Everything Everywhere All At Once (2022)

Quick synopsis: When an interdimensional rupture unravels reality, an unlikely hero must channel her newfound powers to fight bizarre and bewildering dangers from the multiverse as the fate of the world hangs in the balance.

This is a really hard review to write. It’s difficult to put into words exactly how I feel about this film, and what it means to me. I’ll try:

It’s a cunting masterpiece.

Crude, yes. But “masterpiece” does not do justice. “motherfucking masterpiece” also doesn’t seem strong enough to demonstrate my feelings for this. It’s astounding, a work of art. This is one of the best things I’ve ever witnessed. Sometimes my end of year awards are difficult. Last year, for example, it was genuinely difficult to decide between Mouthpiece and Come True for best film. Quite a few were similarly difficult. I’m saying this now, this will be nominated for A LOT in the end of year reviews, and will win a lot of them. It’s already pretty much a dead cert for best film. It’s over two and a half hours long, and my first thought when I left the cinema was “I can’t wait to see this again”.

Directed by duo called Daniels (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert), who have a big history in music videos. You can tell this with how they direct some of the action sequences, there’s a flow to them which works perfectly. It’s not just “sound playing alongside music”, it’s part of the film. It works alongside the images to create a collective whole vision (apart from the scenes with the bagel, then it’s a hole vision. You know, because a bagel has a hole in it). The only feature film they’ve created before this was Swiss Army Man, which I’m yet to see but I’ve heard it’s very strange.

Now I’ve seen this, I can believe it. The story is weird, and there’s a strong sense of “look, just go with it” throughout the whole thing. But it actually makes sense, in a weird way. It’s written and directed in a way that even when it does go completely off the rails, you are able to follow it. Don’t know if you saw Mad Max: Fury Road, but that managed to do something great in that it was full of action, but because the action was nearly always in the centre of the frame, no matter how chaotic it got, you were able to follow it. This does the narrative equivalent of that and I love it so much.

All the performances are on point. Michelle Yeoh continues to be one of the greatest physical performers in the world today, she must be a dream for choreographers to work with as they don’t need to set up cameras so they can film each bit individually and edit them together. They can just set a camera up and let her do her thing. Her role was originally supposed to go to Jackie Chan, and that would have worked, but it would have been different. I’m not sure it would have been quite as good. The mother/daughter relationship is key to this film working, and I’m not sure it would have worked quite as well with a father/daughter one.

Speaking of the daughter, Stephanie Hsu absolutely nails the performance. Giving her the right amount of rebellion and need for acceptance. Certain plot points could you make you dislike her, but she’s played with enough vulnerability that you want what’s best for, while also recognising when she does awful things. Originally it was going to be Awkwafina. Now, I LOVE Awkwafina, she’s often the best part about most things she stars in. But again, I think it’s best it wasn’t her. I don’t think she would have been as effective as Hsu is.

It’s also good to see Ke Huy Quan back, best known for his role as Short Round in the Indiana Jones movies. Hopefully, this leads to a career resurgence for him as he has a really difficult role in this, it’s both physical and emotional. He has to make you believe he can beat the crap out of you, but also make you believe he’s the kindest, meekest person on the planet. He manages this, he’s talented enough that you can tell which universes version of him he’s currently playing, just by his body language. In a lesser film it would be the best performance, in this, he’s just a VERY VERY good part of an excellent ensemble.

As you can guess. I loved this. It had everything I want. It had laughs, it had heart (I heard genuine tears from fellow audience members many times), it had character, it had meta references, it had action, it had fingers made of hot dogs, it had a dildo being used as a weapon, it had glitter, it had bondage, it had pizza, it had Jenny Slate, it had Jamie Lee Curtis, it had a racoon controlling someone, it has despair, it has hope, it has everything.

Everywhere

All at once.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)

Quick Synopsis: Martial-arts master Shang-Chi confronts the past he thought he left behind when he’s drawn into the web of the mysterious Ten Rings organization.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen a Marvel film that had so many people WANTING it to fail. The internet seemed full of people who were desperate for any bad news so that they could say “see! Go woke, go broke!”. They NEEDED it to be bad. Sucks for them then that is incredible. Comic book movies need a compelling villain. Loki was the only bearable part of the first two films, and the villain problem is why some Marvel films haven’t quite hit as they needed to. Wenwu is one of the most compelling villains in the MCU so far. Usually a lot of their villains are “same powers as the hero, but evil”. Sadly, this does do that, but the fact that the villain is the heroes father adds an emotional level to it. Especially since he’s not inherently evil, he’s misguided and being controlled by forces beyond his control. He was a villain before the events of the film, a figure of pure fear for people across the globe. But by the time the film starts all he wants is to get his wife back. That’s what inspires everything he does, and it’s weirdly beautiful. The downside of him is there is so much time spent on him, that the bigger bad that he’s doing it for only really matters in the third act, and doesn’t last for long. It’s his desire and love which leads to the third act CGI battle.

That’s the biggest issue, how underwhelming that final third is. It seems too big that it becomes impersonal, which considering the main core of the film is personal relationships is a bit weird. Instead of being a controlled dynamic set piece, it’s just CGI against CGI, and lets be honest, CGI hasn’t exactly been the MCU’s strong point so far (just look at some of the flying scenes in Captain Marvel for example).

It’s weird as there are some great fights in this. There’s a great rhythm to the way the fights operate. The way they use the surroundings brings to mind the best of Jackie Chan, where the layout of the room effects the way the action operate and it becomes almost a puzzle coming together, and means every fight is different. They also do a great job of demonstrating character through the action. You could show somebody the bus fight and they would get not only the main character, but also Awkwafina’s character.

Time for me to mention it. Awkwafina steals the show here (much like she did in Raya). She’s absolutely hilarious and serves as the audience in terms of introduction to the world, with Shang-Chi explaining everything for her. An incredibly unsubtle way of doing it, but it’s effective. She gives the best lines of the film, which considering the return of the fake Mandarin also happens (spoilers btw) is really something. One downside of her character? Her character arc doesn’t really work. She starts off as the standard “uncertain what to do in life and constantly changes plans” character, then picks up firing a bow and arrow, and is unnaturally good at it. She becomes good at it so far, and becomes so important in the final fight that it feels like Marvel knew she’d be a popular character and wanted to make her powerful. Does the MCU not have any normal characters? It’s okay to have characters who can’t fight, the way they’re treating it seems to be that if you can’t kill people, you’re worthless.

The mid-credits do a good job of setting up the future, with Captain Marvel and Bruce Banner working together (with Banner in full human form). If this is picked up in the future it could be exciting, but I doubt they’re going to deal with it in the new Spider-man movie (how fucking stoked are you guys for that, btw?) so might have to wait a while for that storyline to be moved forward. Eternals is released this year but that will have to be introducing so many characters that I’m not sure they’ll have time to deal with the ones we already know. The Doctor Strange, Thor, and Black Panther films will probably have their own things going on. So the best bet will be in The Marvels, and that’s not out until November next year. The MCU is juggling a lot of balls right now (lol, I said balls) and it’s going to take some skill for them to make the whole thing a coherent narrative again. Fingers crossed.

That’s why I think this is a great film. It works brilliantly on its own, you’re not there thinking you have an unfinished story like you do with something like Brightburn (or even Guardians Of The Galaxy 2 to an extent), but it also sets up the future plans. I’m excited to see what happens, and I like being excited for cinema. When I do the round-ups at the end of the year I can sometimes struggle to not repeat myself, but there is so much I didn’t mention in this review. The lead performance, his sister, the brutal nature of some of the fights, hotel california, Abomination, Wong, the sonic connections. There is so much to talk about with this, and that’s really what you need, to feel excited, to become a fan again, to the point where you become like a little kid describing something he loves “oh, and another cool thing, and then this happened” etc.