DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS movie review

Plot sacrificed for visual FX. While Raimi’s horror adjacent direction gives Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness a unique aesthetic when compared to the typical superhero movie (with the exception of Batman Returns, which has long sense been praised for its otherworldly horror-adjacency), it isn’t enough to carry the story. Better brush up on End Game and Wanda Vision because you may be slightly lost the whole time. So full disclosure, I’ve only seen End Game once and do not subscribe to Disney+. Unfortunately, this movie does not sufficiently provide exposition for those of us that do not eat, sleep, breathe the MCU because Wanda/Scarlet Witch’s motivation for her antihero behavior cannot be fully realized and understood without the events of Wanda Vision (from what I’ve been told about the show). That’s the problem with the ever-expanding MCU–but–it’s also a brilliant marketing and merchandising move. Simply because, if you want to be able to understand the motivations of the characters in the movies, you have to watch the TV shows and every single movie (main line and side line). Specific to this movie itself, there is clearly a thoughtful story, but it’s ultimately held back by the wandering plot. Ironically, you may be asking yourself a variation of the cliche question actor’s ask directors: what’s my motivation? Instead, you’ll find yourself asking: what’s Wanda’s motivation???

Dr Stephen Strange casts a forbidden spell that opens a portal to the multiverse. However, a threat emerges that may be too big for his team to handle.

Story and plot are NOT the same thing. Without getting into a lot of what I teach in film studies and screenwriting, story is the overarching narrative whereas the plot is the map (how you get) from beginning to end. Raimi’s playing up on the whole witchy aspect to this movie, was great for someone like me that loves horror, but it seems that the horror-adjacency of the movie merely compensated for the slapdash plotting. While many that watch this movie have undoubtedly seen End Game multiple times, subscribe to Disney+ to watch all the shows, and have read the comics, many have NOT. Granted, a subgenre movie such as this should not play to the lowest common denominator because then the fanboys and girls in the audience will feel slighted or unappreciated, At the same time, the writers and director should have considered integrating sufficient exposition for those that do not watch all the ancillary material. Wouldn’t have taken much to provide enough exposition so that rewatching End Game or subscribing to Disney+ for Wanda Vision, What If?, and Loki wouldn’t be a prerequisite for this movie.

For those that love visual effects, you will likely be impressed, if not blown away by the mesmerizing landscape of digital imagery; however, there are many times in the movies that the characters do not feel that they are existing within the same world in which the dazzling display of graphics exist. You cannot replace the way real light bounces off real objects into the camera lens. Not opinion–fact. Perhaps one day, we will get an MCU (and this applies to the “whatever it’s called these days” DCEU) movie that spends as much time crafting tangible sets as it does investing into digital imagery. In no multiverse will characters look to truly be within a world that primarily exists in the expression of 0s and 1s on a computer. The only saving grace for the aesthetic of this movie, and the moments we see the cinema stylo (hand of the artist), is when Raimi leans into the horror-adjacency of this MCU entry. Whenever the movie took a turn towards horror, I enjoyed it the most, and felt it was trying to be different–not your typical superhero movie.

It’s really no spoiler that Captain Picard is back as Professor Charles Xavier! Okay, so I know he is really Sir Patrick Stewart, but he will always be the definitive Starfleet captain to me. X-Men fans, like me (see, I do like superhero movies that aren’t Batman Returns), we’ve been waiting for that moment in which we witness the integration of the X-Men into the MCU. And I’ll give the writers and Raimi this: how Professor X was integrated into Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness was both meaningful and strategic. It wasn’t too much, didn’t feel forced, and the applause this cameo garnered from the audience (including myself) was outstanding! At my screening, the moment Sir Patrick Stewart reprised his role as the definitive (live-action) Professor X elicited more applause and cheers than any other moment in the movie. I am eager to witness how the X-Men are woven into the fabric of the MCU.

If you can watch this movie in a premium format like Dolby Cinema, IMAX, or Cinemark’s X-treme, then that is the best way to experience it. It is a BIG SCREEN movie for sure! While I am often highly negatively critical of superhero movies, I am thankful that they are getting people back to the cinema in masses.

Ryan teaches Film Studies, Screenwriting, and Digital Citizenship at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.

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THE BATMAN movie review

Emo Batman: the detective. Matt Reeves’ highly anticipated adaptation of the caped crusader hits cinemas this week, and it is sure to elicit quite the polarized opinions amongst fans. Some will undoubtedly enjoy the gritty, realistic expression of Batman in an attempt at crafting a neo-noir detective story while others will find it to be poorly paced, overly emo, and joyless. While I am seldom completely in one camp or another on a polarized film, I am certainly closer to the latter moreso than the former. I certainly appreciate this take on the caped crusader as a detective and the aesthetically dark film; however, I agree that it is poorly paced, overtly emo, and completely joyless. Reeves’ adaptation shines best in its character development and interactions; furthermore, it’s equal parts plot and character-driven, which helps in the thoughtfulness, but the poor pacing and lack of anything joyful hold it back from the potential it clearly had. Clearly, this film is positioning itself as the anti MCU in that it places far greater value on the aesthetic of the film moreso than the entertainment value or dialogue. After watching it, I am left wondering what a neo-noir detective Batman movie directed by David Fincher would look like? In my opinion as a critic and film professor, the only director to accurately capture the essence of what we love about the BatVerse is Tim Burton is his brilliant Batman 89, and Batman Returns.

Batman ventures into Gotham City’s underworld when a sadistic killer leaves behind a trail of cryptic clues. As the evidence begins to lead closer to home and the scale of the perpetrator’s plans become clear, he must forge new relationships, unmask the culprit and bring justice to the abuse of power and corruption that has long plagued the metropolis.

For some, the characters won’t feel like Batman characters as much as explorations of various forms of trauma; that stated, the characters have undeniable chemistry on screen, which makes them believable. The only characterization with which I take particular negative issue is Alfred; he is reduced from an integral element in the Batman mythos too little more than an expositional plot device. Costume wise, the new Batsuit works very well, and the Riddler’s costume is incredibly creepy, but Catwoman’s ski mask doesn’t work and The Penguin lacks any truly defining features. The Batmobile works great! It’s fantastic combination of a stock car (which Bruce Wayne would realistically have access to) and a little comicbook flare. While the score isn’t memorable, it offers some gorgeous orchestral movements that attempt to give this film gravitas. Still to this day, the best Batman score is Danny Elfman’s for 89 and Returns. The score of The Batman never feels like an extension of the characters, despite it being (as a musical composition) beautiful.

Since I am not a comicbook reader nor am I generally a fan of superhero movies, I do not feel that it is inaccurate to posit that idea that comicbooks and superhero movies were originally written and designed to be escapism. There was something special about being invited into a world similar to our own, but with a certain degree of whimsy that kept them entertaining and fun. The hand of the artist, an extension of their imagination is what seems to so often be missing in contemporary CBMs (comicbook movies). You have the agenda-driven post-End Game MCU on one side, and the overly dark, joyless DCEU on the other. Of course, there are exceptions such as Shang Chi and Wonder Woman. CBMs have strayed from their roots, and appear to have a blatant disregard for that which made them fun for mass audiences. From CBMs including elevated levels of colorful adjectives to reinforcing unfair characterizations which have a counterintuitive effect upon the idea of representation, it would be refreshing to have superhero movies that are entertainment and clever again, where there are suitable for older kids and teens, yet there are jokes, references, and double entendres that only adults will appreciate.

Who is the audience for The Batman? A question for which I am still searching for the answer.

Ryan teaches Film Studies and Digital Citizenship at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.

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THE BATMAN Pop-up Exhibition

On a four-city tour, fans of Batman got to see the new costumes and Batmobile for the upcoming film The Batman! Fortunately, one of the stops was right here in Tampa! Contributor Danielle Mescall attended this past weekend, and you can checkout her writeup and photos below!

On Saturday February 19th, locals from Tampa had the chance to check out “The Batman special event,” where people got a sneak peak into the newest film adaptation in the Batman franchise.
As crowds lined up to see this exhibit for the new film releasing on March 4th, it is clear that the love for the caped crusader is still very strong and people from all generations are excited for this film.

At this event, you get the chance to see the newest Batmobile along with costumes for Batman, Selina Kyle, The Riddler, and The Penguin. In addition, you get to play trivia and join in raffles while you wait. Once you are in the tent, you can see the detail that these creators have put into it and it gives you the ability to picture yourself in the action as you look at all of the modern and sleek designs of the suits and the car.

Producer Dylan Clark explained in an interview, “We wanted the Batsuit and the Batmobile to look obviously like it was designed by one man, by Batman himself. The suit is tactical, it’s military, it’s purpose­driven, it’s practical. It’s also iconic; Batman has his own emblem, his cowl, his cape. We chose a design that Bruce Wayne, at 30 years old, would have built.”

After getting the chance to see the exhibit myself and after seeing other people’s reactions and responses, it seems to make the crowds and fans that more excited for March 4th!

The final two stops on this tour are listed below, so make sure to check out the exhibit if you can:
• 2/22 Miami, FL at Dolphin Mall
• 2/25–26 Philadelphia, PA

Batman
Catwoman
The Riddler
The Penguin
The Batmobile (exterior)
The Batmobile (interior)

ETERNALS movie review

An ambitious departure from the previous paint-by-numbers MCU films, but while it will attempt to distract you with impressive visuals (other than the Deviants), it’s a soulless film with a convoluted plot full of neo-liberal woke-pandering. Chloe Zhao’s The ETERNALS is the result of a writer/director concerning themselves far more with satisfying the rubric of check-boxes associated with toxic woke culture than telling a thoughtful or entertaining story. This is MARVEL Studios’ movie to demonstrate, through superficial virtue signaling, that they are onboard the Woke Express. Perhaps the idea of this movie sounded innovative in the echo-chamber meetings, but the execution leaves much to be desired. Diegetically, the prolific world building, MCU connectivity, and character development this movie needed to do, even the more than 2.5hr runtime isn’t sufficient, and ultimately feels like a DCEU-style rush job. Between the chaotic plotting, bad CG (those Deviants look like something right off the SyFy Channel), cosplay uniforms, dialogue lacking in any subtext, and the gross neglect for any nuance to the storytelling whatsoever, this movie is the product of an assortment of post-modern critical theories and not the imagination of a filmmaker. Clearly Zhao has an eye for cinematic composition, but her skills as a storyteller are not nearly as fine-tuned–certainly not for such a gargantuan superhero spectacle.

The Eternals, a race of immortal beings with superhuman powers who have secretly lived on Earth for thousands of years, reunite to battle the evil Deviants.

Dramatize don’t tell. This is the No.1 principle I teach in my film studies and screenwriting classes. And this important convention is broken at the very beginning of The Eternals. Very few movies have demonstrated that scrolling text in a prologue can pay off dramatically (i.e. Star Wars). It works in Star Wars because that is how the world was first introduced to the mammoth intellectual property, therefore, it becomes part of its branding (and is missed when it doesn’t happen). Moreover, there was no frame of reference prior to A New Hope; and since we were being plunged into the middle of the action, it was necessary to preface the story that was about to unfold. Audiences aren’t being introduced to the MCU–they’ve been in the MCU ostensibly since Paramount’s Iron Man. Therefore, this demonstrates a lazy approach to providing exposition that could have otherwise been integrated more thoughtfully into the main action story. Furthermore, this lack of dramatic exposition is problematic, not only at the beginning, but throughout the movie.

If there was a social media campaign or outcry about it in the last few years, you will find that box checked off in this movie. As I watched this movie (in IMAX, btw), I couldn’t help but envision a rubric, not unlike the kind many professors use for grading papers. Personally, I don’t use a rubric in my classes because satisfying requirements in that fashion does not tell me how you can apply what you learn in class to your topic; but rather, that you know the bare minimum you need to do in order to get the point(s). Think of it as a typical test. A typical test only demonstrates to the professor how much you can remember NOT how much you know or your level of wisdom (the application of knowledge). It’s as if Zhao held meetings with MARVEL Studios executives and staff to outline every woke box that needed to be checked in this progressive movie. I won’t go into all the examples because that would take up a paragraph in and of itself, but if there has been a push for representation, then you will find it here. And all those characters in one place means that most are not developed sufficiently and feel more like one-dimensional tokens than characters crafted by a writer who cares. That’s the problem here. Increased representation across the spectrum of humanity in cinema is very important, but not when it comes at the expense of the integrity of the characters themselves.

One of the hottest topics of discussion to come out of this movie is the inclusion of a PG-13 sex scene, which is long overdue in a cinematic universe such as this one, which is filled with HOT male and female characters in form-fitting uniforms. More than demonstrating to audiences that the MCU movies have grown up with their initial audience of teens and 20-somethings, this scene is important because it shows that these immortal beings have some humanity in them. Superheroes and supervillains are often not thought of as human, and even though we learn that these immortal beings aren’t exactly human, they do take on many characteristics of humans, and this scene is a refreshing reminder that superheroes have erotic passions just like the rest of us. There is a vulnerability about them.

Because of all the piping that is being laid in this movie (enough for at least two or three movies), the story feels incredibly rushed. It reminded of how the DCEU tried to complete with MARVEL, years after MARVEL had been in the MCU. The result was hurried world building. It took MARVEL years to build the MCU, but the DCEU tried to accomplish the same in a year or two. We have five stories here (1) its creation myth and early Mesopotamia (2) the time in Babylonian Empire (3) the time in the Aztec Empire (4) the Greco-Roman Empire, and (5) the present-day story. Each of these is incredibly important to the main action plot of The Eternals, and yet these otherwise rich settings are reduced to flashback fodder. There are easily three thoughtful movies that could have come out of the five aforementioned stories. The result is a single plot that cannot possibly accomplish everything that it needs to in order to effectively tell the story and do it justice. I’m still not entirely sure why the Deviants were attacking the Eternals; oh it was sort of explained, but like with much of the rest of the film, it wasn’t thoughtfully developed either.

If you are familiar with Middle Eastern or Greek mythology, you will enjoy the integration of some of the mythological stories with which you are likely familiar. From the Epic of Gilgamesh to Ikaros to Athena, you will learn that it’s the Eternals that inspired these stories. While we may never know precisely what inspired these stories in real life, they were likely inspired by real individuals, much like legends and lore are to this day. So, knowing that these powerful, immortal beings have been secretly living on earth makes since, and can be appreciated both through a historic lens and through the backstory of the main action plot of the movie.

There are two end-credit scenes, each setting up a new characters. I won’t spoil it (but don’t look at the IMDb either). One scene in at the beginning of the credits and the other is a post-credit scene.

Ryan teaches American and World Cinema at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.

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“Birds of Prey” Full Movie Review

Harley Quinn Returns. Warner Bros. and DC’s Birds of Prey: and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (from hereon out Birds of Prey, haha) is energetic, entertaining, and electrifying! Margot Robbie is a knockout! This out of this world comicbook movie is well written and directed, and even has an intimate feel in the foreground on the backdrop of outrageous, larger than life chaos. Par for the course in Gotham. Fortunately for this movie, most of the footage from the trailer was taken from the first few minutes of the movie. So, you never feel as though you’ve seen whole thing in the trailer. If Batman Returns and Deadpool had a baby, and that baby’s nanny was Kill Bill, then this is the movie that you would get! It has the brilliant camp and production design factors with the sass and action of the former two, along with the strength and determination of the latter. A winning combination, considering that Batman Returns is the best Batman movie of all time (and yes, I will die on that hill). While the trailer may make this seem like an ensemble cast for most of the movie, it really is about Harley Quinn with the other characters coming into play more significantly in the latter half of the movie. This was a strategic move by the writer and director in order for the the movie to be driven by the fallout of the breakup between Harley and Mr. J, that anti-hero anarchist spirit, and high energy optimism that defines Quinn. What we have here is a good, solid story. Yes there is the theme of female empowerment and sisterhood, but that is on the nose. The real power of this movie, and why Suicide Squad cannot even hold a candle to it, is the thoughtful story, precision plotting, and character driven conflict with plenty of reactions. Birds of Prey takes what we have grown accustomed to in comicbook movies (both DCEU and Marvel), and places it in that semitruck at the beginning of the movie, then watches as all the rules and tropes explode as the truck collides into the chemical plant! No tortured psyches, skybeams, sense of duty, or derivative action sequences here, Birds of Prey delivers explosive action and hilarious antics! All this and more awaits you in this beautiful mess of a movie.

It’s open season on Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) when her explosive breakup with the Joker puts a big fat target on her back. Unprotected and on the run, Quinn faces the wrath of narcissistic crime boss Black Mask (Ewan McGregor), his right-hand man, Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina), and every other thug in the city. But things soon even out for Harley when she becomes unexpected allies with three deadly women — Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), and Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez)–in their respective efforts to locate the expert pickpocket Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco). (IMDb summary)

If Quintin Tarantino was to direct a comicbook movie, this is precisely the kind of movie that he would write and direct. Birds of Prey director Cathy Yan and screenwriter Christina Hodson (Bumblebee) certainly seem to have channeled their love of the films of Tarantino and Waititi in the development the outstanding screenplay for Birds of Prey. It has the non-linear storytelling and violence of Tarantino paired with the tongue-in-cheekness and characterizations of Waititi. From journalist and graduate student at NYU Tisch School of the Arts to directing a major motion picture for global brands such as Warner Bros. and DC, Yan is certainly a director to watch as she continues to grow in her career. She is the kind of director that DC needs in order to develop comicbook/superhero movies that are highly engaging yet have a great deal of heart. Although I did not know the screenwriter of Bumblebee was also the writer for this movie, in retrospect, I can completely see it! Hodson knows how to craft a thoughtful story in the middle of explosive action, all the while, keeping the focus on the characters whose conflict drives the story. On the surface, this may seem like an action-driven story, but in all reality it is character driven at its core.

While some may find (and have found) the narrative exposition and nonlinear storytelling to be distracting, I find that the combination makes perfect sense for how the plot is being laid out for us; it works very well for this movie. There are similarities between the tone of Deadpool and Birds of Prey but they are different movie experiences. Each uses narrative exposition, but use that tool in different ways. Deadpool engages in breaking the fourth wall in a very Mystery Science Theatre or RiffTrax way, whereas Harley Quinn uses it in a diegetic manner. Same tool, but expressed very differently. I greatly appreciate how Quinn used this narrative device in the same way that you and I tell stories to our friends. How often have you found yourself telling recalling an event from your life and telling that story to your friends, and you get to a point at which you realize you need to preface something, and then jump back to setup that point? Probably a lot of the time! I know I certainly do. It’s like you’re so excited to get to a point in the story, but then you forget that your friends need to know what happened to setup why its important or significant. And that is precisely what Quinn is doing with her narration and what the director and writer did with the setup of the main action plot. The method that the story is laid out in front of us is a very organic way of oral storytelling. When you orally communicate a story, there is no edit button, back space, page jumps, or anything else that we use in writing to linearly tell a story (linearly being the most conventional). So yes, it is nonlinear, but otherwise it would not feel as relatable or natural.

We have both wonderfully entertaining performances and well-developed characters! The strength of this movie is built upon the characters and the conflict therein. While we do spend most of the movie with Quinn, we are methodically introduced to key characters that effect the main action plot subplot along the way. Quinn’s external goal is to retrieve the Bertinelli diamond, which is driven by her internal need for a relationship. While I won’t go into details as to how she eventually retrieves the famed diamond, as I do not want it get into spoiler territory, I will comment on her internal need for a relationship that drives the main action plot. She is longing for a relationship after Mr. J. dumps her. She feels an emptiness inside. Ironically, she desires to belong to something or someone. Ironic in that a harlequin lives to serve. What she could never have known is that she would find the sense of belonging in the relationships she forms with our supporting cast of characters that she encounters along the journey to retrieve the diamond. What she finds is NOT a romantic relationship, but a sisterhood that provides her with all the love she needs and a group to whom she can love in return. None of us (or most of us, anyway) want to be alone; we want relationships in our lives. Many find that through romantic relationships while others find it through close friendships. Sometimes both, if you’re fortunate in that way. Between her pet hyena, a pick pocket, and the newly formed group Birds of Prey, Harley Quinn’s internal need for relationship is met beautifully! It’s also this subtext that creates that intimate story amidst the backdrop of chaos.

I mentioned Batman Returns in my opening paragraph. And if you’ve seen the movie, you may be wondering why and where does Birds of Prey have elements that nod to and remind me of Tim Burton’s masterful Batman movie. Clearly, if you are wondering, then you (1) haven’t seen the greatest of all Batman movies or (2) have forgotten about the incredible art of Batman Returns. For starters, Quinn’s costume choices are very much Burton-inspired and there are several moments of dialogue that feel right out of Returns. What we love about Batman Returns is the camp factor and over-the-topness of the costuming and production design. Furthermore, there is one series of scenes in particular that are ostensibly taken right out of Returns. And this isn’t a spoiler. The production design, architecture, and set decorating in the Amusement Pier scene at the end of Birds of Prey are heavily inspired by the defunct zoo setting (Penguin’s lair) in Batman Returns. It is a fantastic combination of German expressionism and French surrealism. I absolutely love the design of the fun house and the execution of the explosive showdown! Birds of Prey strikes a perfect balance of bringing old and new fans alike together for a great comicbook inspired movie!

I highly recommend this movie to all fans of comicbook or superhero movies! Whether you are a DC or Marvel fan, or the rare DCMarvel fan, I feel strongly that you will fall in love with this movie. Although it is still incredibly fresh on my mind, and hasn’t had proper time to steep, presently I feel that it may wind up at No.3 of all-time favorite comicbook/superhero movies for me with No.1 being Batman Returns, No.2 Batman 89, and No.3 Birds of Prey.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, feel free to catch a movie with him!

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