Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)

© Marvel Studios

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness – Film Review

Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, Xochitl Gomez, Michael Stuhlbarg, Rachel McAdams

Director: Sam Raimi

Synopsis:  After an encounter with a girl who has the ability to travel in between different multiverses, Doctor Strange begins to fully grapple with the concept of the multiverse and the horrors it could unleash….

This review will be 100% spoiler-free…

 

Review:  The Marvel Cinematic Universe has become such a gargantuan cinematic juggernaut of an impressively inter-woven universe that has successfully tackled a plethora of different genres across 28 different films. However, despite all of its incredible accomplishments, there is one particular genre that (for understandable reasons) the MCU has avoided tackling, and that is horror. Multiple projects of Phase Four have established the multiverse as a central aspect to their stories, and an endless number of doors have simultaneously been opened for Marvel in Phase Four and beyond. Now, with the Multiverse in full swing, it has allowed Marvel to fully embrace this concept, and what better director to bring this to life, than Sam Raimi.

Following on from the events of Spider-Man: No Way Home, Dr Stephen Strange is beginning to grapple with the multiverse and all of its infinite possibilities. Whilst at the wedding of his former co-worker and one-time love interest Christine (McAdams) he encounters a girl named America Chavez (Gomez) who has the power to travel in-between multiverses. Strange quickly realises that with the scope of her powers, it is extremely likely that some dangerous individuals will soon be making their play, wanting her power for their own ends. Fearing the consequences if that came to pass, he seeks the help of someone else who has knowledge of the multiverse, Wanda Maximoff (Olsen), to help protect America and prevent her power from falling into the wrong hands.

In what is his sixth time playing the ex-Sorceror Supreme, Benedict Cumberbatch once again excels in the role. It is clear when we meet him that this is a man with a lot on his mind, especially since he played such an integral role along with Spider-Man (remember him?) in establishing the multiverse and all of its perils as a very real danger to the world that he is sworn to protect. Furthermore, even though his actions helped restore the universe to undo the consequences of the Blip, there are some decisions that Strange is grappling with. Most notably, concerning his one-time flame Christine. However, with the arrival of America Chavez, Strange knows that he cannot afford to dwell on the past, because dangers both old and new, are threatening to reap unimaginable destruction on not just our world, but every world out there. Given how central her character is to the film, Xochitl Gomez brings likeability, fearlessness and determination to the role of America Chavez, and she stands toe to toe with the experienced MCU regulars.

While Cumberbatch excels, the even bigger star of the show here is Olsen’s latest portrayal of Wanda Maximoff. The events of WandaVision gave Olsen a chance to dive deep and fully explore the tragedy of this character. Having seen what her life could have been through those alternate realities, this is a woman who is on a deeply personal mission. Now fully embracing her Scarlet Witch mantra and fuelled by a frightening combination of rage, grief and heartache for her long lost family, it enables Olsen to demonstrate a side to Wanda that’s unlike anything we’ve seen before, an extremely powerful being who’s more than capable of giving any character in this universe a run for their money, and more than likely, a good arse-kicking.

With his experience with both the realm of Marvel with the original Spider-Man trilogy, along with the Evil Dead trilogy that launched his career as a director, it is fantastic to see Sam Raimi back in the director’s chair after a nearly decade long hiatus since his last project in 2013. The visual effects wizards once again bring the magic when it comes to the actions scenes, but it is no coincidence that with Raimi at the helm, the film really pushes the boundaries of the 12A/PG 13 rating, in a way that the MCU has never done up to this point. Some scenes definitely have a more noticeably horror movie element to them, and are much more violent. It could have been a match made in multiversal heaven. However, it’s really disappointing that Michael Waldron’s (who wrote the Disney+ TV show Loki) screenplay quickly becomes very convoluted and is filled with a frustrating amount of exposition that really drags the film down, with certain scenes serving as little more than fan service that doesn’t drive the plot forward.

With a title like In the Multiverse of Madness, audiences would surely have expected a thrilling ride that delves deep into the madness of the concept of a multiverse, especially given what the MCU has already explored with the concept thus far. Yet, the reality is that what’s presented here only really scratches the surface of what it could have explored in the 126 minute run time. Multiversal shenanigans are enjoying an unprecedented spell of popularity at this moment in time, and the potential was there for another great entry into this particular sub-genre. Yet, even with the recruitment of Raimi, not even his wizardry can conjure away the feeling that this is a massive missed opportunity.

It’s a joy to see Sam Raimi return to the realm of superhero filmmaking. Though, even with him working his magic, this multiversal adventure never fully lives up to the potential teased by its bonkers title.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)

© Marvel Studios, Sony and Columbia Pictures

Spider-Man: No Way Home   – Film Review

Cast: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jacob Batalon, Jon Favreau, Marisa Tomei, J. B. Smoove, Benedict Wong, Jamie Foxx, Alfred Molina, Willem Dafoe

Director: Jon Watts

Synopsis: After his identity is revealed to the world, Peter Parker asks for the help of Doctor Strange in a desperate attempt to make everyone forget he is Spider-Man…

This review will be 100% spoiler-free…

Review: Back in 2019, when Marvel Studios released Avengers: Endgame to the world, it was the crowning and unprecedented achievement of a decade-long cinematic adventure. Unlike anything that had ever been accomplished before in cinematic history it broke box office records, and – for a time – held the title of the highest-grossing film of all time. After the conclusion of that thrilling journey, Marvel would have been forgiven for spending five or so years to take stock of what they’ve achieved. The pandemic might have forced them to wait a bit, but this year Marvel have gone full steam ahead with the continuation of their Cinematic Universe. Phase 4 is beginning to take shape, and now, perhaps the biggest film of this phase thus far, and certainly the biggest since Endgame, has arrived.

Set immediately after the events of Spider-Man: Far From Home, Spider-Man’s identity has, thanks to Quentin Beck/Mysterio been revealed to the world. Consequently, Peter’s whole life has been turned upside down. With his identity now a known fact, it’s having an adverse impact on the lives of his family and friends as well. Desperate for help, he turns to Doctor Strange and asks him to cast a spell that makes the world forget his secret identity. However, when Peter attempts to tamper with the spell, it goes horribly wrong and unleashes the Multiverse, as hinted at in Disney+’s Loki. The Multiverse is something that they know, as Strange puts it, “frighteningly little about.” The corrupted spell causes strange visitors and foes from different universes to arrive in our world, and it’s up to Peter to stop them and send them back to their own realities.

After two MCU Spider-Man films that very much dealt with the impact that Tony Stark/Iron Man had on Peter Parker and his early career as everyone’s friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man, this concluding chapter is a welcome departure from that. With Iron Man having passed on, it’s left Peter Parker with no choice but to grow up, stand on his own two feet and wrestle with the fallout from his identity being revealed. Though that’s all with the help of a certain magic Sorcerer, who thankfully is not predictably stepping up to the mentor void left by Iron Man. Tom Holland has proven himself to be a fan favourite in this role with his numerous appearances across the MCU, but it’s here which he gives his absolute best performance. Being the hero that he is, there’s a lot resting on his shoulders, to save the world and to also protect those he cares about from being harmed by his mistakes.

Having seen a previous, and beautifully animated, Spider-Man film brilliantly using the concept of a Multiverse; screenwriters Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers had the unenviable task of adapting the Multiverse into this iteration of the character. They also had to make this third MCU Spider-Man film live up to the lofty expectations that fans had hoisted upon the film from its announcement. Depending on what you have seen in the build-up to the film, it may or may not live up to those expectations. The first act is a little rough to start off with, but once we get to the tampered spell, and the opening up of the multiverse the film finds its feet. Previous Spidey films have often been left to rue their mistakes when one too many villains get dragged into the picture, and the plot as a result gets severely messy. Thankfully, lightning doesn’t strike twice – or perhaps thrice – here as director Jon Watts is able to weave all these threads into a satisfying narrative that never feels as bloated as a Russian rhinoceros.

It would be easy to see this film as nothing more than just an enormous helping of fan service. While it is most certainly true in that regard, it does definitely have its moments that will undoubtedly please long-time fans of this character. However, it doesn’t negate what matters most to the character of Peter Parker, and the core values that the revered hero stands for. The character is one that has been a favourite for generations of comic book fans and thanks to our friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man, Phase 4 of the MCU has now opened the multiverse good and proper, and the possibilities that brings are plentiful and very very fantastic.

Juggling a lot of different plot webs has proven to be a stumbling block before, but with a career-best performance from Holland and an excellent cast of supporting characters, this Spider-Man threequel triumphantly swings its way to success.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)

© Marvel Studios

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings – Film Review

Cast: Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Tony Leung, Meng’er Zhang, Fala Chen, Florian Munteanu, Benedict Wong, Michelle Yeoh

Director: Destin Daniel Cretton

Synopsis: After living many years living a normal life in the USA, martial artist Shang-Chi (Liu) is forced to confront his past and his father’s organisation, The Ten Rings…

Review: In the years since the Marvel Cinematic Universe has taken over Hollywood, producing a remarkable interconnected universe, and smashing records here, there and everywhere, there has been no shortage of remarkable accomplishments and awards. Yet, there have also been historic and ground-breaking moments in terms of representation along the way. First there was Black Panther that was the first MCU film to feature a predominantly Black cast that celebrated Black culture. Then came Captain Marvel, which marked the first female-directed and driven film in the franchise. And now, the all-conquering juggernaut that is the MCU, has now provided us with its first Asian lead superhero film, alongside a predominantly Asian led cast.

Shang-Chi is a skilled martial arts warrior who spent his early life growing up in the shadow of his father Wenwu (Leung)’s organisation The Ten Rings. Wenwu is in possession of ten mystical and magical rings that grant him incredible power and immortality. With this incredible power in his possession, he has conquered pretty much anything and everything in his path over a great period of time. Also, in that time he raised a family, and put his children through rigorous and intense training. However, his son Shang-Chi has been for many years on a different path. Namely, the path of a normal life in the USA, working as a valet alongside his best friend Katy (Awkwafina). Until one day, his past catches up with him and he realises he can no longer escape his father’s shadow, coming face to face with his father once again.

To be tasked with the leading role in the first Asian led MCU film is a massive responsibility to have on the shoulders of the actor in question, especially if this is your first leading role in one of the biggest franchises in the world currently, such as the MCU. Fortunately, Simu Liu proves to be a perfect choice to play the titular role, as he has the charisma needed to carry the film on his shoulders. While Shang-Chi is unquestionably an extremely skilled warrior and martial arts expert, unlike say, a Tony Stark, there’s no arrogance or cockiness to him, he’s very humble and grounded. Alongside Shang-Chi is his best friend Katy, who is initially completely unaware of her friend’s past as a fierce warrior. Any MCU film is guaranteed to have a substantial amount of comedy, and a lot of this comes through Katy. The role of a comedy sidekick is one that Awkwafina has played before, and once again she’s perfect at it.

In a similar vein to Black Panther, there is a core of badass and powerful women alongside Shang-Chi. As well as Katy, Meng’er Zhang as Shang-Chi’s sister Xu Xialing threatens to steal the show from her brother. A feat that is all the more impressive when you consider that this is her first foray into the world of acting. Fala Chen and Michelle Yeoh may not have the most screen time, but both use the short amount of screen time they do have to wonderful effect. Marvel villains can often fall short of being memorable, or indeed not very threatening. This is most assuredly not the case with Tony Leung’s Wenwu. Right from the moment he’s on screen, armed with these powerful rings, he’s a very formidable foe who makes his presence known. However, there’s a lot more to his character than just being a skilled warrior in possession of ten magical rings. At the core of his character, is a desire to reconnect with his long lost children, and it represents the crucial emotional core that’s central to the story.

It is crystal clear that the iconic martial arts films of the past serve as an inspiration for the action scenes. Director Destin Daniel Cretton and the stunt teams here are paying the utmost respect to the Martial arts films of the past that inspired them. Consequently, there is a unique flair to some of the action scenes that’s never been captured in previous MCU films. While this is consistently maintained throughout, it does get to a point where the action becomes an abundance of CGI, particularly in the third act. This is not a bad thing by any means, due to the fact that emotional investment in the journey of these characters is strong. Yet, given how common it has become in superhero films, it is something that like to see superhero films move away from. Nevertheless, in the same way that Black Panther irrevocably changed the MCU forever, Shang-Chi is poised to follow suit by being a massive step forward for wider representation in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

With the unique visual flair and choreography of its action sequences, and the committed performances of its cast, especially Liu, Zhang, and Yeung, all these factors combine to make Shang-Chi another superb MCU origin story. A new hero is born.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Raya and the Last Dragon (2021)

Image is property of Disney Animation Studios

Raya and the Last Dragon – Film Review

Cast: Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Gemma Chan, Daniel Dae Kim, Sandra Oh, Benedict Wong, Izaac Wang, Thalia Tran, Alan Tudyk

Directors: Don Hall and Carlos López Estrada

Synopsis: In the ancient land that was once known as Kumandra, a warrior princess goes in search of what is believed to be the last dragon….

Review: Throughout the many decades of animated films to emerge from Walt Disney Animation Studios, stories of fairy tales and Princesses have been plentiful. It is after all, one of the many things that they do best. The early Disney Princess stories might have leaned into the more traditional aspects of fairytales and princesses. Yet, from the Renaissance years onwards, the studio’s Disney Princess outings have all had an element of striving to something that does not stick to the norm, and breaks substantial new ground in terms of story-telling and representation. With what is their 59th film, they’ve taken a massive step forward in terms of representation by creating for the very first time, a South-East Asian heroine.

Many centuries ago, in the land of Kumandra, humanity and dragons co-existed in harmony. However, when the land comes under attack from a vicious evil spirt known as the Druun, an all powerful artefact that repels the Druun is created to repel them forever. Flash forward to the present, and with the dragons now believed to be long gone, the people are now divided into five warring tribes, all seeking possession of this artefact. When the conflict boils over, and this deadly evil spirit returns, the burden falls on Raya’s shoulders to seek out the Last Dragon, before this evil spirit consumes the entire world as they know it.

It’s practicality a formality that whenever one comes to watch an animated film from the House of Mouse, that the animation is going to be the best that it could possibly be. It is to the immense credit of the animators, that not only is the animation absolute breath-taking to look at, but it seems to be somehow getting even better with each passing film. For each territory of this civilisation, there’s a considerable change in the terrain, and this shift provides numerous opportunities for the animators to explore the richness and the diversity of the terrain. Through their wonderful work, they do not disappoint as each territory enables the animators to demonstrate their animation wizardry, which helps to bring so much vividness and beauty to this world.

After having endured an absolutely ridiculous and completely undeserved amount of flak for her work in the Star Wars franchise, seeing Kelly Marie Tran given a leading role as a Disney Princess is just wonderful, and she absolutely crushes it with her performance as Raya. Through her excellent voice work, she imbues this character with a sense of courage, honour, and duty to her family and her people. While this may all be familiar beats for a Disney film, what Raya also has in her favour is that she is a fearless warrior who boasts excellent skills with a sword, which should ensure Raya adds her name to the ever growing list of fierce, strong and badass heroines that Disney films have produced.

Alongside her, Awkwafina, an actress who has been excelling in recent years, almost steals the show as the voice of the dragon Sisu. Being the last of her kind, there’s an understandable element of seriousness given how integral this character is to the film’s story. However, the film’s script by Qui Nguyen and Adele Lim, allows Awkwafina to use her comedic talents to wonderful effect, and through the voice talents of both actresses, the characters form a deep bond that helps to drive the film forward. Furthermore, the cast is further enhanced with excellent contributions from the talents of Gemma Chan, Sandra Oh, Benedict Wong, and Alan Tudyk as Tuk Tuk, one of the most adorable animal side characters this studio has ever created.

The film can sometimes get a bit bogged down by the sheer amount of lore and backstory that it tries to fill in its runtime. While there’s some familiarity with some of the story’s beats, the film packs plenty of heart and emotional weight. In many ways, Raya and The Last Dragon is a film that feels tailor made for these divisive and troubled times that the world has been living through for the last year or so. As a society that feels broken, bereft of trust and compassion for those around us, as we collectively struggle to deal with a crisis that has shaken society to its very core, leaving a heart-breaking amount of pain, and loss in its wake. In the year 2021, the world could learn a thing or two from a hero like Raya.

Bursting with gorgeous, colourful animation, and a ground-breaking Warrior Princess heroine, Raya and The Last Dragon is another House of Mouse gem that feels tailor-made for the times we’re living in.