Weekend Watch: Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness, Girls5Eva
Alternate universes and album mode
Image Credit: Marvel Studios
Welcome to the latest edition of Weekend Watch, in which I recommend (or occasionally warn against) movies or TV shows I’ve been checking out. This week, Benedict Cumberbatch has trouble with variants and the ladies are back for more musical madness... Follow James on Twitter: @jamwhite
If there’s a big lesson to learn from Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness, it’s “Let Raimi be Raimi”. “Raimi”, of course, being Sam Raimi, the beloved director whose stylish and fun Spider-Man movies (well, mostly the first two) are among the foundation stones for our current comic book film dominance.
Raimi was brought in to direct Multiverse Of Madness when Doctor Strange filmmaker Scott Derrickson opted to step away, citing creative differences with the Marvel Studios team. While I’m sorry to see the director who introduced Benedict Cumberbatch’s cranky, superior sorcerer to the Marvel Universe no longer involved, you couldn’t ask for a better replacement than Sam Raimi.
After all, in addition to those popular, successful Spider-outings, this is a man whose anarchic style, love of horror, and early experience with the low-budget likes of the Evil Dead movies inform all his work, even when he’s in more formal mode for films such as A Simple Plan or For Love Of The Game.
This new Doctor Strange outing, though, is Raimi fully unleashed. It’s rare to see a director able to put so much of a personal stamp on a Marvel movie (Shane Black managed it with Iron Man 3 and you can sense Taika Waititi all through Thor: Ragnarok). But while the Marvel team have always experimented with genre and, to a degree, style, the movies still have a certain look and feel about them. Yet this latest instead offers the dizzying sensation of a director clearly thrilled to be back behind the camera and not simply helping others get their work on screens as a producer. The camera soars and whips through some scenes, and the plot veers towards horror at every possible moment: there are jump scares, body parts crunched, impaling and gore agogo, or at least as far as the PG-13 rating (12A in the UK) will allow. Spooks and spirits, demons, ghouls and zombies are all on display, many used in delightful ways.
The story for the film – with a script credited to Loki creator Michael Waldron, who naturally knows his way around the multiverse and brings a kindred off-kilter spirit to his work – is relatively slim, built around a mission for Cumberbatch’s Strange when he’s pressed to protect a new addition to the MCU. That would be Xochitl Gomez’ America Chavez, a young woman we meet on the run for her life, whose power to jump – and transport others – between multiverses makes her a target for those who wish to use her abilities to her own ends, whether she’s alive for it or not.
Also at play here is Elizabeth Olsen’s Wanda Maximoff, still recovering from grief and trauma and figuring out her own future following WandaVision and what went down there. Olsen is outstanding in the movie, and even if a film – albeit one running two hours and 16 minutes – can’t give her the same range as the show offered, she does an awful lot here, outshining pretty much everyone else on the screen.
This is not to say that Cumberbatch is in any way bad; he has plenty to do and plays various roles to winning effect. Gomez is a great find – and fits right into the madness around her. America Chavez is someone you’ll want to see more of and hopefully will end up as more than just a walking plot point in future.
I was also pleased to see that Rachel McAdams got more to do this time around after feeling like an afterthought in the first movie. This time, while she perhaps still doesn’t get to flex all her considerable acting muscles, she certainly has more impact on the story and more to do. Plus she spends some time giving our good (and not always so good) doctor a reality (realities?) check.
True, it’s another big CG-fest from Marvel and the story doesn’t always have the heft to carry the considerable running time. Yet it promises plenty and delivers on much of it.
One big proviso: if you’re a big fan of the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe (there is an argument that “MCU” could these days stand for Multiverse Cinematic Universe) you’ll likely lap up all the various references and staunch audience-pleasing moments. If you haven’t seen the likes of WandaVision, Loki, or even Spider-Man: No Way Home (though a lot of people did), there’s a chance that all the exposition in the world won’t help you out with the sprawling, intertwining storylines on show here. It’s unfortunate that some Marvel movies require a near-encyclopaedic knowledge of what has come before, but it does make for a more complex, compelling tapestry.
And there are, of course, mid-and post-credit scenes. One is in the service of the usual Marvel world-building, the other is purely comedic, featuring someone no Sam Raimi film, at least not his wilder efforts, should be without.
Oh, and one final note: while I truly enjoyed my time hurtling around the Multiverse Of Madness, I have to admit that my favourite meditation on love, alternate worlds and sacrifice from this year remains Everything Everywhere All At Once, which I praised here.
Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness is in UK and US cinemas now.
Image Credit: NBC Universal
Girls5Eva doesn’t feature any multiverse action, but if it did, there would be a lot of good jokes and at least one fun song on the subject. The show, created by Meredith Scardino, and produced by Tina Fey, is very much in the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt mode. Which is hardly surprising, since Fey co-created Schmidt and Scardino was one of its key writers.
Launched last year, Girls5Eva easily hits the same gag ratio that the previous show managed while blending in some superbly realised songs.
The story follows four women: Sara Bareilles’ settled-into-married-life Dawn, Paula Pell’s proudly out dentist Gloria, Busy Phillips’ sweetly daffy Summer and Renée Elise Goldsberry’s none-more-diva Wickie reuniting years after their one-hit-wonder days (fifth member Ashley, played in flashbacks by Ashley Park, died in a mysterious fall short after the height of the group’s fame, though there is some lingering doubt, particularly in Gloria’s mind, as to whether she’s really gone). The manufactured girl group (think Spice Girls, but much funnier) come back together when their song is sampled. Can they make it… again?
The second season, while perhaps vaguely less funny than the first (but still great, don’t get me wrong), follows the group fresh off their successful return and now ready to record a brand-new album. Talented songwriter Dawn takes up the challenge of penning a batch of new tunes and we also catch up with what has been happening with their various personal lives. And, in keeping with the show’s style, there are wacky side-adventures and more emotional peeks into their various issues. Gloria, for example, is attempting to win back her ex-wife, Caroline (played by Pell’s real-life spouse, Janine Brito), while Summer faces the implosion of her marriage to dumbbell influencer Kev (Andrew Rannells).
There is not a weak link on the performance front, the leads, in particular, gelling as a fantastic comedy-generating team, while the show continues to touch on themes such as the fleeting nature of fame, the weirdness of social media and how entertainment and society in general treats women as they age without ever needing a sledgehammer to get its points across.
Musically, it’s also amazing: the songs, primarily written by show composer Jeff Richmond and Scardino, are pitch-perfect versions of poppy hits, while others, such as Season 1’s ‘New York Lonely Boy’ work wonders in other ways, and Season 2 offers yet more of them.
I say seek it out and watch it. What are you waiting five?
The first three episodes of Girls5Eva Season 2 are on Peacock now. New episodes will drop weekly on Thursdays.