Review: ‘Madame Web,’ starring Dakota Johnson, Sydney Sweeney, Isabela Merced, Celeste O’Connor, Tahar Rahim, Emma Roberts and Adam Scott

February 13, 2024

by Carla Hay

Celeste O’Connor, Dakota Johnson, Isabela Merced and Sydney Sweeney in “Madame Web” (Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures)

“Madame Web”

Directed by SJ Clarkson

Culture Representation: Taking place in 2003 (with brief flashbacks to 1973), in New York City and in the Amazon jungle of Peru, the superhero action film “Madame Web” (based on Marvel Comics characters) features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans, Latinos and Asians) portraying superheroes and regular human beings.

Culture Clash: A fire-department paramedic, who grew up as an orphan, finds out that she has spider-related psychic abilities that came from her mother’s mysterious death, and she helps protect three teenage girls who are being hunted by the man who killed her mother. 

Culture Audience: “Madame Web” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Dakota Johnson and movies based on Marvel Comics, but the movie is an idiotic mess, by any standard of bad superhero movies.

Tahar Rahim (center) in “Madame Web” (Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures)

“Madame Web” and “The Marvels” are the “Dumb and Dumber” of female-led Marvel Comics superhero movies. After the triumphs of “Black Widow” and “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” it’s a travesty that “Madame Web” is a low point in wannabe feminist superhero films. Perhaps the only good thing to come out of “Madame Web” is that it is an unintentional comedy, because there is so much idiotic filmmaking on display, it’s laughable. Other people who won’t find it so funny will be cringing at “Madame Web,” which is an embarrassment for everyone involved in making this brain-dead film.

Directed by SJ Clarkson, “Madame Web” was co-written by Clarkson, Matt Sazama, Burk Sharpless and Claire Parker. “Madame Web” will get inevitable comparisons to 2023’s “The Marvels” because these two flops are obvious attempts to build a franchise around two separate groups of female superheroes. (See 2021’s “Black Widow” and 2022’s “Black Panther Wakanda Forever” for Marvel Comics-based, female-led superhero movies that are done right.) Whereas the story in “The Marvels” was overly ambitious and got tangled up in doing too many things in too many places, “Madame Web” tries to keep the story simple, but in doing so just exposes even more rapidly that it’s a mind-numbing, stupid mess.

“Madame Web” begins in 1973, in the Amazon jungles of Peru. An American scientist named Constance Webb (played by Kerry Bishé) is looking for a rare spider that has the potential to cure hundreds of diseases. Accompanying her on this expedition is an American named Ezekiel Sims (played by Tahar Rahim), whom Constance has hired to be her guide. Constance also happens to be about eight or nine months pregnant.

Ezekiel is over-eager for Constance to find this spider. His impatience should’ve been a big red flag to Constance that Ezekiel has ulterior motives. However, Constance is too preoccupied with finding this spider to notice. When she does find the spider, Ezekiel shoots her, steals the spider, and runs away.

Constance doesn’t die immedately. She is unconscious when she is saved by two tree-crawling and tree-hopping “spider men” of Peru (who basically look like acrobats with painted red skin), who bring her to a swampy area, put a spider on her chest, and deliver Constance’s baby, which is a girl. The spider on Constance’s chest was no ordinary spider. It bit Constance before the baby was delivered, so whatever type of venom the spider had has now been transferred into the blood of the baby.

Constance doesn’t survive, but her baby does, and the baby does not cry at all after being born. One of the Peruvian jungle dwellers who delivered the baby is named Santiago (played by José María Yazpik), who states solemnly to this newborn that she will eventually come back to this jungle to find him for answers to her questions. And when she does, Santiago adds, “I will be here for her.”

The movie then fast-forwards to 2003 in New York City. Constance’s baby is now a jaded 30-year-old bachelorette named Cassandra “Cassie” Webb (played by Dakota Johnson), who works as a paramedic for the Fire Department of New York. It’s mentioned in the movie that Cassie grew up as an orphan in the foster care system. Her biological father is never mentioned in the movie.

Cassie’s best friend is her paramedic co-worker Ben Parker (played by Adam Scott), who is also never-married with no children. Cassie and Ben, as they announce during their dull dialogue, don’t like the idea of “the family thing,” although Ben has been recently dating a special woman, and the relationship is getting serious. Ben won’t share any details about this relationship with Cassie, probably because he knows that bitter spinster Cassie will be jealous.

How do we know that Cassie is bitter about family love? When she saves a woman from a car accident and is at the hospital, the woman’s son (who’s about 8 or 9 years old) gives her a drawing that he made as a gift for saving his mother’s life. Cassie coldly asks Ben what she’s supposed to do with this gift since she doesn’t want it. Ben tells her she should just throw it in the garbage when the kid isn’t there.

It isn’t long before Cassie finds out that she has psychic abilities where she can see events that happen in the future. She discovers this clairvoyance after falling into the Atlantic Ocean while rescuing a man trapped in a car near a bridge. Ben rescues Cassie in a very sloppily staged scene, which is when she first finds out that she can see into the future.

Mike Epps has a very small and brief role as a paramedic supervisor named O’Neil, whose fate does not come as a surprise, since his character wasn’t useful to the overall story. Emma Roberts has a supporting role as Mary Parker, the pregnant wife of Ben’s brother Richard, who is never seen in the movie because he’s away working in Mumbai. Mary is eight months pregnant, and her pregnancy is used for exactly what you think it will be used for in a “race against” time scene later in the movie.

Meanwhile, Ezekiel (who is some type of scientist) was bitten by the spider that he stole, so now he has the ability to poison people just by touching them and holding them long enough. (Don’t ask.) After meeting an opera concertgoer whom he took home for a one-night stand, Ezekiel wakes up from a cold-sweat nightmare and tells her that he keeps dreaming of three teenage girls who want to kill him. His nightmarish visions show that all three girls are dressed as spider superheroes.

Ezekiel enlists the help of a technology expert named Amaria (played by Zosia Mamet) to find these three teenagers, because (as Ezekiel hilariously announces repeatedly in the movie), he wants to kill them before they can kill him. Amaria is only seen working for Ezekiel in a room with hi-tech equipment, such as surveillance cameras that are apparently everywhere in the New York City area.

“Their faces have been taunting me for years,” Ezekiel comments to Amaria about these teen tormenters. “Find them, and I’ll pay you a fortune.” Ezekiel tells Amaria several times that he will kill her if she doesn’t do what he wants. It’s later mentioned in the movie that Ezekiel thinks he’s going to be killed because he was cursed for stealing the spider.

The identities of the three teenagers are Julia Cornwall (played by Sydney Sweeney), a nervous people-pleaser; Mattie Franklin (played by Celeste O’Connor), a rebellious rich kid; and Anya Corazon (played by Isabela Merced), a level-headed undocumented immigrant. All three have encountered Cassie before they formally meet. Julia’s stepmother was a patient rescued earlier in the movie by Cassie, and Julia saw Cassie at the hospital. While skateboarding on a busy street, Mattie was nearly hit by a paramedic ambulance that Cassie had been driving on the way to the accident. Anya lives in the same apartment building as Cassie.

The rest of “Madame Web” is one ridiculous scenario after another where Casse tries to save Julia, Mattie and Anya from being murdered by Ezekiel, because Cassie had a psychic vision that it would happen when all them are on the same train. By rescuing these three teens and putting them in the woods to hide them, Cassie becomes a kidnapping suspect. Cassie spends much of the movie acting like a stern boarding school headmistress to these confused and bickering teenagers.

The acting in “Madame Webb” ranges from mediocre to bad, with Rahim’s stiff performance being the worst. Rahim’s wooden acting and questionable American accent (he’s French in real life) further sink the quality of this already low-quality superhero movie. The action sequences are flashy but empty. And don’t bother sticking around for a mid-credits or end-credits scene, because there is none.

The movie’s soundtrack choices sound like the filmmakers were thinking, “What songs would feminists and teenage girls be listening to in 2003?” The answer, according to “Madame Web”: Meredith Brooks’ “Bitch” and Britney Spears’ “Toxic.” The movie’s very “on the nose” soundtrack is in stark contrast to the rest of “Madame Webb,” which misses the mark in almost every single way.

Columbia Pictures will release “Madame Web” in U.S. cinemas on February14, 2024.

Review: ‘Hanu-Man,’ starring Teja Sajja, Amritha Aiyer, Varalaxmi Sarathkumar, Samuthirakani, Vinay Rai and Vennela Kishore

February 4, 2024

by Carla Hay

Teja Sajja in “Hanu-Man” (Photo courtesy of PrimeShow Entertainment)

“Hanu-Man”

Directed by Prasanth Varma

Telugu with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in India, the sci-fi/fantasy/action film “Hanu-Man” features an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A petty thief becomes an unlikely superhero who battles with a supervillain over a gem that give the hero his superpowers.

Culture Audience: “Hanu-Man” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of superhero movies and don’t mind watching a movie that’s more than two-and-a-half hours long.

Vinay Rai in “Hanu-Man” (Photo courtesy of PrimeShow Entertainment)

“Hanu-Man” is an epic superhero film whose minor flaws are outshone by an engaging story and some stunning visuals. The movie has plot developments that are more unexpected than others. It’s a crowd-pleasing movie that’s obviously conceived as a franchise.

Written and directed by Prasanth Varma, “Hanu-Man” (which takes place in India) begins where most superhero movies usually don’t begin: by showing the origin story of the movie’s chief villain. The opening scene takes place in the Saurashtra region in 1998. A boy named Michael and his best fried Siri, who are both about 11 or 12 years old, are role-playing as a superhero on the roof of a building.

Michael, who is wearing a cape, jumps off of the building and injures himself. Later, when Michael is recovering from his injuries at home, his father yells at Michael for being reckless and for having an obsession with superheroes and comic books. (Michael’s bedroom wall is plastered with superhero artwork and posters.) Michael’s father punishes him with some physical abuse and forbids Michael from reading any more comic books.

Later, Michael and Siri have a private conversation where Michael mentions that all of the most famous superheroes—such as Superman, Batman and Spider-Man—have parents who died when the superheroes were children. The next scene shows Michael secretly killing his parents by setting their house on fire while the parents are trapped inside.

The movie then fast-forwards to Michael (played by Vinay Rai) in his 30s. He has become a superhero vigilante called Mega Man. Michael and Siri (who is now an accomplished scientist) are still best friends. Siri is Michael’s sidekick and does whatever Michael tells him to do. Siri knows about Michael’s secret superhero alter ego because Siri is the one who came up with the inventions that helped Michael become a superhero. Just like Batman, Michael is a human being who doesn’t have superpowers but he has a powerful superhero suit and an arsenal of high-tech gadgets and weapons that he uses for his vigilante activities.

Meanwhile, in the fictional hamlet of Anjanadri, a petty thief named Hanumanthu (played by Teja Sajja) has a best friend named Kasi (played by Getup Srinu), who is sometimes his partner in crime. Hanumanthu’s older sister Anjamma (played by Varalaxmi Sarathkumar) worries about Hanumanthu and wishes that he would turn his life around and become a respectable citizen. Anjamma is engaged to be married. Ner wedding becomes a pivotal point in the story.

Hanumanthu has a crush on an attractive and outspoken doctor named Meenakshi (played by Amritha Aiyer), who has vivid memories of a superhero being her rescuer/protector when she was a child. Meeakshi frequently clashes with Anjanadri’s leader Gajapathi (played by Raj Deepak Shetty), who rules Anjanadri like a dictator. Meeakshi wants the village to be more of a democracy.

The feud between Meeakshi and Gajapathi escalates to a point where Gajapathi sends a gang of masked thieves to rob and attack Meeakshi. Hanumanthu comes to Meeakshi’s rescue during the attack but he’s seriously wounded and falls into a sea nearby. He finds a glowing gem in the sea and is able to go back home.

During his recovery, Hanumanthu finds out that the gem has given him superpowers (such as extraordinary strength and agility), but only when he is in possession of the gem and when the gem is exposed to sunlight. It isn’t long before Hanumanthu and Gajapathi face off in a fight, where Hanumanthu’s new superpowers come in handy. Because Hanumanthu doesn’t want people to know that his superpowers come from this gem, he hides the gem in a mask that he wears in public when he’s using the superpowers.

And what about Michael? He’s been injured in a fight, so his Mega Man activities have been halted until he can fully recover. However, through a viral video that he sees on social media, Michael finds out about Hanumanthu’s exceptional strength and decides he has to find out what is the source of Hanumanthu’s strength. It doesn’t take long for Michael and Siri to arrive in Anjanadri.

“Hanu-Man” has a lot of thrilling acting scenes with mostly convincing visuals. When the visuals don’t look believable, it’s only a temporary distraction. Overall, the cinematography is very effective at immersing viewers into this world. The acting performances are adequate and not as good as the actual story.

Even though Michael is the movie’s chief villain, “Hanu-Man” has a lot to say about resisting political oppression in the conflicts with Gajapathi. Can this power-hungry tyrant be reedeemed? Michael also represents the corruption that can happen when people pursue power at any cost. It’s a tried-and-true theme for superhero stories, but “Hanu-Man” handles it with style and crowd-pleasing entertainment.

PrimeShow Entertainment released “Hanu-Man” in select U.S. cinemas on January 12, 2024, the same day the movie was released in India.

Review: ‘Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,’ starring Jason Momoa, Patrick Wilson, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Amber Heard, Nicole Kidman, Dolph Lundgren and Randall Park

December 22, 2023

by Carla Hay

Jason Momoa and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II in “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

“Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom”

Directed by James Wan

Culture Representation: Taking place above and below the oceans of Earth, the superhero action film “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” (based on DC Comics characters) features a racially diverse cast of characters (Asian, white and African American) portraying superheroes and regular human beings.

Culture Clash: Ocean-dwelling superhero Aquaman, also known as Arthur Curry, battles Black Manta, a villain who wants to control the world through environmental terrorism. 

Culture Audience: “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Jason Momoa and movies based on DC Comics, but the movie is inferior in every way to its 2018 predecessor, “Aquaman.”

Patrick Wilson and Jason Momoa in “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

Just like toxic seaweed, “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” is a tangled and rotten mess of a superhero film with uneven visual effects, cringeworthy dialogue and a sloppy plot. The filmmakers mistakenly think that Aquaman’s charisma is defined by “surf dude” whooping and hollering. It all becomes very predictable and tiresome, especially when the story is so weak and becomes unnecessarily convoluted in order to stretch the movie’s screen time.

Directed by James Wan and written by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” (whose release was delayed multiple times) is supposed to be the last movie in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), which began with 2013’s “Man of Steel,” a Superman origin story. Movies and TV shows based on DC Comics are going through a major overhaul under the leadership of DC Studios co-chairs/co-CEOs James Gunn and Peter Safran, who were appointed to these positions in 2022. The first “Aquaman” movie, released in 2018, is the highest-grossing DC Comics-based movie of all time, with worldwide ticket sales of about $1.15 billion.

Many of the filmmakers behind “Aquaman” are also behind “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,” including director Wan, screenwriter Johnson-McGoldrick, producer Rob Cowan, cinematographer Don Burgess, production designer Bill Brzeski, film editor Kirk Morri, music composer Rupert Gregson-Williams and music supervisor Michelle Silverman. Most of the headlining cast members from “Aquaman” are also in “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom.” What went wrong?

“Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” stumbles from the beginning with a corny montage sequence of Arthur Curry/Aquaman (played by Jason Momoa) rescuing a ship that’s being invaded by pirates, and then explaining that he’s now a husband and father who’s the king of the secret underwater kingdom of Atlantis. “That’s right,” Arthur says proudly. “I’m the king of frickin’ Atlantis.”

Arthur likes having this royal title, but he says he hates doing government work that comes with the job, such as attending council meetings, because he doesn’t think it’s any fun. The montage includes Arthur/Aquaman looking like he’s about to fall asleep from boredom at one of these meetings. Aquaman is supposed to be an adult (who looks like a middle-aged human), but he often talks like he’s a teenager who’s become a legal adult and is resentful about having certain adult responsibilities.

Arthur’s wife Mera (played by Amber Heard) gets very choppy film editing in the movie. She’s almost non-existent in the early scenes showing Arthur taking care of baby son Arthur Jr., while Arthur’s supportive father Tom Curry (played by Temuera Morrison) lives in the same household. Adding to the movie’s unimaginative and juvenile comedy, the baby urinates in Arthur’s face more than once in diaper-changing scenes.

At several points in the movie, Arthur looks like he’s a single father, even though he speaks lovingly of his wife, who is nowhere to be seen without explanation when Arthur is spending time with his family. The off-screen controversy over Heard and ex-husband Johnny Depp might or might not have played a role in how Heard is edited in the movie. Many of Depp’s fans petitioned Warner Bros. Pictures to cut her out of the movie because of issues related to the ex-couple’s legal disputes.

Meanwhile, villain David Kane (played Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), who has the alter ego Black Manta, is hell-bent on getting revenge on Aquaman, who was responsible for the death of David’s father in the first “Aquaman” movie. In “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,” David is seen scowling while his Black Manta suit is propped nearby. He fumes, “Every day I don’t fix my power suit is another day that Aquaman gets to live.”

David has continued in his father’s profession of being a deep-sea diver who hunts for treasure. He ends up rescuing Dr. Stephen Shin (played by Randall Park), a marine biologist who has survived a deadly attack from a mysterious giant creature with tentacles during an underwater exploration near Antarctica. (“Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” was actually filmed in Hawaii.) This creature has killed some of the people in Stephen’s team.

Stephen (who is stereotypical science geek character) is grateful to David for saving his life, but it turns out that David is forcing Stephen and the rest of the marine biologist team to work with David. Unbenkownst to Stephen, David has found a magical Black Trident that has allowed David to communicate with this demonic-like creature. The creature has told David: “Free me from my prison, and I will grant you the strength to kill the man who murdered your father.”

This creature is Kordax (played by Pilou Asbæk), the leader of Necrus, which is also called the Lost Kingdom of Atlantis. There are seven kingdoms of Atlantis: Necrus, Atlantis, Xebel, Kingdom of the Fishermen, Kingdom of the Trench, Kingdom of the Brine and Kingdom of the Deserters. David finds out that the Black Trident needs a certain fuel to reach its full power.

Five months later, Arthur/Aquaman appears before the Council of Atlantis, whose leader Karshon (played by Indya Moore) advises him that the people in the surface world have been poisoning the atmosphere of Atlantis through irresponsible environmental pollution. (It has something do with David stealing a stash of orichalcum, a dangerous metal that was locked up in Atlantis.) Arthur thinks it’s time for Atlantis to reveal itself to the people above the water. However, he gets resistance from council members who think that Atlantis should remain a secret from humans.

The rest of “Aquaman” becomes a mishmash of very fake-looking chase/fight scenes, climate change messaging, and a family reunion with a lot of awkward banter. And there’s some nonsense about Curry family blood that gets thrown into the story in a desperate attempt to make the plot look more interesting. For the movie’s action scenes, “loud” and “cluttered” don’t add up to being “exciting” or “interesting.”

The family reunion part of the story involves Arthur’s estranged younger half-brother Orm (played by Patrick Wilson), the former king of Atlantis who was Arthur’s enemy in “Aquaman.” Orm (who also goes by the name Ocean Master) is a dirty, disheveled and emaciated prisoner when Arthur breaks him out of prison to help in the fight against Black Manta and Kordax. But in one of the movie’s phoniest-looking scenes, Orm magically “cleans up” and transforms into a chiseled hunk as soon as he submerges himself in some water on a beach.

Also joining the fray in this family reunion are Atlanna (played by Nicole Kidman), the mother of Arthur and Orm. Atlanna’s regal personality from the first “Aquaman” movie seems to be washed away in “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,” which makes her as bland and bland can be. The same can be said for Mera, whose fiery personality has been replaced with being a generic sidekick who helps out in the fight scenes. Mera’s stern father, King Nereus (played by Dolph Lundgren), is also part of Aquaman’s fight team. The main purpose of King Nereus in the movie is to be the person on the team who is most suspicious that Orm will be helpful.

All of these characters would be enough for a superhero movie. But “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” doesn’t trust that would be enough to entertain audiences. And so, there are myriads of creatures that populate the movie as distractions that don’t do much to further the plot. Topo, the drum-playing octopus, makes a return to help Aquaman, who doesn’t really want this pet tagging along, but his mother Atlanna insists that Topo accompany Arthur. Arthur/Aquaman acts like a teenager who doesn’t want to babysit the family dog. Kingfish (voiced by Martin Short) is a mutant sea creature who is the sarcastic leader of underwater pirates that have conflicts with residents of Atlantis.

“Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” has some striking visuals in the Octobots:
vehicles with octopus-like metal arms that are used by Black Manta and his goons. However, even with these inventions and villainous armies doing battle against the heroes, none of it looks truly terrifying during these fight scenes. It all looks very busy, as if the filmmakers thought that throwing up a lot of computer-generated imagery (CGI) on screen is enough to create suspense.

The acting performances in “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” go through the motions and aren’t anything special. Momoa looks like he’s trying inject some playful energy into “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,” but it just dilutes the action scenes to make Aquaman into a goofball with muscles. It’s similar to how filmmaker Taika Waititi’s version of “god of thunder” Thor in Marvel movies loses the royal aura that the character had in the comic books to become a walking comedy machine that tells jokes that aren’t always funny.

Don’t expect there to be any good mid-credits or post-credits scenes in “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom.” The mid-credits scene is meant to be amusing, but it will likely nauseate some viewers because it depicts someone eating a cockroach. There is no end-credits scene, which wouldn’t really help anyway, because this movie doesn’t have any story ideas that are fresh or surprising. “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” isn’t the worst superhero movie based on DC Comics, but compared to the first “Aquaman” movie, it’s like a crowd-pleasing cruise that has become a shipwreck.

Warner Bros. Pictures released “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” in U.S. cinemas on December 22, 2023.

Review: ‘Blue Beetle,’ starring Xolo Maridueña, Adriana Barraza, Damían Alcázar, Raoul Max Trujillo, Susan Sarandon and George Lopez

August 16, 2023

by Carla Hay

Xolo Maridueña in “Blue Beetle” (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures/DC Comics)

“Blue Beetle”

Directed by Ángel Manuel Soto

Some language in Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in the fictional U.S. city of Palmera City, the sci-fi/fantasy/action film “Blue Beetle” (based on the DC Comics character) features a Latin and white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Recent college graduate Jaime Reyes has his body invaded by a super-powered beetle scarab, and he becomes the superhero Blue Beetle, battling his evil former boss who wants the scarab to create an oppressive army of robotic enforcers.

Culture Audience: “Blue Beetle” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of superhero movies, the film’s headliners and adventurous stories about underrepresented people who are the stories’ protagonists.

Elpidia Carrillo, George Lopez, Xolo Maridueña, Belissa Escobedo and Damián Alcázar in “Bue Beetle” (Photo by Hopper Stone/Warnet Bros. Pictures)

“Blue Beetle” sometimes gets trapped in a familiar superhero formula, but the movie’s comedic charm, rollicking style and authentic chemistry among the cast members are a winning combination. As an origin story, “Blue Beetle” won’t rank among the very best for superhero movies based on DC Comics, because there are a few too many superhero movie stereotypes in “Blue Beetle’s” action scenes. However, “Blue Beetle” has enough uniqueness and charisma in its characters that will give this movie a loyal fan base.

Directed by Ángel Manuel Soto and written by Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer, “Blue Beetle” tells the story of 22-year-old Jaime Reyes (played by Xolo Maridueña), an optimistic recent college graduate who has returned to his hometown of Palmera City, a fictional U.S. city based partially on El Paso Texas. DC Comics’ “Blue Beetle” stories have more than one person who is the character of Blue Beetle: archaeologist Dan Garrett (a character that debuted in 1939); inventor Ted Kord (debuted in 1966); and Jaime Reyes (debuted in 2006), a Mexican American who lives in El Paso.

In the “Blue Beetle” movie, Jaime (who is the first person in his family to graduate from college) has come back home to live in a family household that is going through some drastic changes. Jaime lives with his supportive parents Alberto Reyes (played by Damían Alcázar) and Rocio Reyes (played by Elpidia Carrillo); Alberto’s sassy mother Nana Reyes (played by Adriana Barraza); Jaime’s 17-year-old outspoken sister Milagro “Millie” Reyes (played by Belissa Escobedo); and Alberto’s eccentric brother Rudy Reyes (played by George Lopez).

Soon after arriving home, Jaime finds out that the family will be moving out of the house in the near future because the family can no longer afford the house rent, which has “tripled” due to gentrification. The family’s auto body shop is going out of business. Alberto is also recovering from a recent heart attack. Jaime is shocked to hear this news and asks why his family didn’t tell him sooner. They say it’s because they didn’t want anything to distract Jaime from his studies at school.

Jaime is hopeful that his college degree will help him get a job that pays enough to get the family out of these financial problems. He’s also hoping to go to law school someday. “I’ll get the money to save this place,” Jaime confidently tells Milagro. She isn’t so sure this goal will be as easy as Jaime thinks it will be. In the meantime, Jaime and Milagro work in sanitation and groundskeeping at Kord Industries, a massively successful technology corporation whose specialty is security.

The leader of Kord Industries is the ruthless and cruel Victoria Kord (played by Susan Sarandon), who took over the company after her brother Ted Kord disappeared. Ted inherited the company from his father. Victoria is still bitter and jealous that Ted got this inheritance. The opening scene of “Blue Beetle” shows Victoria and some of her minions discovering something near an asteroid that has fallen on Earth. Victoria gleefully says, “I’ve been looking for this for 15 years!”

Viewers later see that what they found is a blue beetle (about the size of a hand) called the Scarab, which has extraordinary powers and a mind of its own. Victoria wants the Scarab for a new Kord Industries invention: One Man Army Corps, a group of super-powered robots described as “the future of private policing.” Victoria’s brooding, hulking henchman named Conrad Carpax (played by Raoul Max Trujillo) is her most-trusted right-hand man to do her dirty work. Victoria’s leading scientist who works for her is Dr. Sanchez (played by Harvey Guillén), a long-suffering employee who experiences some of Victoria’s noticeable racism.

Not everyone is happy with Victoria’s plans for One Man Army Corps. Ted’s smart and independent daughter Jenny Kord (played by Bruna Marquezine), who is in her early 20s and is originally from Brazil, is the complete opposite of Victoria, when it comes to their outlooks on life. Jenny cares about humanity, the environment, and having socially responsible and ethical business practices. Jenny suspects but can’t prove that Victoria is behind her father Ted’s disappearance. (Jenny’s mother died years ago.)

Over the course of the movie, Jenny and Victoria clash in a number of ways. Anything that Victoria wants to do, Jenny wants to dismantle. Jenny isn’t afraid to openly defy her domineering aunt, who becomes infuriated and vengeful when she sees how far Jenny is willing to go to stop Victoria from Victoria’s nefarious plans. Early on in the movie, Victoria snarls to Jenny: “You are nothing to this company. You are a brat … Your father abandoned this company, and he abandoned me.

At first, Jaime is eager to impress Victoria. When Jaime sees Victoria on the company property, he tries to get her attention, but Victoria doesn’t even notice Jaime and other low-paid workers at the company. Milagro is with Jaime when he tries and fails to get Victoria’s attention. Milagro comments to Jaime: “We’re invisible to people like that.”

It isn’t long before Jaime and Jenny meet when Jenny is at Kord Industries headquarters. Jaime’s attraction to her is immediate. Jenny plays it cool, but it’s obvious that she will be Jaime’s love interest. Perpetually skeptical Milagro thinks that Jenny is out of Jaime’s league and tells Jaime, Milagro assumes that Jenny is just another spoiled rich kid who wouldn’t want to associate with people in the Reyes family. Through a series of events, Jaime will cross paths with Jenny until they both find out that they have a common goal.

Jaime and Milagro get fired after Jaime tries to defend Jenny during an argument between Jenny and Victoria. Later, Jenny (disguised as a Kord Industries lab worker) steals a security key card to gain entrance to the lab where the Scarab is being secretly kept. Jenny then takes the Scarab, which she knows Victoria needs to make the One Man Army Corps. However, Dr. Sanchez (who was not in the lab during this theft) comes back and sees the Scarab has been stolen and quickly gives a security breach alert.

The Kord Industries building goes on a security lockdown, but Jenny quickly gives the Scarab (which is in a box) to an unwitting Jaime, who is headed for the exit with other visitors, who have been told to evacuate the building. Jenny tells Jaime that what’s in the box is an important secret, and she warns him not to open the box. But, of course, as shown in the “Blue Beetle” trailers, Jaime opens the box when he’s at home with his family.

The Scarab enters Jaime’s body (painfully), and he becomes the Blue Beetle, a superhero with physical characteristics of a giant beetle and a blue superhero suit of armor. This transformation is shown in the “Blue Beetle” trailers, so there’s no mystery about it. After the Scarab melds with Jaime’s body, he can hear the voice of the Scarab as being an entity called Khaji-Da (voiced by Becky G), who gives Jaime/Blue Beetle advice on what to do when he’s in superhero mode.

The rest of “Blue Beetle” goes through a lot of over-used superhero movie motions of “we have to save the world from an evil villain.” However, thanks to engaging dialogue (some of it is hilarious, some of it is hokey) and a likable rapport between the Reyes family members, “Blue Beetle” can be very enjoyable to watch. It’s suspenseful and dramatic in all the right places.

Maridueña, who was previously best known for his supporting role as Miguel Diaz in Netflix’s “Cobra Kai” karate drama series, gives a star-making performance in “Blue Beetle.” He perfectly embodies Jaime’s amiable personality, which is a mixture of hopeful, curious and insecure about what he perceives as his shortcomings. Maridueña also adeptly handles the wide range of emotions that Jaime goes through in the movie.

It should come as no surprise that Lopez, who has a long history in comedy, gets the best and funniest lines in the movie as Uncle Rudy, who just happens to be an underappreciated tech whiz. Barraza as Jaime’s seemingly mild-mannered grandmother also has a few moments to shine in ways that aren’t too surprising, since the movie keeps dropping hints that there’s more to Nana Reyes than being a kind grandmother. Alcázar, who portrays the easygoing Alberto, has some well-acted heartfelt moments in scenes between Alberto and Jaime, who inherited is father’s positive attitude.

Victoria obviously represents corporate greed that’s out of control. Sarandon plays this villain role to the hilt, but Victoria might not impress some viewers who like superhero movies to have chief villains with superpowers. “Blue Beetle” also has some commentary and observations (but not preaching) about racism, such as a scene where Jaime goes to a Kord Industries reception area, because he has a meeting with Jenny, and the snooty receptionist (played by Brianna Lewis) automatically assumes that Jaime is a delivery person.

The visual effects in “Blue Beetle” are perfectly fine, but they’re not going to win major awards. Some of the action scenes are clumsily staged and could have been better, in terms of visual style and how events unfold in the screenplay. A mid-credits scene in “Blue Beetle” hints that a certain character will be in a “Blue Beetle” sequel, while the end-credits scene in “Blue Beetle” is a bit of fluff that has no bearing on any DC Comics movie. Overall, “Blue Beetle” is a solid superhero movie that doesn’t have a lot of originality in its “good versus evil” story, but the movie has appealing messages about family unity during tough times that can resonate with audiences of many different backgrounds.

Warner Bros. Pictures will release “Blue Beetle” in U.S. cinemas on August 18, 2023.

Review: ‘The Flash’ (2023), starring Ezra Miller, Michael Keaton, Sasha Calle, Michael Shannon, Ron Livingston, Maribel Verdú and Kiersey Clemons

June 6, 2023

by Carla Hay

Ezra Miller, Ezra Miller and Sasha Calle in “The Flash” (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures/DC Comics)

“The Flash” (2023)

Directed by Andy Muschietti

Some language in Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in the fictional Central City (in the United States), in Russia, and in a fictional multiverse, the superhero action film “The Flash” (based on DC Comics characters) features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Latinos and African Americans) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Barry Allen, also known as the superhero The Flash, goes back in time to try to prevent the death of his mother, while the evil General Zod hunts for members of the exiled Krypton family that includes Superman and Supergirl. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of comic book movie fans, “The Flash” will appeal primarily to people who like watching imaginative multiverse movies that don’t get too confusing.

Ezra Miller, Michael Keaton and Ezra Miller in “The Flash” (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures/DC Comics)

Bold, creative, and with some appealing quirks, “The Flash” lives up to expectations and offers some jaw-dropping surprises. Viewers who are new to the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) won’t get too confused, while ardent fans will be constantly thrilled. Some movies with multiverses can get too convoluted with messy plots, or overstuffed with too many characters. However, “The Flash” (which is based on DC Comics characters) wisely sticks to less than six principal characters that get the most screen time. The movie’s plot (which has some fantastic twists) is easy to follow, although people who’ve seen previous DCEU movies will have a better understanding of everything. Viewers with extensive knowledge of pop culture will also appreciate some of the jokes in the movie.

Directed by Andy Muschietti and written by Christina Hodson, “The Flash” takes place mostly in the fictional Central City, a sprawling U.S. metropolis that is currently under attack by General Zod (played by Michael Shannon), a supervillain whose chief nemesis is Superman, the superhero who has the powers to stop Zod. Superman, who has an alter ego as journalist Clark Kent, has gone missing. Faora-Ul (played by Antje Traue) is a fearless warrior who is General Zod’s second-in-command.

As superhero fans already know, Superman (whose birth name is Kal-El) is a refugee of the planet Krypton, which was destroyed by Zod. Superman’s parents died in this massacre but sent him to Earth as a baby while the attack on Krypton was happening. Did other members of the family survive? All of this background information is useful for what happens later in “The Flash.”

The title character of “The Flash” is man in his 20s named Barry Allen (played by Ezra Miller), whose superhero alter ego is The Flash, who has phenomenal speed. The movie’s opening sequences shows The Flash saving babies from a hospital maternity ward when the building’s hospital was destroyed by Zod and his army. The movie foreshadows what type of comedy it will have by showing that during this crisis, The Flash took the time to eat and drink from a falling vending machine to boost his energy.

In other early sequence, a criminal with a briefcase is apprehended on a bridge by The Flash, Batman (played by Ben Affleck), also known as billionaire Bruce Wayne, and another member of the Justice League (whose identity won’t be revealed in this review) help The Flash. The briefcase contains a weapon that can “wipe out half of Gotham by lunchtime,” warns Bruce’s trusty butler Alfred Pennyworth (played by Jeremy Irons), who has a quick cameo appearance in “The Flash.”

When he’s not being The Flash, shy and insecure Barry is a forensics lab employee at the Central City Research Center, which does a lot of work for the Central City Police Department. Barry is preoccupied with proving the innocence of his father Henry Allen (played by Ron Livingston), who is in prison for the murder of his wife/Barry’s mother Nora Allen (played by Maribel Verdú), who was stabbed to death in their kitchen at home. (Livingston replaces Billy Crudup, who previously played the role of Henry Allen, but Crudup was unavailable to be in “The Flash” because of work commitments on Crudup’s Apple TV+ series “The Morning Show.”) Henry was wrongfully convicted of Nora’s murder and is appealing the conviction. In “The Flash,” Henry is awaiting a court hearing for this appeal.

A flashback shows that Barry at 11 years old (played by Ian Loh) was home and upstairs when the murder happened. Henry had been at a grocery store getting a can of tomatoes at Nora’s request, because she had forgotten to buy the tomatoes earlier. Henry came home to find his wife murdered. However, he doesn’t have a solid alibi. The grocery store’s video surveillance has images of Henry, but he’s wearing a baseball cap, and his face can’t fully be seen in the surveillance video. Henry was the one who discovered Nora’s body, and with no solid alibi, he became the chief suspect in the murder.

Through a series of events, Barry finds himself going back in time and interacting with his 18-year-old self (also played by Miller) in a multiverse that includes the Bruce Wayne/Batman (played by Michael Keaton) of the 1989’s “Batman” and 1992’s “Batman Returns.” When the two Barrys first meet this version of Bruce, he is a bearded and disheveled recluse who denies he was ever Batman, but then he admits it. This Batman grumpily and reluctantly comes out of retirement to help Barry.

The movie makes it easy for viewers to distinguish between the two Barrys: The younger Barry has longer hair, is goofy, and has blue light rays surrounding him when he becomes The Flash. The older Barry has short hair, is more serious, and has red light rays surrounding him when he becomes The Flash. The younger Barry has a homemade Flash superhero suit, while the older Barry’s Flash suit is the “official” Flash superhero suit.

Along the way, these three superheroes encounter Superman’s cousin Kara Zor-El, also known as Supergirl (played by Sasha Calle), who has been imprisoned somewhere in Russia. Because it’s already revealed in the movie’s trailers, Supergirl joins both iterations of The Flash and Keaton’s Batman to team up to fight Zod. Central City journalist Iris West (played by Kiersey Clemons) returns in a supporting role as Barry’s love interest. Iris just happens to be covering Henry’s court case.

Although “The Flash” has a lot of dazzling images throughout the film, the movie’s visual effects fall a little short in scenes where Barry goes to stop time and pick a multiverse to enter. These scenes show flashbacks to other versions of the DC Comics-based movies and TV shows, with the visual presentation looking a little too much like the computer-generated imagery that it is. It’s a little distracting, but it doesn’t ruin the movie.

Miller excels in their performance as the dual Barry Allen/The Flash. (Miller identifies as non-binary in real life and uses the pronouns they/them.) Calle’s performance is a little stiff, but her Supergirl comes out of coma in the movie, so her personality is aloof and more than a little shell-shocked. Keaton steps back into his Batman role perfectly. It’s a performance that will delight fans of the first two “Batman” movies.

“The Flash” has some clever comedy about alternative castings for movies, including a running joke about Eric Stoltz being the star of 1985’s “Back to the Future” in an alternate universe. In real life, Stoltz was fired from “Back to the Future” and replaced by Michael J. Fox. Only people who know this pop culture trivia will really get the jokes. There’s also some surprise and sometimes hilarious references to other actors who were cast or could have been cast as superhero characters in other DC Comics-based entertainment.

“The Flash” is a rollicking adventure that earns its total running time of 144 minutes. The movie has an end-credits scene that is there for pure comedy and has no deep meaning to any sequels. If “The Flash” is the first DC Comics-based movie that a viewer will see, it’s best to know what happened in 2013’s “Man of Steel” and 2021’s “Zack Snyder’s Justice League.” DC Comics-based movies have been hit and miss, in terms of quality, but “The Flash” leaves no question that it’s a “hit” on a storytelling level.

Warner Bros. Pictures will release “The Flash” in U.S. cinemas on June 16, 2023.

Review: ‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,’ starring the voices of Shameik Moore, Hailee Steinfeld, Oscar Isaac, Issa Rae, Jake Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry and Luna Lauren Velez

May 31, 2023

by Carla Hay

Spider-Man/Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore) in “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” (Image courtesy of Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Animation)

“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse”

Directed by Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Power and Justin K. Thompson

Some language in Spanish with no subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City and in the fictional multiverse called the Spider-Verse, the superhero animated film “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” features a racially diverse cast of characters (black, white and Latino) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: American teenager Miles Morales, who is one of many spider characters in the Spider-Verse, encounters various heroes and villains in the Spider-Verse. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of comic book movie fans, “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching animated movies that have an inconsistent visual style and a very muddled plot.

Jessica Drew (voiced by Issa Rae), Gwen Stacy (voiced by Hailee Steinfeld), Peter B. Parker (voiced by Jake Johnson) and his daughter Mayday in “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” (Image courtesy of Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Animation)

Just like a tangled web from a scatterbrained spider, “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” is a convoluted mess. This overstuffed movie takes too long to define the plot. It’s a barrage of inconsistent visuals that often look like ugly comic-book graffiti. And it’s a huge disappointment as a sequel to 2018’s Oscar-winning “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” (based on characters from Marvel Comics), a visually stunning, highly entertaining film that showed tremendous potential as the next great “Spider-Man” movie series. Superhero movies are supposed to tell viewers within the first 30 minutes what the story is going to be about and who the villain is, but the 140-minute “Spider-Man Across the Spider-Verse” fails to deliver those basic elements until the movie is more than halfway done.

“Spider-Man Across the Spider-Verse” (directed by Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Power and Justin K. Thompson) also commits one of the worst sins of a movie sequel: It’s very unwelcoming to newcomers. People who didn’t see or don’t know what happened in “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” will be confused from the very first scene of “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.” And even if viewers saw and remember “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” they will have their patience tested by how the overly long “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” jumps from one subplot to the next without much explanation or resolution. Characters appear, disappear for long stretches of time, and then might or might not reappear with any meaningful context on what they’re really supposed to be doing in this movie.

In “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” Miles Morales, also known as web-slinging superhero Spider-Man (voiced by Shameik Moore), is a student in his last year of high school. Miles is the movie’s central character, and he seems to be just as confused by what’s going on in his world as many viewers will be. Miles (who lives in New York City’s Brooklyn borough) is one of several people or creatures who have a Spider superhero alter ego. In the Spider-Verse, these various Spider iterations can time jump and appear in other universes, depending on if they have the power to do so, or are sent there by someone else. Unlike the teenage Peter Parker in the “Spider-Man” franchise, or even the Miles Morales in “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” the Miles in “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” is barely shown in school or interacting with his schoolmates.

That’s not what’s irritating about this movie. What’s irritating about “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” is that it’s so enamored with the concept of various Spider beings, it overloads in introducing these characters but doesn’t have much real character development for them. There are moments of wisecracking jokes (the movie’s comedy is best appreciated by teenagers and adults), but these quips don’t make up for the rest of the uninspired plot and dialogue. And the movie’s big climax just drags on and on, like a rambling stand-up comedian who doesn’t know when to get off the stage.

Miles’ main ally in “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” is Gwen Stacy (voiced by Hailee Steinfeld), a teenager who’s close to Miles’ age and who might or might not be his love interest. Gwen has a superhero alter ego named Spider-Gwen, who was the last person known to see the adult Peter Parker (voiced by Jake Johnson), also known as the most famous Spider-Man, before Peter died. (This death scene is shown as a flashback of Spider-Gwen at Peter’s side when he dies in a massive urban wreckage.) Gwen’s widower father George Stacy (voiced by Shea Whigham), who’s had a rocky relationship with Gwen, is determined to arrest Spider-Gwen, not knowing that his daughter is really Spider-Gwen.

“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” has such a poorly constructed narrative, the only backstory that viewers get about Gwen is her vague voiceover narration in the movie’s opening scene: “I didn’t want to hurt him, but I did. He’s not the only one.” After the flashback of Parker Parker dying in the wreckage, Gwen says in a voiceover: “I never really made another friend after that—except one, but he’s not here.” That other friend, of course, is Miles Morales. But only Spider-Man experts or people who saw “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” will know what Gwen is babbling about in this opening scene.

Gwen is the drummer for an all-female rock trio called the Mary Janes. (The band’s name is a cheeky nod to Mary Jane Watson, who is Peter Parker’s girlfriend in other “Spider-Man” stories.) The beginning of the movie shows the band rehearsing and then Gwen quitting in anger. Why? Don’t expect a good explanation, except she appears to be angry over Peter’s death but she can’t talk to anyone about it. It’s a scene that’s ultimately pointless, like many other scenes in this long-winded film.

After her temper tantrum, Gwen goes home, where she has a bratty attitude with her father, who tells her that the police have gotten a break in the Peter Parker/Spider-Man death case. George says to Gwen: “Too punk rock to hug your old man?” She then quickly hugs him, and all seems to be forgiven. But as soon as you know that George and his police colleagues have made progression in their Peter Parker death investigation, you know what’s eventually going to happen.

“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” also shows that Miles’ home life is affected by his superhero antics. A lot of time in this movie is spent on repetitive and not-very-interesting subplots about Miles’ parents—Jefferson Davis (voiced by Brian Tyree Henry) and Rio Morales (played by Luna Lauren Velez, previously known as Lauren Velez)—getting annoyed and worried because Miles is constantly tardy or absent from places where he needs to be. A running “joke” in the movie is that Miles’ parents keep adding to the number of months that they say Miles is grounded.

Miles pops in and out of a meeting that he’s supposed to have with his parents and his school principal (voiced by Rachel Dratch) to discuss his plans after high school. The principal is worried that Miles might be squandering his potential, since he’s been skipping classes. And there are some racist overtones when the principal says she wants to fabricate a narrative for Miles’ college applications by saying on the applications that Miles (who is Afro-Latino) is a poor, underprivileged kid with a rough childhood. (He’s not. Miles actually comes from a stable middle-class family.) Fortunately, the principal’s awful idea is nixed.

In the meeting, it’s mentioned that Miles wants to go to Princeton University to study physics. Rio gets upset because she thinks New Jersey is too far away from Brooklyn. (It’s not.) And then, Miles is out the door before the meeting is over because he has to attend to some secretive Spider-Man superhero business. His plans for what he wants to do after graduating from high school are never mentioned again in the movie. It’s just a time-wasting scene.

n “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” Miles’ relationship with his parents looks authentic. In “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” Miles’ relationship with his parents looks fake and rushed. There’s a very disjointed sequence where Miles is late for a rooftop party that his family is having to celebrate Jefferson getting promoted from lieutenant to captain at the New York Police Department. The death of Jefferson’s thieving criminal brother Aaron, which was shown in “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” is treated as an quick afterthought in “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.” Miles introduces Gwen to his parents in this rooftop party sequence, which keeps getting interrupted by Gwen and Miles going in and out of the Spider-Verse.

During this very sloppily told and often visually unappealing movie, other characters show up, disappear, then show up again, and might disappear again, with the movie never clearly defining who some of them are and what is purpose of these characters. A villain who comes and goes with no real significance is Adrian Toomes, also known as The Vulture (voiced by Jorma Taccone), who gets into a battle with Spider-Gwen. Don’t expect the movie to give an explanation of who The Vulture is and where he came from, because it’s never mentioned in “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.”

Miles later thwarts a convenience store robbery by Jonathan Ohnn, also known as The Spot (voiced by Jason Schartzman), a portal-jumping villain character with a black hole for a face and who looks like he’s wearing a white full body suit with Dalmatian patterns. The Spot appears and disappears into portal holes, with no explanation for viewers who aren’t familiar with this character from Marvel comic books. The only clue offered is when The Spot tells Miles, “I’m from your past.”

Other characters who are dropped in and out of scenes are Miguel O’Hara (voiced by Oscar Isaac), a mysterious motorcycle-riding character dressed in a Spider-Man costume; Jessica Drew (voiced by Issa Rae), a no-nonsense, highly trained fighter who happens to be pregnant; and Lyla (voiced by Greta Lee), who is Miguel’s artificial-intelligence assistant. A version of the adult Peter Parker shows up, as a married father of a baby daughter named Mayday, who seems to fill the movie’s quota to have a cute kid character in the movie. A LEGO universe is briefly shown as nothing more than product placement for LEGO.

There are also international versions of Spider superheroes. Hobart “Hobie Brown,” also known as Spider-Punk (voiced by Daniel Kaluuya), is a snarling, sarcastic Brit who seems to be influenced by a 1980s-era Billy Idol. Spider-Punk is the only character who does not have a non-generic personality. Margo Kess, also known as Spider-Byte (voiced by Amandla Stenberg), is an American, openly queer computer expert, whose presence in the movie barely makes a difference to the story. Ben Reilly, also known as Scarlet Spider (voiced by Andy Samberg), is a clone designed to look like Peter Parker. Spider-Man India (voiced by Karan Soni) doesn’t even get his own birth name in the movie, which gives him a brief, goofy appearance that reeks of tokenism.

Some of the movie’s animation is deliberately made to look like unfinished sketches from a comic book. There might be some people who like this visual style, but most viewers of superhero movies want to see consistency in the animation style of movies in the same series. “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” and in “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” have almost entirely different teams of screenwriters and directors—and these difference show to the movie’s detriment. Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman directed “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” which was written by Rothman and Phil Lord. “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” was written by Lord, Christopher Miller and Dave Callaham.

There are huge parts of the “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” that look like an experimental art project gone wrong. The animation sometimes look jagged, unpolished and blurry. As for the movie’s unfocused plot, it looks like it was made only for the type of people who know Spider-Man inside jokes or who religiously look for Easter Eggs in “Spider-Man” visual content. A typical family with children under the age of 10 who see this movie will probably feel alienated by how so much of the film is cluttered and unclear. And it begs the question: “Why mess up such a good thing?”

Not all of the visuals in “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” consists of animation. There are a few Spiderverse scenes where people appear as cameos in live-action visuals. Donald Glover has one of these cameos. (In real life, Glover famously campaigned to get the role of Peter Parker/Spider-Man in the early 2010s. Andrew Garfield ended up getting the role.) Another cameo is from sassy convenience store owner Mrs. Chen (played by Peggy Lu), who is a minor character in the “Venom” movies, which are connected to the “Spider-Man” franchise. People who haven’t seen the “Venom” movies just won’t know or care about this Mrs. Chen cameo. These cameos are nothing more than stunt casting and add nothing to the plot.

It seems like “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” is trying to be an artsy superhero animated film. The problem is that the “Spider-Man” movie brand was made for a wide variety of people, not just comic-book enthusiasts who are obsessive about Spider-Man “canon,” which in comic-book terms means the story as it was originally presented in the comic books. The movie has an annoying tendency to assume all viewers are going to be Spider-Man experts.

And speaking of “canon,” expect to hear a lot of about “canon disruption” in “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.” Pity any viewer of this steaming pile of pretentiousness who doesn’t have encylopedic knowledge of what is and what is not “canon” in the Spider-Verse. Because yes, “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is a very pretentious animated film that is sure to baffle and disappoint many people who think they’re going to see a continuation of what made “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” so special.

Anyone who’s letting children under the age of 10 watch the very messy “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” should be warned that these children will most likely be bored and/or confused, unless all they care about is seeing bright, splashy visuals on screen. The voice cast members for “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” do what they’re supposed to do. But the plot is so jumbled and smug with its fan-service pandering, by the time the end of “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” announces that the story continues in “Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse” (due out in 2024), many viewers will be thinking to themselves: “No, thank you.”

Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Animation will release “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” in U.S. cinemas on June 2, 2023.

Review: ‘Thor: Love and Thunder,’ starring Chris Hemsworth, Christian Bale, Tessa Thompson, Taika Waititi, Russell Crowe and Natalie Portman

July 5, 2022

by Carla Hay

Natalie Portman and Chris Hemsworth in “Thor: Love and Thunder” (Photo by Jasin Boland/Marvel Studios)

“Thor: Love and Thunder”

Directed by Taika Waititi

Culture Representation: Taking place on Earth and other parts of the universe (including the fictional location of New Asgard), the superhero action film “Thor: Love and Thunder” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Nordic superhero Thor Odinson, also known as the God of Thunder, teams up with allies in a battle against the revengeful villain Gorr the God Butcher, while Thor’s ex-girlfriend Jane Porter has her own personal battle with Stage 4 cancer. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of comic book movie fans, “Thor: Love and Thunder” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and action movies that skillfully blend drama and comedy.

Christian Bale in “Thor: Love and Thunder” (Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios)

“Thor: Love and Thunder” could also be called “Thor: Grief and Comedy,” because how of this superhero movie sequel balances these two themes with some results that are better than others. The movie goes big on showing bittersweet romance and the power of true friendships. Some of the movie’s subplots clutter up the movie, and any sense of terrifying danger is constantly undercut by all the wisecracking, but “Thor: Love and Thunder” gleefully leans into the idea that a superhero leader can be a formidable warrior, as well as a big goofball and a sentimental romantic.

Directed by Taika Waititi, “Thor: Love and Thunder” is also a commercial showcase for Guns N’Roses music. It’s the first Marvel Studios movie to blatantly shill for a rock band to the point where not only are four of the band’s hits prominently used in major scenes in the movie, but there’s also a character in the movie who wants to change his first name to be the same as the first name of the band’s lead singer. The music is well-placed, in terms of conveying the intended emotions, but viewers’ reactions to this movie’s fan worship of Guns N’Roses will vary, depending on how people feel about the band and its music. The Guns N’Roses songs “Welcome the Jungle,” “Paradise City,” “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and “November Rain” are all in pivotal scenes in “Thor: Love and Thunder.”

“Thor: Love and Thunder” picks up where 2019’s blockbuster “Avengers: Endgame” concluded. What’s great about “Thor: Love and Thunder” (which Waititi co-wrote with Jennifer Kaytin Robinson) is that the filmmakers didn’t assume that everyone watching the movie is an aficionado of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), nor did they assume that everyone watching “Thor: Love and Thunder” will know a lot about the Nordic superhero Thor Odinson (played by Chris Hemsworth) before seeing the movie. Near the beginning of the movie, there’s a montage summary (narrated cheerfully by Waititi’s Korg character, a rock-like humanoid who is one of Thor’s loyal allies) that shows the entire MCU history of Thor up until what’s about to happen in “Thor: Love and Thunder.”

The movie’s opening scene isn’t quite so upbeat, because it gets right into showing that grief will be one of the film’s biggest themes. In a very barren desert, a man and his daughter (who’s about 8 or 9 years old, played by India Rose Hemsworth) are deyhdrated, starving, and close to dying. The girl doesn’t survive, and the man is shown grieving at the place where he has buried her. Viewers soon find out that this man is Gorr the God Butcher (played by Christian Bale), who is the story’s chief villain. But he didn’t start out as a villain.

After the death of his daughter, a ravenously hungry Gorr ends up a tropical-looking, plant-filled area, where he devours some fruit. Suddenly, a male god appears before Gorr, who is pious and grateful for being in this god’s presence. Gorr tells the god: “I am Gorr, the last of your disciples. We never lost our faith in you.”

The god scoffs at Gorr’s devotion and says, “There’s no eternal reward for you. There’ll be more followers to replace you.” Feeling betrayed, Gorr replies, “You are no god! I renounce you!” The god points to a slain warrior on the ground and tells Gorr that the warrior was killed for the Necrosword, a magical sword that can kill gods and celestials. The Necrosword levitates off of the ground and gravitates toward Gorr.

The god tells Gorr: “The sword chose you. You are now cursed.” Gorr replies, “It doesn’t feel like a curse. It feels like a promise. So this is my vow: All gods will die!” And you know what that means: Gorr kills the god in front of him, and Thor will be one of Gorr’s targets.

Meanwhile, Thor is seen coming to the rescue of the Guardians of the Galaxy, who need his help in battling some villains on a generic-looking planet in outer space. All of the Guardians are there (except for Gamora, who died at the end of “Avengers: Endgame”), and they see Thor as a powerful ally. However, the Guardians are worried that Thor has lost a lot of his emotional vitality. Thor (who hails from Asgar) is grieving over the loss his entire family to death and destruction.

Thor is also still heartbroken over the end of his romantic relationship with brilliant astrophysicist Jane Foster (played by Natalie Portman), who was in 2011’s “Thor” and 2013’s “Thor: The Dark World.” Viewers will find out in a “Thor: Love and Thunder” flashback montage what really happened that caused the end of this relationship. Jane and Thor are considered soul mates, but their devotion to their respective work resulted in Thor and Jane drifting apart.

Guardians of the Galaxy leader Peter Quill, also known as Star-Lord (played by Chris Pratt), tries to give Thor a pep talk, because Star-Lord can relate to losing the love of his life (Gamora, played by Zoe Saldana), but the main difference is that Thor has a chance to see Jane again because she’s still alive. As shown in the trailer for “Thor: Love and Thunder,” Jane will soon come back into Thor’s life in an unexpected way, when she gains possession of Thor’s magical hammer, Mjolnir, and she reinvents herself as the Mighty Thor. As an example of some of the movie’s offbeat comedy, Korg keeps getting Jane Foster’s name wrong, by sometimes calling her Jane Fonda or Jodie Foster.

The Guardians of the Galaxy section of “Thor: Love and Thunder” almost feels like a completely separate short film that was dropped into the movie. After an intriguing opening scene with Gorr, viewers are left wondering when Gorr is going to show up again. Instead, there’s a fairly long stretch of the movie with Thor and the Guardians of the Galaxy

After spending a lot of meditative time lounging around in a robe, Thor literally throws off the robe for the battle scene with Thor and the Guardians of the Galaxy, as the Guns N’Roses song “Welcome to the Jungle” blares on the soundtrack. After the battle is over (it’s easy to predict who the victors are), Thor’s confident ego seems to have come roaring back. He exclaims with a huge grin: “What a classic Thor adventure! Hurrah!”

As a gift for this victory, Thor gets two superpowered goats, which have the strength to pull space vessels and whose goat screaming becomes a running gag in the movie. The visual effects in “Thor: Love and Thunder” get the job done well enough for a superhero movie. But are these visual effects groundbreaking or outstanding? No.

The Guardians’ personalities are all the same: Star-Lord is still cocky on the outside but deeply insecure on the inside. Drax (played by Dave Bautista) is still simple-minded. Rocket (voice by Bradley Cooper) is still sarcastic. Mantis (played by Pom Klementieff) is still sweetly earnest. Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) still only has three words in his vocabulary: “I am Groot.”

Nebula (voiced by Karen Gillan), who is Garmora’s hot-tempered adopted sister and a longtime Guardians frenemy, is now an ally of the Guardians. Guardians associate Kraglin Obfonteri (played by Sean Gunn) makes a brief appearance to announce that he’s gotten married to an Indigarrian woman named Glenda (played by Brenda Satchwell), who is one of his growing number of his wives. It’s mentioned in a joking manner that Kraglin has a tendency to marry someone at every planet he visits.

With his confidence renewed as the God of Thunder, Thor decides he’s ready to end his “retirement” and go back into being a superhero. He says goodbye to the Guardians, who fly off in their spaceship and wish him well. Little does Thor know what he’s going to see someone from his past (Jane), whom he hasn’t seen in a long time.

Sif (played by Jaimie Alexander), an Asgardian warrior who was in the first “Thor” movie and in “Thor: The Dark World,” re-appears in “Thor: Love and Thunder,” but she now has a missing left arm and has to learn to re-adjust her fighting skills. Sif’s presence in this movie isn’t entirely unexpected. It’s a welcome return, but some viewers might think that Sif doesn’t get enough screen time.

Meanwhile, as shown in “Avengers: Endgame,” Thor gave up his King of New Asgard title to his longtime associate Valkyrie (played by Tessa Thompson), who’s finding out that being the leader of New Asgard isn’t quite as enjoyable as she thought it would be. She’d rather do battle alongside her buddy Thor instead of having to do things like attend dull council meetings or cut ribbons at opening ceremonies. New Asgard is a fishing village that has become a tourist destination that plays up its connection to Thor and his history.

The stage play recreation of Thor’s story was used as a comedic gag in 2017’s “Thor: Ragnarok” (also directed and written by Waititi), and that gag is used again in “Thor: Love and Thunder,” as this play is staged in New Asgard, but with an update to include what happened in “Thor: Ragnarok.” Making uncredited cameos as these stage play actors in “Thor: Love and Thunder” are Matt Damon as stage play Loki (Thor’s mischievous adopted brother), Luke Hemsworth as stage play Thor, Melissa McCarthy as stage play Hela (Thor’s villainous older sister) and Sam Neill as stage play Odin (Thor’s father). This comedic bit about a “Thor” stage play isn’t as fresh as it was in “Thor: Ragnarok,” but it’s still amusing.

One of the New Asgard citizens is a lively child of about 13 or 14 years old. His name is Astrid, and he announces that he wants to change his first name to Axl, in tribute to Axl Rose, the lead singer of Guns N’Roses. Axl (played by Kieron L. Dyer) is the son of Heimdall (played by Idris Elba), the Asgardian gatekeeper who was killed by supervillain Thanos in 2018’s “Avengers: Infinity War.” As fans of superhero movies know, just because a character is killed on screen doesn’t mean that that character will never be seen again. And let’s just say that “Thor: Love and Thunder” makes it clear that people have not seen the last of Heimdall.

Jane has a poignant storyline because she has Stage 4 cancer, which is something that she’s in deep denial about since she wants to act as if she still has the same physical strength as she did before her cancer reached this stage. Jane’s concerned and loyal assistant Darcy Lewis (played by Kat Dennings) makes a brief appearance to essentially advise Jane to slow down Jane’s workload. Jane refuses to take this advice.

The way that Jane gets Thor’s hammer isn’t very innovative, but she finds out that the hammer gives her godlike strength and makes her look healthy. It’s no wonder she wants to explore life as the Mighty Thor. (Her transformation also includes going from being a brunette as Jane to being a blonde as the Mighty Thor.)

And where exactly is Gorr? He now looks like a powder-white Nosferatu-like villain, as he ends up wreaking havoc by going on a killing spree of the universe’s gods. And it’s only a matter of time before Gorr reaches New Asgard. With the help of shadow monsters, Gorr ends up kidnapping the children of New Asgard (including Axl) and imprisoning them in an underground area. Guess who’s teaming up to come to the rescue?

After the mass kidnapping happens, there’s a comedic segment where Thor ends up in the kingdom of Greek god Zeus (played by Russell Crowe), a toga-wearing hedonist who says things like, “Where are we going to have this year’s orgy?” Zeus is Thor’s idol, but Thor gets a rude awakening about Zeus. Thor experiences some humiliation that involves Thor getting completely naked in Zeus’ public court. Crowe’s questionable Greek accent (which often sounds more Italian than Greek) is part of his deliberately campy performance as Zeus.

“Thor: Love and Thunder” packs in a lot of issues and switches tones so many times, it might be a turnoff to some viewers who just want to see a straightforward, uncomplicated and conventional superhero story. However, people who saw and enjoyed “Thor: Ragnarok” will be better-prepared for his mashup of styles that Waititi continues in “Thor: Love and Thunder,” which has that same spirit. “Thor: Love and Thunder” tackles much heavier issues though, such as terminal illness and crushing heartbreak.

The movie’s cancer storyline with Jane could have been mishandled, but it’s written in a way that has an emotional authenticity among the fantastical superhero shenanigans. “Thor: Love and Thunder” also goes does fairly deep in exposing the toll that superhero duties can take on these superheroes’ love lives. Thor and Jane have to come to terms with certain decisions they made that affected their relationship.

The movie also provides a glimpse into the personal lives of supporting characters Korg and Valkyrie. In a memorable scene, Valkyrie and Korg are alone together in an area of Thor’s Viking ship, and they have a heart-to-heart talk about not finding their true loves yet. They are lovelorn cynics but still show some glimmers of optimism that maybe they will be lucky in love. It’s in this scene where Korg mentions that he was raised by two fathers, and Valkyrie briefly mentions having an ex-girlfriend. A scene later in the movie shows that Korg is open having a same-sex romance.

All of the cast members do well in their roles, but Hemsworth and Portman have the performances and storyline that people will be talking about the most for “Thor: Love and Thunder.” The ups and downs of Thor and Jane’s on-again/off-again romance are not only about what true love can mean in this relationship but also touch on issues of power, control, trust and gender dynamics. It’s a movie that acknowledges that two people might be right for each other, but the timing also has to be right for the relationship to thrive.

Bale does a very solid job as Gorr, but some viewers might be disappointed that Gorr isn’t in the movie as much as expected. That’s because the first third of “Thor: Love and Thunder” is taken up by a lot of Guardians of the Galaxy interactions with Thor. In other words, Gorr’s villain presence in “Thor: Love and Thunder” is not particularly encompassing, as Hela’s villain presence was in “Thor: Ragnarok.”

The movie’s final battle scene might also be somewhat divisive with viewers because one member of Thor’s team is not part of this battle, due to this character being injured in a previous fight and being stuck at a hospital. Fans of this character will no doubt feel a huge letdown that this character is sidelined in a crucial final battle. Leaving this character out of this battle is one of the flaws of “Thor: Love and Thunder.”

The mid-credits scene and end-credits scene in Thor: Love and Thunder” show characters who are supposed to be dead. The mid-credits scene also introduces the family member of one of the movie’s characters, while the end-credits scene teases the return of other characters who exist in another realm. Neither of these scenes is mind-blowing. However, they’re worth watching for MCU completists and anyone who likes watching all of a movie’s credits at the end.

What “Thor: Love and Thunder” gets right is that it shows more concern than many other MCU movies about how insecurities and isolation outside the glory of superhero battles can have a profound effect on these heroes. Saving the universe can come at a heavy emotional price, especially when loved ones die. Whether the love is for family members, romantic partners or friends, “Thor: Love and Thunder” acknowledges that love can result in grief that isn’t easy to overcome, but the healing process is helped with loyal support and some welcome laughter.

Disney’s Marvel Studios will release “Thor: Love and Thunder” in U.S. cinemas on July 8, 2022.

Review: ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,’ starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, Xochitl Gomez, Michael Stühlbarg and Rachel McAdams

May 3, 2022

by Carla Hay

Xochitl Gomez, Benedict Wong and Benedict Cumberbatch in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” (Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios)

“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness”

Directed by Sam Raimi

Some language in Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City and various parts of a multiverse, the superhero action film “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Superhero sorcerer Doctor Strange, also known as surgeon Stephen Strange, goes on a quest to save teenager America Chavez, who has a special superpower that a villain wants to steal. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of comic book movie fans, “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen and the Disney+ superhero series “WandaVision.”

Elizabeth Olsen in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” (Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios)

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has now become the world’s first cinematic franchise where you need encyclopedia knowledge of certain comic books to know what’s going on and to fully enjoy the movies and TV shows in the franchise. There are many MCU fans who’ve invested years of watching every Marvel movie and every Marvel TV show that comes along. And that investment has its rewards in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.”

But what about people who aren’t die-hard Marvel fans and just want to see a good superhero movie? Simply put: “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is a convoluted but entertaining experience that should not be a viewer’s first MCU movie. It’s a movie that can be considered the tipping point where at least one Marvel show on Disney+ is essential viewing to understand the entire film.

For “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” that essential Marvel show is “WandaVision.” It also helps, but it’s not crucial, to watch the Disney+ animated series “What If…?,” which explored alternate storylines for Marvel characters. If you don’t want to watch any of these Marvel shows, then “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” has this message for you: “Too bad, because you will be left behind, and you will feel ignorant about storylines and nuances in any upcoming MCU movies.”

Viewers also need to see (or at least know what happened in) the following movies to fully appreciate “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” and its complex plot: 2016’s “Doctor Strange,” 2018’s “Avengers: Infinity War” and 2019’s “Avengers: Endgame.” If you don’t know about the supervillain Thanos or the five-year “disappearance” that he caused, some of the dialogue in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” will not make sense to you. Viewers who have no prior knowledge of any Marvel movie will just be hopelessly lost and will just have to try to enjoy “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” for the movie’s high-energy action scenes and compelling visual effects.

The movie’s screenplay, written by Michael Waldron, keeps transporting characters from Multiverse scene to Multiverse scene with such dizzying regularity, the best way to know these characters is by seeing them in previous MCU stories. “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is just like very eye-catching and detailed icing on a cake. It will appeal to many people but be completely unnecessary to others.

Sam Raimi—a filmmaker known for helming the first three “Spider-Man” movies and horror classics such as the first two “Evil Dead” films—directed “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” as someone who is clearly an ardent fan of the MCU. But he also directed “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” as an ardent fan who expects everyone watching to be all caught up in almost everything related to Marvel on screen prior to the release of “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.” And that includes some of the Marvel movies released by the studio formerly known as 20th Century Fox, because some characters from those movies make cameos in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.”

Here are the basic things that people need to know before watching “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness”: New York City-based superhero sorcerer Doctor Strange, also known as brilliant surgeon Stephen Strange (played by Benedict Cumberbatch), is going on another “good versus evil” quest. Fights and chase scenes ensue. And the “Multiverse” in the MCU is really just another word for “different versions of comic book characters existing in different universes.” After the blockbuster success of 2021’s “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” which had three different versions of Spider-Man interacting with each other in the same movie, there’s no point in being coy about what “multiverse” means if it’s part of a Marvel story.

However, there’s a reason why spoiler-free descriptions of “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” are so vague: The movie is filled with more spoilers than a typical superhero film. And those spoilers include describing which characters encounter different versions of themselves in the Multiverse. It should come as no surprise that viewers can expect to see more than one version of Doctor Strange, whose rescue mission in the movie is to save superhero newcomer America Chavez (played by Xochitl Gomez), who’s about 16 or 17 years old, from being robbed of her extremely rare superpower.

What is her superpower? She can travel through the Multiverse with ease. But in this movie, she doesn’t know how to control the power. All she knows is that she can exert this power in moments when she feels extreme fear. America doesn’t know yet that she’s a superhero, so “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” can be considered the introduction to her discovering her superhero identity. One of the things that America knows about herself is that she has not found other versions of herself in the Multiverse.

The movie also has a brief flashback to America, when she was about 7 or 8 years old (played by Aliyah Camacho), being separated from her two lesbian mothers—Elena Chavez (played by Ruth Livier) and Amalia Chavez (played by Chess Lopez)—who were involuntarily yanked into a portal that took the mothers into another universe. Ever since then, America has been looking for her mothers, and she fears that her mothers might be dead.

America feels a lot of guilt because she caused that portal to appear after she became frightened by a bee, not knowing that her parents would be taken away from her. In the Marvel comic books, America is openly a lesbian, but her sexuality is not mentioned in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.” She’s too busy running around trying not to get killed to think about dating or having a love interest.

And who exactly is targeting America for her Multiverse superpower? It’s Wanda Maximoff, also known as Scarlet Witch (played by Elizabeth Olsen), a character who is a hero or a villain, depending on which version of this character is in the scene. And because this movie is all about the Multiverse, the Wanda/Scarlet Witch character can sometimes be a hero and a villain in the same scene.

In “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” Wanda is a single mother to fraternal twin boys Billy (played by Julian Hilliard) and Tommy (played by Jett Klyne), who are about 8 or 9 years old. Billy and Tommy have superpowers in “WandaVision” that might or might not be on display in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.” Wanda’s motherhood is crucial to her motivations in almost everything she does in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.” Her motherhood is used as a way for her to manipulate people and how she is manipulated herself.

Viewers who last saw Wanda in 2019’s “Avengers: Endgame” without knowing what happened in “WandaVision” might be utterly confused over when she became a mother. “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” explains (in a “WandaVision” spoiler alert) that Wanda/Scarlet Witch used her magical powers to create these children. She quips in response: “That’s what every mother does.” Doctor Strange scolds Wanda/Scarlet Witch for using her magic to mess with reality, which is completely ironic and hypocritical considering what he does later in the movie.

What “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” doesn’t explain adequately is why Wanda created these children. The twins were raised by Wanda and her superhero love partner Vision (played by Paul Bettany) up until a certain point in “WandaVision.” People who know what happened in “WandaVision” also know what happened to Vision, which is not explained in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.” What happened in “WandaVision” helps people understand why Wanda, as the Scarlet Witch, has turned to the “dark side,” which in this universe is called the Darkhold, an ancient book of spells.

Don’t expect this movie to have any meaningful “WandaVision” flashbacks to further reveal Wanda’s family situation in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” but her family motivations are supposed to make her look more sympathetic in doing the things that she does in the movie. It also gives her character more emotional depth to viewers who know her family history, compared to viewers who don’t know. It’s all part of a cross-marketing plan for Disney-owned Marvel Studios to get people to subscribe to Disney+ to watch the Marvel shows on Disney+ so that viewers can fully understand Marvel movies. It’s also called creating viewer FOMO (“fear of missing out”) to full effect.

Certain characters from 2016’s “Doctor Strange” make their return in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.” Stephen’s ex-girlfriend Christine Palmer (played by Rachel McAdams), a surgeon who worked with him at the same hospital, gets married to a man named Charlie (played by Ako Mitchell), who is a fan of Doctor Strange. Stephen is invited to the wedding, where he privately tells Christine that he regrets not trying harder for them to stay together. (They broke up because he’s a workaholic and because all those superhero duties got in the way.)

Christine responds, “Stephen, it was never going to work out between us. Because you were always going to be the one holding the knife. I could respect you for it, but I could never love you for it.” And there are more heartbroken and emotionally wounded moments for Stephen/Doctor Strange in the movie, with some of those moments involving Christine.

Doctor Strange’s loyal superhero colleague Wong (played by Benedict Wong) also makes his return. Wong is now the Sorcerer Supreme, who oversees sorcerer training in Kamar-Taj, which is located in another dimension. Doctor Strange and Wong fight side by side in some scenes, but there’s a stretch of the movie where Doctor Strange and Wong are not in the same universe and have to fight separate battles. There’s no story arc for steadfast and dependable Wong in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” which is a missed opportunity, because Wong deserves to have more character development in the MCU.

Also returning is Karl Mordo (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor), who became an enemy of Doctor Strange in the first “Doctor Strange” movie, but Mordo might or might not have the same type of personality or life story in other parts of the Multiverse. Dr. Nicodemus “Nic” West (played by Michael Stühlbarg), the surgeon who operated on Stephen’s hands after Stephen was in a near-fatal car accident in the first “Doctor Strange” movie, makes a brief appearance (less than five minutes) in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” where Dr. West is a guest at Christine’s wedding. In this scene, Dr. West sits next to Stephen and smugly tells Stephen that although Doctor Strange likes to think that he is the “best surgeon and the best superhero,” in the end, Stephen/Doctor Strange “didn’t get the girl.”

Other than America Chavez, “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” doesn’t do much with new characters in the MCU. These new MCU characters include mystic artists Sara (played by Sheila Atim) and Rintrah (played by Adam Hugill), who are both disciples of Wong in Kamar-Taj. The purpose for Sara and Rintrah in the movie is exactly what you think it might be in forgettable roles. As far as introducing new characters, “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse” is all about making America Chavez a newcomer star of the MCU.

Scarlet Witch is the movie’s main villain, but there are some monsters that also cause mayhem. One of them is a giant one-eyed octopus that appears during Christine’s wedding. It’s a somewhat awkwardly staged scene, where the octopus suddenly appears on the streets of New York City, and Doctor Strange quickly puts on his magical cloak (don’t call it a “cape,” according to him) and jumps off of a balcony to fight the monster. Some generic-looking demons also make appearances during the fight scenes.

Visually, the movie has its dazzling moments. In terms of its story, “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is a mixed bag. At times, it gets repetitive and jumbled as you think it can be when people jump through portals and enter different universes during chase scenes. And that’s not the only repetition: “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” repeats the MCU formula of superheroes making wisecracking jokes during action scenes. There are also parts of the movie that repeat a scenario where someone has to “prove” their identity and show evidence that what they’re saying is the truth, because the Multiverse is supposed to make people feel disoriented about what’s real and what isn’t real.

The movie also repeats a theme of the main characters looking for their definition of happiness. More than once in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” someone is asked, “Are you happy?” And then it’s followed up with some version of saying, “Are you really happy? Don’t lie to me because I can tell you’re not really happy.” Is this a superhero movie or a therapy session?

Other times, the movie works very well when it comes to laying the groundwork for developing the story of America Chavez and how she became an ally of Doctor Strange and Wong. Some horror movie elements kick into high gear in the last third of “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” which handles horror better than 2022’s “Morbius” movie, the origin story of Marvel’s vampire anti-hero Morbius. Raimi’s experience as a horror filmmaker greatly benefits “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.”

There’s nothing really spectacular about any of the acting in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” but the acting isn’t terrible either. Stephen Strange/Doctor Strange is known for his arrogance and impatience, but in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” he shows more humility and emotional vulnerability than in previous Marvel movies, and Cumberbatch plays the part accordingly. McAdams doesn’t have a lot to work with for her Christine character, who has a stereotypical action movie role of an ex-girlfriend thrown back into an ex-boyfriend’s life so she can be in the action scenes too.

Olsen is very good in her role as Wanda Romanoff/Scarlet Witch, but she was better in “WandaVision,” which required her to show a wider range of personalities in vastly different scenarios. Viewers’ reactions will largely depend on how emotionally connected they feel to Wanda Romanoff/Scarlet Witch, considering she has presented many different sides of herself in the MCU. Gomez portrays America with credibility as someone who is an awkward, slightly rebellious teenager who feels like a lost soul. She and Doctor Strange eventually learn to trust and respect each other, but their clashes just retread the “smart-alecky kid paired with a reluctant adult mentor” formula that’s been in many other movies.

The most emotional moments in”Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” will have the greatest resonance with people who’ve seen “WandaVision” and the aforementioned MCU movies. Everything that has to do with Wanda/Scarlet Witch can best be understood by people who know what happened in “WandaVision.” And when you need to watch a TV series first to understand a movie’s chief villain, that could be a problem for “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.”

“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” also has the expected mid-credits/end-credits scenes that tease what will happen in other movies or TV shows that are part of the MCU franchise. Charlize Theron is in the mid-credits scene as a character who becomes a very important part of Doctor Strange’s life, based on this character’s Marvel Comics storyline. The movie’s end-credits scene is a throwaway joke that has no bearing on subsequent storylines, but it’s a reference to a spell that was cast on someone in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.” Some of the “surprise” cameos just further establish that certain franchise characters that were kept separate from the MCU have now become a part of the MCU.

If you yearn for a time when watching a new superhero movie sequel didn’t have to entail seeing at least three other movies in the franchise and possibly a TV series related to the franchise, in order to understand what happens in the sequel you’re watching, then get used to this MCU reality, because that simpler time is over. Also long gone are the days when having a maximum of five superheroes in a movie sequel was considered too much. Nowadays, not only has the MCU raised expectations for each MCU movie sequel to have numerous superheroes (as main characters and as cameos), but “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” has also ensured that viewers can expect different versions of these superheroes to pop up at any time. It’s a superhero party for superfans, but regular fans or casual fans will feel like they’re at a party where only certain people understand the inside jokes.

Disney’s Marvel Studios will release “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” in U.S. cinemas on May 6, 2022. Disney+ will premiere the movie on June 22, 2022.

2022 Critics Choice Super Awards: ‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,’ ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home,’ ‘Evil’ and ‘Midnight Mass’ are the top nominees

February 22, 2022

The following is a press release from the Critics Choice Association:

The Critics Choice Association (CCA) announced today the nominees for the 2nd Annual Critics Choice Super Awards, honoring the most popular, fan-obsessed genres across both television and movies, including Superhero, Science Fiction/Fantasy, Horror, and Action. Winners will be revealed on Thursday, March 17, 2022.

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” and “Spider-Man: No Way Home” lead this year’s film nominations, with five nods apiece including Best Superhero Movie. Both Tony Leung and Simu Liu garnered Best Actor in a Superhero Movie nods for their performances in “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” while Michelle Yeoh is up for Best Actress in a Superhero Movie, and Tony Leung could also take home the award for Best Villain in a Movie. The cast of “Spider-Man: No Way Home” also earned top acting nods, with both Tom Holland and Andrew Garfield recognized with Best Actor in a Superhero Movie nominations. Additionally, Zendaya is up for Best Actress in a Superhero Movie, and Willem Dafoe could take home the trophy for Best Villain in a Movie.

“Evil” and “Midnight Mass” tied for the most television nominations, with each earning six nods including Best Horror Series. Mike Colter and Aasif Mandvi from “Evil” garnered nominations for Best Actor in a Horror Series, while Katja Herbers and Christine Lahti are vying for Best Actress in a Horror Series, and Michael Emerson earned a nod for Best Villain in a Series. Meanwhile, “Midnight Mass” also has two actors, Zach Gilford and Hamish Linklater, competing in the category of Best Actor in a Horror Series. Both Kate Siegel and Samantha Sloyan are up for Best Actress in a Horror Series, and Sloyan was also nominated for Best Villain in a Series.

The full list of nominees can be found below.

Follow the Critics Choice Super Awards on Twitter and Instagram @CriticsChoice and on Facebook/CriticsChoiceAwards.

About the Critics Choice Association (CCA) 

The Critics Choice Association is the largest critics organization in the United States and Canada, representing more than 525 media critics and entertainment journalists. It was established in 2019 with the formal merger of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association, recognizing the intersection between film, television, and streaming content. For more information, visit: CriticsChoice.

FILM NOMINATIONS FOR THE 2ND ANNUAL CRITICS CHOICE SUPER AWARDS

BEST ACTION MOVIE

  • Gunpowder Milkshake
  • The Harder They Fall
  • The Last Duel
  • Nobody
  • No Time to Die
  • Wrath of Man

BEST ACTOR IN AN ACTION MOVIE

  • Daniel Craig – No Time to Die
  • Dwayne Johnson – Jungle Cruise
  • Jonathan Majors – The Harder They Fall
  • Mads Mikkelsen – Riders of Justice
  • Liam Neeson – The Ice Road
  • Bob Odenkirk – Nobody

BEST ACTRESS IN AN ACTION MOVIE

  • Jodie Comer – The Last Duel
  • Ana de Armas – No Time to Die
  • Karen Gillan – Gunpowder Milkshake
  • Regina King – The Harder They Fall
  • Lashana Lynch – No Time to Die
  • Maggie Q – The Protégé

BEST SUPERHERO MOVIE*

  • Black Widow
  • Eternals
  • Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
  • Spider-Man: No Way Home
  • The Suicide Squad
  • Zack Snyder’s Justice League

BEST ACTOR IN A SUPERHERO MOVIE*

  • John Cena – The Suicide Squad
  • Idris Elba – The Suicide Squad
  • Andrew Garfield – Spider-Man: No Way Home
  • Tom Holland – Spider-Man: No Way Home
  • Tony Leung – Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
  • Simu Liu – Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPERHERO MOVIE*

  • Gal Gadot – Zack Snyder’s Justice League
  • Scarlett Johansson – Black Widow
  • Florence Pugh – Black Widow
  • Margot Robbie – The Suicide Squad
  • Michelle Yeoh – Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
  • Zendaya – Spider-Man: No Way Home

BEST HORROR MOVIE

  • Candyman
  • Last Night in Soho
  • Malignant
  • The Night House
  • A Quiet Place Part II
  • Titane

BEST ACTOR IN A HORROR MOVIE

  • Yahya Abdul-Mateen II – Candyman
  • Nicolas Cage – Willy’s Wonderland
  • Dave Davis – The Vigil
  • Vincent Lindon – Titane
  • Cillian Murphy – A Quiet Place Part II
  • Sam Richardson – Werewolves Within

BEST ACTRESS IN A HORROR MOVIE

  • Barbara Crampton – Jakob’s Wife
  • Rebecca Hall – The Night House
  • Anya-Taylor Joy – Last Night in Soho
  • Thomasin McKenzie – Last Night in Soho
  • Agathe Rousselle – Titane
  • Millicent Simmonds – A Quiet Place Part II

BEST SCIENCE FICTION/FANTASY MOVIE

  • Don’t Look Up
  • Dune
  • Free Guy
  • The Green Knight
  • The Mitchells vs. the Machines
  • Swan Song

BEST ACTOR IN A SCIENCE FICTION/FANTASY MOVIE

  • Mahershala Ali – Swan Song
  • Timothée Chalamet – Dune
  • Leonardo DiCaprio – Don’t Look Up
  • Tom Hanks – Finch
  • Dev Patel – The Green Knight
  • Ryan Reynolds – Free Guy

BEST ACTRESS IN A SCIENCE FICTION/FANTASY MOVIE

  • Cate Blanchett – Don’t Look Up
  • Jodie Comer – Free Guy
  • Rebecca Ferguson – Dune
  • Mckenna Grace – Ghostbusters: Afterlife
  • Jennifer Lawrence – Don’t Look Up
  • Alicia Vikander – The Green Knight

BEST VILLAIN IN A MOVIE

  • Ben Affleck – The Last Duel
  • Willem Dafoe – Spider-Man: No Way Home
  • Idris Elba – The Harder They Fall
  • Tony Leung – Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
  • Marina Mazepa (performer) & Ray Chase (voice) – Malignant
  • Tony Todd – Candyman

* Superhero categories also include Comic Book and Video Game Inspired Movies

NOMINATIONS BY FILM FOR THE 2nd ANNUAL CRITICS CHOICE SUPER AWARDS

A Quiet Place Part II – 3

Best Horror Movie

Best Actor in a Horror Movie – Cillian Murphy

Best Actress in a Horror Movie – Millicent Simmonds

Black Widow – 3

Best Superhero Movie

Best Actress in a Superhero Movie – Scarlett Johansson

Best Actress in a Superhero Movie – Florence Pugh

Candyman – 3

Best Horror Movie

Best Actor in a Horror Movie – Yahya Abdul-Mateen II

Best Villain in a Movie – Tony Todd

Don’t Look Up – 4

Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie

Best Actor in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie – Leonardo DiCaprio

Best Actress in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie – Cate Blanchett

Best Actress in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie – Jennifer Lawrence

Dune – 3

Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie

Best Actor in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie – Timothée Chalamet

Best Actress in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie – Rebecca Ferguson

Eternals – 1

Best Superhero Movie

Finch – 1

Best Actor in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie – Tom Hanks

Free Guy – 3

Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie

Best Actor in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie – Ryan Reynolds

Best Actress in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie – Jodie Comer

Ghostbusters: Afterlife – 1

Best Actress in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie – Mckenna Grace

Gunpowder Milkshake – 2

Best Action Movie

Best Actress in an Action Movie – Karen Gillan

Jakob’s Wife – 1

Best Actress in a Horror Movie – Barbara Crampton

Jungle Cruise – 1

Best Actor in an Action Movie – Dwayne Johnson

Last Night in Soho – 3

Best Horror Movie

Best Actress in a Horror Movie – Anya-Taylor Joy

Best Actress in a Horror Movie – Thomasin McKenzie

Malignant – 2

Best Horror Movie

Best Villain in a Movie – Marina Mazepa (performer) & Ray Chase (voice)

No Time to Die – 4

Best Action Movie

Best Actor in an Action Movie – Daniel Craig

Best Actress in an Action Movie – Ana de Armas

Best Actress in an Action Movie – Lashana Lynch

Nobody – 2

Best Action Movie

Best Actor in an Action Movie – Bob Odenkirk

Riders of Justice – 1

Best Actor in an Action Movie – Mads Mikkelsen

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings – 5

Best Superhero Movie

Best Actor in a Superhero Movie – Tony Leung

Best Actor in a Superhero Movie – Simu Liu

Best Actress in a Superhero Movie – Michelle Yeoh

Best Villain in a Movie – Tony Leung

Spider-Man: No Way Home – 5

Best Superhero Movie

Best Actor in a Superhero Movie – Andrew Garfield

Best Actor in a Superhero Movie – Tom Holland

Best Actress in a Superhero Movie – Zendaya

Best Villain in a Movie – Willem Dafoe

Swan Song – 2

Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie

Best Actor in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie – Mahershala Ali

The Green Knight – 3

Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie

Best Actor in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie – Dev Patel

Best Actress in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie – Alicia Vikander

The Harder They Fall – 4

Best Action Movie

Best Actor in an Action Movie – Jonathan Majors

Best Actress in an Action Movie – Regina King

Best Villain in a Movie – Idris Elba

The Ice Road – 1

Best Actor in an Action Movie – Liam Neeson

The Last Duel – 3

Best Action Movie

Best Actress in an Action Movie – Jodie Comer

Best Villain in a Movie – Ben Affleck

The Mitchells vs. the Machines – 1

Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie

The Night House – 2

Best Horror Movie

Best Actress in a Horror Movie – Rebecca Hall

The Protégé – 1

Best Actress in an Action Movie – Maggie Q

The Suicide Squad – 4

Best Superhero Movie

Best Actor in a Superhero Movie – John Cena

Best Actor in a Superhero Movie – Idris Elba

Best Actress in a Superhero Movie – Margot Robbie

The Vigil – 1

Best Actor in a Horror Movie – Dave Davis

Titane – 3

Best Horror Movie

Best Actor in a Horror Movie – Vincent Lindon

Best Actress in a Horror Movie – Agathe Rousselle

Werewolves Within – 1

Best Actor in a Horror Movie – Sam Richardson

Willy’s Wonderland – 1

Best Actor in a Horror Movie – Nicolas Cage

Wrath of Man – 1

Best Action Movie

Zack Snyder’s Justice League – 2

Best Superhero Movie

Best Actress in a Superhero Movie – Gal Gadot

TELEVISION NOMINATIONS FOR THE 2ND ANNUAL CRITICS CHOICE SUPER AWARDS

BEST ACTION SERIES

9-1-1

Cobra Ka

Heels

Kung Fu

Lupin

Squid Game

BEST ACTOR IN AN ACTION SERIES

Mike Faist – Panic

Lee Jung-jae – Squid Game

Alexander Ludwig – Heels

Ralph Macchio – Cobra Kai

Omar Sy – Lupin

William Zabka – Cobra Kai

BEST ACTRESS IN AN ACTION SERIES

Angela Bassett – 9-1-1

Kim Joo-ryoung – Squid Game

HoYeon Jung – Squid Game

Queen Latifah – The Equalizer

Olivia Liang – Kung Fu

Mary McCormack – Heels

BEST SUPERHERO SERIES*

Doom Patrol

Hawkeye

Loki

Lucifer

Superman & Lois

WandaVision

BEST ACTOR IN A SUPERHERO SERIES*

Paul Bettany – WandaVision

Tom Ellis – Lucifer

Brendan Fraser – Doom Patrol

Tom Hiddleston – Loki

Tyler Hoechlin – Superman & Lois

Anthony Mackie – The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPERHERO SERIES*

Sophia Di Martino – Loki

Kathryn Hahn – WandaVision

Javicia Leslie – Batwoman

Gugu Mbatha-Raw – Loki

Elizabeth Olsen – WandaVision

Hailee Steinfeld – Hawkeye

BEST HORROR SERIES

Chucky

Dr. Death

Evil

Midnight Mass

Servant

Yellowjackets

BEST ACTOR IN A HORROR SERIES 

Adrien Brody – Chapelwaite

Mike Colter – Evil

Zach Gilford – Midnight Mass

Rupert Grint – Servant

Hamish Linklater – Midnight Mass

Aasif Mandvi – Evil

BEST ACTRESS IN A HORROR SERIES

Lauren Ambrose – Servant

Katja Herbers – Evil

Christine Lahti – Evil

Melanie Lynskey – Yellowjackets

Kate Siegel – Midnight Mass

Samantha Sloyan – Midnight Mass

BEST SCIENCE FICTION/FANTASY SERIES

Foundation

Resident Alien

Snowpiercer

Star Trek: Discovery

Station Eleven

The Witcher

BEST ACTOR IN A SCIENCE FICTION/FANTASY SERIES

Henry Cavill – The Witcher

Daveed Diggs – Snowpiercer

Matthew Goode – A Discovery of Witches

Jared Harris – Foundation

Lee Pace – Foundation

Alan Tudyk – Resident Alien

BEST ACTRESS IN A SCIENCE FICTION/FANTASY SERIES

Mackenzie Davis – Station Eleven

Laura Donnelly – The Nevers

Sonequa Martin-Green – Star Trek: Discovery

Teresa Palmer – A Discovery of Witches

Jodie Whittaker – Doctor Who

Alison Wright – Snowpiercer

BEST VILLAIN IN A SERIES

Vincent D’Onofrio – Hawkeye

Michael Emerson – Evil

Kathryn Hahn – WandaVision

Joshua Jackson – Dr. Death

Jonathan Majors – Loki

Samantha Sloyan – Midnight Mass

* Superhero categories also include Comic Book and Video Game Inspired Series

NOMINATIONS BY SERIES FOR THE 2ND ANNUAL CRITICS CHOICE SUPER AWARDS

9-1-1 – 2

Best Action Series

Best Actress in an Action Series – Angela Bassett

A Discovery of Witches – 2

Best Actor in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Series – Matthew Goode

Best Actress in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Series – Teresa Palmer

Batwoman – 1

Best Actress in a Superhero Series – Javicia Leslie

Chapelwaite – 1

Best Actor in a Horror Series – Adrien Brody

Chucky – 1

Best Horror Series

Cobra Kai – 3

Best Action Series

Best Actor in an Action Series – Ralph Macchio

Best Actor in an Action Series – William Zabka

Doctor Who – 1

Best Actress in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Series – Jodie Whittaker

Doom Patrol – 2

Best Superhero Series

Best Actor in a Superhero Series – Brendan Fraser

Dr. Death – 2

Best Horror Series

Best Villain in a Series – Joshua Jackson

Evil – 6

Best Horror Series

Best Actor in a Horror Series – Mike Colter

Best Actor in a Horror Series – Aasif Mandvi

Best Actress in a Horror Series – Katja Herbers

Best Actress in a Horror Series – Christine Lahti

Best Villain in a Series – Michael Emerson

Foundation – 3

Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Series

Best Actor in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Series – Jared Harris

Best Actor in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Series – Lee Pace

Hawkeye – 3

Best Superhero Series

Best Actress in a Superhero Series – Hailee Steinfeld

Best Villain in a Series – Vincent D’Onofrio

Heels – 3

Best Action Series

Best Actor in an Action Series – Alexander Ludwig

Best Actress in an Action Series – Mary McCormack

Kung Fu – 2

Best Action Series

Best Actress in an Action Series – Olivia Liang

Loki – 5

Best Superhero Series

Best Actor in a Superhero Series – Tom Hiddleston

Best Actress in a Superhero Series – Sophia Di Martino

Best Actress in a Superhero Series – Gugu Mbatha-Raw

Best Villain in a Series – Jonathan Majors

Lucifer – 2

Best Superhero Series

Best Actor in a Superhero Series – Tom Ellis

Lupin – 2

Best Action Series 

Best Actor in an Action Series – Omar Sy

Midnight Mass – 6

Best Horror Series

Best Actor in a Horror Series – Zach Gilford

Best Actor in a Horror Series – Hamish Linklater

Best Actress in a Horror Series – Kate Siegel

Best Actress in a Horror Series – Samantha Sloyan

Best Villain in a Series – Samantha Sloyan

Panic – 1

Best Actor in an Action Series – Mike Faist

Resident Alien – 2

Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Series

Best Actor in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Series – Alan Tudyk

Servant – 3

Best Horror Series

Best Actor in a Horror Series – Rupert Grint

Best Actress in a Horror Series – Lauren Ambrose

Snowpiercer – 3

Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Series

Best Actor in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Series – Daveed Diggs

Best Actress in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Series – Alison Wright

Squid Game – 4

Best Action Series

Best Actor in an Action Series – Lee Jung-jae

Best Actress in an Action Series – Kim Joo-ryoung

Best Actress in an Action Series – HoYeon Jung

Star Trek: Discovery – 2

Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Series

Best Actress in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Series – Sonequa Martin-Green

Station Eleven – 2

Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Series

Best Actress in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Series – Mackenzie Davis

Superman & Lois – 2

Best Superhero Series

Best Actor in a Superhero Series – Tyler Hoechlin

The Equalizer – 1

Best Actress in an Action Series – Queen Latifah

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier – 1

Best Actor in a Superhero Series – Anthony Mackie

The Nevers – 1

Best Actress in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Series – Laura Donnelly

The Witcher – 2

Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Series

Best Actor in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Series – Henry Cavill

WandaVision – 5

Best Superhero Series

Best Actor in a Superhero Series – Paul Bettany

Best Actress in a Superhero Series – Kathryn Hahn

Best Actress in a Superhero Series – Elizabeth Olsen

Best Villain in a Series – Kathryn Hahn

Yellowjackets – 2

Best Horror Series

Best Actress in a Horror Series – Melanie Lynskey

Review: ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home,’ starring Tom Holland, Zendaya, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jacob Batalon, Jamie Foxx, Willem Dafoe, Alfred Molina and Marisa Tomei

December 14, 2021

by Carla Hay

Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Holland in “Spider-Man: No Way Home” (Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures)

“Spider-Man: No Way Home”

Directed by Jon Watts

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City, the superhero action film “Spider-Man: No Way Home” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: After 17-year-old Peter Parker has been exposed as the alter ego of Spider-Man, he enlists the help of mystical superhero Doctor Strange to make people forget this secret identity, but Doctor Strange’s spell brings several allies and enemies back from various dimensions of the Spider-Verse. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of comic book movie fans, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” will appeal primarily to people who like nostalgia-filled superhero movies and who are fans of this movie’s star-studded cast.

Tom Holland and Alfred Molina) in “Spider-Man: No Way Home” (Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures)

Just like an artist’s greatest-hits box set offered to fans who already own every album by the artist, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” is best appreciated by people who’ve already seen all the previous “Spider-Man” movies. It’s filled with insider jokes that will either delight or annoy viewers, depending on how familiar they are with the cinematic Spider-Verse. Simply put: “Spider-Man: No Way Home” is an epic superhero feast for fans, but it should not be the first “Spider-Man” movie that people should see. There are too many references to other Spider-Man movies that came before “Spider-Man: No Way Home” that just won’t connect very well with people who have not seen enough of the previous “Spider-Man” movies.

Fortunately for the blockbuster “Spider-Man” movie franchise (which launched with 2002’s “Spider-Man,” starring Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker/Spider-Man), most people who watch “Spider-Man: No Way Home” will have already seen at least one previous “Spider-Man” movie. Maguire also starred in 2004’s “Spider-Man 2” and 2007’s “Spider-Man 3.” Andrew Garfield starred as Peter Parker/Spider-Man in two of the reboot movies: 2012’s “The Amazing Spider-Man” and 2014’s “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.” Another “Spider-Man” movie reboot series began with Tom Holland as Peter Parker/Spider-Man, starting with 2017’s “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” and continuing with 2019’s “Spider-Man: Far From Home” and 2021’s “Spider-Man: No Way Home.”

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” is the third “Spider-Man” movie directed by Jon Watts and co-written by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, the same writer/director team behind 2019’s “Spider-Man: Far From Home.” There were six screenwriters (including Watts, McKenna and Sommers) for 2017’s “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” which was also directed by Watts. The trio of Watts, McKenna and Sommers for three consecutive “Spider-Man” movies has been beneficial to the quality of the filmmaking.

Each “Spider-Man” film that this trio has worked on truly does feel connected to each other, compared to other franchise films where different directors and writers often change the tone of the sequels, and therefore the sequels feel disconnected. “Spider-Man: No Way Home” also makes several references to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), which Spider-Man/Peter Parker (as portrayed by Holland) was a big part of, in his alliance with the Avengers. It’s another reason why it’s better to see previous Marvel-related movies with Spider-Man in it before seeing “Spider-Man: No Way Home.”

Because Spider-Man is Marvel Comics’ most popular character, you’d have to be completely shut off from pop culture to not at least know a few things about Spider-Man, such as he got his agility superpowers by accidentally being bit by a radioactive spider. Just like many superheroes, Peter is an orphan: His parents died in a plane crash, so he was raised by an aunt and an uncle. Even with knowledge of these basic facts about Peter Parker/Spider-Man, it really is best to see all or most of the previous “Spider-Man” films, because the jokes will be funnier, and the surprises will be sweeter.

Speaking of surprises, the vast majority of “Spider-Man: No Way Home” has spoiler information. However, it’s enough to give a summary of what to expect in the first 30 minutes of this 148-minute film without revealing any surprises. The beginning of “Spider-Man: No Way Home” picks up right where “Spider-Man: Far From Home” left off: Peter Parker—an intelligent and compassionate 17-year-old student who lives in New York City’s Queens borough—has been exposed as the secret alter ego of superhero Spider-Man. The culprit who exposed him was the villain Mysterio (played by Jake Gyllenhaal), who’s seen briefly in “Spider-Man: No Way Home” in the opening scene that shows the aftermath of this exposé.

All hell breaks loose, because Mysterio has twisted things to make it look like Spider-Man is a villain, not a hero. Peter and his girlfriend MJ (played by Zendaya) are caught in the middle of a crowded New York City street when Peter’s Spider-Man identity is exposed. And the backlash is immediate. Before getting into any harmful physical danger, Spider-Man puts his superhero skills to good use by whisking himself and MJ to safety.

However, the Department of Damage Control quickly detains Peter, MJ, Peter’s best friend Ned Leeds (played by Jacob Batalon) and Peter’s aunt May Parker (played by Marisa Tomei) for questioning. And who shows up to give some legal advice? Attorney/blind superhero Matt Murdock, also known as Daredevil (played by Charlie Cox), who makes a very brief cameo. Matt says, “I don’t think any of the charges will stick. Things will get even worse. There’s still the court of public opinion.”

There’s not enough evidence to hold Peter and his loved ones in the interrogation rooms, so they go back home and ponder their next move. But how long can they stay safe, when people know where Peter lives and where he goes to school? Spider-Man has been branded as a troublemaker by certain people, such as fear-mongering journalist-turned-conspiracy theorist J. Jonah Jameson (played by J.K. Simmons), who no longer works as the editor of the Daily Planet newspaper. Jameson is now anchoring TheDailyPlanet.net, a 24-hour news streaming service.

However, Spider-Man is still a hero or an anti-hero to many more people. When Peter goes back to school the next day, he’s treated like a celebrity. Students surround him to take photos and videos with their phones. Faculty members fawn over him. Conceited and bullying student Flash Thompson (played by Tony Revolori), one of Peter’s nuisances at school, tries to latch on to Peter’s newfound fame by now claiming to be Peter’s best friend. Flash has already written a tell-all memoir to cash in on Peter’s celebrity status.

Peter, MJ (whose real name is Michelle Jones) and Ned are in their last year at Midtown School of Science and Technology. They have plans to go to the prestigious Massachusetts Institution of Technology (MIT) together after they graduate from high school. But due to their high-profile brush with the law, the three pals are worried about their chances of getting into MIT.

This hoped-for MIT enrollment becomes the motivation for Peter to go to fellow New York City-based superhero Doctor Strange (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) to ask for his help. Peter wants Doctor Strange to cast a spell so that people will forget that Peter is really Spider-Man. Doctor Strange is reluctant, but he gives in to Peter’s pleading. As Doctor Strange is casting his Spell of Forgetting, Peter interrupts several times to tell Doctor Strange to exempt some of Peter’s loved ones (such as MJ, Ned and May) from the spell.

Doctor Strange is extremely annoyed, so he cuts the spell short and is able to contain the spell’s powers in a cube-sized box. But some damage has already been done: The spell has opened the multi-verse where anyone who knows who Peter Parker can be summoned and go to the dimension where Peter is. And some of these individuals are villains from past “Spider-Man” movies. Doctor Strange gives Peter/Spider-Man the task of capturing these villains to imprison them in Doctor Strange’s dungeon that looks like a combination of a high-tech jail and a mystical crypt.

The return of some of these villains has already been announced through official publicity and marketing materials released for “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” so it’s not spoiler information. These villains are:

  • Norman Osborn/Green Goblin (played by Willem Dafoe), from 2002’s “Spider-Man”
  • Otto Octavius/Doctor Octopus, also known as Doc Ock (played by Alfred Molina), from 2004’s “Spider-Man 2”
  • Flint Marko/Sandman (played by Thomas Haden Church), from 2007’s “Spider-Man 3”
  • Dr. Curt Connors/The Lizard (played by Rhys Ifans), from 2012’s “The Amazing Spider-Man”
  • Max Dillon/Electro (played by Jamie Foxx), from 2014’s “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” has some other surprises, some of which have already been leaked to the public, but won’t be revealed in this review. A few other non-surprise characters in “Spider-Man: No Way Home” include Doctor Strange’s portal-traveling sidekick Wong (played by Benedict Wong), as well as Harold “Happy” Hogan (played by Jon Favreau), Tony Stark/Iron Man’s loyal driver who is now taken on minder duties for Peter. In “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” Happy and May had a fling that ended. Happy fell in love with May and wanted a more serious romance with her, so he is still nursing a broken heart about it in “Spider-Man: No Way Home.”

The movie’s action sequences are among the most memorable in “Spider-Man” movie history, in large part because of the return of so many characters from the past. A lengthy part of the movie that takes place on the Statue of Liberty will be talked about by fans for years. Because so much of “Spider-Man” relies heavily on people knowing the history of this movie franchise to fully understand the plot developments and a lot of the dialogue, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” will probably be a “love it or hate it” film.

The movie’s mid-credits scene directly correlates to the mid-credits scene for 2021’s “Venom: Let There Be Carnage.” And the end-credits scene for “Spider-Man: No Way Home” features a glimpse into the world of Doctor Strange. People should know by now that movies with Marvel characters have mid-credits scenes and/or end-credits scenes that are essentially teasers for an upcoming Marvel superhero movie or TV series.

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” has some wisecracking that seems a little too self-congratulatory, but those smug moments are balanced out with some heartfelt emotional scenes. And all the jumping around from one universe dimension to the next might be a little too confusing to viewers who are new to the Spider-Verse. Some people might accuse “Spider-Man: No Way Home” of overstuffing the movie with too much nostalgic stunt casting as gimmicks. However, die-hard fans of the franchise will be utterly thrilled by seeing these familiar characters and will be fully engaged in finding out what happens to them in this very entertaining superhero adventure.

Columbia Pictures will release “Spider-Man: No Way Home” in U.S. cinemas on December 17, 2021.

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