We’ve seen the multiverse coming to the MCU for quite a while. It all started when the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) taught us about the multiverse in Doctor Strange. We get another glimpse of it in Avengers: Endgame, when the Ancient One explained to Hulk that schisms in the timeline could lead to multiple, alternate timelines or universes. It’s possible the quantum realm in Ant-Man is one of those universes. We get more hints at it in Avengers: Infinity War when Doctor Strange tells Tony Stark that he looked at over fourteen million timelines to find one where they defeated Thanos. The point is all of the phase four MCU films and shows have been pointing us toward the multiverse, especially Loki and Spider-Man: No Way Home, the latter of which very much operates as the prologue to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
On that note, please don’t listen to the crotchety critics that say you need to do a bunch of homework to enjoy Multiverse of Madness (or any MCU movie, for that matter). You don’t. Some people love to complain about there being too much to follow in the MCU – as if the MCU being rich in content is somehow a bad thing – which makes it hard to understand the movies. That’s like picking up book four of the Harry Potter series, then complaining that you don’t know who all these kids and teachers are and that you don’t get the references to past things. Of course you don’t. But you can still understand and enjoy the story in that book, even if you don’t what the Marauder’s map is.
Multiverse of Madness is really easy to follow, even if you have never seen an MCU film or show. There’s a wizard. He knows magic and is the good guy. There’s a witch. She’s knows magic and is the bad guy. There are an infinite number of parallel universes and they are going to travel to some of them. Wizard must stop witch from doing bad thing. The end. It really is that easy – no studying required.
For folks who have even a passing familiarity with the MCU or saw the movie poster, you know the wizard is Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and the witch is Wanda, a.k.a. Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). You’ll also recognize returning characters Wong (Benedict Wong), Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), and Christine (Rachel McAdams) from the first Doctor Strange. The one important new character is America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), who can open portals to any world in the multiverse. If there is anything else you should know it’s that Wanda had a psychotic break when Vision died (in Infinity War), and, after mentally torturing the town of Westview (in Wandavision) and conjuring herself two fake children, retreated to a secluded cabin to master the magic described in the book called the Darkhold. Having lost Vision and the imagined kids, Wanda is hellbent on finding a way to be with versions of her kids that do actually exist in other universes.
For folks who know way too much about the MCU and are also comic book nerds, there’s a lot to take in during Multiverse. With every new entry in the MCU, we get more and more call outs and tie-ins to previous chapters, plus hints at things still to come. Multiverse is positively brimming with all of those things, especially the hints at the future. A couple of these reveals had the audience clapping and myself exclaiming “holy shit, holy shit, HOLY SHIT!!” As I am 100% MCU nerd and 0% comic book nerd, I still haven’t the faintest idea where all of phase four is leading us. Especially after the mid-credit scene, where I found myself exclaiming “whoa, fuck, really?!”
Clearly, I’m doing my best to avoid spoiling anything for you, so let’s talk about the aesthetics of the film. Marvel Studios and head Marvel producer/president Kevin Feige have done an excellent job over the years of hiring directors and giving them a lot of leeway with their particular styles. Multiverse has a very distinct style from what we’re used to, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. When the credits rolled and I saw “directed by Sam Raimi,” it all clicked. Multiverse will remind you of Evil Dead, Spider-Man, and an acid trip, but still feel very much like an MCU movie. In retrospect, Raimi seems ideal for a movie like Multiverse. There is a bit of gruesomeness, psychedelics, some very slight camp, and humor, all movie traits that Raimi excels at. If some of the camera angles and techniques don’t scream Raimi, a couple of multiverses we get a peek at do. The best part is that Raimi has MCU money, so he gets to do special effects that don’t involve rubber and corn syrup. Though, that also would have been a funny universe.
Whether you are a very casual moviegoer or a hardcore superhero dork, you are going to enjoy Multiverse. If you like long, slow-burning storylines, you’re good. If you like Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel McAdams, or Elizabeth Olsen, you’re good. If you really just like Cumberbatch, you’re good. If you like fun, trippy movies, you’re good. If you like magic, you’re good. If you just want to be entertained by a big, bright, loud blockbuster, you’re good. If you like comic books, you’re going to explode. It’s that simple.
Rating: Don’t ask for any money back, in this universe or any other universe.
If ever there was a person who could be described as a movie, it’s Nicholas Cage. It’s right there in a title that is as pompous and full of itself as it is long. What really made me want to see the film was the movie poster. Right at the top, it says “Nicholas Cage is Nic Cage.” Knowing that tagline, the only other actor besides Cage you might immediately think this movie was about is Tom Cruise. Except, Tom Cruise thinks he’s Ethan Hunt, so it never would have worked.
(SPOILER ALERT – Nic Cage be Nick Cage.)
The most surprising thing about this movie is that it wasn’t written by Nicholas Cage. That means that writers Tom Gormican (also directing) and Kevin Etten wrote this on their own. According to an interview with Cage by The Hollywood Reporter, Cage turned it down several times before ultimately caving after Gormican sent him a personal letter. Cage originally thought the movie was just a vehicle to make fun of him but came to believe it was more of a celebration of his career, so Cage agreed to do it. In reality, it’s both. It’s a celebration of his career that pokes fun at it and Cage. In other words, it’s a bit of a roast, but a lot more fun.
Cage really is playing himself in this film. A fictionalized version, but one that is nearly indistinguishable from what we think he is. In the film, his ex-wife (Sharon Horgan) and daughter (Lily Sheen) pretty much hate him, his career is in the toilet from picking far too many bad films, and his finances are looking grim due to his lifestyle choices. Go look at his IMDb page – Cage has been in thirty-eight movies since 2012 and I’m betting you can’t name more than one of them, if any at all. And that is very much because he pissed away $150 million dollars. We really can’t blame him for being suspicious of this film’s intent.
After failing to land another role (despite some embarrassing groveling to the director) and threatened with eviction, he accepts an offer from his agent (Neil Patrick Harris) to appear at the birthday party of Javi Gutierrez (Pedro Pascal) in Mallorca, Spain. We are also treated to Nic’s alter ego, Nicky, a younger version of himself from his Valley Girl/Raising Arizona/Peggy Sue Got Married days who keeps Nic from facing reality by constantly reminding Nic that he is “Nicholas fuuuuuuuuucccccckkkkkkiiiinnnnggggg CAAAAAAGGGGGEEEEE!!!!!!!” Are we sure this movie is fictional?
Upon landing in Mallorca, undercover CIA agent Vivian Etten (Tiffany Haddish) is in the tiny airport and is surprised to see Nic walk off the plane instead of the person they were going to contact to spy on Javi. The CIA believes Javi is a major illicit arms dealer who kidnapped the daughter of a Spanish presidential candidate. Vivian’s partner Martin (Ike Barinholtz) tries to abort their mission, but Vivian decides Nicholas fucking Cage will have to do. She pretends to be a fan of his, while slipping a phone in his pocket, then informs Martin that the mission is a go. Alright – now we know the movie really is fictional, but it sure does sound like Cage’s fantasy. Or at least the audience’s fantasy of what Cage fantasizes about.
As it turns out, Javi is a huge of Nic and his real reason for inviting Nic to his party is to convince him to star in a movie that Javi has written. At first, Nic is just wallowing in his own misery and generally being a terrible guest. He doesn’t know about the screenplay yet, but finds out after Javi’s assistant Gabriela (Alessandra Mastronardi) scares the shit out of him and makes him go on a drive with Javi. Cage resents it at first, but bonds with Javi over movies. This is where we get a second helping of Cage nostalgia (the beginning of the film is filled with it as well) that reminds us that this movie is fiction-not-fiction. This is also where the movie’s CIA plot really kicks in.
I need to repeat that this movie is the embodiment of Nicholas Cage the person and the actor, at least the public parts of his life. The entire spy plot plays out like all of his action movies and, while being completely bonkers, it’s glorious. There’s a car chase, there are drugs, there are one-liners, and there are hijinks. I pretty sure these are the parts of the screenplay that convinced Cage to be in the film. Everything about it screams HAVE FUN NIC!!! while also managing to be clever. The constant references to Cage’s filmography are so well woven into the dialogue and scenes, that despite there being tons of them it somehow feels like there aren’t enough. Which again, absolutely describes Cage’s filmography. Given his entire body of work and life, this movie was probably a foregone conclusion. I mean, he’s NICHOLAS FUUUUUUUUUCCCCCCKKKKKKIIIINNNNGGGGG CAAAAAAGGGGGEEEEE!!!!!!!
Rating: Ask for zero dollars back, maybe even throw a couple extra bucks out there. Apparently, Nic still needs it.
It took me a while to put my finger on it, but I finally realized why The Bad Guys failed to resonate with me. The opening of the film shows a wolf and a snake having breakfast at a diner. Everyone else in the diner is a human and they are all cowering in fear at the two animals. It’s odd because they are just sitting there minding their own business and don’t seem to be threatening anyone. The real problem is they, along with the other three members of their crew, the mayor (a fox), and a philanthropist (a guinea pig) are the only walking, talking animal characters in the film. The rest are all humans. So, if these guys are so bad – and the police captain is obsessed with capturing them – why are they able to sit and have a meal with nobody calling the cops?
The point is this movie did not lean into why the animals were bad beyond them being stereotypical, scary animals and didn’t give any kind of hint as to why those seven were the only talking animals in the movie beyond them being the main characters. While I dwell on that some more, here’s what my son had to say about the film.
You start us off. What movie are we talking about?
The Bad Guys.
What is The Bad Guys about?
A group of animals and they are very good criminals.
Oh, what kind of crimes do they commit?
Like, heists and robberies.
So who are the bad guys?
So there’s a wolf. There’s shark, a tarantula, a piranha, and a snake.
And what are their names?
…Wolf. Shark. Webz. Snake. And Piranha. That’s their names.
Why do you think only one of those animals have a name that isn’t what kind of animal they are?
Alright, if you were going to name them, what would you name the wolf, and why?
…um, I would name the wolf The Big Bad Wolf.
He should have a name. Like, the spider is named Webz, right? Is it because she’s a spider, but also because she uses the computer to hack stuff?
Oh, like web…page…? Website. [giggles]
Yeah, so think about the wolf. And what name he should have. That describes his job with the crew.
He is like the leader…and…uhhh, like…the smart one. Brains!
No, Big Brain! Oh my gosh!
Big Bad Brain?
Big Bad Brain!
I like it.
Okay and the snake…Sneaky Slither Snake.
Ok. Why would you call him the Sneaky Slither?
Because he’s sneaky?
How? How is he sneaky? Can he fit through stuff?
And fit stuff IN him.
IN him? What does he fit in him?
Like alarm clocks. And guinea pigs.
What about the shark? What’s his job?
The Disguiser. I’m gonna call him…is it a her?
No, he’s a guy.
I’m gonna call him Bad Actor.
I like it! Why?
Because he’s a shark.
Does he fool anyone with his disguises?
Yeah, because it’s a movie.
The last one is piranha. What do you call him?
Because he’s the one who farts and it can knock people out.
So are they really good at heists, or really bad?
Well, they’re really good…but they also get caught? But they also get away. There’s this thing called the Golden Dolphin, and they steal that, but they also have to steal this big meteorite that looks like a butt.
I bet the piranha wanted to steal that the most.
Yeah, because it looks like a butt.
Is there someone who wants to stop them?
Yeah, the chief. And the guinea pig. Who was it?…yeah the governor who’s a fox…and the guinea pig, he’s the…I forget. Isn’t he the mayor?
No. he’s the guy getting the award for doing good things.
Oh, he has nothing to do with anything, right?
On a scale of not funny at all to Mike Birbiglia, how funny would you say the movie is?
Well is it like one to ten? You just said a scale…
Yeah, one to Mike Birbiglia.
And Mike Birbiglia is at the top…I’d say it’s a seven…or a six.
Do you think it’s funny for parents and kids?
Most just for kids.
What was your favorite part of the movie?
[giggles] butt rock [giggles more]
What was your least favorite part of the movie?
When they break up. When the bad guys break up. That was not cool.
Why was that not cool?
Because they’re the whole movie. It’s all of them.
If you could change one thing about the movie, what would you change?
Ehhhh…[squeaky noise] the…the…I dunno.
Like what could they have done better?
With them not argue with each other about trying to go good or being bad.
Who is your favorite character in the movie?
[giggles] I’d say the guinea pig.
Because he’s a guinea pig. I like rodents.
If you were going to be on a team to pull a heist, which character would you like to be? The disguise guy, the leader, the tech guy, the sneaky guy, or the fart guy.
Oh definitely the fart guy. Piranha. Because you can knock all the police out and just steal it.
On a scale of one to Free Guy…
How much did you like the movie?
One to ten, Free Guy is at the top. I did like Free Guy. This movie, I’d say an eight.
Rating: How much money would you tell people to ask for back if they paid twenty dollars?
Because the butt rock should have farted. And then they could have said “well I guess it was a butt rock.”
My main goal in writing film reviews is to entertain you while I tell you about a movie. While I can’t even sniff the same comedic galaxy as Pitch Meeting or Honest Trailers, I do my best to come up with jokes to make your read slightly less boring than the mind-numbingly dull dreck you get from mainstream film critics. While doing a little research on The Northman’s main actor, Alexander Skarsgard, I discovered the name of his character in True Blood is named Eric Northman. That is unbelievable. There is a joke there – I’m sure of it, but I haven’t been able to put my finger on it. I’m sure it would be super easy and barely an inconvenience for Ryan George, but I’m going to need you to get all the way off my back while I try to think of that perfect joke.
(SPOILER ALERT – Plot stuff as usual, plus a huge THANK YOU!! to Mr. George for being hilarious.)
Young Amleth is excited at the return of his father, Viking King Aurvandil War-Raven (Ethan Hawke), from weeks of raping, killing, and pillaging. In fact, Amleth is so excited that he bursts in on his mother, Queen Gudrun (Nicole Kidman), while she is dressing and receives a scolding for not knocking. The two of them meet Aurvandil as he rides in at the head of his army, then sit with Aurvandil in the throne room as they are presented with the spoils of war. Aurvandil gifts Amleth a gold necklace, then later takes Amleth into the bowels of their temple to perform a ritual where Heimir the fool (Willem Dafoe) drugs them and they bark like dogs while hopping around on all fours. Yeah, it’s weird. I hope you weren’t expecting something straight-laced from the guy who gave us the very weird (and very overrated) The Witch (director Robert Eggers).
The thing is the scene works somehow. It might be because every representation of Vikings ever (and other Others white Europeans regarded as barbarians) shows them as barely more civilized than wolverines, so we just sort of nod along thinking “that’s probably right.” But, we need this representation because Amleth is what Hiccup from How to Train Your Dragon would look like if the blue fairy made him a real boy. We need to believe Amleth is capable of growing up and becoming Alexander Skarsgard. And not the Big Little Lies Skarsgard, but The Legend of Tarzan Skarsgard.
Amleth must become this shredded, barking, raging, man-imal because his life becomes a revenge plot after his father is betrayed and murdered by his brother Fjolnir (Claes Bang). Amleth escapes his own murder attempt and we don’t see him again until he’s a Skarsgard. And boy do we ever see him. It’s some years later and he is hacking and murdering his way through a town with whatever horde of Vikings he finished growing up with. Make no mistake – he looks every bit the animal warrior that little ritual portended him to be. This is a good time to mention that if you have a weak stomach, you are at the wrong movie.
After a whole lot of violence, Amleth is visited by a Seeress (Bjork) who may or may not be a Norse god advising him that the time for his revenge is upon him. Amleth cuts his hair, brands himself with a slave mark, and sneaks on board a slave ship heading for Fjolnir’s village. On this boat, he meets Olga (Anya Taylor-Joy) who continues to be so strikingly beautiful that you start to feel like you aren’t supposed to look directly at her. She claims to be a sorceress herself and we know this is true because she looks like one.
The rest of the film takes place in and around Fjolnir’s village, which lies at the foot of a volcano called Hel. Once there Amleth, with the help of Olga, plots and executes his revenge against Fjolnir and his men. If you weren’t already on the edge of your seat after the intensity of the first half of the film, you’re going to want to make sure seat backs and tray tables are in their upright and locked position because this film has a higher gear. A much higher gear. Norse-God level, if I may.
Aside from the very straight-forward revenge plot, the film does a fantastic job of weaving in some Norse mythology and historical Viking stereotypes, displaying an interpretation of how Vikings may have lived back in the ninth century. They are calling on Odin and Freya the way us modern folks invoke modern gods. Not as formal prayers, but as a part of everyday language. We also see sacrificial offerings to the gods, witches, visions of the future, the mythical Viking berserker rage, and Valkyrie, so…far better than your typical Christian services. And definitely more bloody.
Norse mythology and history is a subject I’ve always wanted to read more about and The Northman is the type of movie that violently shoves me toward actually, finally doing it. As much fun as it is to get the Marvel interpretation, The Northman’s depiction is far more intriguing. As uncomfortable as a couple of the scenes made me, I enjoyed every moment of the film. From the acting, to the production, to the story-telling, to the visuals, to the weirdness, there was never a moment where I thought something might have been done better. Well, maybe Skarsgard’s character’s name. Amleth is no Eric Northman.
Rating: Don’t ask for any money back, including the food that won’t sit well by the end of the film.
It shouldn’t take long into a viewing of Ambulance for you to realize you’re getting a movie that had approximately three minutes of thought put into its screenplay. For reasons that make absolutely no sense, the title highlights the “LA” part, as if it matters even a tiny bit what city this ridiculous movie takes place in. It’s a two-hour ambulance chase. If that didn’t click for you, I’m sure it did when “Directed by Michael Bay” splashed across the screen. One fellow critic lamented losing IQ points after the film concluded, to which I replied “No you didn’t. You locked those IQ points in a safe before this movie even started.”
(SPOILER ALERT – It’s Michael Bay. Everything explodes. You’re welcome.)
Will Sharp (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) can’t get the VA to pay for his wife’s (Moses Ingram) experimental surgery. We don’t know why she needs the surgery, but she’s holding a baby and Will is a retired Marine, so we are contractually obligated to root for Will. Just ignore the part where he lies to his wife about getting the money, right before he lies to her about not going to meet his bank-robbing, adoptive brother, Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal). Should we stand or should we kneel?
At Danny’s place of business, Will and Danny quickly catch up, then Will asks Danny for a loan. Rather than agree to the loan, Danny invites Will to be a part his next bank heist. At first, Will is like “naaawwwww bro,” but Danny convinces him by revealing that all of Danny’s money has been invested in the new heist. Nevermind that Will walked through a garage filled with millions of dollars’ worth of exotic cars – would Will’s own brother really lie to him the way Will lies to his wife? Now, Will is like “yaaawwwww, bro.”
Not even ten minutes into this film, we get into the bank heist. Most heist movies feature lengthy scenes in which the plan is explained to the viewer, the various team members are introduced, and sometimes we even get montages of practice runs. Not Ambulance. Michael Bay doesn’t have time for that shit. Not when there are car chases to be had and shit to be blown up. The only things we know about this heist are the potential score is $32 million, the team is filled with a bunch of veterans with a bunch of guns, and, according to Danny, there is no way they can pull it off without Will’s help, despite Danny spending months planning the heist without Will in mind.
I’m going to dwell on this obvious lack of planning because we will be told later in the film by FBI agent Clark (Keir O’Donnell) that Danny has successfully robbed thirty-two banks, due to his father being a famous bank-robber and Danny having attended PhD classes in criminology. They left out the part where Danny was a MENSA member and captain of the chess team, but that is implied by Danny’s last name being Sharp.
We join the heist mid-progress, Danny and Will have already taken hostages, when a cop (Jackson White) knocks on the bank door. Danny pretends to be the bank manager and escorts the cop in, clearly hoping to be rid of him quickly. Unfortunately, ultra-smart Danny botches the name of one of the tellers, the cop notices, and Danny quickly adds the cop to the group of hostages inside the bank. In parallel, the bank is being staked out by an anti-robbery team who has known about the heist well in advance, but whose plan is to apprehend the thieves when they exit the bank because it’s “safer.” This concern for safety is demonstrated in the clearest of Bay-esque ways when a massive gunfight breaks out in the street. That concern continues throughout the film as car after car is destroyed during the eponymous ambulance chase (we’ll get to this in a moment), resulting in all kinds of property damage and civilian injuries. I’m pretty sure “safer” is a relative term, if we’re relating it to the invasion of Normandy.
So much of this initial action sequence makes no sense. For all of Danny’s supposed planning, why is the getaway truck circling the block in anticipation of picking everyone up at the front door when the bank has a parking garage? The hostages are going to be tied up, right? So they can’t set off alarms, right? So you guys can escape undetected through the garage, right?
And why are they robbing the bank during working hours, when downtown traffic in LA will most definitely be approaching the fifth circle of hell? What’s that? It’s before working hours? Then, why is the cop knocking on the bank’s door during working hours? Banks famously open at nine o’clock in the morning – we’re well into rush hour. Except, the special anti-bank heist team later tells us they have to capture Danny and Will before rush hour starts. All of this makes as much sense as Will firing his gun to scare the cop by pointing his gun directly at said cop and firing. Remember, we’re contractually obligated to root for Will, so ignore the part where Will is a decorated soldier who knows how to handle a weapon; he definitely didn’t mean to shoot the cop.
That entire nonsensical scene was contrived to put Danny and Will in an ambulance with a seriously injured cop and attending EMT, Cam (Eiza Gonzalez), as hostages. The rest of the movie is literally a two-hour chase scene in which Cam becomes the hero of the film, Danny screams at everyone at random intervals, a dumb chief (Garret Dillahunt) says words meant to convince us of his and his team’s awesomeness while the movie proves him wrong, the dumb chief not destroying the ambulance because of the injured cop (he has no apparent concern for the EMT) while showing barely any concern for all of the other cops crashing their cars, a tech support cop berating anyone who even thinks about getting Cheeto dust on her electronics, and not one, but two helicopters equipped with infrared tracking, following the ambulance and causing us to wonder why these idiot cops keeping wrecking their cars in ill-fated attempts to corner the ambulance. Can’t the helicopters just follow the ambulance until it stops or runs out of gas while the ground vehicles follow at a safe distance? You’re right – it sounds absurd when I say it out loud.
If there is one thing we can say about Michael Bay movies it’s that you won’t be falling asleep during them. Despite the film being insultingly stupid and featuring characters that all deserve to be punched in the crotch, you’ll stay engaged for the same reason people watch reality television – to find out what the train wreck looks like at the end. I would not hold it against anyone for enjoying Ambulance in the same way people enjoy Fast and Furious movies. It’s an adrenaline rush that overwhelms your brain to the point where you will root for Will and Cam, ignore the fact that it’s never not rush hour in LA, and laugh at the part where Cam clamps a burst spleen with her hair clip. After all, we’re contractually obligated to.
Rating: Ask for all but a dollar back because you still have those IQ points you socked away.