comics, Movies, Pop Culture, reviews

‘Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness’ places a heavy continuity burden on moviegoers

“Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness” is a mouthful of a title.

It’s also a lot for a film.

I liked it.

I’m inclined to like Marvel Studios movies because I grew up reading comic books.

I never imagined big-time Hollywood blockbusters headlined by characters once as obscure as Doctor Strange, played by the genuinely terrific Benedict Cumberbatch.

Now there’s a whole generation of people who’ve grown up knowing nothing but movies and TV shows about superheroes.

What a time to be alive.

Still, I wonder how much continuity Disney can pile on movies before they collapse back into a secret language for nerds.

To understand the events of “Madness,” one needs to have at least a sense of movies dating back to the 1990s and maybe comic books back to 1962.

At a minimum, one should have seen the “WandaVision” series on Disney+ — or at least read the Wikipedia description — and “Spider-Man: No Way Home” to even be slightly clued into the underpinnings of the plot.

Oh, yeah, and you should probably watch the cartoon series “What If,” also on Disney+.

I am not cynical enough to say entertainment moguls Disney and the comic book culture are designed to suck you in with one or two good stories and then empty your wallet for the next decade with associated and often lesser associated intellectual property.

But it is a lot of characters and events to keep track of.

The middle of the film is filled with cameos of characters that go back to mediocre-to-terrible movies with Marvel heroes once owned by Fox beginning in 1999.

I’ve seen all these movies.

I get a rush.

But is the rush just for people like me?

“Madness” feels like a tipping point for Marvel movies.

How much will Disney ask the casual moviegoer to know before they show up for their movies will make any kind of sense?

This is the 27th Marvel film. I’m too lazy to count the pre-Marvel Studios movies at Fox, Universal, and other studios.

And I’ve no interest in counting all the TV shows and cartoons.

Is it possible to enjoy “Madness” without all the backstories?

I don’t know.

I’ve watched all the backstories.

I had fun.

That’s all I ask out of a movie.

Director Sam Raimi added all those weird background tricks he does to make his movie’s aesthetics spooky and odd.

“Madness” could be considered a horror movie. There are lots of gross monsters, evil doppelgangers, and at least one zombie.

I don’t want to get into where it ranks against all the other Marvel movies.

There are podcasters and YouTube influencers galore to do that.

I’ll just say this: If you’ve enjoyed all or most of what’s come before in this unprecedented string of cinematic continuity, you’ll likely enjoy this.

But if this is a movie you walked into cold, having only heard about the pop culture phenomenon, it may feel like you got a Twinkie without the cream filling.

Daniel P. Finney wrote for newspapers for 27 years before being laid off in 2020. He teaches middle school English now. He writes columns and podcasts for, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating $10 a month to help him cover the expenses of this site.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.

comics, des moines, Movies, Pop Culture

#TheBatman earns its genuine article: Best Batman ever

There’s a new Batman movie.

The title is “The Batman.”

The “the,” as in the genuine article, is earned.

Your friendly neighborhood paragraph stacker loves comic books and loves comic book movies, so forgive me as I indulge my obsession with consumed crime fighters.

I loved “The Batman.”

The movie was everything I wanted in a Batman movie and some things I didn’t know I wanted.

I like that Batman works with the police, side-by-side with officers, many of whom are skeptical of his presence.

That troupe is common in comics, but it hasn’t been seen much in movies, except for the relationship Batman has with Commissioner Gordon and the 1966 camp classic “Batman,” starring Adam West.

Side note: West’s Batman will always be my favorite. I watched the TV show re-runs on Channel 5 early mornings when I was a boy. If I need a pick-me-up, the ’66 Bat-flick is one of the five sure-fire ways to cheer me up.

But “The Batman” may well be the best Batman.

I love that this Batman, played by Robert Pattinson, possesses enough self-awareness to question whether he’s making a difference.

I love the score by Michael Giacchino. It drives the film with a constant brass march that softens and intensifies with the plot.

Giacchino manufactures a sense of edginess that pumps up an already intense film.

I love the direction by Matt Reeves and the cinematography. It represents the very best of neo-noir: muted colors, constant rain.

The sun rarely shines in Gotham City; it’s plunged into the darkness, sometimes on the verge of dawn or dusk, but the clouds never fully part.

I love the suit. It looks more like a modified military uniform than something as perfectly manicured as the suit Christian Bale wore in the Dark Knight Trilogy.

The utility belt includes pouches that look like those a police officer.

Batman carries his grappling hook gun like a sidearm rather than something that mysteriously appears when its needed.

I love the car. Nobody calls it the Batmobile, but we all know.

This one looks like a souped up 1970s muscle car, the kind manufactured when gas was cheap and nihilistic movies like “Dirty Mary Crazy Larry” and “Vanishing Point” romanticized the flawed notion that you could get away with anything with a fast car and an open road.

I loved Catwoman, who is not called Catwoman, played by Zoe Kravitz. She’s smart, tough, quick, and more than a match for the big man with pointy ears.

I loved Colin Farrell as the Penguin, who is called the Penguin. If the credits hadn’t told me that was Farrell under that makeup, I would have never guessed.

Farrell succeeds at doing something no other portrayal of the Penguin has done: He makes the man seem dangerous.

Paul Dano plays the Zodiac killer. They call him the Riddler, but his M.O. is 100% Zodiac killer with a social media age twist.

Dano makes the Riddler terrifying; it’s an achievement, because even in most comics the Riddler is a mope.

I loved Jeffery Wright as James Gordon, who is a lieutenant rather than commissioner in this movie. He trusts Batman but is uneasy with the need for a vigilante to maintain order and justice.

Wright’s rendition of Gordon is witty. I loved the exchange between Batman and Gordon when they were on the trail of the Riddler.

“No guns,” Batman tells Gordon.
“Yeah, that’s your thing,” Gordon replies with his service pistol locked and loaded.

I love so much about this movie I could fill up every page in the Marion County Express.

What I loved most, however, was how Batman changed through the events of the movie.

Most Batman movies focus on the villain. They are like horror movies in that way, or the murder podcasts people seem to love so much.

That makes sense. Why go to movies if you don’t want to experience something you would never want to experience in real life?

The Riddler certainly fills that role: a brutal serial killer who uses his murders as clues to darker truths about Gotham City.

The advertisement for sees a guy in clown makeup ask Batman what he’s supposed to be.

Batman knocks him to the ground him and ferociously punches him for what seems like a half hour. The Batman sneers, “I’m vengeance.”

He’s very much that through much of the film. Lots of bad guys get punched, kicked, thrown, and otherwise batter.

This Batman does not kill — a staple of his code in comics, but something other Batman movies have ignored.

“The Batman” shows us he is more than vengeance for his dead parents and crime victims everywhere.

The climactic scene, I’ll not spoil the details, shows Batman’s final, greatest act is to come out of the shadows and defend the innocent rather than avenge them in the darkness.

In this way, Batman becomes a film hero like we’re never seen him before.

So, if you’re into this kind of movie, please take some time and go see it. It’s worth every minute.

Daniel P. Finney writes a weekly column for the Marion County Express. Reach him at

Daniel P. Finney wrote for newspapers for 27 years before being laid off in 2020. He teaches middle school English now. He writes columns and podcasts for, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating $10 a month to help him cover the expenses of this site.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.

comics, des moines, Faith and Values, humor, Iowa, life, Media, News, Newspapers, People, Pop Culture

To Santa or not to Santa and other serious topics of great importance on Christmas Eve

I stood in line to pay at a now-defunct comic shop years ago around Christmastime.

A young couple in the shop debated whether they would tell their children about Santa Claus.

The mother worried about lying to their kids and what kind of message that sent.

I suppose one worries about everything when you are a young parent. I am not a parent and, to modify a line from Mark Twain, shall always try to do right and be good so God will not make me one.

I said nothing, which is the wisest policy in things that are not your business.

Still, I couldn’t remember any mass shooters or serial killers whose stories began, “When I found out about Santa Claus not being real, that’s when everything went to hell.”

Then again, I don’t have much use for the people who so zealously guard the myth of Santa Claus that any mention of the reality that Santa isn’t real sends them into a fury.

I once mentioned Santa wasn’t real in a column at the local newspaper. The editor cut the line. I asked why. The editor said a child might read that and we would get a lot of angry calls.

I argued we should do it anyway. If we got a lot of calls from people who said their children saw this, we could stop worrying about attracting young readers.

I was overruled.

I don’t think much about Santa Claus as an adult. It’s a fine myth. I’m surprised the character hasn’t gotten caught in the culture wars.

Santa is an obese, cisgender heterosexual white man. His very existence makes patrons of the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Victimhood itchy.

Maybe that’s Santa’s real magic. People aren’t immediately ticked off at the sight of Santa the way they are everything else that turns up in the news.

I try to avoid the news these days, especially since the news industry kicked me out for good.

But I’ll peruse the headlines a couple times of day so that I’m not surprised when we go to war.

That happened once to Parents 2.0, the kindly east Des Moines couple who raised me after my parents died.

This was before I came into their lives and wrecked their schedule. They were off camping somewhere on vacation.

They went into the nearest town to get some groceries and supplies. Everyone was huddled around the TV.

Dad 2.0 asked what was going on.

“Don’t ya know? We’re at war!” I imagine the clerk said.

The first Persian Gulf War had started. I don’t know if my folks bought a newspaper to catch up, but I wouldn’t bet on it. They had plenty of newspaper for kindling.

In modern times, I scroll the headlines, and everybody is telling me what’s wrong with everything.

The president isn’t popular. Has he ever been?

The economy stinks. It usually does, especially if you’re poor.

Everybody has COVID, is going to get COVID, or has already died of COVID.

Your favorite TV show stinks and here’s a list of five reasons why you’re wrong to like it.

Newsweek published a real winner the other day about the new “Spider-Man” movie: “Andrew Garfield and Charlie Cox Didn’t Tell Us the Truth — And We’re Not Okay.”

The headline references actors in the movie who mislead the media about being in the movie about their roles in the movie to avoid ruining a surprise for viewers before the movie was released.

But just look at the emotion in that headline: “And We’re Not Okay.”

Can’t you just feel the existential angst? There must not be an adult within six blocks of Newsweek.

The pain these poor Newsweek staffers must have endured by what amounts to a Hollywood game of three-card monte.

I wonder if whoever the “they” is in that “we are not okay group” grew up believing in Santa Claus and, upon learning he wasn’t real, swore an oath in their grief to seek truth and publish, not necessarily in that order.

They fought to become journalists in the age when if journalism isn’t dead, it’s at the hospice without the morphine drip.

And, finally, they unearthed another lie, one that rivaled the untruths of Old St. Nick: Some actors said they weren’t in a superhero movie when they were.

They reported the truth like 14-year-old kids texting about the girl they like from Algebra class flirting with the captain of the boys’ basketball team.

God bless these American heroes at Newsweek. Democracy dies by dimwits.

Santa Claus is probably triggering or a micro aggression. He might be the worldwide distributor of intersectionality.

(To readers who don’t know what that last word means in today’s political climate, the only thing I can tell you is that if someone brings it up, find a graceful way to exit the conversation before a protest breaks out.)

I know if I were to become a parent, I would not introduce the myth of Santa Claus.

This has nothing to do with the welfare of my non-existent child.

I’m just selfish.

I want my never-will-be kid to know that I worked some job I hated 40 hours a week or more for the money to buy this stuff that will be broken, lost, or forgotten about three days after Christmas.

You want to thank somebody with milk and cookies, kid? Thank your dear, old dad — and make it a sipper of Tennessee Fire while you’re at it.

The other reason I wouldn’t do Santa Claus is because the one good thing you get out of it is a disciplinary tool that relies on the phony surveillance of an all-seeing distributor of toys.

“You’d better stop acting like that because Santa will see you being naughty and leave you a lump of coal,” Mom 1.0 sometimes dropped on me if I was acting foolish.

I would straighten up and beg forgiveness of the Great Pumpkin, er, I mean Santa.

But as a disciplinary tool, this only works from Black Friday to Dec. 24. Try trotting out the “Santa’s watching” when your son is blasting your daughter’s Barbies with his new rapid-fire Nerf gun on Dec. 25th.

Santa? That fat fool won’t be back for another year. On my signal, unleash hell on Barbie’s Dream House.

I favor year-round discipline by surveillance.

Modern Americans are so terrified of each other that they line their homes with cameras from their kid’s teddy bear to the doorbell.

They can review six months of recordings to find out who left the toilet seat up or who put the milk back in the fridge when it was basically empty.

Do Santa. Don’t do Santa. Either way will probably be fine.

But let’s not forget to say a big thank you to the people who really make Christmas happen: Amazon delivery drivers.

Daniel P. Finney wrote for newspapers for 27 years before being laid off in 2020. He teaches middle school English now. He writes columns and podcasts for, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating $10 a month to help him cover the expenses of this site.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.