Films

Ramblings about Films – whether it’s new, reviews or something else.

REVIEW: Language Lessons (2021)

After his husband gifts him 100 Spanish lessons, Adam (Mark Duplass) and his teacher Cariño (Natalie Morales) form an unexpected friendship.

Gosh I love this film. I watched and loved half of it online at London Film Festival last year but missed the latter half due to a power cut so it’s been a long time coming for me to finally see the complete film and see if it was as good as I remembered. I’m very happy to find that it is indeed as sweet, funny, and touching as a remembered and seeing how Adam and Cariño’s relationship panned out was a joy.

During the pandemic there’s been a fair few “lockdown movies” whether that’s films where a group of people are stuck in the same place together for an extended period of time or it’s a story told via Zoom calls. Language Lessons fits into the second version but at the same time, it’s a story that never mentions the pandemic and it could’ve happened anytime as Adam lives in America while Cariño is in Costa Rica and they find connection via the Spanish lessons.

Language Lessons is shot entirely as if the characters are either on a Zoom call or are sending each other video messages and it’s a gimmick that really works. There are moments where the video quality isn’t great or it jumps a bit and that along with the script, co-written by the two stars, makes everything feel so natural. Considering you only see Adam and Cariño during these calls or messages, like the characters you’re left filling in the gaps of their lives and making assumptions based on the limited information given to you. With that, there’s a lot of surprises but none of them feel cheap or farfetched and instead you see different sides to the characters. Cariño especially is interesting as she struggles to keep the student/teacher boundary and when she does start to put that barrier back up, Adam starts to see through it.

Language Lessons is a film about platonic love and there are so few films that put the importance of friendship on an almost pedestal like this. Sure, there’s the teen films where there’s ride or die best friends but films about adults, and adults of different genders especially, and how their friendship works and matters to them aren’t that common.

At a swift 90 minutes, Language Lessons is a film that covers just about every facet of human emotion. It’s an incredibly poignant film and it’s the kind of film that mad me laugh and made me cry. It really is just a perfect gem of a movie. It’s both heart-breaking and heart-warming and both actors do a fantastic job at portraying this unconventional friendship. It’s one of those films I’ll be recommending to everyone and though it was sad at times, it also felt like a comforting hug because throughout it all both Adam and Cariño are both so incredibly kind and it’s the kind of story that gives you faith in human connection. 5/5.

Side note: With all the discussions about how no media is safe when it’s just available online and that physical media is the only way to make sure you have your favourite films, I wish I could get a physical copy of Language Lessons here in the UK. At the moment I’ll have to do with a digital copy as there doesn’t appear to be DVD/Blu-Ray available here and this is a film I will be revisiting.

REVIEW: The Forgiven (2021)

When driving to a friends lavish party in the middle of the Moroccan desert in the dark, David and Jo Henninger (Ralph Fiennes and Jessica Chastain) accidentally hit a teenage boy. While the police aren’t interested, the next day the boy’s father arrives and asks David to return to his village for the burial. David reluctantly agrees while Jo stays at the mansion in the desert, partying the weekend away.

The Forgiven feels like the kind of lavish film for adults that you don’t tend to see as often nowadays. It’s a grown-up film that deals with a lot of unlikeable but interesting and complex characters and is also darkly funny at times too. Perhaps The Forgiven isn’t as great as I think it is but when superhero movies (which I tend to enjoy) are the bread and butter for cinemas, it’s great to see a film where the “morals” are complex and people are messy.

One of the fascinating things about The Forgiven is how no character really comes across well. There are moments of growth or change, or at least the start of potentially something better for them, but that doesn’t mean they completely stop saying bigoted things or start treating people better.

It’s honestly great to see so many multifaceted characters on screen and them being so messy that you’re never sure who is – or even if there is – the “good” person. David and Jo are arguing and appear to be in a stagnant marriage before the accident and at the first introductions to them both you’re more predisposed to like Jo rather than David. She comes across as the put-upon wife dealing with a functioning alcoholic of a husband and a man who doesn’t appear to have said anything politically correct in his life. As the plot unfolds though David starts to see the consequences of his actions meanwhile Jo is drinking, flirting and revelling in her new found freedom.

Richard (Matt Smith) is their friend and it’s his and his boyfriend’s, stylist Dally (Caleb Landry Jones), party and home the Henninger’s are at. Richard is one of the most likable in an unlikable bunch. He’s a posh, sassy toff but he seems to be one of the only people that has any amount of understanding and respect of the Moroccan culture and traditions. He and Dally have a staff made up of Moroccans and while the staff seem to not be able to stand Dally, there is sometimes signs of a grudging respect when it comes to Richard. That’s not to say he and his guests don’t say or do things that hurt the staff, just that he’s a bit more aware of what’s going on. That being said, the staff have some of the funniest lines and Hamid (Mourad Zaoui), Richard’s righthand man, is a fascinating character as he toes the line of silently judging the people he works for.

The whole cast is brilliant in their roles. It is a lot of fun seeing Matt Smith being catty and cruel, while Chastain and Fiennes’ verbal sparring is wonderful and the film does feel like it misses that when they’re a part for so long. Chastain is delightful as she lounges about with a wine glass in hand, delivering cutting remarks to anyone who comes too close.

The Forgiven is a tension-filled culture clash and it’s often morbidly funny too. It’s such an interesting and compelling film and one I’m really glad I saw in the cinema with a pretty full audience. 4/5.

REVIEW: Prey (2022)

On the Great Plains in 1719, Naru (Amber Midthunder), a fierce and skilled Comanche tracker and wannabe hunter, discovers strange tracks in the forest. While some may think it’s a bear, she thinks it’s something else and as she tracks it, she encounters a highly evolved predator that is unlike anything they’ve ever seen before.

Prey is a Predator prequel and to say that films featuring the Predator creature have been a bit of a mixed bag over the years would be an understatement. Thankfully Prey, is firmly in the good category when it comes to this franchise. It’s a film that really goes back to the basics; small group of people, remote location, inventive kills, and a great lead.

For the first 30 minutes or so the focus is on Naru, her relationship with her brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers), and how she’s a bit of an underdog and an outsider when it comes to her peers. Naru is a skilled tracker and is knowledgeable about medicine but what she wants is to be a hunter and respected by the other (male) hunters. Prey is a bit of a coming-of-age story in that aspect as Naru fights for respect and prestige as well as survival. It is a bit like any teen drama in that aspect but Amber Midthunder is so good and as the thrills and tension when Naru faces the Predator are there it’s easy to embrace that movie cliché.

It’s easy to like and empathise with Naru and she really goes through it as she fights to survive. She fails and struggles a lot but she learns something from every encounter she has with the Predator and learns to adapt.

Prey looks and sounds good too. The fact that it appears to have been shot on location makes everything feel more real (especially after a lot of more recent big action films never consistently looking quite right). While you don’t necessarily see all the kills in their bloody glory. the sound design is excellent and even if you don’t see blood or a brutalised body, you can easily imagine it thanks to the sounds of all the slicing, tearing, and impaling going on. The score by Sarah Schachner is great too and adds to the tension and the often-haunting atmosphere of the film.

Prey has great tension, a tight runtime, and an excellent lead making it a really engaging horror action film. Plus, it’s nice to watch an action film without a lot of humour that undercuts any dramatic or poignant moments. 4/5.

REVIEW: The Princess (2022)

When a strong-willed princess (Joey King) refuses to marry Julius (Dominic Cooper) her cruel suitor, her family is held hostage while she is locked in the tower of her father’s castle. To save her kingdom she must first save herself.

The Princess is one of those simple but fun action films. Its concept has probably been compared to The Raid or Dredd a lot already as instead of someone fighting their way up to the top of a tower, here our heroine is fighting her way down. Because the Princess is used to being underestimated. She was trained by her friend and mentor Linh (Veronica Ngo) in secret so when she wakes up and at the supposed mercy of her captors. She’s not going to wait to be rescued.

The action sequences are well-choreographed and fun as the Princess uses whatever comes to hand to fight before she actually gets her hand on some proper weapons. The lace from her dress or her hair pins become deadly weapons in her hands. She never shies away from an opponent even when so many of them are twice her size and it’s fun to see how she uses her size and speed against them.

The Princess has one of my favourite things in film when it comes to costuming. It’s where a character has one outfit for the entire film but over the course of the film it gets to look different thanks to what the character goes through. Sleeves are ripped off, skirts are caught and torn, various elements are added (some armour) or taken away (dainty shoes swapped for boots) and the evolution of the costume reflects the evolution of the character. With the Princess, she knows who she is and it’s how the costume becomes a reflection of that over time rather than discovering her true self. She wakes up in the tower in a beautiful, long white dress (clearly meant to be her wedding dress) and as she fights for her life it becomes more battered, bloody and well-suited for fighting hordes of mercenaries.

It’s honestly very therapeutic watching an angry young woman absolutely destroy dozens, if not hundreds, of men in her pursuit to save her family and to prevent herself from being forced to marry a sociopath. Sometimes it’s just nice to spend 90 minutes in a fantasy world where women can save the day and be near indestructible as they survive just about anything that could be thrown at them.

The Princess is a decent action film and one with women at its core. Julius’s henchwoman Moira (Olga Kurylenko) is more interesting than him, and the Princesses mother and sister are more rave and layered than her father the king. Then there’s Joey King in the titular role, she’s fierce and brave and fantastic. It is a shame that The Princess is one of the many 20th Century Fox films that has seemed to have been dumped on streaming services rather than get a cinema release since Disney bought the studio as it’se definitely one of those films that’d work well with a crowd. 3/5.

REVIEW: Thor: Love and Thunder (2022)

Unsure of his life and what he wants from it, Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth) mid-life crisis is interrupted by Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale), a galactic killer who seeks the extinction of the gods. Thor enlists the help of King Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), Korg (Taika Waititi) and his ex-girlfriend Dr Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), who is now the Mighty Thor and wields Mjolnir, to stop the God Butcher.

Thor: Love and Thunder is style over substance. I feel at one time I may have had that criticism for Thor: Ragnarok but at least there the tone was mostly balanced and there was still a decent plot and character work. In Love and Thunder it’s all bright colours (except in the Shadow Realm which is the one stylistic thing and sequence I found interesting) and rock music and it’s so tonally inconsistent and the jokes are juvenile and grating. There’s running gags in Love and Thunder that may have been a bit cringey but generally OK the first time but the fact that they just keep going with that joke it feels like it’s flogging a dead horse and even if it was a little funny to begin with, in the end it becomes so unfunny that it’s painful. The jokes also often come at the expense of the drama and supposedly more emotional, hard-hitting moments which is annoying. Also, if you’re like me and only really like Korg in small doses, then Love and Thunder may be grating at times as that is a “funny” character I do not find amusing.

The tonal inconsistences aren’t just the humour undercutting dramatic moments, but how in some ways Gorr feels completely out of place to the rest of the film. Christian Bale is great in the role and is creepy and gives a great performance. Gorr is so serious, and perhaps a little mad, so when he comes up against a God that’s self-indulgent and arrogant it’s kind of jarring. You could say this is on purpose – showing how the Gods don’t care about the people that worship them and how they just want to live in opulence and have all the food, wine, and sex that they could ask for – thus giving Gorr all the more reason to kill the Gods. However as elsewhere in Love and Thunder there’s humour undercutting dramatic moments and drastic tonal shifts it feels like it’s part of a wider issue.

One of my biggest problems with Thor: Love and Thunder is Thor as a character. In films of all genres, I can kind of forgive a weaker plot if the character work is good. Especially in franchise films, if I like a character, I just enjoy seeing them and how they’ve grown and adapted to whatever situation they’re in and what’s going on around them isn’t such a big deal for me. With Thor: Love and Thunder the plot isn’t great and neither is the character work. Thor seems like he has regressed as a character and is back to being the arrogant man-child he was at the start of Thor. The whole point of the first film his him learning some humility, that actions have consequences and you can’t always go charging in like a bull in a China shop. Over the past however many Thor and Avengers movies Thor has learnt the smashing things without first attempting diplomacy isn’t the answer. In Love and Thunder, he doesn’t seem to care about anyone, including the Asgardian people he’s supposed to love and protect; summoning the Bifrost in buildings, destroying sacred temples as he stops bad guys, and just generally acting like an irresponsible buffoon.

Though she’s now King, Valkyrie gets no real development, any hints at a genuine friendship between her and Jane are few and far between and she is regulated to Thor’s sidekick once again. Jane and her heavy origin story and rise as the Mighty Thor feels shafted due to it being surrounded by flat jokes doing wrong by her as a character and what she’s going through. Plus, as it’s been a while since we’ve seen the character, the Jane/Thor romance feels underdeveloped even as the film gives a copious number of flashbacks to try and make you care about it.

Thor: Love and Thunder relies on the (unfunny) banter between characters rather than any real meaningful dialogue or emotion and does a disservice to all of its character. It definitely feels like Thor: Love and Thunder didn’t work when the thing that got the biggest reaction from me was an actor’s appearance in the midcredits scene. The rest of the film didn’t particularly make me feel happy or sad and I may have smiled a couple of times or chuckled but never full on laughed at anything that happened on screen. 2/5.

Perhaps I’m being generous with a 2/5 rating but that’s what I’ve settled on. I liked Gorr and the Shadow Realm sequence but everything else, not so much. As someone who tends to have mixed to positive feelings about Thor: Ragnarok, Thor: Love and Thunder is a serious step down.

REVIEW: Jurassic World Dominion (2022)

Four years after the events of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom humans and dinosaurs are struggling to coexist. Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) are trying to keep under the radar, even as they help dinosaurs in need, to keep their adoptive clone daughter Maisie (Isabella Sermon) safe but when velociraptor Blue’s baby is taken by poachers they set out to save it. Meanwhile Dr Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) and Dr Alan Grant (Sam Neill) are reunited as they investigate the shady goings on at genetics company Biosyn.

Considering the premise of dinosaurs living with humans in the modern world is an interesting one and not one we’ve seen before in the Jurassic Park/World franchise, it’s kind of a shame that Jurassic World Dominion mostly glosses over that. Sure, there’s scenes towards the beginning of the film of dinosaurs clashing with humans and the bad side of humanity as of course humans would set up a black market for dinosaur sales and illegal breeding facilities, but people are for the most part just living with dinosaurs and all the chaos and danger that might cause. Almost feels like an allegory for how people/governments have dealt with and are living with a pandemic.

Like Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Jurassic World Dominion kind of feels like two genres of films in one. There’s the kidnapped child plot that the Jurassic World characters are in and the corporate espionage plot that the Jurassic Park characters are in. Eventually all the characters end up crossing paths and it at least ends more cohesively than Fallen Kingdom did.

The action sequences with dinosaurs are generally good. Some are well shot and exciting, others are poorly edited and are hard to follow. The last act of the film when characters are reuniting and teaming up against the dinosaurs and the evil corporation is the best as that’s when there’s a lot of good dino action happening almost continuously.

Having the original trilogy heroes back and seeing Dern, Neill, and Jeff Goldblum (because Dr Ian Malcolm is here too) all together on screen again is a delight. Sattler and Grant are still both fond of and exasperated by Malcolm’s whole persona and his swagger adds some much-needed levity to a film that at times can verge on being a bit dull. Having these three actors back, who all have great chemistry, playing three characters that still feel familiar even if they’ve evolved since the last time we’ve seen them, does make Pratt’s and Dallas Howard’s characters feel even more one-note than before. They are so generic that it’s a running joke on the internet that people can’t remember their characters names but in Jurassic World Dominion they both feel really flat. The fact that Dallas Howard and Pratt have negative chemistry is also abundantly clear when you have Dern and Neill’s characters just oozing longing and quick glances and you realise you’ve been waiting for almost thirty years for them to kiss.

Jurassic World Dominion is perhaps a bit overlong and disjointed to begin with but chase scenes with dinosaurs almost never get old and having Drs Grant, Sattler, and Malcolm back is what elevates this film. The other newer characters from the Jurassic World franchise are mostly forgettable – except DeWanda Wise’s Kayla Watts, she’s also a great source of energy and charm in this film. 3/5.

REVIEW: Good Luck to You, Leo Grande (2022)

Two years after her husband’s death, Nancy Stokes (Emma Thompson), a 55-year-old retired religious studies teacher, makes a plan. She books a hotel room and hires young sex worker Leo Grande (Daryl McCormack) in the hope to finally experience some good sex.

This is one of those films I went into blind and wanted to watch it purely because there was an actor I liked in it. In this case that’s Emma Thompson but I have to say I’ll be checking out Daryl McCormack’s filmography after this because he was utterly charming and charismatic. Thompson though is a tour deforce. Emma Thompson is generally great, she’s funny and quick and nails those dramatic moments, but in Good Luck to You, Leo Grande it’s like you get to see another new side to her. Nancy is scared and vulnerable while also being incredibly opinionated and sure about the things she does know about. Sex is something she’s unsure about having only slept with one man her entire life and having never had any pleasure from it. But her life and her thoughts on society are things she is sure about as she’s a planner and thinks through every possible scenario.

The conflicts that arise in Good Luck to You, Leo Grande are often personal and internal ones. Nancy is conflicted by what she’s doing. Hiring a sex worker is so out of her realm of normality that she second guesses herself almost constantly. Then there’s the boundaries both she and Leo put for their own peace of mind and how things deteriorate when those boundaries are crossed.

The fact that Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is pretty much just set in a hotel room is great too as I’m a big fan of single-location films. How Leo and Nancy move around the space is interesting and when tensions boil over, they feel so far apart even though they’re in the same room and are still as physically close to one another as they have been before.

The discussions Nancy and Leo have before, during and after sex are both funny and interesting. Their ideas of what sex work is and its value differ greatly and some of that can be put down to a generational divide. To begin with Nancy thinks there must be “something wrong” with Leo or he must have some huge trauma to do what he does but for him it’s a job he enjoys doing. He enjoys giving others pleasure and there’s the clients that don’t want anything from him but some company. Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is probably one of the most nuanced and positive depictions of sex work I’ve seen in a film. Leo is never guilty about his job and he is kind enough to explain to Nancy what he gets out of it.

Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is funny, cringey, sexy, and a touching film about human connection – sexual or otherwise. The fact that it’s pretty much just set in a hotel room is great too as I’m a big fan of single-location films. The humour cannot be overstated and with a clever script and brilliant performances Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is a delight! 4/5.

REVIEW: I Could Never Be Your Woman (2007)

Forty-year-old single mum Rosie (Michelle Pfeiffer) produces doomed TV show until she casts twenty-nine-year-old Adam (Paul Rudd). As the show gets a new lease of life, so does she as they start to date but her insecurities about their age difference threatens to compromise their relationship.

I have a soft spot for films/shows that are about films/shows being made (Singin’ in the Rain and Hail, Caesar! for example) so for me, Rosie’s job was just as interesting as the family and romance stuff she has going on in her life. She’s a writer and producer of “You Go Girl” – a teen comedy show where all the teenagers are played by twenty-somethings – and there’s some great referential humour in that concept with interfering network heads, censors, and trying to make the cast look younger. Even though I Could Never Be Your Woman is fifteen years old, many of the problems Rosie faces in trying to put together the best show she can on a tiny budget are still applicable to TV shows nowadays.

Something else I very much enjoyed in I Could Never Be Your Woman is all the random British and Irish actors that are in this. Saoirse Ronan plays Izzie, Rosie’s thirteen-year-old daughter, Yasmin Paige (of The Sarah Jane Adventures fame plays Melanie, Izzie’s best friend, while Sarah Alexander plays Rosie’s catty assistant. Then there’s Graham Norton who works in the “You Go Girl” costume department, David Mitchell is a co-writer on the show, Tracey Ullman plays Mother Nature (that’s a bit of a weird one), and Mackenzie Crook and Steve Pemberton also make brief appearances. I’d be somewhat fascinated to learn how all these people ended up on this film as it really is an eclectic bunch.

But I Could Never Be Your Woman has more going for it than just a cool job for the female lead and a load of British and Irish comedy actors making brief appearances, it is actually pretty funny and is a sweet romance. Rudd and Pfeiffer have great chemistry and while Rosie’s worries about their age difference is understandable, they do actually work well together. It probably helps that Paul Rudd looks ageless so me watching this for the first time now didn’t really see much difference between the two of the age-wise.

Rosie and Izzie’s relationship was also great. While Rosie is obviously the adult and her mum, she talks to Izzie in a mature way and they both give each other advice on their love lives with mixed results. I also liked Rosie’s relationship with her ex-husband and Izzie’s father Nathan (Jon Lovitz). They clearly are great co-parents and I always like to see examples of the non-“traditional” family done well.

I Could Never Be Your Woman is a good fun, 90-minute romcom. In some ways it feels a bit dated and very 2000s with the fashion and slang but it’s still a fun story and the various relationship dynamics really make the film work. 4/5.

REVIEW: Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022)

Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) is just trying to get her taxes sorted while running her laundrette business with her husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) when she’s informed of a threat to her world and the multiverse and is told that she might be the only one who can stop it.

Everything Everywhere All at Once is one of those films that’s completely barmy but brilliant. It’s a film I knew little about before watching it (I hadn’t even watched the trailer) and had just heard positive things via social media though had seen no spoilers or had any real idea of the plot. I think that might be the best way to see this film as it’s such a surprise at times as it veers off into different themes or genres that I never expected.

Everything Everywhere All at Once is a lot of movie. So much so, it can be almost overwhelming at times but by no means is that a bad thing. It suits the tone and the story perfectly but how the plot moves with the sounds and visuals can feel chaotic. However, you never feel lost in what’s happening. What Evelyn is going through is overwhelming to her, so to make the audience feels like that too. It helps make Everything Everywhere All at Once feel different and as it bounces between ideas, time, and universes, there’s a beauty to it too.

Everything Everywhere All at Once is impressive for many reasons but something that surprised me was how in one scene I could be laughing and in the next I’m tearing up. How the writers and directors Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan (known as the Daniels) handled the different tones of this film, balancing the emotional payoff with inventive and fun action sequences is impressive. Though the story feels chaotic and weird at times, I never felt that the film was getting away from its directors. All the weirdness and chaos was just what was needed as a story about the multiverse and an older woman having to learn how to save the day is a bit unusual and unexpected.

Michelle Yeoh is just fantastic as Evelyn. She is funny and relatable and she’s both strict and caring. Evelyn has a lot on her mind with the responsibilities of running a business and looking after her ailing father (James Hong) that she neglects both her husband and her daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu), however unintentionally. The action sequences with Yeoh showcase her talents but equally, the big emotive moments do as well.

Honestly, the whole cast is outstanding and the trio of the family; Evelyn, Waymond and Joy is wonderful. All three actors bring their A game and elevate each other with their performances. Each character is allowed to be well-rounded and a real person. They can be scared, strong, kind, mean, funny, stressed, or apathetic and it’s all fine – especially as some characters learn from others about how to be better people or how to go through life with a better attitude.

There are so many layers to Everything Everywhere All at Once and it’s one of those films where I’m enjoying reading everyone else’s thoughts on it – especially Asian Americans. Because Everything Everywhere All at Once is an immigrant story, it’s a story about family, love, and kindness, it’s a story about second chances and togetherness. It’s one of those stories that’s so specific that it becomes universal.

I don’t even really know if I have the words to properly describe Everything Everywhere All at Once but it’s funny, action-packed, heartfelt, and beautiful. It’s weird and wonderful and it’s a film that I’ll be thinking about for a long time. 5/5.

REVIEW: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)

When Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) meets America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), a girl with extraordinary but uncontrollable powers, he gets pulled into an adventure spanning the multiverse to save her and their universe.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is an interesting film and probably one where people may have expected more from its concept. While Doctor Strange does traverse the multiverse, he only spends a decent amount of time in a couple of different universes so it doesn’t really feel like a true “multiverse of madness”. That being said, this is one of the shorter MCU films of late at just over two hours so the lack of extra universes makes a pretty snappy runtime for a film that’s juggling a fair few characters.

Helping Doctor Strange on his mission is his trusted friend and the new Sorcerer Supreme Wong (Benedict Wong) and former Avenger Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen). Personally, I love seeing Wong’s role expand from one MCU movie to the next. Benedict Wong is a charming guy and brings a likeability and stability to Wong, especially when next to Strange’s more reactive and harsher attitude. Wanda has an interesting arc and Olsen has always been good in the role but it looks like she really relishes showing a different side to Wanda. I’d be interested to know what people who’ve not seen WandaVision (or have forgotten huge chunks of it) thought of Wanda and her storyline in this film and whether her motivations were understandable and if there was enough context in the dialogue to explain what was up with her.

Dr Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) has more to do here than in the first Doctor Strange movie which was nice. In the brief moments we saw of her in the first film it seemed like she was smart and capable at rolling with the magical punches, and in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness that proves to be the case. Gomez’s America Chavez is an interesting one. The Young Avengers comics is one of the few series I’ve read so I did know about her before watching the film and I’m not sure they did the character from the comics justice. America Chavez should have more gumption and confidence in her abilities, which we don’t really see here. You could say this adventure is what helps her become the America we see in the comics than can be a bit of a copout – especially when so often male characters don’t have to go from meek and mild to a confident leader.

It probably shouldn’t be a surprise as Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is directed by Sam Raimi but there’s a lot of creepy horror imagery in this film. Raimi directed the original Tobey Maguire Spider-Man trilogy and outside of that he’s best known for his horror films and he certainly brings the horror here. There are jump scares, evil spirits, and some gory and bloody moments too. When you continuously hear that directors can’t put their own unique stamp on franchise films, it’s nice to see something in the MCU that does feel distinctly different.

The score by Danny Elfman is also pretty great and knows how to amp up the tension and add to that unsettling feeling. There’s one fight sequence where music plays a big part and it’s really fun visually and audibly, and shows a different way the magic that’s at Doctor Strange’s disposal can be used.

I think the things people may love or hate about this film are the things that I can’t really talk about in a spoiler-free review. There are cameos and reveals, some work and may have a lasting impact, while others I’m pretty sure are just fanservice. It’s the inclusion of the horror-esque elements that make Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness standout but the problem I have with it, is the same problem I have with Doctor Strange – I don’t really like Stephen Strange as a character, and I much prefer it when he’s part of an ensemble. The start of the film is a bit slower but he’s at least with Wong more who mutes Strange’s attitude a bit. When Strange is front and centre, as he should be as the titular character, that’s when things get a bit shakier for me. A trope I love is “grumpy man adopts sassy teen” and though that’s the kind of dynamic they try and push with Strange and America, it just never hits the mark.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is often weird and creepy but it doesn’t feel like it did enough with its multiverse premise – or there were bigger expectations on it than it ever hoped to deliver. The acting is good, the score’s great, but there was never really enough to allow me to connect with the majority of the characters or to make me really feel anything. 3/5.

Sidenote: if you want a really great multiverse adventure, watch Everything Everywhere All at Once.