‘Multiverse’ runs wild and mad as my love-hate for MCU deepens

Images courtesy Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

8/10 The history of the MCU and the Disney empire generally is a history of the struggle between directors and what has effectively become a second studio system. Massive names like Jon Favreau, Edgar Wright, Gareth Edwards, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, Joss Whedon and James Gunn have all been dismissed or otherwise undercut from Disney projects in recent years.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness started out telling the same tale. The first Doctor Strange way back in 2016 was written and directed by Scott Derrickson, a longtime fan of the psychedelic comic line who basically had the entire film storyboarded out and ready to shoot just for the job interview. It’s not exactly a masterpiece, but passion shines through, and he was reportedly excited about taking the sequel in a full-on horror direction. Instead, he was fired over those dreaded “creative differences” before he got to write a single draft and kept on as an executive producer so he couldn’t complain about it publicly.

Then this empire with a soul-crushing history of and apparent dedication to being as bland as possible gave the project to Sam Raimi.

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‘Northman’ a sloppy, gory mess of perfect filmmaking shot for the halls of Valhalla

A full-throated scream of an action film. Images courtesy Focus Features.

10/10 The Northman is the wildest action movie since Mad Max: Fury Road. Film is art supposed to evoke an emotion, and the emotion The Northman evokes is incoherent screaming. Within the first half hour, I wanted to smash my head through a concrete wall.

The west coast of Norway, 875- There’s something rotten in the state of the North Atlantic. Fjölnir (Claes Bang) has killed his brother, King Aurvandill War-Raven (Ethan Hawke), and taken his wife, Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman), as his own. Prince Amleth (Oscar Novak) facing beheading himself, stows away to the land of the Rus. Years later, Amleth the Bear-Wolf (Alexander Skarsgård, who also produces) inserts himself as a slave of Fjölnir the Brotherless, now exiled in southern Iceland, to exact his revenge.

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The thing about bigots is they never stop telling on themselves

You gotta have your cast all stand in a line. It’s not real unless they all stand in a line. Images courtesy Warner Bros.

Imagine there’s a woman – white, liberal, wealthy, you know the type. She doesn’t pay much attention to politics, but she knows Hitler was bad – she even seems to understand some of the reasons why – and she despises Trump. She pays a great deal of attention to everything he does and holds him up as the pinnacle of all evil, even if she doesn’t seem to understand the full context. She has no problem with queer people at all – “Sleep with anyone who’ll have you! Introduce yourself however you like,” she says, without a hint of condescension, and she’s definitely not a racist. She has a whole list of reasons she can’t possibly be a racist – she carries them around, actually, she gets accused of antisemitism all the time, for some reason.

Now imagine this woman is in charge of making Harry Potter movies.

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‘Sex is real:’ J.K. Rowling’s descent into hatred and the studio left in the lurch

All is not well.

Over the past several years, J.K. Rowling, author of the widely beloved “Harry Potter” franchise that invented a literary genre and defined the childhood of a generation, has decided to spend her time, artistic ability and considerable wealth and fame advocating against the rights and dignity of transgender people. She’s done this in a difficult political environment where fascists foster allies out of any brand of bigotry and anti-trans disinformation is a primary recruitment method, but also one where media platforms have realized that racial and queer inclusivity is extremely profitable. 

We’ve written at length in this space about how Rowling has bound herself to this franchise. You can also check here for a purely theoretical rundown of what makes her such an interesting case study in how we interact with art. As with any issue that requires navigating Trump-era fascism, everyone who’s unfamiliar should peruse the spectacular series The Alt-Right Playbook for tools to better decode actors in this political environment, what they really think and what they really mean by what they say. 

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The long, strange walk down the hall from ‘Sonic the Hedgehog 2’ to Michael Bay’s ‘Ambulance’

Images courtesy Universal Pictures. None from Paramount.

On Feb. 14, 2020, Paramount Pictures dumped Sonic the Hedgehog into theaters, a movie-product it handled for Sega, the video game company that developed Sonic in the early ‘90s. After an elongated marketing campaign highlighted by the character’s horrifying initial design, the correction of which pushed the movie back four months but ironically raised its profile, Sonic opened at just over $70 million in a nice, cushy Presidents’ Day weekend release slot, and a sequel was inevitable. The movie’s domestic box office climbed up to $140.5 million by March, but then something terrible happened.

As the coronavirus swept across the globe, infamous director/producer Michael Bay was one of many who had his production plans canceled. “God damn it,” he said to his agent, “I just want to get out and shoot something fast. I’m tired of being locked up at home.” Within a few months, the agent found somebody who’d let Bay play with their drones, and an entire feature-length movie popped out.

Last weekend, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 debuted at $72.1 million, while Ambulance pulled in just $8.7 million. There weren’t a lot of showtimes that lined up properly that Thursday, so finding a place I could see both of them was something I’d put effort into, I wasn’t at my usual theater and the irony was on my mind.

Actually, what I specifically kept thinking about was how much worse these Sonic movies are than Bay’s infamous Transformers franchise.  

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