“You break the rules and become a hero. I do it and I become the enemy. That doesn’t seem fair.”
Like Tony Stark, Stephen Strange seems to be caught in a repeating loop of identical character development — recognising his hubris and learning humility — only to forget it all by the next outing. In Multiverse of Madness this lesson comes from discovering the destruction his counterparts have inadvertently unleashed on multiple realities. The MCU has demonstrated both its ability to produce all manner genre films and the limitations of doing so within a shared universe; this is perhaps most true of Multiverse of Madness, which allows Sam Raimi to indulge his penchant for horror but is unable fully to commit to this darker tone. At its best, a fun, fan-service middle act sequence becomes Final Destination for alternate reality superheroes. At its worst, it is a clash of tonally indistinct and wildly fluctuating horror elements that seem unable to identify their target audience. Wanda is misused, shoehorned into the role of weakly-motivated single-minded villain, with much character development (or deconstruction) occurring off-screen after the events of the WandaVision miniseries, primarily for a sleight of hand reveal. Doctor Strange‘s primary strength was its kaleidoscopic mirror universe visual effects that felt genuinely novel. Whilst Multiverse of Madness manages this to a lesser extent with its universe-hopping, its creativity never reaches the exuberant freedom of the recently released Everything Everywhere All At Once. There is a sufficiently enjoyable adventure underneath it all, but it’s disappointing from the director behind the still-excellent human stories of Spider-man 2.
Writer/director Naomi Foner’s debut film focuses on two best friends who fall for the same guy in the summer before they separate for university. I was drawn to Very Good Girls on the talent of its leads — Dakota Fanning is superb as the awkward Lilly but a 25-year-old Elisabeth Olsen is miscast as Geri, never remotely believable as a high school graduate struggling to lose her virginity. This is not a coming of age story, and little room is given to character development (the arcs are, if anything, complete circles); its overarching theme is the effect of guilt on relationships. The first half of the movie feels more languid slice of life than story driven, with subtle direction and naturalistic performances successfully drawing the audience into Lilly’s world. This is then undermined by characters making strange decisions seemingly to advance an unconvincing narrative rather than from personal motivations, leaving a muddled impression and little sense of what the film is trying to say.
“I’m not a psychopath or anything, I just want to be her friend.”
Aubrey Plaza and Elizabeth Olsen’s off-screen relationship is adorable, but veers into unsettling territory in Matt Spicer’s directorial debut, a dark satire on the artificial world of Instagram influencers and the damaging effects of misused social media. Plaza, somewhat incredibly, manages to draw audience sympathy for an unstable young woman who forms dangerously unhealthy obsessions with individuals. Several images early on strike a chord, like Ingrid continuing to scroll through Instagram whilst weeping and her mundane morning routine of repetitive like-swipe-liking. Spicer understands his subject and recognises the intimacy within the artifice of Instagram. However, Ingrid Goes West loses its way in the latter half and has little to say before reaching a nebulous conclusion that conflates the film’s call for authenticity with viral popularity.
“This universe is finite, its resources, finite. If life is left unchecked, life will cease to exist. It needs correcting.”
With ten years spent building up characters, this is an event movie unlike any to date. Much like the first Avengers movie, I came away impressed firstly that it did not buckle under its own weight. In particular, the introduction of the Guardians of the Galaxy to the rest of the MCU cast works expertly, aided by James Gunn apparently writing their dialogue. Despite threadbare development to date, Thanos becomes a villain with whom one can sympathise, convinced his actions are necessary even as certain acts pain him. Although the number of fight sequences is exhausting, there is sufficient creativity and some memorable tag team moments. Infinity War stands up to a second viewing but whether its stature lasts will depend on how satisfactorily certain choices are explained by the final instalment next year. In assuming a working knowledge of the majority of the heroes, their backstories and their interpersonal relationships, Infinity War does not really work as a standalone film but it mounts a compelling argument that, for monolithic franchises, this may no longer be an appropriate test.