By Sonny Bunch / Special To The Washington Post
Are you sick of comic book movies and other franchises? This month, you actually have a chance to do something about it. A trio of big, original new releases comes to theaters this month. Go see one; or all of them.
If these movies fail, our theatrical future will be nothing but the disappointing “Morbius” and its universe. And movie lovers who have defaulted to home entertainment even after coronavirus vaccines, rapid tests and high-quality masks have become widely available will have only themselves to blame.
Going wide this Friday is “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” the heart-rending and mind-bending new picture from the directorial duo Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, collectively known as Daniels. The writer-director duo, aided by stars Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, Stephanie Hsu and Jamie Lee Curtis, have concocted a masterpiece that manages the tricky balance of feeling sui generis and yet familiar. Here we have a movie about a mother (Yeoh) trying to connect emotionally with her daughter (Hsu) and stave off divorce from her husband (Quan) while saving her business from the taxwoman (Curtis) — this is the familiar — all while careening through the multiverse in an effort to ward off a villain filled with nihilistic, creation-destroying malaise who leads a cult that worships an evil everything bagel.
“Everything Everywhere” is an earnest — some cynics will suggest saccharine — movie about families, about the difficulty of watching your kids grow up and change into something you’re not, about the love needed to keep generations together. That earnestness is leavened by what can only be described as a supreme, gut-busting silliness, including, among other wild visuals, people who have hot dogs for fingers and a raccoon puppeteering a Benihana-type chef in the style of “Ratatouille.”
Given its visual imagination, emotional range and striking originality, this is exactly the kind of movie that ought to be seen on the biggest screen available with as many people as possible. The communal reaction to “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is part of its greatness.
I haven’t seen “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” or “The Northman” yet, as they’re both opening April 22, so I can’t recommend them in quite the same way. But they are the sort of movies that should be able to succeed — or at least have a chance at succeeding — in a healthy cinematic environment.
“The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” is a star-driven, high-concept comedy: Nicolas Cage stars as “Nick Cage,” a former A-lister suffering from some money woes who decides to get his finances in order by attending the birthday party of a wealthy criminal. “Unbearable Weight” is larded up with massive amounts of talent: In addition to Cage, the film stars fan favorites, including Tiffany Haddish, Ike Barinholtz and Neil Patrick Harris.
Earning nothing but positives reviews from critics at South by Southwest, the film is primed to take advantage of Cage’s much-praised performance in the criminally under-rewarded “Pig” and will likely make a nice companion piece with Keith Phipps’s excellent book about the actor’s varied body of work, “Age of Cage.” Most importantly, it’s the sort of star-driven mid-budget comedy that needs to attract eyeballs if theaters hope to rely on anything other than super-powered freaks to sell popcorn.
Then there’s “The Northman.” In some ways, this is the hardest sell for audiences. I loved director Robert Eggers’s “The Witch” — it’s one of the 10 best movies of the 2010s — and “The Lighthouse” was a perfect lockdown movie released a few months too early. Audiences have been less enamored of his films than critics: “The Witch” earned a C-minus from CinemaScore, and neither really took off at the box office.
But Eggers’s vision is compelling, his style is unique, and someone somewhere has decided it’s worth investing $90 million on a historical epic set in the icy Nordic wastes that stars Alexander Skarsgard, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicole Kidman, Ethan Hawke and Bjork, and reportedly culminates in a nude swordfight atop an active volcano. To say that this is one of my most anticipated films of the year is to put it mildly; we don’t get too many movies like this anymore.
And that’s because you, the moviegoing audience who desperately avoid movies like “The Last Duel,” have made it this way. None of the 10 highest-grossing films released in 2021 was an original, non-franchise production. (“Free Guy” clocked in at No. 11.) In 2019, that number was again zero. 2018 saw precisely one in the top 10: “Bohemian Rhapsody.” (2020 was a weird year, as we all remember, but even then the only true originals to crack the top 10 were “Tenet” and “Onward,” neither of which topped $62 million.)
None of this is new information, but hopefully it serves as a stark reminder: If you want movie studios to make movies that are good, interesting and original, you need to go see them.
Sonny Bunch is the culture editor for The Bulwark, where he writes the Screen Time newsletter and hosts a podcast about the business of Hollywood.