Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness Review

Sam Raimi’s horror sense and gory sensibilities (Evil Dead style) permeates Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. On paper this is a sequel to 2016’s predecessor which introduced Benedict Cumberbatch as the cocky mythical surgeon Stephen Strange. As with most sagas in the MCU, his character has been in plenty of other adventures in the interim (most notably the gargantuan Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame). The fifth word is the most key in the title. As Spider-Man: No Way Home (with its understandably audience pleasing cameos) showed just a few months back, this cinematic universe is now comprised of scores of them. Multiverse has a limited amount of fun with this development that’s far less memorable.

Instead this sequel often serves as a continuation of Disney Plus’s first Marvel streaming series WandaVision with Elizabeth Olsen. If you didn’t watch that, you’re going to be a little lost. Olsen’s Wanda, on the TV show, created an idyllic home life with Vision (Paul Bettany) and two cute kids with superhero powers. The problem – it was a completely invented reality and Wanda was causing harm to others by continuing the charade. She comes to her senses eventually. Multiverse finds Wanda being taken over by her alter ego the Scarlet Witch after acquiring a book of magic spells. Her character motivations stretch credibility with the same elasticity as a certain cameo where she battles familiar MCUers with some different faces.

Wanda/Scarlet’s plans to reunite with her made up kiddos jeopardize life in plenty of multiverses. None of them involve her wanting to reunite with the love of her life Vision (there’s that credibility issue). It does involve Doctor Strange teaming up with America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez). I’m sure her persona will be fleshed out in future installments. For now she’s a teen with the ability to jump multiverses who possesses powers she’s just beginning to harness. Strange first makes her acquaintance while attending the wedding of his former flame Christine (Rachel McAdams). A CG monster interrupts the reception on the streets outside and an eye popping (literally) battle ensues. The Scarlet Witch wants America for her own nefarious purposes so the Doc must protect her across multiple dimensions.

Actually… only a couple of dimensions as Multiverse never gets much screen time to explore the possibilities other than a brief and very cool sequence. Therein lies part of the problem. While I know we’re dealing with intergalactic mayhem that can mean all sorts of unanticipated cameos and landscapes, Madness can feel surprisingly low stakes. It doesn’t help with the aforementioned matters of Scarlet’s clunky story treatment.

What does occasionally assist in the entertainment value is Raimi being in the director’s chair. Taking over for Scott Derrickson, the veteran filmmaker doesn’t shy away from jump scares and his unique brand made notable four decades ago in Evil Dead. There are unquestionably some impressive and spellbinding visuals. There’s also a pop-in by Bruce Campbell that is more satisfying than higher profile cameos. Unfortunately this suffers from a malady similar to Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 with villainous plots that don’t quite ultimately work. Chiwetel Ejiofor unceremoniously returns as a version of Mordo, Strange’s former ally turned foe.

All this Strange magic while Stephen pines for Christine makes for a middle of the universe to lower tier universe experience. I appreciate Kevin Feige and the team allowing Raimi so much creative control. However, while previous confrontations were fought in fewer dimensions, I felt they covered more meaningful ground. As the MCU moves forward across all these galaxies (sometimes with inspiration and sometimes trudging on shaky foundations), we’ll have lots of opportunities to see how the mix turns out. I still have guarded optimism.

**1/2 (out of four)

June 24-26 Box Office Predictions

Blogger’s Update (06/23): On the eve of its premiere, I am revising my Elvis prediction from $42.6M to $35.6M. That still gives it the #1 slot over Top Gun: Maverick… barely.

In what should be an intriguing and potentially unpredictable weekend to close out the June box office, Baz Luhrmann’s musical biopic Elvis and critically lauded horror pic The Black Phone debut. You can peruse my detailed prediction posts on both of them here:

Elvis Box Office Prediction

The Black Phone Box Office Prediction

There’s plenty of possibilities for how the top 5 will look. While there’s no doubt about which quintet will populate the list, the order is up for grabs. I believe Elvis will open closer to the $51 million of Bohemian Rhapsody than the $25 million of Rocketman. That should be enough to earn it the title of Box Office King.

However, if it does premiere in the mid to late 20s range, the chances of a #1 start are considerably lower. We could legitimately see Top Gun: Maverick rise from 3rd to 1st. With a projected dip in the low to mid 20s, it should at least rise to 2nd place. That’s assuming current two-week champ Jurassic World: Dominion loses more than half its audience in its third go-round and Lightyear also sees a sophomore fall of around 55%. I’m assuming both.

And there’s the wild card that is The Black Phone. Horror titles often outdo expectations and with its aforementioned solid reviews, that could apply here. I’m sticking with a debut of just under $20 million and that would likely mean a fifth place reception.

Here’s how I envision perhaps the most fascinating box office weekend so far in the pandemic era looking:

1. Elvis

Predicted Gross: $35.6 million

2. Top Gun: Maverick

Predicted Gross: $34.8 million

3. Jurassic World: Dominion

Predicted Gross: $28.3 million

4. Lightyear

Predicted Gross: $23.2 million

5. The Black Phone

Predicted Gross: $18.6 million

Box Office Results (June 17-19)

In a major upset, Jurassic World: Dominion remained #1 for the second frame with $59.1 million. That’s stronger than my $54.8 million estimate as the threequel is up to $250 million in its first ten days. That’s $15 million under where predecessor was at four summers ago.

Jurassic‘s reign was unexpected because Disney/Pixar’s Toy Story spinoff Lightyear was widely anticipated to rule the charts. Instead it grossed $50.5 million for second place. That’s, ahem, $35 million under my projection of $85.5 million and less than half of what Toy Story 3 and Toy Story 4 made out of the gate. There’s plenty of think pieces out there for why Lightyear was a disappointment. It includes theories about politics, Disney Plus being the same day distributor for recent Pixar material, and the absence of Tim Allen as the voice of the title character. Any way you slice it, it’s a shocker.

Top Gun: Maverick continued its amazing run in third with $44.6 million – dropping a scant 14%. I was lower at $36 million. The biggest hit of the year (and of Tom Cruise’s career by far) is flying at $466 million as its domestic haul will reach $500 million shortly. As mentioned, if Elvis doesn’t reach my projection, it could see a return to the top spot. I wrote more about Maverick‘s unreal performance yesterday on the blog and it’s here:

Top Gun: Maverick – Lightyears Ahead of Expectations

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness was fourth with $4.4 million compared to my $3.4 million take. The tally is $405 million.

The Bob’s Burgers Movie rounded out the top five with $1.1 million. I incorrectly had it outside the high five. It’s made $29 million.

I figured The Bad Guys would be fifth, but it was sixth with $1 million (I said $1.5 million)/ The overall take is $94 million.

And that does it for now, folks! Until next time…

Oscar Predictions – Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers

John Mulaney and Andy Samberg lend their vocal and comedic talents to Disney’s Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers, based on the animated series that started in 1989. Akiva Schaffer (Samberg’s partner in their group The Lonely Island) directs. Other familiar faces behind the pic’s creatures include KiKi Layne, Will Arnett, Eric Bana, Keegan-Michael Key, Tim Robinson, Seth Rogen, J.K. Simmons, and Dennis Haysbert.

Rangers is foregoing the theatrical experience with a Disney+ rollout this Friday. Could the Mouse Factory make a play for a Best Animated Feature nod? With the review embargo lapsing, that seems at least feasible. Sitting at 77% on Rotten Tomatoes, some critics are heaping praise with some comparisons to Who Framed Roger Rabbit. 

On the other hand, the studio will surely push the upcoming Lightyear and this spring’s Turning Red in the category. It remains to be seen whether there’s a significant push for the chipmunks. My Oscar Prediction posts will continue…

Oscar Predictions: Turning Red

Turning Red is the latest Pixar title and it is out Friday on Disney Plus. The coming-of-age tale comes from director Domee She, who won an Oscar in 2018 for her short film Bao (also from Disney/Pixar).

The review embargo is up today and the result so far is 93% on Rotten Tomatoes. Red was originally slated for a theatrical release but the pandemic altered that plan. It will follow in the footsteps of Soul, Raya and the Last Dragon, and Luca. What do they all have in common besides their studio? All were nominated or won (in Soul‘s case) for the Animated Feature Oscar.

With bicoastal limited theatrical showings, Red will qualify for next year’s Academy consideration. For 2021, 60% of the animated movies (Raya, Luca, Encanto) are Mouse Factory products.

While it’s certainly early, critical reaction here indicates this could easily make the cut. It’s also worth noting that Billie Eilish and brother Finneas O’Connell penned some original tunes that could be Original Song hopefuls. If that pans out, Eilish could be gunning for her second nod in a row as she’s currently up for “No Time to Die”. There’s also Ludwig Goransson who scored Red and he’s a previous Oscar winner for Black Panther. 

The other Pixar product comes this summer with Lightyear. I wouldn’t write Red‘s inclusion in blue ink yet, but don’t be surprised if it’s listed a year from now. My Oscar Prediction posts will continue…

December 31-January 2 Box Office Predictions

As 2021 transitions into 2022, the top five on the box office charts should look similar to as it did over Christmas with Spider-Man: No Way Home easily on top and Sing 2 firmly in the runner-up spot. There are no new wide releases this weekend as New Year’s Eve falls on Friday and holdovers should all experience fairly small drops.

One in particular – the football drama American Underdog with its A+ Cinemascore grade – could even gain viewers and rise to the third spot. That’s assuming The Matrix Resurrections, after its subpar debut and mixed audience reaction, has the steepest fall of the leftovers. The King’s Man should round out the top five in its sophomore frame.

And with that – here’s I foresee the year closing out and the new one beginning at multiplexes:

1. Spider-Man: No Way Home

Predicted Gross: $52.8 million

2. Sing 2

Predicted Gross: $19.6 million

3. American Underdog

Predicted Gross: $5.7 million

4. The Matrix Resurrections

Predicted Gross: $4.8 million

5. The King’s Man

Predicted Gross: $4.5 million

Box Office Results (December 24-26)

Let’s start with this caveat – some studios (namely Sony and Warner Bros) are apparently taking a holiday break and haven’t reported final box numbers from the Christmas weekend. So some of these tallies are estimates…

As anticipated, Spider-Man: No Way Home dominated the holiday with a reported take of $84.5 million in weekend 2. That brings its total to approximately $470 million through December 26th. The 68% drop is considerably larger than I anticipated and I had it making $125.2 million over the three days. Regardless – this movie is setting pandemic records right and left.

Sing 2 was second with $22.3 million from Friday to Sunday and $37.9 million when counting its Wednesday and Thursday opening grosses. I went a bit higher at $31.3 million and $46.8 million, respectively, but you can expect the Illumination Entertainment animated sequel to play well into the next few weeks.

The Matrix Resurrections, as mentioned, disappointed. Perhaps the HBO Max simultaneous release didn’t help, but there’s no way to spin the fourth franchise entry (arriving 18 years after the last) simply failed to meet expectations. It took in an estimated $12 million from Friday to Sunday and $22.5 million since Wednesday for third place. I was far more generous at $26.7 million and $40.3 million.

Sequelitis also struck down The King’s Man. The Kingsman prequel was fourth with $5.9 million (Friday to Sunday) and $9.5 million (Wednesday to Sunday) compared to my projections of $8.8 million and $13.1 million.

American Underdog debuted on Christmas Day for a two-day haul of $5.8 million. I said $7.2 million. As discussed above, I look for this to stick around and rise from fifth to third.

West Side Story was sixth with $2.8 million, outpacing my $2 million prediction for $23 million total.

A Journal for Jordan also started on Saturday and made $2.2 million over two days. I was a tad higher at $2.9 million.

Eighth place belonged to the expansion of Licorice Pizza with $1.9 million, right on target with my $1.8 million estimate. It’s made just over $3 million overall.

Sing 2 took a big bite out of Encanto‘s audience (plus it became available on Disney Plus). It was ninth with $1.8 million and I overshot with $4.3 million. Total is $88 million.

Finally, Ghostbusters: Afterlife rounded out the top ten with $1.2 million (I went with $2 million) for $120 million total.

And that does it for now, folks! Until next time!

September 10-12 Box Office Predictions

In the immortal words of Lloyd Christmas: I was way off! I’m speaking of the marvelous performance of Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, which smashed the Labor Day weekend all-time record. We’ll get to that in a second. The major release this weekend is James Wan’s latest horror offering Malignant. My detailed prediction post on it can be found here:

Malignant Box Office Prediction

There’s arguably been an over saturation in the market lately for scary pics. Malignant doesn’t seem to have much heat, but I have to give the reminder that this genre often over performs. I’ll still go with under $10 million and that would be good for second place.

Back to Shang-Chi. The acclaimed 25th MCU entry claimed the second highest COVID era debut (barely behind the other Marvel premiere from 2021 – Black Widow). Scarlett Johansson’s stand-alone title fell a steep 68% in its sophomore frame. I don’t foresee that occurring with Shang-Chi. With an A Cinemascore grade and it not being available on Disney Plus, a mid 50s dip seems more likely as it could foreseeably be #1 for the entire month of September.

Here’s how I see the top 5 shaking out:

1. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Predicted Gross: $36.4 million

2. Malignant

Predicted Gross: $7.6 million

3. Free Guy

Predicted Gross: $5.5 million

4. Candyman

Predicted Gross: $5.1 million

5. Jungle Cruise

Predicted Gross: $2.4 million

Box Office Results (September 3-6)

Mark it down as one of my incorrect forecasts ever. I thought the challenges facing Shang-Chi (COVID and the fact that big movies don’t really come out at this time of year) meant a $58.9 million four-day gross. Whoops. Try $94.6 million! Its $75 million traditional three-day take, as mentioned, is just after the $80 million that Widow made. Simply put, this is another testament that theatrical only can still be a moneymaking venture and that’s music to industry ears. To put it in perspective, the previous Labor Day record was 2007’s Halloween at $30 million. Rings tripled that and then some.

On the flip side, I was a little too generous to the holdovers. Candyman earned $12.5 million in its sophomore frame (a bit under my $13.4 million projection). The horror sequel/reboot, after its better than expected start, is up to $41 million.

Free Guy was third with $11.2 million (I said $14.2 million) and it’s made $94 million as it hurls towards the century mark.

PAW Patrol: The Movie sat in the four spot with $5.3 million compared to my $6.7 million prediction. Tally is $31 million.

Rounding out the top five was Jungle Cruise with $5.1 million. Once again, I went with more at $6.9 million. It has sailed off with $106 million.

And that does it for now, folks! Until next time…

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings Box Office Prediction

A new group of Marvel cinematic heroes and villains arrives onscreen over Labor Day weekend with Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. The 25th MCU feature (and second of four in 2021) is out in theaters only with Disney choosing not to make it available simultaneously on their streaming service. I have already written a bit about the challenges it faces. They include releasing it during a holiday frame not known for unveiling blockbusters, as well as ongoing COVID related hindrances. You can read that post here:

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Labor Day Box Office

Destin Daniel Cretton, who’s best known for dramas with Captain Marvel Brie Larson like The Glass Castle and Just Mercy, directs. The cast features Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Meng’er Zhang, Fala Chen, Florian Munteanu, Benedict Wong, Michelle Yeoh, and Tony Leung. You can also expect some villains that have populated previous MCU flicks.

Early word-of-mouth should help. Rings currently sports a strong 92% Rotten Tomatoes rating. That said, there is the possibility that the non-traditional release date and other factors threaten to make this the lowest MCU premiere of the lot. It also doesn’t help that there’s really no familiar characters to draw some viewers out. The same could be said for Guardians of the Galaxy and Black Panther, but they had sizzling buzz that this needs to generate in a hurry (the solid reviews might help).

Shang-Chi will have a posted four-day gross due to the Labor Day holiday (where 2007’s Halloween holds the largest ever debut at $30 million). There’s little question that this should easily eclipse that record. In MCU terms, 2008’s The Incredible Hulk experienced the smallest start at $55 million. That’s followed by 2015’s Ant-Man with $57 million.

The extra day of reported earnings may help. I don’t see this getting anywhere near what Black Widow did ($80 million) at the start of summer. My feeling is that Rings, in its Friday to Sunday financial report, may hold the distinction of having the smallest gross in the MCU franchise. Yet the Monday could push it toward a mid to high 50s take with $60M+ certainly as a possibility.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings opening weekend prediction: $58.9 million

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Labor Day Box Office

Quick! Tell me everything you remember about the 2009 rom com All About Steve? Search that memory! My guess is not much. It stars Sandra Bullock and Bradley Cooper and it’s certainly not what most moviegoers remember about the two actors from that particular year. To be fair, they both hit career milestones 12 years ago. Bullock won an Oscar for The Blind Side. Cooper became a household name that summer in The Hangover. 

All About Steve won some awards as well. Not the kind that gets bragged about. The pic took home two Golden Raspberry trophies for Worst On Screen Couple and for Bullock as Worst Actress. Its Rotten Tomatoes score stands at 6%. And it’s largely a forgotten blip on the filmographies of two accomplished performers.

Yet it does currently stand at #10 when it comes to biggest Labor Day openings in box office history. That’s because Labor Day weekend has traditionally not been a time for studios to release hoped for blockbusters. In normal times, that frame is generally seen as one in which the summer season is winding down and the fall projects are gearing up. It’s kind of an in between time.

The distinction for highest premiere over the holiday belongs to 2007’s Halloween (the reboot by Rob Zombie). It made $30 million out of the gate.

When you get down to Steve in tenth, the take is a mere $14 million for the four-day gross. There’s other pics you might have conveniently forgot about on that list. How about the ping pong comedy Balls of Fury with George Lopez and Christopher Walken? It’s #8 (also with $14 million). There’s the musical doc One Direction: This Is Us which is perched in fourth with $18 million. Jeepers Creepers and its sequel both make appearances.

Why the Labor Day history lesson? Because Disney is about to go against the grain and release their newest Marvel Cinematic Universe product in what has usually been a quiet time.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings opens September 3rd and hopes to blow away Halloween‘s current record. It should have no problem doing just that. However, it also risks having the designation of being the MCU’s smallest opener. The current mark belongs to The Incredible Hulk at $55 million.

Current projections have Rings doing about $50 million for the Friday to Monday frame. It may certainly exceed that and early word-of-mouth is encouraging (my official prediction will be up on Tuesday or Wednesday). Unlike Black Widow, the house that Mickey built is not making Rings simultaneously available for a $30 fee on Disney Plus.

There’s a case to be made that the 25th MCU flick faces challenges no other has. Black Widow had the advantage of a well-known character at the center. That helped propel the stand-alone entry to an $80 million bow as COVID continues to be a hindrance to earning power. Shang-Chi introduces a whole new group of players to this multi-billion cinematic universe. That didn’t hurt Guardians of the Galaxy or Black Panther, but they both had sizzling buzz leading to their unveilings.

So what will be talked about more in two weeks? The nearly certain record Rings will accomplish with its record Labor Day haul? Or the possibility that it sets a low mark for its practically never miss franchise? One thing is clear: Machete will drop down to spot 10 in all-time Labor Day beginnings. And there will nothing to see in the top ten about All About Steve.

Free Guy Makes Them Pay

As uncertainty regarding the box office continues amidst COVID concerns, there has been one undeniable bright spot in the dog days of August. That would be Shawn Levy’s Free Guy starring Ryan Reynolds and its apparent second weekend grosses only puts an exclamation on the point.

The sci-fi family comedy surprised the film community originally with better than expected reviews (82% on Rotten Tomatoes). It continued to do so when it exceeded projections with a robust $28 million debut. Most forecasts ranged from the high teens to low 20s (my own was $21 million).

Yet perhaps the most encouraging sign are reports of its sophomore frame grosses. Free Guy will easily remain #1 with a projected drop around 40%. That should put it at approximately $17 million with an overall domestic take in the mid to upper 50s. With sturdy word-of-mouth, the Fox property seems destined to cross the $100 million mark stateside. The studio is already lining up a sequel. For context, that should be stronger than the second weekend for Jungle Cruise (which opened larger… more on that below).

Why is this somewhat unanticipated? To put it simply, Free Guy is performing in frame #2 much the same way it would without a pandemic. The few blockbusters of the season have experienced huge falls in their second outings and Free Guy is bucking that trend. Black Widow tumbled 68%. The Suicide Squad crashed at 71%. Even the aforementioned Jungle Cruise took a 55% dip.

What do all three of those titles have in common? That trio was available simultaneously on Disney Plus (Widow, Cruise) or HBO Max (Squad). Free Guy can be streamed only in the theater. With its positive audience reaction (it has an A on Cinemascore), moviegoers are proving that a title can have staying power if it’s: 1) good and 2) just in theaters.

This is a rare piece of good news for multiplexes in an industry starving for it. There are three other offerings this weekend aimed toward adults: Reminiscence, The Protege, and The Night House. All are headed toward meager starts outside of the top five. The other newbie is PAW Patrol: The Movie and it looks to slightly exceed expectations with around $12-$13 million (it’s also streaming on Paramount+).

So will studios adjust to Free Guy‘s solid performance? It could be a mixed bag. First, they might have to feel they have a product as pleasing as what Mr. Levy and Mr. Reynolds have created. Just yesterday, Universal Pictures announced they are keeping their animated sequel The Addams Family 2 in theaters but also making it available via streaming on the same say. On the other hand, Disney is keeping the next MCU adventure Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings only in cineplexes for 45 days starting Labor Day weekend. That might be the biggest test we have seen thus far for the theater only experiment.

Is Free Guy an anomaly or proof that if you build it only in theaters… they will come? We may need some more samples before studios make more decisions that favor theater chains.

Jungle Cruise Review

Jungle Cruise, based on the at this point ancient Disney theme park ride, is stocked with bad puns, over plotting, and elaborate adventure set pieces that includes inexplicable Metallica infused orchestral cues. This is a big budget fantasy with two megawatt movie stars and animals that absolutely look CG. There are occasions where the screenwriters don’t feel the need to convince us that the two leads have fallen for each other. That’s just what happens in these thrill rides. That said, I found the picture to be an energetic ball of fun that kids will probably dig on several occasions. It comes close at times to matching the joyfulness of the first Pirates of the Caribbean and mostly avoids the tedium that cursed the sequels to varying degrees.

The film takes place in 1916, two years into World War I or The Great War at the time since the protagonists didn’t know a sequel was coming. Dr. Lily (Emily Blunt) is a botanist who believe she’s found the locale for the Tears of the Moon. That tree is said to break curses and offer healing powers for the ill. She wants to find it to advance medicine, but she lets her haughty yet stylish brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall) try to sell potential funders. This is not a female friendly era after all. German royal Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons) wants the Tears for more nefarious purposes. It involves using the Tears for fears and everybody wants to rule the world, don’t they? I can do bad puns too, folks!

Doc Lily and her brother need to find the Tree that is located deep in the Amazon River. Through a series of bumblings, her captain is Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson). He arrives with his rinky dink boat, his Jaguar avatar assistant Proxima, and a cast of supporting characters tasked with making the jungle seem more dangerous than it is. The real danger involves obtaining the life force that is the Tree with its magical petals. Not only is the deranged Prince pining for it, but so is the cursed and undead Pirates like Aguirre (Edgar Ramirez) and his minions.

By the time our two leads have been bitten by the love bug, Jungle Cruise gives us numerous action sequences on a majestic scale. Jaume Collet-Serra, best known for directing mid to low budget Liam Neeson genre exercises or horror flicks like The Shallows, accustoms himself well to the Mouse Factory machine. As mentioned, Frank and Lily’s romance might come off a bit shallow and forced. Yet the grand entertainment offered up by their surroundings makes up for it. And Johnson and Blunt certainly have the charisma to carry us on the journey. You could even say that we’re far from the shallow now (bad pun for the win!).

One could nitpick or pay admission to the notion that this mostly delivers on the rendering of its ride translated to the big screen (or wherever you may roam while viewing on Disney Plus). I found it fairly easy to go with the latter.

*** (out of four)