The Calm Before the Heat, a Pre-Summer Movie Recap

Spring is in the rear-view mirror, with summer quickly approaching. It’s an atypically spare pre-June corridor, with the beginning of summer movie season 2022 still suffering from studio wariness and COVID logjam. It’s been a trim if terrific April and early May at the movies.

The Northman (IN THEATERS)

A gnarly, mythic epic taking after Hamlet before it and after it (this was adapted from a Norse legend which inspired Shakespeare), weaving together brutal reality and stark fantasy to produce something hypnotic, violent, and wickedly enthralling. Alexander Skarsgaard needed a signature role and this is it, his sinewy physique the result of a fierce commitment to the project over the sum of ten years. Robert Eggers may be at his most accessible, paring down period-accurate dialogue so passive viewers can still engage, but the compromises are few and far between here. His eye for majesty and myth are second to none, and his penchant for making it all feel all too real is a disturbing sight to behold. Throw in Ethan Hawke, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicole Kidman (stealing the third act), oner action sequences, and even Bjork, and The Northman is undoubtedly the best Viking movie ever made.

Grade: A-

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (IN THEATERS)

A treat for long-time fans of Nic Cage, of his splendidly chaotic oeuvre and his manically diverse performance style. A meta comedy encompassing Hollywood satire, self-referential buffoonery, and buddy drama antics all rolled into one fun, heavenly soup of absurdist laughter. Pedro Pascal wouldn’t dare steal the spotlight from his hero Cage, but the man of the hour is a generous fellow, and allows him to steal it anyway. Pascal and Cage are the best on-screen male duo since Gosling and Crowe in The Nice Guys. Though it’s occasionally too broad for its own good, there’s plenty to like, including an amusingly incompetent F.B.I. and enough satirical world building afoot that I’m hoping we can wrangle a sequel or two out of this idea. Bring back the buddy movie! If only audiences agreed.

Grade: B+

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (IN THEATERS)

Marvel has finally done it. They’ve allowed a singular filmmaker to put his stamp on a sequel in their neverending, ever-expanding cinematic universe. Intriguingly, it seems Marvel can’t have it all. While Multiverse of Madness is more stylistically unique than your average superhero fare, the studio’s patented continuity and world-building takes a backseat, allowing for inconsistencies and timeline gaps that leave much to the imagination, and not in a good way. From no discernible relation between Strange’s multiverse adventures here and what happened in December’s No Way Home, to the sinking feeling that Marvel has completely given up on selling such cockamamie stories to the uninitiated (the deep cuts are getting too deep), Doctor Strange would be a certifiable mixed bag were it not for maestro Sam Raimi’s penchant for spooky and his love of peculiar camp and tortuous mania. An Evil Dead-style finale and a classic Raimi coda are nice cherries on top of a mostly enjoyable, magical enterprise. It’s just too bad that Feige has gone from Thor’s “you call it magic, and we call it science” to essentially “we don’t care if the magic looks silly.” We buy the magic in Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, we don’t buy it here, and there’s a reason for that. Fortunately for Marvel’s spotless track record, Elizabeth Olsen’s heavy pathos and Benedict Cumberbatch’s screen presence are enough to overshadow such shortcomings.

P.S. This is barely a sequel to 2016’s Doctor Strange, often feeling as if there’s a missing film in between then and now. Strange references Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Mordo trying to kill him, something that never happened in the original’s origin story.

Grade: B

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