Ladies and gentlemen… the Weekender!

Here’s a miscellany of notes from the past week that I find post-worthy here at Looking Closer.

A new Twitter account for Looking Closer readers?

It’s true! Follow @jeffoverstweet.

First Impressions of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

I enjoyed being called “Doctor Strange” by my colleagues and students while my admiration for the character brought to the big screen by director Scott Derrickson lasted.

But that admiration has come to an end with the release of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, in which his decision-making and ethical resolve collapse spectacularly, and in which his own narrative becomes just another stitch hyper-connected in the endless tapestry of the MCU rather than establishing Doctor Strange films as significant standalone stories.

A candid photo of me trying to make sense of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

At this point, I care so little for Marvel movies now that I can’t be bothered to write a proper review of this one, which turns up to “11” all of the things that bore me most about the MCU. I mean, I loved Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 at the time, and I get the joke that within moments of his return he’s unleashed yet another hyper-violent “octopus” on a screaming metropolis, even though there’s no Spidey in sight. But as he directs everything toward a frenzied tribute to his own past films (particularly the Evil Dead series) — featuring a Benedict Zombiebatch of Doctor Stranges — I can’t be bothered to try to track the many-tentacled narrative.

If you want to read something substantial and insightful about the film, read Steven D. Greydanus’s review. He’s, um,”different than all of the other Stevens.” Has he really given Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness a grade of… D+?! Yes. Yes he has.

He writes, “This is becoming a running theme in the MCU: The powers that be are at best incompetent, if not frauds or something worse.” Damn straight.

And he’s right again in his conclusion: “A closing title tells us ‘Doctor Strange Will Return.’ Having gotten to know him better than I wanted, I can’t help feeling that’s less a promise than a threat.”

Still, these problems are not the main cause of my fatigue. I’m weary because the endless encyclopedia of powers unleashed across these universes make a suspenseful storyline all but impossible. Why worry about the fate of any of these characters — or any of these universes, for that matter — when a solution always presents itself by the arrival of any of these avatars of limitless magic? Thus, the seemingly endless battle scenes tend to be just sound and fury signifying nothing but more money in the Disney account. And the constant Marvel theme about “great power” coming with “great responsibility” is constantly undermined by these storytellers, who always let their heroes off the hook for transgressing their own moral boundaries (always “for the greater good!”)

Anyway… never mind. Talking about the problems with MCU movies to a moviegoing majority that has embraced it all with an insatiable appetite for more is like… well, it’s pointless and depressing. Over on Letterboxd, I’m giving this two stars, both earned entirely by the great Elizabeth Olsen. I really want to revisit Martha Marcy May Marlene again, now that the world is finally appreciating this remarkable actress properly.

As MCU movies go, I liked the unconventionally creative resolution of the first Doctor Strange film quite a bit. I will always wonder what screenwriter and director Scott Derrickson would’ve done if they’d let him direct the Multiverse of Madness film that he was cooking up before “creative differences” led Marvel to hand the reins to Raimi. I suspect we would’ve ended up with a far more interesting story, and something more Strange-focused than this, which is basically Wandavision: The Epilogue.

The Most Spiritually Significant Musicals of All Time?

Once upon a time, Image hosted the Arts & Faith group, where we would curate, write about, and publish amazing lists of essential films in various categories: “Road Movies,” “Divine Comedies,” “Memory,” “Marriage.” Much to my dismay, that fruitful partnership came to a sudden end.

But the Arts & Faith collaboration of Christian film critics continues. And they’ve just published their latest film list.

For what it’s worth, this is the first A&F list that I didn’t participate in due to having an overcrowded calendar. But I am still delighted by these results and write-ups, all the same.

Here’s the introduction by my friend Evan Cogswell (whom I interviewed about Leo Carax’s Annette last year on the Looking Closer podcast).

And here’s the list!

SDG on The Northman

Amleth on the rampage. [Image from the Focus Features trailer.]
Now that you know what Steven Greydanus thinks of the new Doctor Strange film, you’ll find he’s far more positive in his review of Robert Eggers’ hyperviolent epic The Northman:

Turning to the Scandinavian legend of Amleth—the inspiration for Shakespeare’s Hamlet—Eggers set out to create the most credible cinematic evocation of the Viking world ever committed to film, on an epic scale dwarfing his first two films. … [It’s] an arresting immersion in the medieval Scandinavian world, one that expands viewers’ cinematic horizons. Wherever Eggers’ historical curiosity leads him next, I’ll be there.

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