, the delivery feels too fluffy and disposable, without any sort of new creative touch, and fails to differentiate itself from films from the worlds of Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider.

The King’s Man

In the prequel to the Kingsman film series, Orlando Oxford (Ralph Fiennes) forms the Kingsman agency during World War I to stop a huge conspiracy to wipe out millions.

In this large, historically-based prequel, Matthew Vaughn’s unique eye for action and wit remain sharp but he ditches the parodical energy of the last two films for a tonal mess of a WWI action film that takes itself too seriously. Obviously, war is not a joke but the movie already makes fun of the figures behind WWI with its caricatures of Rasputin, Kaiser Wilhelm, King George and Tsar Nicholas (the latter three all being played by the same actor, to make things sillier). So with this Inglorious Basterds-like irreverence the movie plays around with, why not make the entire movie a comedy like the last two movies? The script tries way too hard to teach a somber lesson about violence, but the problem is the movie thrives on the over-the-top carnage seen on screen. The movie is a tonal mess, with the film trying to be both a cartoonish spy comedy and attempting to deconstruct war and lessons around what violence is, as well as having serious, intense scenes on the Western Front that feel like something out of a completely different movie. To make matters worse, the characters all feel flat and the supporting roles, like those of Gemma Arteron and Djimon Honsou, have no agency of their own. Ralph Fiennes is the only actor who gets a fully realized character and he can obviously do no wrong as a performer.

The action and music shine here — as soon as the action begins, the energy kicks in, with thrilling choreography, score (the Kingsman theme that recurs throughout the franchise can never get old), and set pieces. The action and humor play off each other well in these sequences, and Vaughn is an expert at crafting action scenes that grab your attention but are still unapologetically witty and crazy. If I were ever to watch this movie again, though, I would skip all the boring drama and go straight to the awesome action scenes. Instead of embracing the wild and sharp fun the action brings the film, it’s brought done by serious attempts to be a WWI drama, Unfortunately, in the more serious scenes, it feels detached from its audience, and creates a tonally confused movie that can’t decide what it wants to be. The original Kingsman film spoofed James Bond-like spy films while being a terrific example of one. This one missed an opportunity to lean completely into satirizing the politics of war while having an actually fun and wondrous action adventure, but it lacks the unapologetic confidence, energy, adventurousness and irreverence of the last two.

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The Matrix Resurrections

In a rebooted Matrix — literally — a resurrected Neo, now oblivious to the truth, must once again choose to take the red pill and free his mind, in order join the rebellion against the systems holding the humans prisoner inside of the Matrix.

The Matrix Resurrections picks up decades after the end of the third film, which was supposed to definitively conclude the series. This new sequel manages to suck you back into this marvelous sci-fi world with great visuals and world-building, but fails to justify its existence beyond being a cash-grab that relies way too much on reminding you that the first movie exists. The movie tries to be meta and self-aware about sequels and corporate greed but this commentary becomes laughable in ways that I wasn’t sure it was trying to be, and it ends up becoming the exact thing it attempted to mock and satirize. The irreverence and over-the-top nature this movie was going for that tried to mimic the original film just doesn’t work when at the same time taken this seriously. It’s nice to see Keanu Reeves back in action as Neo, but his performance somehow doesn’t manage to reach the heights of his turn in a more recently launched franchise, John Wick. Carrie-Anne Moss also returns as Trinity, and so does Jada Pinkett-Smith as Niobe from the previous sequels, but Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is here replacing Laurence Fishburne as Morpheus, playing an alternate version of the character inside the Matrix. Wouldn’t have been much more rewarding to see Fishburne return as one of the most iconic movie members and have the talented Abdul-Mateen play a new key character? The only real standout performance-wise is Jessica Henwick, whose part feels like a mix between Morpheus and Trinity’s roles in the original but Henwick gives a lot of personality here, which is saying a lot for this movie. Some of the supporting performances, like Jonathan Groff and Neil Patrick Harris, felt weak as they seemed to be over-acting the whole movie.

Though the music, world-building, and concepts are great, as well as the ideas around AI, choice, and free will, it’s hard to give this movie credit for all that because it’s all derived from the original. This film also makes way too many on-the-nose references to the original, including showing scenes again and having visual nods to the point that the first act is almost the same as that from the 1999 film. As a huge fan of that first movie, it’s cool to see the visuals of that outside robot-infested world done today, speaking of which the CGI in the real world is amazing, but the nostalgia for Matrix fans is all the movie has going for it. What made the original work is the incredible action scenes as well as the simplicity of the story and ideas, and this one ditches all that. The fights within the Matrix have headache-inducing editing, and the cuts make it hard to follow. Also considering the conceptually similar Free Guy, which was partly inspired by the original, came out mere months ago, as well as us getting a CGI-filled blockbuster every couple of weeks, it’s hard for this movie to feel that special, besides Lana Wachowski’s evident ambition. There’s also so much exposition needed to explain the gap between The Matrix Revolutions and now, as well as the rules of the world and action of this movie. These explanations are so excessive, confusing and convoluted that it took my friends and I the ride home to truly grasp all the rules. It felt like the final act ditches any sort of logic to simply go for cool visuals and a safe story structure. If you’re a big fan of 1999’s The Matrix like me, and want to see those visuals and that world how it’d be made today, then that’s the only reason to go see this movie. Otherwise, this feels like a rehash of that magnificent first movie that only seeks to bank on our nostalgia and give us more from what we liked 20 years ago.

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Spider-Man: No Way Home

Spider-Man: No Way Home leaves off right after the previous movie, Far From Home, in which Mysterio exposed Spider-Man’s identity as Peter Parker to the world, which has repercussions on Peter’s life as well as his loved ones. He goes to Doctor Strange in an attempt to reverse it, but when a spell goes wrong, villains from other universes — and previous Spider-Man films — emerge and wreak havoc across the multiverse.

After the post-credits scene of the last movie, No Way Home by concept already had immense potential. Marvel Studios decided, however, to up the scale for the Spider-Man series and make it the most exciting film led by the web-slinger yet, by bringing in fantastical aspects and past franchises of the character. Jon Watts takes the style and tone of Homecoming and Far From Home and keeps the heart and lovability of the films but also makes this the darkest and most intense Spider-Man movie yet, with genuinely heart-pounding stakes and characters the audience is invested in. The threats span across multiple realities yet some of the internal conflicts have relatable roots, such as applying to college. Tom Holland’s character’s arc takes mature directions but he’s supported by a great ensemble too. Zendaya and especially Jacob Batalon are hilarious as Peter’s girlfriend and best friend, respectively. The three play off each other wonderfully and are a terrific anchor for the trilogy. Benedict Cumberbatch is great as the no-nonsense Doctor Strange and Marisa Tomei has her most substantial role yet as Aunt May. Actors also return from previous Spidey franchises, including Willem Dafoe and Alfred Molina from the Raimi films starring Tobey Maguire, and Jamie Foxx as Electro from the Amazing Spider-Man films with Andrew Garfield. Dafoe is especially a scene stealer as Green Goblin, reprising the role after nearly 20 years, and the return of Doctor Octopus makes for a great action scene as well. The story, action, and execution up themselves and there are plenty of exciting moments that necessitate a theatrical viewing with an audience. There’s also plenty of surprises, so make sure to be careful with spoilers before seeing this one. There are a few iffy moments in terms of CGI and green screen but they’re redeemed by cool character designs and suits, as well as great fantastical visuals including the Mirror Dimension from Doctor Strange. The movie emotionally builds on its predecessors in a rewarding way while promising great potential for the multiverse in future MCU projects. It’s the most rewarding MCU project of 2021 and arguably the best live-action Spider-Man film to date. It could’ve easily felt like a retread of the conceptually similar animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, but it’s the characters that Marvel has worked so hard to build that makes a movie like this work so well that it feels like the event of the year. This will be a delightful time for superhero and Spidey fans, even if it’s not always thematically a home run, by the end there are positive messages and emotional weight that feel earned through the execution and cast. As always, stay for two post-credits scenes that will have you on the edge of your seat.

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