MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
By now, I think that it is safe to assume that most of the civilized world is aware of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (or the MCU), the interlinked and somehow never-ending series of adventures featuring characters from Marvel comic books. It all began with 2008’s Iron Man, the first film in the 22-film-long saga known as The Infinity War. These movies introduced us to The Avengers, The Guardians of the Galaxy, Spider-Man, Thor, and Doctor Strange, to name a few. The big story involved a search for Infinity Stones as well as the diabolical plans of Thanos to destroy half the population of the universe. As the end credits for 2019’s 3 hour-long Avengers: Endgame rolled, everyone could take a breath of relief.
It was just a cleansing breath, though. Beginning with 2019’s Spider Man: Far from Home, we were off to the races again, now with a new series that not only included films, but plot points tied into Marvel series on Disney+. To begin to understand Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, minimum requirements include viewing Avengers: Infinity War, Spider-Man: No Way Home and the 9-part series WandaVision.
In this movie, Doctor Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) is a practitioner of magical arts trying to deal with the problems of the multiverse (alternative realities existing side-by-side) that were launched in Spider-Man: No Way Home. He now has a new sidekick, America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), who is able to jump around the universes, although she can’t tell you why. Strange is also assisted by his friend and fellow sorcerer Wong (Benedict Wong). The team has to find a magical good book (not the Bible) to overcome the powers of a bad book. Things get complicated when Wanda Maximoff / The Scarlet Witch (Olsen) enters the narrative, working through grief by battling alternative versions of herself.
The stakes are high and the future of many universes are at risk, but this is not a serious film. It’s silly. There isn’t much plot. It’s mostly a thrill ride that lasts for two hours. But if you want a director who really knows how to throw stuff on the screen that can be both scary and funny, Sam Raimi is your guy. He directed the first three Spider-Man films featuring Tobey Maguire as well as the Evil Dead horror/comedy trilogy with Bruce Campbell (who appears here in a cameo as a street vendor). Writer Michael Waldron’s script is nothing special, but Raimi manages to choreograph the action for maximum scares and laughs.
There have been high points in the MCU with Black Panther, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Thor: Ragnarok and the two-part Avengers: Infinity War / Endgame as notable entries.
The Multiverse of Madness is just junk food, full of empty calories, and easily forgettable. It also happens to be one of the biggest hits of 2022, already bringing in over half a billion dollars in international ticket sales in just one week. With so many persons staying away from theaters altogether and streaming films at home, that is quite an accomplishment.
These are days of anxiety and unease. Social media has been a catalyst in creating an adversarial approach to life that includes how we talk about politics and religion. Daily news reports alternate between dire predictions of a sad future and true crime stories presented as entertainment. Conspiracy theories are everywhere and even democracy is being beaten down by false narratives.
It is no surprise that popular culture is filled with ways to escape our troubles. The list of bestselling books is dominated by romance novels and self-help guides. Summer films continue to be dominated by sequels to popular franchises and nostalgic reboots of favorite stories from the past.
Even if you never plan to watch a Marvel movie, take time to acquaint yourself with the MCU. There are characters here to care about and heroes willing to sacrifice themselves for others. It would really be something if we could connect this comic book universe with the one that we hold as ultimate.
If the church’s mission is to share with the world the essential daily requirements of love of God and neighbor, we have our work cut out for us.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Two halos: It’s fast-moving and frivolous entertainment, but in no way essential.
Three pitchforks: Extreme violence; scenes of death and destruction; mild swearing; grief and loss.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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