Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness review

Director: Sam Raimi
Cast : Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Benedict Wong, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Xochitl Gomez
Genre: Action/Adventure/Horror
Run Time : 126 min
Opens : 4 May 2022
Rating : PG13

The following review is spoiler-free

Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) continues apace with an exploration of the Multiverse. Following the build-up from the Loki and What If…? series on Disney+ and Spider-Man: No Way Home, this entry leaps into the heady unknown as Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and company traverse alternate planes of existence.

The combined events of WandaVision and Spider-Man: No Way Home set the stage for this adventure. Doctor Stephen Strange and Wong (Benedict Wong), who took over as the Sorcerer Supreme from Strange, meet America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez). This is no ordinary teenager: she has the power to punch portals in reality to travel between Multiverses, and she arrives to warn Strange of an oncoming incursion. Strange goes to Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) for help, but she has other plans. Strange and Chavez travel to other universes, meeting alternate versions of Strange. Strange must also reckon with his decision to leave the love of his life, Dr Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), having never fully gotten over her. As our heroes face great unknowns and tangle with forces beyond their comprehension, the fate of the Multiverse hangs in the balance.  

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is into its 14th year of existence, garnering both supporters and detractors. While there is a worthwhile discussion to be had about the impact of the franchise’s outsized success on the film industry, it’s hard to deny that these movies are broadly well made – something we get reminded of each time less successful attempts at comic book movies emerge. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness continues that tradition while bending and twisting what these movies can be. It’s like one of those toys that springs back into shape after you’ve played with it. Screenwriter Michael Waldron, who was the head writer of Loki, crafts engaging and out-there scenarios while keeping the movie focused. The formula that underpins the movie prevents it from spinning too wildly out of control, while there is also room for plenty of weirdness and for director Sam Raimi to put his stamp on things. Audiences have come to expect big tentpole movies to be overlong affairs, so at 126 minutes, Multiverse of Madness doesn’t overstay its welcome.

As with so many other MCU movies, there is a lot of computer-generated imagery. Much of it is good, but not all of it works. As wondrous as these movies can be to look at, the artifice can sometimes take viewers out of it. In this movie, CGI is used to create trippy dreamscapes, but also big monsters that are not quite as charming as they would have been had they been done practically.

While actress Xochitl Gomez cannot be faulted, the America Chavez character feels almost entirely like she only exists as a plot device, even with some time taken to establish her backstory. She is very much the living MacGuffin of the piece, which is a bit of a shame considering the character’s potential, but there are places to go yet.

The speed at which the movie moves is often in its favour, but sometimes it gets in the way of some of the emotional beats and it can feel like we are being whisked from set-piece to set-piece. It’s a good thing that the set-pieces are all enjoyable.

Beyond the cameos and the references to the comics, the big highlight here is the return of Sam Raimi, who hasn’t directed a feature film since 2013’s Oz: The Great and Powerful. Raimi boarded Multiverse of Madness after the departure of Scott Derrickson, who directed the first Doctor Strange film. We’ve seen what happens when studio meddling gets in Raimi’s way, as evidenced by Spider-Man 3. As such, it’s a good thing that Multiverse of Madness often feels as much like a Raimi movie as it does an MCU movie. There is quite a bit of goofiness and one fight scene that’s instrumental to the story is pure, classic Raimi. The wildly kinetic camera, representing the point of view of the Evil Dead in the titular film, makes a return in a way. This is the closest to horror an MCU movie has come, to entertaining results.

Raimi is often mentioned in the same breath as Peter Jackson, in that both came from low-budget horror and wound up helming the biggest and most influential blockbusters of the time. It could be said that James Gunn is in the same mould. Multiverse of Madness makes a good case for the MCU as a sandbox, and it’s to Marvel Studios’ credit that this thoroughly feels like a Raimi picture.

Summary: An enjoyable excursion into realms unknown, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness marks a welcome return for director Sam Raimi. While containing all the MCU hallmarks, it is also unmistakably Raimi’s work, with several moments approaching horror movie territory. This is a rewarding watch for long-time fans of the MCU and those who have followed the WandaVision and What If…? series on Disney+, but the underlying story is straightforward enough that other audiences won’t feel completely stranded. Both reliably entertaining and just surprising enough, Multiverse of Madness gets a lot right.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Spotlight

For F*** Magazine

SPOTLIGHT 

Director : Thomas McCarthy
Cast : Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Brian d’Arcy James, Stanley Tucci, Billy Crudup
Genre : Drama
Run Time : 128 mins
Opens : 21 January 2016
Rating : NC-16 (Some Mature Content)

It was 2001, and facing great opposition, one small band of intrepid reporters uncovered the truth behind a string of child sex abuse cases. Spotlight tells their story. The Boston Globe’s new editor Marty Baron (Schreiber), arriving from Florida, reads a small column about a paedophile priest whom Boston’s Cardinal Law was aware of and yet did nothing to stop him. Baron assigns journalist Walter “Robby” Robinson (Keaton) and his team to go after what appears to be a much larger story. Alongside Robinson, Michael Rezendes (Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (McAdams), Ben Bradlee Jr. (Slattery) and Matt Carroll (James) comprise the Spotlight team, the oldest newspaper investigative unit still active in the United States. Because of the sensitive nature of the case and how strongly institutional Catholicism figures in the city of Boston, the Spotlight team faces an uphill battle in illuminating the sobering, horrifying truth of the pattern of abuse that has been perpetuated by the city’s priests.

            Directed by Tom McCarthy and co-written by McCarthy and Josh Singer, Spotlight has emerged among the stronger contenders of the 2015-2016 awards race, premiering to “sustained applause” at the Venice Film Festival. As moviegoers, we’re used to seeing fearless, heroic reporters ducking out of the gun sights of assassins or going toe to toe with Lex Luthor, getting rescued by Superman at the last moment. Spotlight presents a portrait of real-life reporters and the good that they’re capable of doing. It’s a cinematic embodiment of journalistic integrity and a measured, objective handling of a potentially provocative topic. There’s nary a whiff of embellishment and McCarthy avoids a vulgar, sensationalistic approach to the subject matter at every turn. As the cliché goes, this is a movie about “men and women just doing their jobs”, and the realism and credibility McCarthy brings to the film is just the right way to celebrate the accomplishments of the Spotlight team.

            There’s a nobility and a worthiness to the story being told, of course, but seeing reporters standing around the bullpen comparing notes doesn’t exactly scream excitement. Cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi, who also lensed the Boston-set Black Mass, adds just the right amount of dynamism to the proceedings while restraining from distracting flashiness. There is a clarity to the progression of the story in the sequence of events without it getting too dry. At the same time, Spotlight never loses sight of the human toll of the case. A cleverly-edited sequence which intercuts Pfeifer and Rezendes interviewing two very different victims conveys how many young lives were affected by the scandal without descending into hokey sentimentality.

            Spotlight boasts a luminous ensemble cast who breathe life into unglamorous unsung heroes. Keaton doesn’t get as juicy a part as in the earlier award season darling Birdman, but is still able to bring a charisma to the role of the Spotlight team’s fearless leader. Schreiber’s Marty Baron is the outsider that is desperately needed to examine and evaluate the situation from a distance and without his impetus, the investigation probably wouldn’t have happened, or would at least have been significantly delayed. As a reporter who’s less of the plucky Lois Lane archetype she portrayed in State of Play, McAdams gets some excellent scenes where Pffeifer has to maintain her composure in difficult confrontations with victims and perpetrators alike.  Ruffalo is the stand-out as the dedicated, passionate, somewhat awkward Rezendes. He mostly plays opposite Tucci’s Mitchell Garabedian, an attorney representing the victims. Garabedian is prickly and suffers no fools, but is ultimately well-meaning. Michael Cyril Creighton and Neal Huff both turn in affecting performances as but two of the many victims traumatised in their youth.

            A level-headed telling of the events that’s not out to shock or function as a smear piece, Spotlight offers great insight into the way investigative reporters conduct their inquiries and the positive impact that their work can have. Sure, the quiet, even-handed approach favoured by McCarthy may sacrifice superficial excitement, but Spotlight’s lack of self-conscious prestige picture artifice is refreshing. Spotlight is more concerned with lauding the Boston Globe journalists than delivering a searing takedown of the Roman Catholic Church, which is just as well. Pragmatic without being detached, compelling without being heavy-handed, Spotlight’s unassuming nature is the ideal reflection of the work ethic displayed by the journalists it is about.

Summary:This account of the Spotlight team’s investigation into the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic archdiocese of Boston is concise, fair, dignified and respectful, brought to life by a powerhouse cast.

RATING: 4.5out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong