Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

Posted on May 3, 2022 at 11:27 am

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for frightening images, action, intense sequences of violence, and some language
Profanity: Some strong language, s-word
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drugged drinks
Violence/ Scariness: Extended comic-book/fantasy peril and violence, scary monsters, zombie, disturbing and grisly images
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: May 6, 2022
Date Released to DVD: July 25, 2022

Copyright Disney 2022
The year of the multi-verses continues with the latest Marvel entry, “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” directed by master of horror Sam Raimi (and with a special cameo by Raimi’s favorite actor, Bruce Campbell). As the MCU continues to evolve and expand, this movie builds not just on all of the Marvel movies that have come before. There are references to Thanos turning half the population to dust and to the most recent Spider-Man movie (where Strange played a key role). It also helps a lot to have seen the television series “Wandavision,” with Elizabeth Olsen as the Scarlet Witch, a sometime Avenger with, even by Avenger standards, extraordinary powers. She can create almost anything and in that series, her response to the tragic loss of her love, Vision, was to create an entire world, in part inspired by the videos of American television series she saw as a child in fictional Communist Bloc country Sokovia, where she and Vision lived in sit-com suburbia.

It begins in medias res, a battle with a very big monster who seems to be made of electrified spaghetti. There is a teenage girl and a choice, something that would destroy her but save the world, at least until the next monster. Doctor Strange, the famously hyper-rational, often arrogant surgeon-turned sorcerer with the greying temples and magical cloak, has to decide. What will he do? What should he do?

He makes a choice and then he wakes up. It was a dream. Or maybe it was not. He will learn that it was a peak into the multiverse, the parallel versions of our world we got a glimpse of in “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” when two other Spider-Mans (Spider-Men?) and a handful of their villains joined together in our world. There is a way to physically enter the other verses and there is a way to “dream-walk,” to inhabit another verse’s version of you and substitute your thoughts and emotions. And that teenager, America Chavez (a terrifically natural Xochitl Gomez of “The Babysitter’s Club”) shows up with the key to some of that verse-hopping.

Strange seeks out Wanda to ask for her help. They walk through her peaceful grove of apple blossoms and he tells her they smell “real.” She assures him they are, that she is done with world-building. The meaning of “real” is a theme of the film as the different versions of the characters in the multi-verses present different ideas of reality, including free food and a verse where everyone is paint, plus some surprising switches in roles, personalities, hair color and style (Strange with a ponytail?), and destinies. And there are monsters, including a very cool one that looks like a gigantic corrugated octopus with a head that’s one enormous eyeball, like a spider-y band member from The Residents.

That’s as spoiler-y as I want to get. So I will stick to some general comments. Cumberbatch makes Strange vivid, layered, even a little bit vulnerable, and the interactions with the woman he loves, Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) and America have a nice symmetry that helps us see Strange work through his options, both for fighting the villain and for moving forward in his own life. The visual design is wonderfully imaginative, each verse filled with enthralling details. The action scenes are well staged, Raimi brings a tingly horror twinge to the mood, and Danny Elfman’s music is everything you want a superhero soundtrack to be. It feels good to be back in the IMAX MCU.

What keeps it under the level of the best of these films, though, is what has been an increasing issue in superhero movies. The powers are not clearly defined, so the stakes are not clearly defined. It is not enough to say it’s about the fate of the world or even the fate of America (the person, though of course the country, too). It feels like too many times that we’ve been told that someone has ultimate power, and then someone comes along with more ultimate power. (I did think it was very funny when we saw the Infinity Stones carelessly tossed into a low-level bureaucrat’s desk drawer in the “Loki” series.) I’m not saying every superhero has to be Superman, with his abilities and vulnerability clearly defined. But this film’s search for two artifacts as the keys to resolving the conflict are a distraction from the level of mythic existential conflict this movie tries for. It is a particularly weak moment when Strange, whose power comes from intensive training, resorts to the old “just figure out how to use your power in the next nano-second.” The special effects are state-of-the-art but there’s only so much they can do with characters who just shoot electricity at each other.

NOTE: Stay all the way to the end of the credits for two extra scenes.

Parents should know that this is at the upper edge of a PG-13 with some strong language (s-words) and extensive comic book/fantasy peril and violence with some disturbing and graphic images, including a disintegrating zombie. Characters are drugged.

Family discussion: Is it ever right to sacrifice one person to save many? (Look up “The Trolly Problem.”) What does it mean to always want to be the one holding the knife?

If you like this, try: “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” and “Another Earth”

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Godzilla

Posted on May 15, 2014 at 6:01 pm

41U90dIWTDL._SY300_All the basic ingredients are there for a slam-bang summer monster movie.  We have people in helmets and hazmat suits running to try to get away from something scary.  We have a scientist pleading with a military officer to trust him and the guy in camo responding that he can’t take that chance.  We have a guy everyone thinks is crazy who turns out to be right.  We have mumbo-jumbo about radiation and bio-acoustics.  We have a tentacle(?) tease 40 minutes in.  We have a corporate/government cover-up.  People say things like, “There’s been a breach,” and “I can prove to you and the world that this was not a natural disaster.”  Oh, and “I’m going to find the truth and end this, whatever it takes.”  And “It’s going to send us back to the stone age.”

Buildings will be destroyed and a bridge will collapse.  People will be told to stay home and then traffic will be at a standstill as they all ignore directions.  We have a lot of globe-hopping so that international forces can be involved and iconic skylines can be trashed. And, most important, we have a very, very big monster to do the trashing.  Enormous ships will be tossed around like a rubber duckie in a bathtub.

What we don’t have is a very good story.  And for a movie with a lot of destruction, not enough of a sense of real investment in the outcome.  The good news about CGI is that you can make anything happen on screen.  The bad thing is that everyone knows you can make anything happen, so at a fundamental level, it does not feel real.

“Godzilla” begins promisingly, with a terrific opening credit sequence over “archival” footage and glimpses of redacted government reports.  And ash, lots of ash, detritus from atomic fallout, pretty cool in 3D. Then there’s a little backstory.  In 1999 we see the discovery of a skeleton in a Philippine mine.  The rib cage is the size of an apartment building.  And there’s goop!  If there’s one thing we’ve learned from monster movies over years, it has to be DON’T TOUCH THE GOOP.

Meanwhile, still in 1999, we get our introduction to the adorable family — there always has to be an adorable family — living near a nuclear energy plant in Japan who will provide the emotional core of the film.  There’s loving American father (Bryan Cranston) Joe Brody, distracted by some inexplicable but rhythmic tremors.  There’s loving French wife (Juliette Binoche), who also works at the plant.  And there’s a son, cute tyke Ford.  “Earthquakes are random, jagged,” Joe explains.  What he is hearing is “consistent and increasing.”  We know he will have a hard time persuading his bosses, but we know he is right.  And soon tragedy strikes and the cooling towers collapse.  The entire community is contaminated and shut down.

Fifteen years later, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson of “Kick-Ass”) is coming back from a military deployment where his job is “stopping bombs.”  After he has an adorable reunion with his own adorable wife (Elizabeth Olsen) and son, he gets a call.  Joe has been arrested in Japan, where he is still obsessed with finding the truth about what happened.  He has a crazy room with walls covered in clippings connected by string to show the various conspiracies.  Ford thinks his dad is nuts.  He’s about to find out that he is right.

I don’t want to give away any monster spoilers here, so I’ll just say that there are some surprises for anyone not thoroughly immersed in “Godzilla” lore.  I liked seeing the creature pop nuclear warheads into his mouth like Popeye knocks back spinach.  And it steps things up nicely when the monster’s power charge shorts out the grids.   The special effects are excellent, though only a high-altitude/low opening parachute jump makes full use of the 3D.  But the story is weak and the characters are cardboard.  The original 1954 “Godzilla” resonated because it personified (monstronified?) our then-new fears about the atomic age.  With so many contemporary scares about environmental damage, they should have been able to find something equally potent.

Parents should know that this is a sci-fi movie in the tradition of all monster movies, with extensive mayhem,scary surprises, some disturbing images, and many characters injured and killed.  There is some strong language.

Family discussion:  What made the scientist and the military come to different conclusions — information or training?  What was the significance of the pocket watch?

If you like this, try: the original Japanese “Godzilla” movies

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