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Futurama: The Beast with a Billion Backs

More chuckles than belly laughs, more episodic than Big Score, but still worth watching —Andrea Birgers (DVD review...)

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It’s Sam Raimi’s masterful third act that makes the Multiverse of Madness worth visiting.

Dream Walking

Strange new worlds
Strange new worlds

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is the kind of movie only Raimi could make. Well, at the very least, it’s told in a way only Raimi could tell it. It’s been 15 years since his rather divisive Spider-Man 3, released one year before Iron Man started the whole MCU mega series, and it’s nice to have the quirky director back in the Marvel fold.

As for the MCU, it’s at an interesting inflection point now that Marvel’s Disney+ series have been streaming for nearly 18 months. This episode takes advantage of some of the elements in ways that are obvious — such as injecting Wanda and the Scarlet Witch into the story, along with references to key events in WandaVision. Other multiverse moments offer additional tie-ins to the streamers, most notably What If…?

That said, as MCU producer Kevin Feige has commented in the past, it’s not necessary to keep tabs on all those small-screen multi-episode offerings to enjoy this big-screen adventure. Equally, there are also plenty of references plucked from across the previous 27 theatrical MCU adventures, with No Way Home and Endgame naturally being among them. To “get” all the references adds to the enjoyment factor, but to not “get” them doesn’t really detract from following this movie’s action.

Besides, this madness is not all about the past; there are most definitely seeds being planted that will likely bear fruit in the future. Some of them won’t be mentioned here. It wouldn’t be prudent; they’re too good and the sanctity of the surprise will be honored here.

This Is America

One new front-and-center character is safe to talk about. America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez, The Baby-Sitters Club) is yet another addition to the MCU. To say she’s the girl of Strange’s dreams would be wholly misleading, but as the movie begins, the two of them are in the thick of an adventure — or a nightmare — as they engage in an otherworldly boss battle.

Even in the Marvel Publications Universe (MPU), America is a relative newbie, having debuted in 2011. She’s a character with potential and an interesting spin on things; she has the capacity to travel across multiverses. And yet, oddly enough, at least one version of America has never, ever even heard of Spider-Man.

While America’s back story — including the disappearance of her two moms — is told in a brief flashback, she isn’t particularly compelling during the first couple acts.

But that’s also emblematic of the problems in the first two acts overall. It’s interesting to counter this with the first Doctor Strange feature, which boasted a solid first two acts before falling into the standard boss battle trappings.

That’s not to say any of this is particularly boring, but even as a whole lot of action happens, virtually nothing happens. How’s that for a multiversal mindbender? In that respect, it’s like Infinity War, which was a visual assault without a shred of substance.

Thankfully, the off-key start gives way to a wild ride that releases the Raimi even as he’s strapped with a story that struggles to maintain a compelling locus.

Face Your Fears

Maybe part of the problem is the MCU doesn’t really allow much room for A-list directors to make their mark. What Raimi’s done here is a notable exception; Taika Waititi delivered a comedy with Ragnarok, but it was still very much in line with a particular CGI-heavy MCU look and feel that ends with the requisite boss battle.

Even an outside, Oscar-winning director like Chloe Zhao didn’t really deliver a unique vision in Eternals. The vision seems to be Feige’s above all others, with directors assembling a product that virtually demands a homogeneity of directorial style. In that sense, it could be argued the Russo brothers work well in this environment (Infinity War being a notable exception) while their own, non-MCU work reveals their artistic limitations.

Nonetheless, Raimi forges ahead and brings along a couple of his favorite collaborators for the ride, including Danny Elfman for the score and Bruce Campbell for some laughs. (The final post-credits moment this time around is purely for laughs, even poking fun at the whole post-credits device.)

Raimi brings in a small sample of his Evil Dead mindset while also serving up scenes designed to light up the nerdverse. With the MCU having already worked with the Avengers, SHIELD and Hydra, it’s time to introduce a whole new shadow operation: the Illuminati.

When that happens, Raimi begins to move Multiverse of Madness into high gear and the remainder of the movie is a great ride.

Sorcery v Witchcraft

Strange brew
Strange brew

While Multiverse of Madness doesn’t hit all the marks, it’s a good piece of entertainment and a worthwhile entry in the MCU. The central problem is the emotional core of the story.

The action revolves around the ongoing turmoil within Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen, Ingrid Goes West). With Scarlet Witch driven to violent, deadly extremes to gain the one thing she wants more than anything else in the multiverse — the love of a child — it’s a narrative miss that this storyline didn’t shore up with America’s story of parental loss. But, at least the opportunity for a cute little joke is seized as Wanda is tempted with the opportunity to redeem herself and “get you back on the lunchbox.”

There are other themes and ideas running through the veins of this one, all of them begging for a little bit more breathing room.

One is the return of Dr. Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams, Sherlock Holmes), the former love interest of Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch, Sherlock). Note the reappearance of a mutual medical colleague from Doctor Strange in a wedding scene that strikes home this interesting observation: Doctor Strange is the rare superhero who didn’t get the girl.

What’s there is good, but the story could’ve done a little bit more to drive home the permutations not only of the central heroic characters, but also their — many times troubled and traumatic — relationships.

Nonetheless, Raimi flexes his creative muscle and that includes a great visual gag that’s easy to overlook as the madness winds down. It’s a patch on Doctor Strange’s cloak. Obnoxious, incongruous. Funny.