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.

Review: ‘Eternals’ (2021), starring Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Brian Tyree Henry, Salma Hayek, Angelina Jolie and Lia McHugh

October 26, 2021

by Carla Hay

Kumail Nanjiani, Lauren Ridloff, Don Lee (also known as Ma Dong-Seok), Angelina Jolie, Richard Madden, Salma Hayek, Gemma Chan, Lia McHugh, Brian Tyree Henry and Barry Keoghan in “Eternals” (Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios)

“Eternals” (2021)

Directed by Chloé Zhao

Culture Representation: Taking place in various parts of the universe, the superhero action film “Eternals” features a racially diverse cast of characters (white, Asian, Latino and African American) portraying superheroes from outer space and human beings.

Culture Clash: The superheroes, who are known as Celestials, find out that their arch-enemy demon creatures, which are called Deviants, have not all been killed off and are back with a vengeance. 

Culture Audience: “Eternals” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), but viewers should know in advance that “Eternals” is much slower-paced and has a less straightforward narrative than a typical MCU movie.

Kumail Nanjiani and a Deviant in “Eternals” (Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios)

“Eternals” has the expected thrilling action scenes, but the non-action scenes might be too quiet and introspective for some fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The movie suffers from too much timeline jumping. And there are some other problems with the film’s tone and pacing. However, the showdowns in the last third of the movie make up for the meandering story in the rest of “Eternals.” It’s a movie that tries to take a minimalist approach to a story that’s got maximalist content because it’s packed with characters and agendas.

If “Eternals” does not have the same consistently high-adrenaline pace that people have come to expect from MCU movies, that’s because “Eternals” is the first major studio movie (and fourth feature film) from Oscar-winning filmmaker Chloé Zhao, who made a name for herself as a writer/director of quiet and introspective independent films (such 2020’s “Nomadland” and 2018’s “The Rider”) about wandering and/or restless “ordinary” people. These “slice of life” low-budget movies are quite different from the blockbuster superhero spectacle that has become the defining characteristic of MCU movies. Zhao co-wrote the “Eternals” screenplay with Patrick Burleigh, Ryan Firpo and Kaz Firpo.

Sure, “Eternals” has big-budget visual effects, gorgeous cinematography and impressive production design, but the movie’s heart (under Zhao’s direction) remains in the artsy indie film culture of requiring viewers to think more about the psychology of the characters than about what’s shown on screen. There are many times in “Eternals” when what the characters do not say (and what they keep to themselves) can be as important as what they do say. “Eternals” is not a movie that spells things out easily for the audience.

However, with a large ensemble cast of characters that are based on Marvel Comics characters created by Jack Kirby, “Eternals” is disappointing in how these characters are introduced in such a jumbled way to movie audiences who might not be familiar with these characters. The movie’s title characters are Celestials: universe-wandering beings who look like humans but who actually have superhero powers, including the ability to fly, shoot lasers from their hands or eyes, and quickly heal from wounds.

Celestials, who can also live for centuries, are not immortal, but it’s rare for a Celestial to die. Celestials all share an energy source that can help them strengthen their superpowers. Celestials (just like humans) can feel emotions, have individual personalities, and make their own decisions. As such, Celestials can have varying degrees of personal connections to each other and to human beings.

Before the opening title sequence of “Eternals,” it’s explained that Celestials come from the planet Olympia and were created to combat gigantic demon-like creatures named Deviants on planet Earth. (There are many influences from Greek mythology in the “Eternals” story.) The Deviants can be as small as the size of an elephant or as large as the size of a dinosaur. The Celestials have been instructed by Arishem, their supreme being/prime Celestial, to only find and kill Deviants and not to interfere with any of Earth’s wars and crimes between any humans and other beings.

Over several centuries, the Celestials battled Deviants until it was believed that all of the Deviants were killed. With their goals seemingly accomplished, the Celestials went their separate ways. Most Celestials continued to live on Earth under the guise of being “normal” human beings. However, there would be no “Eternals” movie if things were that simple. To make a long story short: The Celestials find out that there are still more Deviants on Earth, and that Deviants might not be the only threat to the Celestials.

“Eternals” introduces for the first time in a live-action movie these 10 superhero Celestial/Eternal characters:

  • Sersi (played by Gemma Chan), who genuinely loves human beings overall and who works as a scientist at the Natural History Museum in London.
  • Ikaris (played by Richard Madden), who is serious-minded, ambitious and Sersi’s former love interest.
  • Ajak (played by Salma Hayek), who is the wise matriarchal leader of the group.
  • Thena (played by Angelina Jolie), who is a powerful warrior whose main weapons are supernatural swords, shields and tritons.
  • Druig (played by Barry Keoghan), who is an opinionated young rebel with the power to control minds.
  • Kingo (played by Kumail Nanjiani), who is a wisecracking jokester with an attraction to showbiz.
  • Phastos (played by Brian Tyree Henry), who is a master inventor and technopath with a sarcastic sense of humor and cautious nature.
  • Gilgamesh (played by Don Lee, also known as Ma Dong-Seok), who has extraordinary strength and a playful personality.
  • Makkari (played by Lauren Ridloff), who is described as “the fastest woman in the universe,” and she happens to be deaf.
  • Sprite (played by Lia McHugh), who is a shapeshifter but is frustrated that her real physical appearance of being a 12-year-old girl has not changed, even though she is centuries old.

If only these characters were introduced in “Eternals” in a way that would be easier to keep track of them and who they are. Some of the characters’ names aren’t even spoken right away, so viewers will be left wondering, “What is this character’s name? What is this character’s story?” Unless you’re a Marvel aficionado or someone who bothered to look up these characters before watching the movie, there will be some scenes in “Eternals” where you’ll be watching a bunch of people talking with no meaningful context of what their histories are with each other.

Because there are so many Celestial characters crammed into the movie, some of them inevitably get sidelined, or their personalities not given enough time to shine. For example, Thena barely says anything of substance, which seems like a waste of the talent of Oscar-winning Jolie. Thena has some standout fight scenes, but that’s about it. For reasons that are shown in the movie (but won’t be mentioned in this review because it’s spoiler information), Ajak is not in the movie as much as the “Eternals” trailers give the impression that she is. Gilgamesh gets the least amount of screen time out of the 10 Celestial superheroes in “Eternals.”

One of the biggest flaws of “Eternals” is that all the timeline jumping makes the movie look a bit unfocused. The movie goes back and forth from the present day to different past eras and locations. There’s one time jump scene that only lasts for a couple of minutes before it’s on to the next. At the same time, many of the conversations are slow-paced. It’s an odd mix.

The purpose of the zig-zagging between eras is to show what the Celestials looked like when they worked as a team in the past, compared to the present when they’ve become scattered in different places and leading different lives. Scenes take place in present-day London, Chicago or South Dakota, while the flashback scenes are in vastly different eras and places, such as Mesopotamia in 500 B.C.; Tenochtitlan in the year 1521; or Nagasaki, Japan, in 1945. (History buffs will immediately know the significance of the years and locations of these flashbacks.) For the present-day scenes, “Eternals” also has a not-so-subtle environmentalist message about climate change that factors into a pivotal part of the story.

And there’s a lot of deconstructing of macho superhero personas in “Eternals.” Without giving away too much information, it’s enough to say that Ikaris has several scenes where he cries. He sheds tears more than any other character in the movie. Madden gives a heartfelt performance in “Eternals,” but it’s easy to predict that all this superhero crying in “Eternals” will get some mixed reactions from audiences.

And speaking of melodrama, “Eternals” has a soap-opera-like subplot of Ikaris and Sersi’s love saga. After centuries of being together (and even having a wedding ceremony in India’s Gupta Empire in 400 B.C., as seen in the movie), Ikaris broke Sersi’s heart when he abruptly left after the Celestials disbanded. In present-day London, Sersi has moved on to a new love: a human named Dane Whitman (played by Kit Harington), who is a teacher/co-worker at the Natural History Museum.

In an early scene in the movie, Dane asks Sersi why she won’t move in with him. She plays coy. Dane also tries to guess what’s so different about Sersi, based on clues and hints that he’s been getting from Sprite, the Celestial who hangs out the most with Sersi. Sersi and Sprite have almost like a older sister/younger sister relationship. Dane incorrectly guesses that Sersi is some kind of wizard. The movie shows whether or not Sersi will tell Dane about her true identity.

Meanwhile, Ikaris comes back into Sersi’s life. Can you say “love triangle”? Except, not really, because Dane is not in most of this movie. Dane’s biggest scenes are at the beginning and at the end of “Eternals.” Instead, the big romance angle in the story is all about making viewers wonder if Sersi and Ikaris will get back together as a couple. Expect to see Ikaris and Sersi give each other predictable longing glances, or their hands deliberately touch in certain scenes. The problem is that Madden and Chan don’t have much believable chemistry as former lovers who are supposed to still be hot for each other.

The only other Celestial who’s shown having a love life in “Eternals” is Phastos, who is openly gay and is married to a loving and supporting human husband named Ben (played by Haaz Sleiman), whose occupation is never mentioned in the film. Phastos (or “Phil” as he calls himself in his domesticated Earthly life) and Ben have a precocious and energetic 10-year-old son named Jack (played by Esai Daniel Cross), who is the reason why protective dad Phastos is very reluctant to go back to any Celestial duties. Ben knows about Phastos’ true identity as a Celestial. As for the much-hyped “first MCU superhero gay kiss,” it’s very tame. It’s in a scene where Ben and Phastos kiss each other goodbye, as Phastos temporarily leaves home to go with the Celestials to save the world again, as you do if you’re a superhero.

Speaking of being a superhero, “Eternals” has some confusing scenes about Celestial superpower strength. For example, in more than one scene, Celestials can be seen healing themselves and each other when they sustain serious bloody injuries in a fight. However, there’s a scene in the movie where one of the Celestials is able to knock out another Celestial unconscious with one blow from a rock to a head. You’d think that the Celestial who was hit could recover and regain consciousness quickly, based on the Celestial superpowers, but that’s not what happens.

“Eternals” has a serious tone overall, but the movie does attempt to have some comic relief, mainly through the characters of Kingo and Phastos. Sprite can be a bit of a moody brat, so her cynical attitude toward life is occasionally mined for laughs. Druig and Makkari are romantically attracted to each other and have some cute flirtatious banter. However, some of the movie’s comedy seems forced and something out of a TV sitcom.

There’s a somewhat annoying subplot about Kingo being a Bollywood star and insisting on making a “documentary” (which is actually just Kingo’s one-camera vanity project) about the Celestials’ exploits when this superhero group gets back together. Tagging along for the ride is Kingo’s valet named Karun (played by Harish Patel), who is nothing more than a buffoon character posing as a Bollywood director. “Eternals” also has lots of references to social media and pop culture that will not age well over the years.

With all that being said, “Eternals” does deliver some exciting action sequences and meaningful character development, especially in the last 50 minutes of this 157-minute movie. There are some visually stunning outdoor scenes, which have become part of Zhao’s signature style in her films. Just expect to sit through a lot of dialogue that can be dull and somewhat trite before getting to the best parts of “Eternals.” The movie’s mid-credits scene (which has the MCU debut of two buddy characters, of which one is portrayed by a former teen idol) and end-credits scene (which has Dane by himself and showing why he told Sersi earlier that his family history is “complicated”) should have viewers anticipating the next movie in the “Eternals” saga.

Marvel Studios will release “Eternals” in U.S. cinemas on November 5, 2021.

Review: ‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,’ starring Simu Liu, Tony Leung, Awkwafina, Meng’er Zhang, Fala Chen, Michelle Yeoh and Florian Munteanu

August 23, 2021

by Carla Hay

Meng’er Zhang, Simu Liu and Awkwafina in “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” (Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios)

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”

Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton

Some language in Mandarin with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in China and in San Francisco, the superhero action film “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” features a predominantly Asian cast of characters (with some white people) representing heroes, villains and people who are in between.

Culture Clash: A Chinese man who ran away to the U.S. as a teenager, in order to get away from his ruthless overlord father, must confront his past and the power of 10 magical arm rings that are the source of the story’s conflict.

Culture Audience: “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and are looking for an enjoyable origin story that is not a sequel or a prequel.

Tony Leung and Fala Chen in “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” (Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios)

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of Ten Rings” has plenty of heart and adventurous spirit to satisfy superhero movie fans. It’s too bad that the title character has a personality that’s duller than the average Marvel superhero. Shang-Chi is frequently outshined by his wisecracking female best friend/sidekick. And there’s a long stretch in the middle of the film that drags the pace down considerably.

Directed by Daniel Destin Daniel Cretton, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Rings” is an origin story that doesn’t dazzle in a spectacular way, but it gets the job done in a crowd-pleasing way that serves the movie’s target audience well. Cretton co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Dave Callaham and Andrew Lanham. It’s yet another Hollywood studio superhero story about a superhero with “daddy issues.” The big difference this time is that the majority of the cast is Asian, mostly of Chinese heritage.

One of the problems with the movie is that the climactic showdown scene doesn’t offer much that most movie and TV audiences haven’t already seen before. To put it bluntly: This movie needed better villains. In “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” there’s a villain named Razor Fist (played by Florian Munteanu) with a machete as an arm. That pales in comparison to a “Stars Wars: Rise of Skywalker” villainous henchman named Cardo that had a shotgun for an arm.

Battles with dragons? Yawn. It’s very “Game of Thrones” and not much different from any recent big-budget live-action movie where the dragons are the big monsters that have to be defeated. And a hero going in a one-on-one duel fight against his villain father? Ever hear of “The Empire Strikes Back” or “Return of the Jedi”?

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” is literally an origin story, since viewers see how, in China, his parents met, fell in love, got married, and had Shang-Chi as their first child. The movie shows Shang-Chi as a baby, as a pre-teen child (played by Jayden Zhang), as a teenager (played by Arnold Sun) and as an adult (played by Simu Liu). Shang Chi’s father Xu Wenwu (played by Tony Leung) was a corrupt overlord who came into possession of 10 magical arm rings (because bracelets must not sound macho enough) that allowed him to have immense power. His heart softened when he met Ying Li (played by Fala Chen), who charmed him after a sword duel that she won against him. It was love at first sight, and they got together soon after that.

Shang-Chi spent his entire life training to be a fighter and to follow in his father’s footsteps. Shang-Chi’s mother Li also gave him a special green pendant that she said he must never lose or give away. But tragedy struck when Shang-Chi was a teenager: His mother died. Wracked with griedfand despair, widower Xu Wenwu went back to his corrupt ways. There’s a part of the movie that reveals that Xu Wenwu also might have lost his mind to insanity.

When Shang-Chi was 14 years old, Xu Wenwu ordered him to complete his first “assignment” assassination. At age 15, Shang-Chi ran away from China to the United States. He ended up settling in San Francisco, where in high school he befriended a smart-alecky girl named Katy, and they’ve been best pals ever since. The movie does not show Shang-Chi’s American life during the time that he was in high school or in his 20s, but he and Katy have a few discussions about their past together.

Now in their early 30s, Shang-Chi (who changed his first name to Shaun) and Katy (played by Awkwafina) work together as parking valets at a ritzy hotel. They’re very educated and over-qualified for the job. He can speak four languages, while she has a master’s degree from the University of California at Berkeley. Katy has a mischievous and rebellious streak, since she’s the type of valet driver who will take a car out on a joy ride instead of parking it. That’s what she does when she gets handed the keys to a red BMW, which she takes to speed through traffic, with Shaun/Shang-Chi along for the ride.

Katy doesn’t know about Shang-Chi’s past until it catches up to him in one of the movie’s best action scenes. It’s when Iron Fist and some other thugs attack Shang-Chi and Katy while they’re on a moving bus. Katy is shocked to find out that her friend Shaun has superhero-level fighting skills. Later, he tells her that his real name is Shang-Chi.

But the “fight on the bus” scene kicks off the movie in a very thrilling way. The martial arts and choreography are top-notch. And there are some heart-pounding moments when Katy has the take the wheel of the bus and navigate through San Francisco’s hilly, narrow and crowded streets. It makes her daredevil joyrides as a valet look like an easygoing holiday in comparison.

Why is Shang-Chi being targeted by these goons, who seemed to come from out of nowhere? As he explains to Katy about his secret past, it means that his father must be looking for him, because the assassins took Shang-Li’s pendant. And you know what that means: Shang-Chi and Katy are going to China—Macau, to be more specific.

If non-talking monsters or aliens aren’t the main villains in a superhero movie, the talking villains better have a memorable personality. Unfortunately, as talented as Leung is as an actor, this type of formulaic, power-hungry overlord has been done in movies and TV so many times already. After watching “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” for the first time, the average viewer will be hard-pressed to remember one line of dialogue that Xu Wenwu said, although Leung certainly gives it his all in depicting a once-loving father who has since gone in an evil direction.

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” does have moments of levity, mainly because of Katy’s sarcasm and the MCU re-appearance of Trevor Slattery (played by Ben Kingsley), a flamboyant British actor who was previously seen in 2013’s “Iron Man 3.” It won’t be revealed here what Trevor does in “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” but it’s enough to say that a cute faceless and furry creature that Trevor has with him (about the size of a dog) will be one of the most remembered aspects about “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.”

Dr. Strange sidekick Wong (played by Benedict Wong) is another MCU character who’s in “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” although Wong’s screen time is a lot less than Trevor’s. New characters to the MCU include Shang-Chi’s estranged younger sister Xialing (played by Meng’er Zhang, making an impressive feature-film debut) and their aunt Ying Nan (played by Michelle Yeoh), who is the sister of Shang-Chi and Xialing’s late mother.

Before Shang-Chi and Katy go through predictable scenes of training for the big showdown battle that takes place at the end of the movie, there’s another standout fight scene that takes place on a skyscraper. In many ways, the skyscraper scene and the bus scenes are more unique and more thrilling fight than the final battle scene. This movie’s action definitely shines the most when it has martial arts between humans, rather than visual-effect-heavy battles with mythical creatures.

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” is a big step forward for Hollywood-made superhero movies that do not have a predominantly white cast. There’s plenty to like about the movie. But as an origin story, it relies a little too much on over-used, basic tropes. Except some of the fight scenes, there wasn’t a lot of originality in how this story was structured. The good news for people unfamiliar with the MCU, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” is one of the few MCU movies that’s a true stand-alone film that doesn’t have a lot of references to other MCU films that you would have to know about to understand these references.

However, it’s not a good sign when one of those past references from an MCU movie (Trevor) is more entertaining to watch than the main hero and the main villain in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.” Awkwafina might get mixed reactions in her role as Katy, since people seem to love or hate Awkafina’s off-screen personality. Liu is perfectly fine as Shang-Chi, but he doesn’t have the charisma to be in the upper echelon of beloved MCU characters. The rest of the cast is serviceable in their roles. This movie isn’t going to win any prestigious awards for any of the cast members.

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” also has disappointing mid-credits and end-credits scenes. People really won’t miss anything if they skip the credits. However, it’s enough to say that the mid-credits scene does show Shang-Chi, Katy, Wong and two other MCU characters. As far as escapist entertainment goes, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” delivers enough to satisfy people who are fans of superhero movies or martial arts. But people who want more magnetic personalities in action heroes might have to look elsewhere.

Marvel Studios will release “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” in U.S. cinemas on September 3, 2021. A one-night-only sneak preview of the movie was screened in select IMAX cinemas in the U.S. and Canada on August 18, 2021.

Review: ‘The Suicide Squad,’ starring Margot Robbie, Idris Elba, John Cena, Joel Kinnaman, David Dastmalchian, Viola Davis and Daniela Melchior

July 30, 2021

by Carla Hay

Pictured in front row, from left to right: Joel Kinnaman, Alice Braga, Daniela Melchior, King Shark, Idris Elba and John Cena in “The Suicide Squad” (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

“The Suicide Squad”

Directed by James Gunn

Culture Representation: Taking place in Louisiana and a fictional South American country called Corto Maltese, the superhero action flick “The Suicide Squad” features a racially diverse cast of characters (white, black, Latino and Asian) representing government officials, superheroes, villains, fantasy creatures and everything in between.

Culture Clash: The Suicide Squad—a ragtag group of prisoners and outlaws with special abilities—is ordered by the U.S. government to go on a secret mission to destroy a nefarious scientific operation that is intended to control the world.

Culture Audience: “The Suicide Squad” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in violent, zany and foul-mouthed superhero movies that skillfully blur the lines between heroes and villains.

Joel Kinnaman, John Cena, Margot Robbie, Peter Capaldi and Idris Elba in “The Suicide Squad” (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

“The Suicide Squad” is the bonkers and bloody action spectacle that fans of iconoclastic superhero movies deserve. It’s a worthy and memorable alternative of writer/director David Ayer’s 2016’s much-maligned “Suicide Squad,” which was a confused and muddled film that ultimately played it too safe for these roguish and rude DC Comics characters. “The Suicide Squad” (written and directed by James Gunn) gives a much-needed adult-oriented resuscitation—not just to the original “Suicide Squad” movie but also to the superhero genre in general, which has a tendency to be formulaic and predictable.

“The Suicide Squad” is the superhero movie equivalent of someone who will kiss you and kick you at the same time. Within the first 15 minutes of the movie, there are surprises that most superhero movies would never dare to have. Several characters initially look like they’re going to be prominently featured in the story, but they actually get killed off early in the film. And there are more unexpected deaths that defy the usual expectations of who lives and who dies in a typical superhero film.

Because of all these unexpected deaths in “The Suicide Squad,” the only way to describe the movie without giving away spoiler information is to say that the Suicide Squad’s mission in this movie is to go to the fictional South American island nation of Corto Maltese and destroy a top-secret scientific operation called Project Starfish. Just like in 2016’s “Suicide Squad” movie and in the DC Comics series that inspired this movie franchise, the Suicide Squad (whose official name is Task Force X) consists of dangerous inmates who are held at a federal prison called Belle Reve in Louisiana. The members of the team have special skills or powers that make the Suicide Squad an above-average combat group.

Belle Reve is a recruiting center for a no-nonsense, tough-talking U.S. government official named Amanda Waller (played by Viola Davis, reprising her role from 2016’s “Suicide Squad”), who is in charge of monitoring the Suicide Squad members when they go on their black operations (in other words, government-classified missions), under orders from the U.S. government. If the Suicide Squad members complete the mission, then they can get a pre-determined number of years shaved off of their prison sentences. In case any of these Suicide Squad members try to escape or defy orders, an explosive device is implanted in each of their heads, and Amanda has the power to detonate this explosive device.

While Amanda keeps tabs on the Suicide Squad in a control room with elaborate high-tech surveillance, her subordinate Colonel Rick Flag (played by Joel Kinnaman, also from 2016’s “Suicide Squad” movie) is the military commander who accompanies the Suicide Squad on their missions. In other words, he does a lot of dirty work that Amanda doesn’t have to do, and his life is more at risk than hers. Colonel Flag is a loyal government employee. He’s gritty but not as cold-blooded and ruthless as Amanda. And in “The Suicide Squad” movie, viewers will see how he handles an important ethical dilemma.

Who are the members of the Suicide Squad in this movie? They are, in alphabetical order:

  • Blackguard (played by Pete Davidson), whose real name is Richard Hertz, an American guy in his 20s who’s an immature and nervous jokester.
  • Bloodsport (played by Idris Elba), whose real name is Robert Dubois, a cynical, grouchy, middle-aged Brit who’s an expert marksman and who is in prison for shooting Superman with a Kryptonite bullet, which landed Superman in a hospital’s intensive care unit.
  • Captain Boomerang (played by Jai Courtney), whose real name is George “Digger” Harkness, a hot-tempered Australian in his 30s who uses a deadly boomerang as his main weapon.
  • Javelin (played by Flula Borg), whose real name is Gunter Braun, a cocky German in his 30s who has a javelin as his main weapon.
  • King Shark (voiced by Sylvester Stallone), a talking mutant shark that has the intelligence of a 3-year-old human child and an appetite for eating humans.
  • Mongal (played by Mayling Ng), an orange alien with superhero strength and agility.
  • Peacemaker (played by John Cena), whose real name is Christopher Smith, an extremely patriotic middle-aged American who is an expert marksman and immediately has a rivalry with Bloodsport.
  • Polka-Dot Man (played by David Dastmalchian), whose real name is Abner Krill, an insecure American guy in his 40s who has “mother issues” and the ability to eject deadly flying polka dots from his body as weapons.
  • Harley Quinn (played by Margot Robbie), a ditsy American maniac whose past heartbreaks (including her former romance with iconic villain The Joker) and personal grudges affect many of her decisions.
  • Ratcatcher 2 (played by Daniela Melchior), whose real name is Cleo Cazo, a compassionate Portuguese orphan in her 20s who has the ability to command rats to do her bidding.
  • Savant (played by Michael Rooker), whose real name is Brian Durlin, a jaded, 61-year-old American who is an expert in weapons and hand-to-hand combat.
  • T.D.K. (played by Nathan Fillion), a stoic American man in his 40s, whose real name is Cory Pitzner and whose T.D.K. nickname initials stand for The Detachable Kid, because he has the power to detach his limbs and use them as weapons.
  • Weasel (played by Sean Gunn), an easygoing, giant weasel that cannot talk.

Harley and Boomerang were in 2016’s “Suicide Squad” movie. The other characters are new to the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) live-action movies. Of these new characters in “The Suicide Squad,” Bloodsport, Polka-Dot Man and Ratcatcher 2 are the ones with the significant backstories that are described in the movie. Amanda tells a reluctant and anti-social Bloodsport that he will be the leader of this revamped Suicide Squad.

Corto Maltese is a country in a lot of political turmoil. For years, the country was ruled by royals called the Herrera Family, but the entire family was murdered by a public hanging during a miltary coup of the government. The leader of this coup is General Silvio Luna (played by Juan Diego Botto), whose right-hand man is Mayor General Mateo Suarez (played by Joaquín Cosio), who’s old enough to be General Luna’s father. General Luna has appointed himself as the military dictator president of Corto Maltese.

Meanwhile, General Luna and his inner circle know all about Project Starfish. The secrets of Project Starfish will give Corto Maltese the ability to become a world superpower. The geneticist in charge of Project Starfish is a Brit named Gaius Grieves (played by Peter Capaldi), who has the nickname the Thinker. He’s the key to getting access to Jotunheim, the name of the scientific research facility that houses Project Starfish in the Corto Maltese city of Valle del Mar. The Thinker is also easy to spot, because he has electrode-like amps, spark plugs and valves portruding from his head, in order to enhance his intelligence.

The only information that the Suicide Squad has about the Thinker is what he looks like and that he often likes to go to a “gentleman’s club” after work. It’s at this point in the movie that you know that the Suicide Squad will be going to a strip club, and there’s going to be a big fight scene there. The way the scene is filmed is not cliché as it sounds. And it has moments of comedy, such as when the Suicide Squad members get drunk and some of them awkwardly start dancing.

In addition to many surprise twists, what makes “The Suicide Squad” different from most other superhero movies is how it manages to be a nihilistic, graphically violent movie with heart and genuine sentiment. It’s a tricky balance that most movies with these intentions would not be able to achieve. The Suicide Squad members might have reputations for being amoral, but the movie shows (in ways that 2016’s “Suicide Squad did not) a certain depth to their emotional damage.

Bloodsport has a rocky relationship with his 16-year-old daughter Tyla (played by Storm Reid), a rebel who has recently gotten into trouble for stealing a StyleWatch, which is described as a device that’s a lot like an Apple Watch. (Tyla’s mother is dead, by the way.) When Tyla comes to visit Bloodsport in prison, she tells him about how she’s gotten in trouble for this theft. Instead of giving the usual parental lecture, Bloodsport chastises Tyla by saying that she should’ve had a thief partner so she wouldn’t get caught.

They yell “fuck you” to each other, because Tyla has a lot of resentment over having an absentee father who has not been there to give her the guidance that she obviously wants. She shouts at Bloodsport that she’s ashamed that he’s her father. And the hurt expression on Bloodsport’s face shows that he’s not so tough after all, at least when it comes to his daughter. Later, after Bloodsport meets Ratcatcher 2, he shows his vulnerable side again when he tells Ratcatcher 2 that she reminds him of his daughter.

Other characters reveal how their family-related traumas have affected them. Polka-Dot Man had a mother (played by Lynne Ashe), who worked at Scientific and Technological Advanced Research Laboratories, also known as S.T.A.R. Labs. According to what Polka-Dot Man tells the other Suicide Squad members, his mother was obsessed with making her children superheroes, so she conducted illegal scientific experiments on them.

Polka-Dot Man’s polka dots on his skin are an interdimensional virus that he got from these experiments. His face can balloon into a bloated disfigurement with polka dots unless he expels them. (This transformation is shown in the movie.) Polka-Dot Man says at one point, “I don’t like to kill people, but if I pretend they’re my mom, it’s easy.” And yes, there are some scenes were the Polka-Dot Man hallucinates seeing his mother.

Ratcatcher 2 is the daughter of Ratcatcher (played by Taika Waititi, in a flashback cameo), who taught her how to summon and control rats. The rats kept them company when she and her father lived on the streets of Portugal. During a bus ride with other Suicide Squad members, Ratcatcher 2 talks about how she moved to the U.S. from Portugal, and she’s an orphan because her father died from his “burdens.” (Ratcatcher 2 never talks about what happened to her mother.)

The flashback shows that Ratcatcher’s main burden was a needle-using drug addiction, and he died of a drug overdose. Ratcatcher 2 also says after she moved to the U.S., she was arrested for armed bank robbery, and she can’t believe that her rats were considered a weapon. Ratcatcher 2’s closest companion is a very intelligent rat named Sebastian, which Colonel Flag jokingly calls Ratatouille.

Meanwhile, there’s a running gag in the movie that macho Bloodsport is very afraid of rats. On that bus ride, he reveals why: His mercenary father, who gave him weapons training, would punish Bloodsport as a child for not doing something correctly. One of those punishments was to lock Bloodsport in a crate for 24 hours with hungry rats. Bloodsport’s rat phobia is used for comic relief as well as a very touching moment in the movie.

Harley does not have her signature baseball bat in this movie, but she has a rocket launcher and a javelin that she puts to good use. How she got this javelin is revealed in the movie. In 2016’s “Suicide Squad,” Harley was depicted as a scantily clad sexpot who was lovesick over the Joker. In “The Suicide Squad,” she’s more of an independent badass, just as she was in the 2020 movie “Birds of Prey,” but not like the two-dimensional caricature that she was in “Birds of Prey.”

In one part of the movie, Corto Maltese president Luna summons Harley to his palace for an elaborate lunch date, in order to seduce her and convince her to become his wife. Luna is very anti-American but he’s attracted to Harley because her hellraising antics seem to be anti-American, and he thinks she’s very sexy. Harley is dressed for the occasion in a frilly red gown that she wears for the rest of the movie and during her biggest action scenes. Wearing the red gown while in combat is a symbolic contrast of how Harley sees herself as both girly and gonzo when it comes to fighting.

“The Suicide Squad” has fun with Harley’s image as the Suicide Squad member who’s most likely to make a fashion statement. Early on the movie, Harley wears a red and black leather suit with a jacket emblazoned with the words “Live Fast, Die Clown” on the back. And later in the movie, when she’s wearing the red gown, it’s shown that she has a back tattoo that reads, “Property of No One” next to a jester head that’s mean to signify the Joker. She also has a chest tattoo that reads “Daddy’s Lil Monster,” in a nod to the T-shirt that she famously wore in 2016’s “Suicide Squad.”

Harley might come across a flaky and erratic in some ways, but “The Suicide Squad” presents her with a fascinating and complex mindset. She has a monologue in the movie that’s very revealing in how she still has some inner conflict over how much she’s willing to let her head, not her heart, rule over any decisions that she makes. This movie is Robbie’s most compelling portrayal of Harley Quinn, because she’s finally given the dialogue that this character should have.

Visually, “The Suicide Squad” is the best so far of any live-action movie featuring Harley Quinn. There are some whimsical qualities, such as plot developments spelled out in giant words that are part of the scenery. (“The Suicide Squad” was filmed in Atlanta, Panama, Puerto Rico and Portugal.)The most gruesome and bloodiest scenes have an almost cartoonish quality, so that things don’t appear to be completely depressing and grim. And some of the action scenes have a poetic beauty to them, particularly one sequence involving Harley Quinn and a cascade of flowers in bloom, which are very metaphorical to the blossoming of her character.

What will affect viewers the most is not the violence but who dies in the movie. These deaths are examples of why people in this ragtag Suicide Squad are reluctant or afraid to get emotionally attached to others. (However, in the end-credits scene, it’s revealed that the one of the “dead” characters actually survived.) Although the violence in “The Suicide Squad” is brutal, it’s not without consequences. Too often, superhero movies make most of the villains die and all of the heroes live. “The Suicide Squad” is a big middle finger to that idea.

The rivalry between Bloodsport and Peacemaker provides a lot of comedy, as well as tension-filled moments. As an example of the insult jokes between these two alpha males, Bloodsport derides Peacemaker for his shiny chrome helmet, which Bloodsport says looks like a toilet seat on Peacemaker’s head. Later in the movie, Peacemaker snaps back, “It’s not a toilet seat! It’s a beacon of freedom!”

The acting in “The Suicide Squad” is not going to be nominated for any prestigious awards, but all of the cast members get the job done well for their characters. Robbie and Elba stand out for bringing some nuance as emotionally wounded troublemakers Harley Quinn and Bloodsport. Melchior and Dastmalchian also have some standout moments as Ratcatcher 2 and the Polka-Dot Man, who are the kindler, gentler members of the Suicide Squad. King Shark is written as very simple-minded, so there’s not much going on with this character except fighting, eating humans, and a standout scene where King Shark is fascinated by the contents of a giant aquarium.

The Suicide Squad members have two outside allies from Corto Maltese in their mission: Sol Soria (played by Alice Braga) is the leader of a resistance movement against the military coup. She has a very negative first impression of the Suicide Squad because of a colossal mistake that directly affects Sol. Milton (played by Julio Cesar Ruiz) is a hired driver who becomes the butt of a joke about how people don’t pay attention to service employees in movies like this or in real life.

It’s an example of some of the offbeat sensibilities that Gunn (who’s also known for directing “The Guardians of the Galaxy” movies) brings to “The Suicide Squad.” Another example is how Louis Prima’s “Just a Gigolo” song is used in one of Harley Quinn’s big action scenes. And in Amanda’s surveillance control room, her subordinates take bets on which Suicide Squad members will live or die during a mission.

One of the ways that “The Suicide Squad” doesn’t play it safe is by having some political themes about American patriotism and how Americans are often perceived by people in other countries. These themes in the movie might get divisive reactions from audience members. But considering that so many superhero movies deliberately avoid politics, “The Suicide Squad” should be commended for going outside the norm and taking some bold risks, even if they might alienate some viewers.

In others words, “The Suicide Squad” is not for the type of superhero movie fan who only wants pleasant, lightweight, family-friendly entertainment. The movie shows the good, bad and ugly sides of humanity in a way that will elicit a wide range of emotions in viewers. But one way that “The Suicide Squad” won’t make most viewers feel is bored.

Warner Bros. Pictures will release “The Suicide Squad” in U.S. cinemas and on HBO Max on August 5, 2021, moved up from the original release date of August 6, 2021. The movie was released in cinemas in select countries, including the United Kingdom, on July 30, 2021.

Review: ‘Black Widow’ (2021), starring Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, Rachel Weisz and Ray Winstone

June 29, 2021

by Carla Hay

Scarlett Johansson, David Harbour and Florence Pugh in “Black Widow” (Photo by Jay Maidment/Marvel Studios)

“Black Widow” (2021)

Directed by Cate Shortland

Culture Representation: Taking place in Norway and Russia and briefly in Ohio, Hungary and Morocco, the superhero action film “Black Widow” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few black people and Asians) representing heroes, villains and people who are in between.

Culture Clash: Russian American superhero Natasha Romanoff, also known as Black Widow, battles an evil nemesis from her past named Dreykov, who has sent an assassin named Taskmaster to kill anyone who gets in the way of Dreykov’s goal of world domination through mind control.

Culture Audience: “Black Widow” will appeal primarily to people who already know a lot about what’s going on in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Scarlett Johansson (pictured at right) in “Black Widow” (Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios)

If you’re not familiar with the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), then “Black Widow” might be too confusing for long stretches of the movie. For everyone else, “Black Widow” offers a satisfactory but not particularly outstanding chapter to the MCU. The best parts of the movie are the scenes showing the interpersonal dynamics between an estranged foster family that reunites, because the movie’s visual effects and villains aren’t as compelling as other MCU movies with the Black Widow character.

Directed by Cate Shortland and written by Eric Pearson, “Black Widow” takes place primarily in 2016, in the period of time between 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War” and 2018’s “Avengers: Infinity War.” Viewers who haven’t seen or don’t know anything about “Captain America: Civil War” before seeing “Black Widow” will feel like they’ve stepped into a world that has passed them by, because there are several key plot developments in “Captain America: Civil War” that are necessary to know in order to fully appreciate “Black Widow.”

“Black Widow” is strictly a movie for MCU fans, because it assumes that people watching this movie know about have or have seen “Captain America: Civil War” and the other MCU movies leading up to it. “Black Widow” is not the movie for you if you don’t know the answers to these questions before watching the movie: “What is S.H.I.E.L.D.?” “What is Hydra?” “Who else is in the Avengers?”

Likewise, if you don’t know that Avengers superhero Black Widow, also known as Natasha Romanoff (played by Scarlett Johansson), died at the end of 2019’s “Avengers: Endgame” (it’s really not spoiler information at this point), then the end-credits scene in “Black Widow” won’t make much sense. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is in the “Black Widow” end-credits scene, which makes a direct reference to Black Widow’s death and who Black Widow was with when she died, because it’s a likely revenge plot for a Marvel series on Disney+ or a MCU sequel. The “Black Widow” end-credits scene takes place at the gravestone of Natasha Romanoff, so anyone who sees “Black Widow” who didn’t know that she died will have that part of “Avengers: Endgame” spoiled for them.

If you know absolutely nothing about the MCU and Black Widow (whose first MCU appearance was in 2010’s “Iron Man 2”), then here’s what “Black Widow” does fairly well: It shows more of her backstory, in terms of how she was raised at a certain point in her childhood and why she got separated from her biological family and her foster family. The highlights of “Black Widow” are what happens when she reunites with the foster family she had for three years when she was a child.

Each of these family members has gone on to be involved in shady dealings of the Russian government. It’s an often-contentious, sometimes poignant and occasionally humorous reunion. Their up-and-down interactions speak to the love/hate feelings that people have for past or present loved ones. And that’s the humanity that makes “Black Widow” more than just a bunch of action scenes in a big-budget superhero movie.

“Black Widow” opens with a scene taking place in Ohio in 1995. Alexei Shostakov (played by David Harbour) and Melina Vostokoff (played by Rachel Weisz) are a Russian immigrant couple raising two girls on a rural farm. The older girl, who’s 11 years old, is a young Natasha Romanoff (played by Ever Anderson), while the younger girl is Yelena Belova (played by Violet McGraw), who’s 6 years old. Why do they all have different last names? Because they’re not biologically related to each other, but they have been living together as a family for three years.

Life seems to be “normal” for this makeshift family when a day comes that the Alexei and Melina have been dreading: The family will be separated by the Russian government. Some military-looking operatives invade the home one night, but Alexei and Melina have already planned their escape. Melina pilots a small plane with Natasha and Yelena as the passengers, while Alexei tries to keep the home invaders away from the plane, by shooting at the invaders with a rifle.

The plan to escape ultimately fails. Melina is shot but not gravely wounded. A terrified but quick-thinking Natasha takes over in piloting the plane. However, this family of four eventually couldn’t evade caputure, even though Natasha pulls a gun on the military men tasked with separating the family. Alexei hands over a mysterious computer disc to a man named General Dreykov (played by Ray Winstone), who is the one in charge of this home invasion. Meanwhile, the girls are drugged and taken away from the only parents they’ve known up to this point.

The movie then fast forwards to 2016. Natasha is in Norway, and is now a fugitive running from U.S. general Thaddeus Ross (played by William Hurt), because she’s has been accused of assaulting the king of Wakanda. (That’s a reference to the African nation of “Black Panther,” in case you didn’t know.) Natasha is also in violation of the Sokovia Accords, a set of regulations for people with superpowers, especially people working for government agencies. Steve Rogers, also known as Captain America, is also a fugitive, although he does not make an appearance in this “Black Widow” movie.

Natasha has been hiding out in a trailer somewhere in rural Norway. Several times in the movie, Natasha will make a reference to the falling out that the superhero group the Avengers had in “Captain America: Civil War.” As her trusted friend Mason (played by O-T Fagbenle) tells her as he hands her a stack of fake IDs to use, “I hear the Avengers are getting divorced.” Any viewers expecting any of the other Avengers to make a surprise appearance in “Black Widow” will be disappointed. Mason also gives Natasha a box of unopened mail that he says came from the Budapest safe house where she previously stayed.

“Black Widow” follows the typical superhero movie trope of a villain wanting to gain possession of an object that will help the villain take over the world. In this movie, it’s explained in a somewhat convoluted way that Dreykov and his cronies have been capturing female orphans and other vulnerable girls. The captured girls are held in a Red Room torture facility in Russia, where the girls are forced to be in a spy program.

In the Red Room, the victims undergo chemical treatments that alter their brain and allow Dreykov to have mind control over them. All of the victims’ reproduction organs are removed, and they grow up to become trained assassins called Widows, who do Dreykov’s bidding. Depending on how much their brains have been manipulated, the Widows have varying degress of memories of their lives before the Red Room.

Natasha and Yelena both spent time in the Red Room, but the movie has no flashbacks to this painful period of time in their lives. However, it’s revealed in conversations that Natasha was brainwashed but able to escape from the Red Room and never underwent the chemical treatments to the brain. Natasha’s spy life in America eventually led her to join the Avengers. Yelena wasn’t so lucky: She got the Red Room’s brain altering chemical treatment, which leaves her vulnerable to Dreykov’s mind control.

It’s why Yelena is seen in Morocco fighting an operative named Oksana (played by Michelle Lee), who is stabbed by Yelena in an outdoor street battle. Before Oksana dies, she takes a capsule and sprays Yelena with a mysterious red gas. Yelena seems to come out of a trance, and Yelena is soon reported as a deserter. It’s later revealed that this red gas is an antidote to Dreykov’s mind control. And that’s why he wants to get all of this antidote that exists in the world.

Somehow, Natasha has a stash of this antidote, so Dreykov sends a mysterious assassin named the Taskmaster after her to get this stash. The Taskmaster is completely covered in armor and doesn’t speak. Therefore, viewers will be guessing who’s really inside the armor. Is it a human being? A robot? Something else? The identity of the Taskmaster is eventually revealed in the last third of the movie.

Because Natasha currently feels all alone in the world, her emotions are raw when she has a tension-filled reunion with an adult Yelena (played Florence Pugh) when they see each other at that safehouse in Budapest. They have a big brawl that leads to an uneasy truce when they find out that they both want to get revenge on Dreykov because he separated their family. Natasha and Yelena also want to defeat Dreykov because they want to stop what’s going on in the Red Room.

Up until Natasha and Yelena reunited, Natasha assumed that Natasha had killed Dreykov in a building explosion that Natasha caused shortly before she joined S.H.I.E.L.D. (S.H.I.E.L.D. is an acronym for the spy/counter-intelligence/superhero-affiliated agency Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division.) But when Yelena asks Natasha if she actually saw Dreykov’s dead body, Natasha replies, “There was no body left to check.”

Dreykov’s daughter Antonia (played by Ryan Kiera), who was about 9 or 10 years old at the time, was also in the building when it exploded. And that’s why Dreykov has an extra-personal grudge against Natasha. A flashback scene shows that Natasha knew that Antonia was in the building when Natasha gave the go-ahead for the building to be detonated. The way Natasha describes it to Yelena, Antonia was “collateral damage.”

This cold and calculating side to Natasha is frequently displayed in the story to contrast with Yelena being hotheaded and impulsive. If Yelena is like fire, then Natasha is like ice. The personality differences between these two women can result in their frequent conflicts with each other. But other times, the contrasts between Yelena and Natasha can work to their benefit when they have to team up for a shared goal.

And even though these two women haven’t lived as sisters in 16 years, there’s still some leftover sibling rivalry. Yelena calls Natasha a “poser” because of the crouching stance that Black Widow is known for before she goes in on an attack. Yelena also mocks the way that Natasha whips her hair around during a fight, as if she’s doing a photo shoot. This “poser” insult becomes a recurring joke in the movie.

There’s also a tinge of jealousy in Yelena’s teasing of Natasha. At one point in the movie, Yelena says in an envious tone to Natasha: “We are both trained killers, except I’m not the one on the cover of a magazine. I’m not the killer that little girls call their hero.”

In another part of the conversation, Yelena explains the differences between what she experienced in the Red Room and what Natasha experienced: “What you experienced was psychological conditioning. [With what I experienced], I’m talking about chemically altering brain functions—they’re two completely different things.” Yelena says what it feels like to have the chemical alterations to the brain: “You’re fully conscious but you don’t know which part is you.”

Natasha is the one who brings up the idea of going to the Red Room and killing Dreykov once and for all. Yelena replies, “That sounds like a shitload of work.” Natasha says with a smirk, “It could be fun though.”

And where have Alexei and Melina been since they last saw Natasha and Yelena? Alexei has been in a Russian gulag, where he has been fuming over all the glory and notoriety that Captain America has gotten all over the world. That’s because Alexei has a superhero alter ego named Red Guardian, whose superhero career was cut short when Dreykov betrayed Alexei and made sure that Alexei was sent to prison. Needless to say, Alexei is very bitter about it.

Melina has being working as a scientist, so those skills come in handy when Melina, Alexei, Natasha and Yelena eventually reunite. This “family reunion” is not a surprise, since it’s been in “Black Widow” trailers and is a big selling point for the movie. The initial awkwardness of the reunion—and some of the sarcastic wisecracks that ensue—bring much of the movie’s comic relief.

“Black Widow” has the expected high-energy chase and fight scenes, including a far-fetched sequence of Natasha and Yelena helping Alexei escape from prison. The movie’s visual effects are hit and miss. There’s a big action sequence that takes place in the snow that is one of the standouts. But there are a few scenes that involve explosions where the fire looks too fake.

Even though Black Widow is a superhero, she’s not immune to getting fire burns. And yet, there are too many moments where she’s right in the thick of explosions, and she doesn’t get the serious fire burns that someone would get in real life. Some of the movie’s more dramatic scenes have cinematography that’s drenched in psychedelic red, which viewers will either think looks great or annoying.

Alexei and Melina are kind of like the MCU version of “The Honeymooners” couple Ralph Kramden and Alice Kramden. Alexei is a lot of bluster and ego, while Melina is his “been there, done that” calmer counterpart. There’s a comedic scene where Alexei tries to impress his reunited family, by putting on his old Red Guardian costume, but due to his weight gain since he last wore it, he has a hard time fitting into the costume.

On a more serious note, there’s a scene with Alexei, Natasha and Yelena in a heliocopter where Alexei makes a crude comment to Yelena by asking her if she’s being so uptight because she’s menstruating. Yelena reminds Alexei that she doesn’t menstruate because her reproductive organs were removed in the Red Room. Yelena then gives a detailed description of what reproductive organs were removed, until a very uncomfortable Alexei tells them to stop talking about it. Yelena then says impishly that she was just about to talk about fallopian tubes.

Although this scene has a sarcastic tone to it, it’s a not-so-subtle commentary on the gender politics that are part of this movie’s storyline. The Red Room is an obvious metaphor for a toxic patriarchy where a male villain is responsible for literally ripping away reproductive rights. And throughout “Black Widow,” the women are the ones who make the best and bravest decisions. Alexei has his heroic moments too, but he’s often outsmarted and outshined by the women in his life.

And if weren’t obvious enough in the movie’s trailers, there’s no doubt when watching all of “Black Widow” that this movie is a launching pad for Yelena, who’s clearly going to be a big part of the MCU. Pugh tends to be a scene stealer in all of her movies, and “Black Widow” is no exception, since Yelena brings a lot of relatable strengths and flaws to this character. Johansson’s Natasha/Black Widow is the ice queen in charge, but some of her emotional ice is melted in effective scenes where she finds out the truth about her biological family and how she ended up in the Red Room.

Most of the actors depicting the characters who are supposed to have Russian accents aren’t actually Russian in real life. Johansson and Harbour are American, while Pugh, Weisz and Winstone are British. Ukrainian French actress Olga Kurylenko is in the movie, but she’s in a role that is supposed to be among the plot twists. Out of all the non-Russian actors who have Russian accents in the movie, most are good but not excellent at sounding Russian, except for Winstone who definitely needed more Russian dialect training.

Shortland’s direction of “Black Widow” strikes a mostly well-paced balance between action, drama and touches of comedy. The movie’s biggest flaws are in how little regard it has for viewers who might be new to the MCU and who will have no idea what the characters are talking about for a great deal of “Black Widow.” In other words, “Black Widow” is definitely not a stand-alone MCU movie. Just like a web that a black widow spider can weave, the movie’s a little too tangled up in other MCU storylines and is best enjoyed by people who’ve already seen most if not all the other MCU movies that have Black Widow.

Disney’s Marvel Studios will release “Black Widow” in U.S. cinemas and at a premium extra cost on Disney+ on July 9, 2021.

Review: ‘Wonder Woman 1984,’ starring Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Pedro Pascal and Kristen Wiig

December 24, 2020

by Carla Hay

Gal Gadot in “Wonder Woman 1984” (Photo by Clay Enos/Warner Bros. Pictures & © DC Comics)

“Wonder Woman 1984”

Directed by Patty Jenkins

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1984, primarily in Washington, D.C, plus other parts of the world, the superhero action flick “Wonder Woman 1984” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Latinos, African Americans and Asians) representing different classes of people.

Culture Clash: Diana Prince, also known as superhero Wonder Woman, battles against a power-hungry business mogul who wants to rule the world, while one of her female co-workers falls into the mogul’s seductive trap and becomes his ally.

Culture Audience: “Wonder Woman 1984″ will appeal primarily to people who like family-friendly, comic-book-based movies that blend action with social issues and goofy comedy.

Pedro Pascal in “Wonder Woman 1984” (Photo by Clay Enos/Warner Bros. Pictures & © DC Comics)

“Wonder Woman 1984” could have been subtitled “Be Careful What You Wish For, You Just Might Get It,” because by the end of the movie, this old adage has been pounded into viewers’ consciousness to the point of being almost numbing. “Wonder Woman 1984” is the sequel to the 2017 blockbuster “Wonder Woman,” which was a less bloated, less sociopolitical movie than “Wonder Woman 1984,” but the original “Wonder Woman” movie took itself more seriously as an action film. Both movies (based on DC Comics’ “Wonder Woman” series) were directed by Patty Jenkins, who did not write 2017’s “Wonder Woman,” but she co-wrote the “Wonder Woman 1984” screenplay with Geoff Johns and Dave Callaham.

The results in “Wonder Woman 1984” are mixed. On the one hand, the movie aims to be a crowd-pleaser appealing to various generations of people. In the first half of the movie, Wonder Woman has the type of fun-loving superhero action that’s almost cartoonish. In a chase scene that happens fairly early in the movie, Wonder Woman (played by Gal Gadot), also known as Diana Prince, thwarts a heist in a shopping mall by singlehandedly apprehending the four thieves who robbed a jewelry store in the mall. She gives a wink and a smile to some awestruck kids who witness this spectacle. There are also several campy moments in the movie with the character who ends up being the story’s chief villain.

But on the other hand, in the second half of the movie, there are some heavy-handed issues about the nuclear arms race, greed and political corruption that overwhelm the plot. And the plot goes a little bit off the rails because it involves people worldwide having to agree to undo a lot of things that already did significant damage. Not even Wonder Woman is that much of a superhuman political diplomat, but “Wonder Woman 1984” tries to bite off more than it can chew with this concept.

The movie’s total running time is a little too long, at two-and-a-half hours. The tone is very uneven, because “Wonder Woman 1984” has some problems balancing the comedic moments with the serious moments. And the visual effects are hit and miss. (Some of the human characters look very fake in CGI action scenes.) Despite the flaws in “Wonder Woman 1984,” it’s still a fairly enjoyable superhero movie, because of the convincing interactions between the characters and because it mostly succeeds as an entertaining story that holds people’s interest.

“Wonder Woman 1984” begins where “Wonder Woman” began: in her female-only Amazon homeland, the island nation of Themyscira, which is supposed to be a place that has secretly existed on Earth for eons. The actresses who portray the Amazons of Themyscira have a mishmash of European accents. A young Diana (played by Lilly Aspell), who’s about 9 or 10 years old, is seen in an intense athletic competition with adult Amazon warriors. There’s no explanation for why Diana is the only child in this competition, which involves several obstacle courses of running, riding horses and shooting arrows through giant circles placed on top of tall structures.

As a princess, Diana is expected to win for her team. But when she falls off of a horse and lags behind her competitors, she decides to take a shortcut to make up for lost time. She ends up finishing ahead of her competitors, but her mentor Antiope (played by Robin Wright), who’s also the competition’s judge, disqualifies Diana as the winner, because Diana cheated and therefore she’s “not ready to be a true winner.”

Diana’s queen mother Hippolyta (played by Connie Nielsen) comforts a disappointed Diana by telling her: “One day, you’ll become everything you dream of and more. And everything will be different. This world is not ready for all that you will do.” In case people don’t know about Wonder Woman already, she seems to be immortal, because as an adult, she’s able to live through several centuries and still look like she’s in her late 20s/early 30s.

The movie then fast-forwards to 1984 in Washington, D.C., where Diana is working at the Smithsonian Museum as a cultural anthropologist and archaeologist. She is grieving over the death of her American pilot boyfriend Steve Trevor (played by Chris Pine), who (spoiler alert) died during a heroic feat in the first “Wonder Woman” movie, which took place in 1918 during World War I. And now, Diana is moonlighting as Wonder Woman, who is only known to the public at this point as a mysterious crime fighter who’s recently been sighted in the D.C. area.

The four thieves who were apprehended by Wonder Woman in the shopping mall weren’t doing a run-of-the-mill theft in a jewelry store. The store had a hidden room with stolen treasure items that were being sold on the black market. One of the items stolen was a citrine, a classic stone used in fake gems throughout history.

A pointed citrine stone that was part of the stolen haul makes its way to the Smithsonian Museum, where the FBI has asked Smithsonian experts to help identify the origins of some of the stolen treasure. One of the Smithsonian experts enlisted for this task is Barbara Minerva (played by Kristen Wiig), a meek and socially awkward nerd who works in geology, gemology, lithology and cryptozoology.

Barbara is someone who is routinely ignored and/or disrespected by her work colleagues. Her co-workers barely acknowledge her presence when she greets them. Her supervisor Carol (played by Natasha Rothwell) doesn’t even remember interviewing Barbara, or even meeting Barbara, before she asks Barbara for her help with the FBI investigation.

The only person at the Smithsonian who treats Barbara like someone worthy of their social time is Diana, and the two women end up becoming work friends. Barbara and Diana meet when Diana helps Barbara pick some paperwork that Barbara accidentally dropped out of a briefcase on a lobby floor at work. Barbara is desperate for a friend, so she asks Diana to lunch, but Diana says she’s too busy.

However, Diana and Barbara end up in the same room with the stolen treasures in the FBI investigation. And the two women find out that they both have a shared passion for ancient artifacts. The citrine stone is not considered one of the more valuable items, in terms of monetary value. And during their conversation, it’s mentioned that the legend of the stone is that it can grant one wish to the person who holds the stone. Diana holds the stone and silently wishes for Steve to come back to life.

Diana and Barbara have dinner together that day. And over dinner, they talk about their lives. Barbara is a stereotypical middle-aged spinster who lives alone, has no kids and has no love life. The only cliché about this lifestyle that Barbara doesn’t have is a pet cat. But she actually does become a “cat lady” later on in the story.

When Barbara asks Diana if she’s ever been in love, Diana tells her that she used to be in love with an American pilot, who died. Diana doesn’t give any further details, but she makes it clear that she’s still heartbroken and not ready to move on to someone else. Barbara is very insecure about her looks and her prospects of finding love, but Diana tries to give Barbara a confidence boost throughout their conversation.

Diana compliments Barbara by telling her that she’s one of the most natural and funniest people she’s ever met. Barbara is surprised because she’s not used to hearing flattering remarks about herself. She tells Diana, “People think I’m weird. They avoid me and talk about me behind my back and think I don’t hear them.”

After this friendly dinner, Barbara is walking through a park by herself and gives her dinner leftovers to a homeless man. And soon afterwards, a middle-aged drunk and disheveled man (played by Shane Attwooll) accosts her and tries to get her interested in him. Barbara rebuffs his advances and he gets physically aggressive with her. It’s about to turn into a full-blown assault, but Diana comes to the rescue and pushes the man away with such force that he’s thrown to the ground and becomes temporarily incapacitated. Barbara thanks Diana for helping her, and this incident further strengthens their trust in each other and their budding friendship.

When Barbara goes back to her office, she sees the citrine stone and holds it. She says out loud, “I do know what I wish for: I wish to be like Diana: strong, sexy, cool, special.” The stone glows and there’s a slight wind that passes through the air. These visual effects are kind of cheesy, but they work.

Diana goes home and finds out that Steve is there and he has been reincarnated in the body of an unnamed handsome man (played by Kristoffer Polaha), who seems to have no idea that his body is now inhabited by someone who died in 1918. The rest of the world sees the unnamed man as his actual physical self, but Diana only sees Steve when she looks at the man. And that explains why actor Pine is shown as Steve during this reincarnation. (It’s not a spoiler, since Steve’s return was already shown in the trailer for “Wonder Woman 1984.”)

Meanwhile, there’s a slick and sleazy business mogul named Maxwell “Max” Lord (played by Pedro Pascal) who’s all over TV with commercials for his company Black Gold Cooperative, which is described as “the first oil company by the people, for the people.” It should come as no surprise that this company and this mogul are not at all what they want people to think they are.

Maxwell’s real last name is Lorenzano, and its later revealed that he’s an ambitious Latino immigrant who changed his last name and appearance (he dyed his hair blonde) to appear more Anglo. He’s also a divorced father who has weekend visitations with his son Alistair (played by Lucian Perez), who’s about 7 or 8 years old. Maxwell is shown to be a very neglectful father, and his bad parenting is used as a “pull at your heartstrings” plot device in several scenes in the movie.

Maxwell finds out that the citrine stone is at the Smithsonian Museum. And so, he shows up at the museum one day, under the pretense of wanting to possibly donate millions of dollars to the department that has the stone. Barbara is immediately charmed by Maxwell’s flirtatious manner, while Diana is coolly skeptical.

Maxwell can see that Barbara is a lonely woman who’s desperate for attention, so he continues to flirt with her and makes it clear that he wants to date her. People who aren’t familiar with the “Wonder Woman” comic books can still easily figure out where the storyline is going to go with Barbara, because it’s similar to the more famous Catwoman story arc in DC Comics’ “Batman” series. And the trailer for “Wonder Woman 1984” already revealed the result of Barbara’s metamorphosis when there’s a showdown between her and Wonder Woman.

Not all of the action takes place in Washington, D.C., because there’s a subplot that takes Maxwell, Steve and Diana/Wonder Woman to Egypt, where an oil baron named Emir Said Bin Abydos (played by Amr Waked) has a pivotal role in the story. There are also many scenes that are supposed to take place simultaneously in different areas of the world, during the last third of the movie when the plot becomes a bit of a mess. “Wonder Woman 1984” falters when it becomes a little too much of a political statement about the nuclear arms race in the 1980s. The movie redeems itself when it focuses more on human interactions that are more relatable to everyday people.

The romance between Diana and Steve picks up right where it left off, but in “Wonder Woman 1984,” it’s more playful and amusing than it was in “Wonder Woman.” Steve’s culture shock of living in 1984 is used for great comical effect, as he marvels at 1984 fashion and other things that didn’t exist in 1918, such as escalators, breakdancing and computer-controlled planes. And the rampant materialism and capitalism that defined the 1980s in the United States are shown in not-so-subtle ways throughout the movie, as exemplified in everything from crowded shopping malls to the greedy villain Maxwell Lord.

Fans of Wonder Woman in the DC Comics, the 1970s movie series and as part of the DC Extended Universe will find plenty of things to like about “Wonder Woman 1984.” There are references that stay true to Wonder Woman canon, with a few tweaks here and there. (For example, in the comic books, Barbara Minerva is British, not American.)

And there’s a mention of Asteria, a legendary Amazon from Themyscira who was the first owner of the Golden Eagle armor that Wonder Woman wears in “Wonder Woman 1984.” It’s explained in the movie that Asteria sacrificed herself by wearing the armor while holding off the men who invaded Themyscira. Look for a cameo during the movie’s end credits that will delight a lot of Wonder Woman fans.

Gadot’s portrayal of Wonder Woman/Diana Prince can sometimes be a little wooden, but her best moments in the film are in expressing Diana’s grief over the death of Steve. At times, she looks more like a model playing dress-up as Wonder Woman rather than a bona fide action hero, but the visual effects go a long way in adding excitement to the action scenes. Gadot and Pine’s chemistry together isn’t very sexy or passionate, but it is fairly believable in their portrayal of two people who respect each other and were friends before they became lovers.

And for someone who died in 1918 (when women in the U.S. didn’t even have the right to vote), Steve is extremely enlightened in how quickly he adapts to feminist ideals of gender equality. He doesn’t feel threatened or act offended in situations where Diana/Wonder Woman has more abilities and greater strength than he does. At the same time, he doesn’t shrink from expressing his masculinity and showing his talent and skills.

It should come as no surprise that Steve gets to fly a modern plane. One of the best visual scenes in the film is when Steve and Diana fly in an invisible plane through a stunning display of Fourth of July fireworks. Nitpicky viewers will have to assume that the plane has an invisible shield to protect it from the firework explosions.

Because “Wonder Woman 1984” takes quite a bit of time developing the dramatic storylines for Barbara and Maxwell, there might not be as much action in the movie as some people might expect. Most of the suspense comes in the last third of the movie. To get to that point, viewers have to sit through seeing Maxwell become increasingly unhinged in an over-the-top way that often veers into being unintentionally comical.

Pascal’s portrayal of Maxwell as the chief villain is done in broad, over-the-top strokes. Viewers know from the beginning that he’s corrupt, and there’s almost no humanity in this character for most of the movie as he gets more and more maniacal. Wiig fares much better with her portrayal of the emotionally wounded and ultimately misguided Barbara. Her character can be viewed as a symbol of the negative effects of “silent bullying”: when people are treated as outcasts not by insults in their face but by being shunned and ignored.

It’s clear that the filmmakers of “Wonder Woman 1984,” just like the 2019 film “Joker,” wanted to have something more to say about society’s problems and international politics instead of being just another movie based on comic book characters. However, unlike “Joker,” which had an unrelenting but consistent dark and depressing tone, the tone of “Wonder Woman 1984” jumps over the place—and that inconsistency lowers the quality of the movie. Sometimes there’s nothing wrong with being a lighthearted superhero movie instead of trying to tackle heavy social issues. And sometimes “saving the world” in a superhero movie doesn’t mean you have to get bogged down in international politics over weapons of mass destruction.

“Wonder Woman 1984” was released in cinemas in various countries outside the U.S. on December 16, 2020. The movie’s U.S. release date in cinemas and on HBO Max is December 25, 2020. In the United Kingdom, “Wonder Woman 1984” is set for a VOD release on January 13, 2021.

Chadwick Boseman dead at 43; acclaimed star of ‘Black Panther’ battled colon cancer

August 28, 2020

by Carla Hay

Chadwick Boseman (Photo courtesy of ABC/Image Group LA) 

Chadwick Boseman, the charismatic and critically acclaimed actor who starred in the 2018 blockbuster “Black Panther,” died of colon cancer at his Los Angeles home on August 28, 2020. He was 43. In a public statement issued by his family, Boseman had been diagnosed with cancer in 2016, but he never revealed this diagnosis to the public, according to the Associated Press.

In addition to starring in “Black Panther,” Boseman had roles in other Marvel superhero movies such as 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War,” 2018’s “Avengers: Infinity War” and 2019’s “Avengers: Endgame.” He also starred as several African American icons in biopics, such as baseball player Jackie Robinson in the 2013 movie “42,” singer James Brown in 2014’s “Get on Up” and Thurgood Marshall in 2017’s “Marshall.” He also starred in the cop drama “21 Bridges,” which was his first movie in which he was a producer. Boseman’s last two film roles were for Netflix: He portrayed a Vietnam War soldier in the 2020 drama “Da 5 Bloods” (directed and co-written by Spike Lee) and co-starred with Viola Davis in the drama “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” which does not have a release date yet.

Born on November 29, 1976, in Anderson, South Carolina, Boseman graduated from Howard University in 2000, with a bachelor of fine arts degree in directing. Two important mentors he had during his college years were Oscar-winning actor Denzel Washington (who reportedly paid for Boseman’s college tuition) and actress Phylicia Rashad, who was one of his teachers at Howard. Boseman was also a graduate of Digital Film Academy and aspired to be a director.

Boseman made his film debut in 2008’s “The Express.” Before getting starring roles movies, he had roles in TV shows and in theater, most notably in the 2010 short-lived NBC series “Persons Unknown” and in a recurring role in 2008 and 2009 in the ABC Family series “Lincoln Heights,” which was on the air from 2007 to 2010. But he was best known for playing African king superhero T’Challa in “Black Panther,” which was the second highest-grossing film of 2018 in the world (with $1.3 billion in ticket sales), second to “Avengers: Infinity War,” which had worldwide ticket sales of $2 billion. Of the $1.3 billion that “Black Panther” had in worldwide ticket sales, $700 million were ticket sales in the U.S., making “Black Panther” the highest-grossing film in the U.S. in 2018.

“Black Panther” won numerous awards, including three Oscars: for costume design, production design and original score. Boseman and the rest of “Black Panther” stars won the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding by a Cast in a Motion Picture, and the movie won several NAACP Image Awards. A sequel to “Black Panther” had been announced to be released in 2022, but had not begun filming at the time that Boseman passed away. As of now, it’s unclear what will happen to the movie because of Boseman’s death. Also in limbo is the movie “Yasuke,” in which Boseman had the title role, but the movie hadn’t begun filming at the time of his death.

The Boseman family statement says: “A true fighter, Chadwick persevered through it all, and brought you many of the films you have come to love so much. From ‘Marshall’ to ‘Da 5 Bloods,’ August Wilson’s ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ and several more—all were filmed during and between countless surgeries and chemotherapy. It was the honor of his career to bring King T’Challa to life in ‘Black Panther.’”

Boseman is survived by his wife Taylor Simone Ledward and his parents Leroy and Karen Boseman.

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