It’s understandable if a viewer is out on Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis from its first scenes. Unfolding kaleidoscopes of rhinestones bedazzle the title card while breakneck zooms in and out of Colonel Tom Parker’s (Tom Hanks) eye accompany his portentous narration in an accent best described as indescribable. It’s overpowering in its first five minutes and there’s another 150 to go. Luhrmann will immediately abandon his framing device of the Colonel’s deathbed confession by showing childhood scenes of Elvis that he wouldn’t have known anything about, and the movie will make awful decisions in its storytelling and its filmmaking over and over again. Luhrmann and Hanks are both doing all they can to break Elvis, but in the titular role, Austin Butler keeps putting it back together. This is a mess that indulges in all of Luhrmann’s worst impulses to such an aggressive degree that it implies the director is in on the joke of his own filmography. However, there’s so many lifeless, rote musician biopics that injecting some gonzo energy into one is appreciated, especially with Butler at the center.
Legacy sequel Top Gun: Maverick begins with a prologue that puts fighter pilot Pete Mitchell, callsign Maverick (Tom Cruise) in the cockpit of an experimental aircraft. He takes off in direct opposition of the orders of Admiral Chester Cain, callsign Hammer (Ed Harris), who’s more interested in drones than manned flight. Nevertheless, Cruise proceeds to break Mach 10 and vindicate manned flight, though he doesn’t know when to slow the plane down and it disintegrates in a stunning explosion. With this sequence, Cruise and director Joseph Kosinski have framed their film as an assertion of Cruise’s singular star power. The industry doesn’t mint new Hollywood icons anymore and has moved into the building of interconnected cinematic universes, but a relic of the 80’s emerges to show that the old way still has the ability to bring the goods, especially when he pushes the medium and what the human body is capable of past what’s imaginable. Even if it goes wrong, at least the aftermath will leave a beautiful corpse. Top Gun: Maverick proceeds to demonstrate how there’s no one like Tom Cruise, and that if there’s anyone coming behind him, it’ll only happen with his blessing. The wild success of the film validates its premise, though the same problems that plagued the original Top Gun and its imitators have lingered just as tenaciously as its star.
Before embarking on her directorial debut, Kate Tsang worked on Steven Universe and Adventure Time, two Cartoon Network series that deftly used fantasy storytelling to dissect thorny emotions. Adventure Time especially never talked down to its audience; adults failed children, leaders resorted to imperfect solutions, and the universe was unfair. In Marvelous and the Black Hole, Tsang brings that same spirit to a coming-of-age story that places wonder and despair right next to each other while providing a star vehicle for talented actors both new and stalwart.
Sam Raimi created his own superhero universe in the early 2000’s and he returns to a totally different landscape with Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, a title that wildly oversells itself. Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy ultimately collapsed under studio notes, but the best chunks of it belonged to his idiosyncratic sensibilities and resulted in some of the best superhero movies of the 21st century. Now, Raimi is one of a dozen auteur directors that Marvel has tried to incorporate into its corporate vision, and whatever he wants to do with a Doctor Strange sequel has to gel with a prequel miniseries. When Raimi is able to assert himself, the film tentatively explores new genre frontiers in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but the space for directors to take control within this huge multimedia cash cow is shrinking.
Random projects from the MMC Universe.