Sam Raimi

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.

My film year in review and my film-related goals of 2022

In some ways I think the events of 2020 caught up with me in 2021 and that’s when it started to have an effect on my reading and film-watching. I watched 203 different films (the lowest amount in a year since I’ve started properly recording this sort of thing in 2016) and of them 61 were rewatches. With all the various lockdowns and restrictions, I still managed to see 28 films in the cinema which is more than I thought I did to be honest. I put together my top ten films of 2021 last week which I did find it kind of hard to put together as once again I felt as I wasn’t watching a lot of new stuff even though there’s been a lot of critically-acclaimed films released on various streaming platforms this past year.

I completed my 52 Films by Women challenge for both directors and screenwriters again which I am happy about. Especially as I didn’t watch the 52nd film directed by a woman until the last few days of December. I was definitely cutting it fine in 2021. Normally I’ve hit 52 at least by December.

I’m pretty sure I didn’t watch any more of the films in my Clint Eastwood and Alfred Hitchcock boxsets like I said I’d like to, and I definitely didn’t watch any Studio Ghibli films. So that sort of goal was a massive failure.

When it came to TV watching though I surprised myself! I’ve shared all the shows I watched in 2021 but I finally finished watching all the Marvel Netflix shows like I said I wanted to for the past two or three years which feels like an achievement to be honest. I watched all the Disney+ MCU shows like I thought I would, and out of the other shows I mentioned wanting to try I did actually watch and love Ted Lasso so that’s something.

Now it’s time for the fun actor and director stats I get from having a Letterboxd pro account.

My most watched actors of 2021 were:

Last year I rewatched (and reviewed) all the X-Men films and all the Spider-Man films, as well as rewatching my comfort-franchise, Fast and Furious, I revisited The Matrix films for the first time in over a decade, and did my yearly rewatching of The Lord of the Rings so that pretty much explains every actor who makes the top 20. The two major outliers are John Cho (I watched the Harold & Kumar films for the first time in 2021 so that counts for half of his films) and Frank Grillo who I generally like and will watch just about everything he’s in.

I like the fact that a quarter of my most watched actors of 2021 are women, though it’d be nice if there were more, and almost half of my most watched actors aren’t white which is mostly thanks to the Fast and Furious franchise.

My most watched directors reflect the franchises I’ve been (re)watching. Justin Lin (Fast and Furious) Lana and Lilly Wachowski (The Matrix), Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings) Sam Raimi, Jon Watts and Marc Webb (Spider-Man), McG (Charlie’s Angels), and James Mangold, Matthew Vaughn and Bryan Singer (X-Men).

Really happy and somewhat surprised that there’s five female directors here as while I have watched 52 films directed by women each year for six years now, rarely do I watch more than one film by the same female director in a year. This can be down to that they don’t yet have a big filmography to go through or their films aren’t easily available, or that they do have a fair few directing credits but I’ve just watched them in previous years and haven’t rewatched them.

I had a look and the last time I had more than one woman director make this end of year list was in 2018 and then it was only two of them. In fact, this is the year with the most women directors on my most watched list since I’ve been recording this stuff!

So, my film-related goals of 2022. While it is nice to have an opinion on the films/performances that are up for awards or are getting awards-buzz, I don’t want to push myself to watch things just because they have a level of prestige. That’s not to say I won’t watch any films that get nominated but I don’t want to stress myself out trying to cram in a load of films that are often serious or about tough subject matters in the first three months of the year.

I will once again say I’d like to make some headway with my Clint Eastwood and Alfred Hitchcock boxsets but who knows if that’ll happen. I will be aiming to watch at least 52 films written/directed by women again in 2022 though. I do like that challenge as it gets me watching films I might have put off as not a priority or I find things that I hadn’t heard of before.

Do you have any film or TV-related goals for 2022? If you have a Letterboxd account do let me know so I can follow you.

REVIEW: Spider-Man (2002)

As Spider-Man: No Way Home is being released next month and there’s talk of it including multiple universes and characters we’ve seen from past Spider-Man franchises (I watched the first trailer when it was released in August and have done by best to avoid everything Spider-Man-related ever since) I thought it was about time to revisit some of the previous iterations of Spider-Man. I’ve reviewed Spider-Man: Homecoming and Spider-Man: Far From Home but I’m pretty sure I’ve never reviewed the Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield films. Plus, I’ve not even seen many of those films in their entirety for years, or in some cases, since the cinema.

As these films are older and are rewatches there may be some vague spoilers in these reviews.

So to kick it off we go back to the beginning and to the Summer of 2002. I was 10 years old when Spider-Man came out and I distinctly remember seeing it in the cinema with my dad, my (much older) sister and her then-boyfriend. I know I enjoyed it then and on rewatch nearly 20 years later I still really enjoy it.

What director Sam Raimi did with Spider-Man is really help lay the blueprint of how brilliant a superhero movie could be. There are a lot of elements at play in this film with the different characters and relationships and Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) doesn’t even get into his Spider-Man suit until practically half way through the film. But that doesn’t bother me because the things going on in Peter’s life are just as compelling as any Spidey-related adventure.

Spider-Man sets up the relationship/potential love triangle between Peter, his best friend Harry Osborn (James Franco) and the girl he’s been in love with forever Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) so well. You get why Peter and Harry are friends even though they come from completely different worlds and you get why Mary Jane would be attracted to both Peter and Harry. All three of them have believable relationships with one another.

Willem Dafoe as Norman Osborn/Green Goblin is one of those instances of perfect casting. Ever since I saw him in Speed 2: Cruise Control Dafoe has been able to freak me out with just his eyes – he can put so much intensity/craziness in his eyes it’s almost concerning. How the Green Goblin toys with Peter is so good. He believes he knows what makes Spider-Man tick and once he figures out who Spider-Man is he’s even more certain of it. The scenes where it’s just Norman Osborn talking to the Green Goblin, either via the mask or a mirror are just captivating. They’re unsettling and show so much of the two sides of this character. Because really, while Norman Osborn may have pushed his son and his staff, he was also someone who wanted to succeed in their business ventures and wasn’t necessarily an inherently cruel person until he became the Green Goblin.

Some of the CGI may now look a bit dated but on the whole the action set pieces really hold up. The attack on the parade is fun with how Spider-Man bounces on the giant balloons and how he goes between fighting Green Goblin to rescuing bystanders shows what kind of a hero he is. The hand-to-hand fights with Green Goblin are pretty brutal and Peter Parker sure goes through a lot in this film. All the fight and action sequences are well shot and choregraphed and you know exactly where characters are in relation to one another.

I have to mention J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson – an actor who made the role his own that there was no way he could be played by anyone else in any of the other Spider-Man franchises. J. Jonah Jameson is loud and brash but he’s also quick-witted and all the scenes at the Daily Bugle are funny because of him and his various underlings. What really stood out to me (because I’d completely forgotten about it) is that that when he’s being threatened by the Green Goblin who wants to know who takes Spider-Man’s picture, James lies. He says he doesn’t know and they’re sent in the mail. He might be a mean and rude boss but it shows he does care about Peter Parker and the rest of his staff. He has a moral backbone and won’t sell out his staff. It’s little moments like that in Spider-Man that make a lot of the character work stand out.

Spider-Man is a very entertaining superhero film and is truly one of the great origin stories. It’s filled with drama and action and so many believable characters. Seeing Spider-Man swing through New York still looks fantastic and when that Spider-Man theme by Danny Elfman kicks in it’s hard not to get goosebumps. 5/5.