This Week in Geek (8-14/05/22)


In theaters: We were warned that it was gonna go the way of horror, but I was still sandbagged by how far Sam Raimi took it in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Shows how much we've become used to the MCU house style that I'm giving Doctor Strange 2 Multiversal Boogaloo points just for breaking the mold, though Raimi's style is really at odds with the formula. When Raimi is doing crazy macabre stuff, riffs on classic horror movies, or straight up giving us Deadites, it's great. When he throws in superhero elements, the shocking violence is jarring. But that's a Raimiesque thing too, so I'm not too sore about it. It's definitely a good time to ask whether it's a good idea for the MCU to set up movies with TV shows, because I do think the movie takes a real shortcut by putting all of the villain's motivations in a show, which harms the film AS A FILM, if not AS A CHAPTER in a huge story. Truth be told, WandaVision and What If? were easier to bring up in my mind than the first Doctor Strange movie (I guess that watch stuff was important...?). So is this a negative review? Not at all. Despite the preceding caveats, I thought this was a lot of fun. Raimi fans will no doubt get their due more than strict MCU audiences, but there are a lot of great gags (the Multiversal ones WOULD seem fresher if Everything Everywhere All at Once hadn't cut Doctor Strange off at the pass), and unlike the first film, the magic looks like magic, not like an Inception fan fiddling with fractals. We had a very responsive theater, with teenage girls very invested in the Strange-Christine relationship, and expressive fanboys allowing themselves to be surprised as references and cameos. A lot of fun surprises throughout as things get more and more insane. And friends, an we all agree that the MCU has now done the Phoenix Saga and we don't need to retell it with the X-Men once they join the family? Thanks.

At home: When the call went out that Ncudi Gatwa was going be the next Doctor Who, someone like me has little choice but to check out the BAFTA-winning series he was on to get a feel for the actor. Sex Education was in fact so good, I chugged through all three seasons in no time at all. The premise elaborated in the first season reminds me of Veronica Mars, but instead of a teenage sleuth, we have a teenage sex therapist in Otis, and a formula where each lesson he imparts on his school mates is really something he ought to learn himself. By the third season, we're simply following all the characters, whether the students of the "sex school", their parents or their teachers. This is a show about sex, body and gender positivity - acknowledging that many teenagers are going to have sex, even if it seems exaggerated here for comic effect - and that it's important to get the correct information so they can protect themselves, do away with the shame associated with various situations (including, hey, just NOT wanting to have sex), and debunking dangerous myths (and even the adults need help on occasion). Though all the actors ARE adults, some might find the level of initial nudity (which drops way off after the initial installments) and frank sex talk (does not drop off) off-putting given the characters are adolescents, but I think that teenagers who are becoming sexually aware could do a lot worse than be exposed to this show. It's funny, it's poignant, it's honest, and it's full of teachable moments. Great, great soundtrack too. And Ncuti Gatwa? I think he's gonna be a fun Doctor.

To comics fans, an evil Superman isn't just old hat, it's hack work. It's been done well (among the pastiches, I might name Irredeemable), and it's been done badly (most times, especially within the DC Multiverse itself). So Brightburn has few surprises in store for that comics fan, and only ugly ones for the casual viewer. It's basically the Superman origin story, but when the kid's powers manifest age 12, he becomes a super-powered monster and initiates a gore porn rampage, and even the Kents aren't safe. The only fun surprise came at the end, when Michael Rooker did producer James Gunn a favor by appearing during the credits to suggest this is actually a gross Dark Metal style DC Universe. Otherwise, whatever lore it establishes is sorely underused, and it's not clear if they thought they would get to do sequels and were withholding, or if the thin script is just an excuse for ultra-violence gags. Missed opportunities even if the premise wasn't a tired one.

The Return of Swamp Thing isn't Alan Moore's Swamp Thing. Heck, it's hardly even Martin Pasko's Swamp Thing. Jim Wynorski (Chopping Mall) instead goes for camp, turning the creature from the swamp into a lantern-jawed hero who seems to enjoy his role in the bayou. I think the director (and writers) correctly deduced that if this was going to be a battle of the rubber suits, they might as well lean into the silliness of it. AND YET! And yet, it's obvious they've read the comics, as there are references to Wein and Moore aplenty, even if the tone is completely bonkers. It seems the opening credits using all those Swamp Thing covers wasn't just an empty promise. The Dick Durock Swamp Thing finally gets an Abby Cable (Adrienne Barbeau was playing "Alice Cable" in the first one), though Heather Locklear doesn't really have the comedy chops to pull off this quirky chatterbox version of the character. Generally, the script is funnier than the various participants' deliveries. Louis Jourdan's suave Anton Arcane is certainly an exception, but there are some fun bits with the henchmen as well. This is 80s action movie, explosion-a-minute, rock'em sock'em Swamp Thing and though it's not what the comics would prescribe, it's still pretty amusing.

In terms of premise, Sky High is Harry Potter with superheroes, but as a comedy and therefore more like a colorful Mystery Men, and with a stronger thematic grounding in what it was like to be in high school, how cliques form, and so on. Harry Potter's failure to examine the classism of the sorting hat is here THE theme. Do we have to be divided into heroes and sidekicks? And if we do, why does that tribalize us necessarily? And even so, it's just a bit of fun, with silly superpowers triumphing over more standard "hero" fare. I can't possibly dislike a goofy movie that stars so many cool actors - my main dude Kurt Russell, the iconic Bruce Campbell, Wonder Woman herself Lynda Carter, a couple of Kids on the Hall, Jim Rash, and wow, super young Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Flash's Danielle Panabaker, who would both go on to play comic book characters. Only the lead, Michael Angarano, is a bit whatever.

The superhero mockumentary concept was done once before in Superguy: Beyond the Cape, but my penchant for British humor makes me like SuperBob more. As per British sensibilities, our hero may have Superman-like powers, but he's still one of the most socially awkward milquetoasts around. He may be a superhero working with the Ministry of Defense, but it's just a civil servant job filled with red tape. The camera crew means to cover his weekly mandated day off, but it's going to be the day where everything changes for him. See, after six years of superheroing, he's finally going on a date. Brett Goldstein usually plays the straight man in comedies, but he manages to play the character as comically timid, not very smart and with a foot perpetually in his mouth, and holds his own despite being surrounded by comedy stars like Catherine Tate, Ruth Sheen and Joe Wilkinson. And then there's Natalia Tena as Bob's opinionated Colombian cleaner Doris who steals every scene she's in.

While on the face of it, My Super-Ex Girlfriend presents as a pretty standard romcom with a superhero twist (and I'm into genre-bending enough to enjoy the premise), it's much too misogynistic to work as a good example of its component genres. Because basically, it's saying women shouldn't have super-powers because they're too emotional. Uma Thurman's G-Girl in fact becomes pretty villainous after she gets dumped, and is on the verge throughout her relationship with Luke Wilson. We also have to deal with a subplot in which Wilson's boss, Wanda Sykes, keeps accusing him of sexual harassment and the film taking the position that it's all hysteria, while best friend Rainn Wilson is a loser-player who lies to women to get them into bed. Somehow, the character is still one of the few bright spots. Similarly, G-Girl's "revenges" make for fun gags, but they're hardly motivated the way we'd want them to be. Girls are just crazy and that's all there is to it. But whether men, women or non-binary, all the characters in this thing, normal motivations and reactions to things escape their grasp.

Back in the Golden Age of comics, Sheena - Queen of the Jungle - was a hit book, big enough that Marvel eventually had to make their own version, just a vowel short. 1984, however, seems like a weird time to make a Sheena movie (or even the 70s, considering how long it stayed in development hell). Jungle heroes per force have some of that colonial claptrap that's so passé today and Sheena is no different. Nevertheless, the Kenyan landscape and wealth of animal action - both documentary and imported from Hollywood trainers - make it an often pretty film to look at. Sheena riding a zebra alone, is a striking image. So it's a damn shame the movie isn't really very good. Much of the fault falls on Tanya Roberts' shoulders (or whoever cast her), as the animals are all much better actors. Or perhaps her dialog is impossible to deliver. I'd say a bit of Column A and a bit of Column B. Hired for her looks, they make sure to have her disrobe, which is a problem because this is basically a kids' movie. Not that I think nudity is a problem, but afternoon TV where this might play better sure does. But for the most part, even the violence is cartoonishly tame - never have so many machine guns been fired and hit so little - though again, you'd need to trim some pieces that at odds with the general feeling. Nowhere near as bad as I thought, except for Roberts' performance, which was worse than I could have imagined. (Jodie Foster was considered for this?! Why?!)

I like it when a silent comedy commits strongly to a certain kind of gag. If Harold Lloyd has a super-power in The Kid Brother, it's the power to hide in plain sight or use optical illusions to create diversions. They use that idea in as many ways as they can and it's always quite delightful. I would also include the tree-climbing scene in that since it plays on perspective (and Safety Last! creates a desire in the audience to see Lloyd climb more things). The story? Lloyd is the youngest of a clan of sheriffs and deputies, but never given a chance to shine. Until a girl rolls in with a medicine show, that is, and young love emboldens him (happily, it's Jobyna Ralston, who was his great co-star in The Freshman). As is usual in his films, the comedy is often more character-based than physical, but ends on a huge physical sequence, this one including a fierce fight scene and several vehicles. By golly, young Harold will prove he's a Hickory yet.

Books: Collecting Nightwing #78-83 (2021 series), Stepping Into the Light, while not a full story, is an AMAZING comic. Dick, Babs and Tim have rarely been so well written. Or funny. Tom Taylor is emerging as one of my favorite current-day writers as a result, and it's almost unbelievable given past assignments like Injustice and DCeased. There is a darkness in his Blüdhaven - it's a cesspool, after all - but he makes Nightwing (and newly-minted billionaire Dick Grayson) such a guiding light for the city that it never feels grim even with a serial killer on the loose. Part of the charm is Bruno Redondo's beautifully designed art and Adriano Lucas' colorful palette. An acrobatic hero like Nightwing deserves to be clearly seen in motion, and these artists are clever in their portrayal of action (and also produce some of the best covers on the stands since this chapter of Dick's story began). Easy to jump into (I haven't read any Nightwing since early issues of the New52), the notion is that having inherited wealth, Dick needs to decide what to do with, a decision that's sure to contrast with real-world billionaires. Not even Bruce Wayne is in the same league as Dick. There's a new mysterious villain that's connected to this take, but also a new ally Dick didn't see coming, but it's how the book made me feel that makes me recommend it so highly. Rare are comics that can make me burst out laughing one minute, and start weeping the next. It's the GRACE with which Dick comports himself that does it. This run may well turn out to be the high water mark for the character.