‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Diving into the multiverse is always a dangerous feat. Not because of magical creatures, witchcraft, or breaking dimensions, but because of how many possibilities there are. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) explained all of this in Infinity War, but now, it’s visually explained to audiences through Sam Raimi’s vision. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness has Raimi written all over it, but the script, which was written by Michael Waldron unfortunately clashes with his ideas. Madness and chaos are always welcome when discussing the multiverse, but if it’s disjointed, then the grand scale of the story gets lost. In a way, it did feel balanced, but it also didn’t. It’s a conflicting movie with very strong elements and some fumbles along the way.

Raimi opened Multiverse of Madness with plenty of action as he set up America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) and her purpose in the universe. Even though Chavez doesn’t have much screen time or even much to do other than being protected by Doctor Strange, audiences will get a feel for her character. Gomez grows on you as the film goes on because of her quick backstory and her power set. When Chavez meets Earth-616 Doctor Strange things get interesting. The first act is straightforward and Waldron allows Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) her time to shine. Every single scene with Wanda Maximoff is played out and Raimi let those scenes breathe. The contents of the Darkhold are explored through Scarlet Witch and Raimi makes it a visual spectacle by leaning into those horror elements.

Sam Raimi was able to pull elements from his previous films to make an MCU horror film to be remembered. From the extreme close-ups to wide shots, to stunning transitions, Raimi’s mark was made in the MCU. He knows how to build anticipation and create so much tension by filling the room with silence and he lets the visuals speak for themselves. The sound design combined with his camerawork for certain scenes, plus the genius score by Danny Elfman presented the horrific side of the Scarlet Witch and what Doctor Strange is capable of. This is a visual feast to finally show off their power set and it worked for what it was. At some point, the story did lean more towards Wanda and we lost Strange a bit.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a film that has two conflicting ideas and it seems like certain elements were placed there out of convenience. If it weren’t for Sam Raimi’s style and love for horror then this wouldn’t have been enjoyable. On the surface, it’s a very fun, chaotic, and interesting movie, but once you dive into the character arcs, that’s where it falters. Even though it may feel enjoyable, you still leave the theatre wondering what actually happened and where Doctor Strange even goes from here. The takeaway from Multiverse of Madness is that Elizabeth Olsen continues to shine in this role and no amount of screen time will be enough. And even though this is a sequel to the first Doctor Strange it could not feel more detached from that world that was created.

‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Our friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man has been through so much. We’ve seen three different versions of this character and they’ve all made Peter Parker their own. For some reason, Tom Holland is the perfect combination of Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield’s versions. Thus creating the ultimate Spider-Man that Sony and Marvel has blessed us with. Holland’s first trilogy isn’t perfect, but Spider-Man: No Way Home sure is. One of the most well-written comic book movies since Logan, in all honesty. Everything flowed together nicely, the visuals were great and the third act is something special.

My main issue with Holland’s Spider-Man is that he was always walking in the shadows of someone else. He never became his own man; his own hero and he never had a sense of identity. This is the film where we see that growth, not only as Peter Parker, but as Spider-Man. He needed a film that was just his own. Issues that he had to deal with head-on, without any other hero helping him. This was his movie, and I know that it may seem overstuffed with villains coming in from other universes but this worked. We saw the goofy kid from Queens, the tech genius, and a true hero all wrapped into one.

Never in my life would I have ever expected to see these villains come together in one spot. It has such a simple story and it was executed so well. Parker has to collect these villains and keep them in Doctor Strange’s dungeon until they are ready to send them back to their designated universes. Seeing each of them with upgraded CGI (especially Electro, sorry, Jamie Foxx) was so worth it. It’s like they all fell back into their characters and it was fantastic. Hit the perfect wave of nostalgia for this film and had plenty of references. Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin still reigns supreme and he stole the spotlight.

Spider-Man: No Way Home was perfectly balanced. Jon Watts nailed the humour and emotional moments. No emotional moment was undercut with a bad joke and that third act will make anyone cry. It’s structured in a way that you may know what’s about to happen, but then they surprise you over and over again. What a perfect third instalment to Holland’s first trilogy, I really can’t wait to see him grow as our official Spider-Man. This was truly a love letter to Peter Parker and Spider-Man, Stan Lee would have been so proud of this.

Excelsior!

‘Eternals’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Chloé Zhao’s Eternals dives into the story of celestial beings that have been defending Earth for centuries. The reason why Zhao was the perfect choice to bring these characters to life is because of her humanistic lens in grounding her characters. She takes these literal gods and cements them in the humanity around them. Whether it is through the script, or the stunning visuals, Zhao makes sure to make their connection to human life the most important aspect for these characters. That being said, Eternals is not perfect. The main issue the film suffers from is the pacing and the overall structure in executing the story. Despite of this (or perhaps because of this), it is one of the most ambitious Marvel films and it feels like it should be on its own level, away from the rest of the cinematic universe.

Without getting into too many details, the fact that the story spans centuries held Eternals back. The disjointed narrative constantly takes the audience out of the present day storyline and it tends to be a lot to digest. It felt like a very beautiful history lesson with no concrete story to tell. It is a by-the-books superhero film masked by its theoretical analysis of gods living among humans.  For instance, some of the celestials struggle with the restriction of not being able to interfere with human conflicts and wars, especially Druig (Barry Keoghan), who has mind-control powers and can stop the conflict within seconds.  To emphasize these struggles Zhao goes through centuries of human conflicts and shows how each member of the Eternals has had their fair share of doubts about what role they’d play on each. These plot points tend to show their leader, Ajak (Salma Hayek), keeping this celestial family together and in check, but that plotline is told through the perspective of how this struggle affects each of the characters.

Who Is Thena? A Look At Marvel Comics' Eternals Characters - Comic Years
Courtesy of Marvel Studios

There are three characters that really stood out to me, who carried the emotional weight of the film through their story arc; Thena (Angelina Jolie), Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry), and the abovementioned Druig, all of which had the most interesting journeys. If it weren’t for Jolie’s acting chops as Thena, this could have been a different film entirely. For me, even though Thena was cast aside majority of the time, she really stole the spotlight from everyone else. Her arc was emotional because of how her memories affected her present mental state as the goddess of war. I also appreciated how everything about Thena’s fighting style was graceful and effortless. She truly shined out of the entire cast and I connected with her the most.

After 26 films, the MCU finally has some clear LGBTQ+ representation with Phastos and his family. Brian Tyree Henry brought so much of his natural charisma to Phastos but also presented his connection to humanity through his vulnerability. Phastos is a tech whiz who planted seeds for many mechanical inventions humans would eventually create. Not only did Phastos struggle with the man-made weaponry, but he is also mentally affected by how his technological advancements led to human conflicts and war. How can a god sit idly by and watch the destruction of humanity if it was caused by his own technology? The complexity of Phastos is unmatched in Eternals.

Bryan Tyree Henry's 'Eternals' character Phastos is a queer MCU first : NPR
Courtesy of Marvel Studios

While the characters in Eternals all had their time to shine, some were underwhelming and underused. Ajak is an important character and Hayek portrayed a stern, gentle leader with maternal energy quite well. As much as I adore Gemma Chan, her Sersi did not work for me, and she lacked chemistry with Richard Madden’s Ikaris. If their love for each other is supposed to transcend centuries, and be the central issue in the third act, there needed to be more. There were two other couples in this movie that had more chemistry than they did and that shouldn’t have happened. Thena and Gilgamesh (Don Lee) made me feel their genuine love and respect for each other more so than two lovers who are supposedly selling the love story that holds this film together.

Is Chloé Zhao’s Eternals more mature and different than other MCU films? Yes, it is. Does it suffer from overly explaining the mythos of the celestial beings and disjointed narrative trying to piece centuries together? Yes, it does. I did not walk out of this movie in awe of what Zhao did with these characters because the story wasn’t as engaging as it should have been. Sure, it was emotional and refreshing but I left feeling underwhelmed. It felt like they were going through the motions of a comic book film, while elevating it through the technical aspects, to mask the fact that the story is choppy. Zhao’s style was made for characters like these, and it worked on a more emotional, intimate scale, but handling the scope of this story and how it is supposed to be integrated in the MCU did not work. 

‘Shang-Chi And The Legends Of The Ten Rings’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

In the superhero world, there are origin stories that are fairly generic. The same formula runs its course and we are left with another hero, who will soon be integrated in the fabric of the MCU. In this case, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings feels like a breath of fresh air in the Marvel universe. We have our first Asian-American hero leading their own standalone film. Director Destin Daniel Cretton, brought together so many different elements in Shang-Chi, to make it feel authentic and comic accurate. Martial-arts master Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) must confront his past, when he’s drawn into the web of the mysterious Ten Rings organization.

The film begins with a history lesson, as legendary Tony Leung makes his American screen debut, he tells the story in Mandarin. The opening of this film is beautiful and sets the tone for the rest of the film. We have light and dark elements coming together to work as one, through the power of love. We see that the martial-arts in Ta-Lo are very fluid, almost like a choreographed dance, between Wenwu (Tony Leung) and Jiang Li (Fala Chen). It almost felt like a love language, as they danced together and became connected to one another. From that moment on, I knew that Shang-Chi was going to be something special. The visuals and the fight choreography alone, made this a unique entry in the MCU.

New trailers for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Halloween  Kills, and more
Courtesy of Marvel Studios

It was very easy to follow, which helped the pacing of this film. It did have some trouble finding its footing in the first half but once they had a plan, it was smooth sailing and it was fast-paced. The chemistry between Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) and Katy (Awkwafina) was great, and I really appreciated that they did not force any romantic relationship on them. It was platonic, and you saw the genuine love they had for each other, as friends. They worked together to reach their own individual potential, and it was really great to see their development at the end of this film.

When structuring an origin story, the childhood flashbacks need to be integrated in a way that will push the hero forward, without too much exposition. In this case, for Shang-Chi, I felt that they showed so much of his upbringing, instead of preaching to the audience. There are many moments in this movie, that will get you emotional because of how Shang-Chi and his sister, Xialing (Meng’er Zhang) were raised by their father. Some traumatic moments stayed with them and shaped them into the person they are present day. The story flowed naturally and there were some different choices made, which I appreciated.

New Shang-Chi trailer unveils the real Mandarin, brings back Abomination  and Wong
Courtesy of Marvel Studios

Shang-Chi is one of the most beautifully shot Marvel films. It was an abundance of riches; from the cinematography, to the costume design, and the fantastic score, that elevated every scene. The entire cast worked together so well, but Simu Liu held his own against Tony Leung. The fighting style is on another level, but it is exactly what we were all hoping for. The power set with the ten rings, is going to elevate so many fight scenes in the future and it really is exciting! Shang-Chi is so refreshing, fun, emotional, and will of course, leave you wanting more. These characters are all great and the final battle was amazing to watch on the big screen.

‘Black Widow’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Our beloved Natasha Romanoff, the one woman that was a part of the original six, and came in like a firecracker in Iron Man 2 finally has her standalone film. The wait for Black Widow was long, and no, it wasn’t because of the pandemic. After being in the MCU for 11 years, Scarlett Johansson deserved her standalone. It should have come after her debut, or even placed her right after Civil War (as the timeline intended) but Kevin Feige has a way of making everything work. Even though the placement is odd and did not really work for me, seeing her in her own film made me incredibly happy. Director Cate Shortland took what she knew about Natasha/Black Widow and really presented her in a way we haven’t seen her before.

Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff and Florence Pugh as Yelena in Marvel Studios’ BLACK WIDOW. Photo by Jay Maidment. ©Marvel Studios 2020. All Rights Reserved.

It wouldn’t have been a true Black Widow movie without the hand-to-hand combat and brilliant fight choreography. You felt every hit because the sound design made it crisp. The score also worked well during fight scenes but not enough to make it stand-out like some other original pieces. These fight scenes are on par with those in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and that is why I loved those scenes, especially when Romanoff was fighting. The main issue with Black Widow is that this does not feel like her movie. Majority was a set up for Florence Pugh’s Yelena Belova. I’m not complaining because I adore her, but it still didn’t sit right with me. It felt like Johansson was sidelined in her own film, it was supposed to be her moment.

We do get to see how Natasha started out and how connected she was to Yelena. We are introduced to this dysfunctional family unit, as Melina (Rachel Weisz) and Alexei (David Harbour) are on assignment. The placement for Black Widow does make sense because the film explores Romanoff’s struggle with the idea of family. On this journey we see how much love she has for those around her. This movie added so much depth to her character and it is the development she needed in order for her to come full circle. The entire cast gave very strong performances, especially Florence Pugh, I also need to give David Harbour credit because his comedic timing was spot on.

(L-R): Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), Alexei (David Harbour) and Yelena (Florence Pugh) in Marvel Studios’ BLACK WIDOW, in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access. Photo by Jay Maidment. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.

My number one issue with Black Widow is the use of Taskmaster. When you first see the costume and see him in action, it’s absolutely wicked. Taskmaster is one of the best Marvel villains and when he was introduced in the trailer, I was beyond excited. His character being able to mimic, and go toe-to-toe with anyone in the MCU, was something I was looking forward to. But sadly, like most Marvel villains, he was underused. There was so much more they could have done with him and it was just underwhelming. There were strong action scenes, but there were also weak ones towards the end, that the poor CGI really took me out of the film.

Black Widow is your typical MCU film but the fight choreography is what puts it above majority of them. The banter between Natasha and Yelena was perfect. Their chemistry was electric and you could genuinely feel the love between them. It’s interesting because towards the end of Natasha’s arc, she became the heart of the team. She has changed the most out of all of them and we really see that in this film. Again, I have to praise Cate Shortland for giving us an action-packed film, with so much heart, key emotional moments, spurts of humour, and a post-credit scene that will knock your socks off.

Make sure to catch Black Widow in theatres or on Disney Plus Premier Access July 9th!