“Eurovision Song Contest” Review!

Confession time: I’m a sucker for dumb wholesome movies with musical numbers, and Eurovision Song Contest: The Story Of Fire Saga fits the bill perfectly. Is it by any stretch of the imagination a good movie, technically? Nope. Is it, on the other hand, a really stupid comedy filled with outlandish humor, ridiculous scenarios and catchy songs? Yes, and it’s so unapologetically the latter that I can’t in all honesty fault it for not being the former. Sometimes, you have to just accept something bad and love it despite that fact – and there you go, I’ve summed up the entire plot of Eurovision Song Contest for you.

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Now, here’s another confession for you: I am American, but I actually knew what Eurovision was long before watching this movie, and it surprises me that so many are only just now being introduced to the zany glory that is the real-life Eurovision Song Contest. Started after World War II with the intention of uniting the European countries through song and dance, the contest is still going strong to this day (well, actually, not this year, thanks to coronavirus), and now even hosts countries that technically aren’t part of Europe, (looking at you, Australia), all of which come together to try and outdo each other with a series of successively weirder and weirder performances. Some people will poke fun at the contest: it’s an acquired taste, and I understand that. I just think some people don’t admire or respect the contest’s noble purpose. But yeah, anyway, I love Eurovision. I also love a number of obscure musical artists from all over Europe, some of whom have performed at Eurovision, some of whom, unfortunately, haven’t gotten the chance – yet. This film, thankfully, manages to temporarily satisfy my unceasing desire for more weird European music: though let me be clear, it barely does so.

My biggest complaint with the film has to be that there’s simply not enough musical numbers- especially not ones which exemplify the absolute insanity of Eurovision. There’s “Volcano Man”, the upbeat song about a dormant volcanic spirit looking for love which puts the Icelandic duo known as Fire Saga on the map and sets the tone for the rest of the movie; “Double Trouble”, which is fun, but is also undeniably helped out by the fact that Will Ferrell is rolling around in a giant hamster-wheel during one performance of the song; a mostly uninteresting highlight reel of the other contestants, including Demi Lovato’s “Mirror”; and my two personal favorites – the Song-Along sequence, which involves about a dozen performers passing different songs around the room and each singing a verse, which might sound awkward but is actually extremely fun to watch; and of course the big surprise song in the finale where the film’s real star Rachel McAdams gets to truly shine, with a big assist from Swedish pop-star Molly Sandén’s vocals (Sandén, by the way, has an excellent career apart from this film, and I’m a big fan of her: that information is, strictly speaking, unnecessary, but I just thought you should know).

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When I say that Rachel McAdams is the real star of the movie, I absolutely mean it. McAdams’ character, mild-mannered pagan Sigrit Ericksdottir, carries the film through some of its worst rough patches in the bloated second act, and her desperate attempts to try and appease the Elves of ancient Icelandic folklore are, dare I say it, very relatable (this movie is exposing a lot about me). And while she’s not actually the one singing, she still brings all the onstage charisma and dramatic flair one would expect from a real Eurovision performer.

Will Ferrell, on the other hand, is doing his best: but he’s not particularly funny here. He also doesn’t ever really shine when he’s onstage alongside McAdams, as his singing voice isn’t particularly impressive. He has most of the big emotional beats in the story, which all fall a little flat due to being extremely predictable. His character, Lars Erickssong, is at his best when he’s dressed like a heavy metal Viking and dancing in the frigid wilderness: the more conventional parts of his story arc – trying to win respect from his father, who for some reason is Pierce Brosnan; pushing away Sigrit’s romantic advances because he’s focused on winning; making promises to himself to never be laughed at again, and so on – all seem out of place in a movie that should be over the top at all times.

The other performances in the film have good and bad elements: perhaps the most notable is a glorified cameo from TV personality Graham Norton, who provides cruel and merciless narration of Fire Saga’s various onstage disasters. The lineup of other singers includes Alexander Lemtov (Dan Stevens), a flamboyantly dressed Eastern European with murky motivations, who does at least get to deliver one of the best lines in the entire movie – though it’s in his very last scene, so you’ll have to wait awhile; Demi Lovato as Katiana, another Icelander, who has a very small role in the beginning of the movie and then keeps showing up for reasons that are never explained; and a long list of past Eurovision winners and contestants who show up for brief cameos, including Israel’s Netta, Austrian drag queen Conchita Wurst, French YouTuber Bilal Hassani, and John Lundvik of Sweden. Mikael Persbrandt, who appeared as the shape-shifter Beorn in The Hobbit, has a small but pivotal role as a member of the Icelandic government whose key-chain doubles as a garrote – because why not?

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Unfortunately, all of this talent would probably have been better utilized in a slightly better film – Eurovision Song Contest, is, I must admit, far too long for a movie of so little plot. If every minute of available screen time had been packed full of music, I might have understood why it needed to be just over two hours long: but we spend a lot of time focusing on Lars’ boring emotional baggage, Sigrit being unsuccessfully wooed by Lemtov, Lars being unsuccessfully seduced by a Greek singer, and, worst of all, wandering around Eurovision host city Edinburgh without a single sight of the River Leith – and yes, that’s obviously a legitimate criticism of this film.

But what can I say? I enjoyed most of the time I spent watching Eurovision Song Contest, and I don’t regret it. That being said, you have to remember I have a clear bias: I just really like Eurovision, so this was always going to be my cup of tea. I’m a little unhappy that this movie might not be good enough to inspire viewers to check out the real thing, but at least Iceland now has a movie that honors their rich, vibrant, underappreciated musical culture.

Movie Rating: 5.9/10

The Ten Most Romantic Couples In The MCU: Ranked!

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has (in)famously had a hard time establishing romantic relationships between its characters: even the few love stories that have helped to define the overarching story have sometimes gone through ups and downs, or simply collided headfirst with a brick wall and died (looking at you, Thor & Jane). And yet they keep trying to master the same old boy-meets-girl (or Norse-god-meets-girl, or boy-meets-alien, or computer-program-meets-girl) formula. That’s why, in celebration of Valentine’s Day, I’ve set myself a challenge: trying to find the ten most romantic, endearing, adorable couples in the MCU and ranking them.

Disclaimer: “ships” or non-canon pairings aren’t being considered on this list because that would be cheating – most MCU “ships” are at least ten times better than the majority of actual onscreen pairings. It’s simply not fair to compare.

10: Thor & Jane Foster.

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These two had something that looked like potential – I mean, if you squinted really hard. From the moment that Thor, the Norse God of Thunder and rightful heir to the throne of Asgard, crash-landed in the American Southwest, upsetting one of Jane Foster’s pseudo-scientific experiments, Marvel tried to convince audiences that a grand and glorious epic love-story for the ages was brewing – but all the magic (or “what your ancestors call magic”) words in the Marvel mythos couldn’t force Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman to look more than remotely disinterested in each other. And after Thor: The Dark World failed to turn up the heat, or really do anything at all, Portman had finally had enough: she quit the MCU, and Jane Foster was subsequently written out of the story. In Thor: Ragnarok, it was briefly mentioned that she broke up with the Thunder God offscreen – an uncomfortably awkward conclusion to what was supposed to be a cornerstone of Thor’s entire arc.

9: Stephen Strange & Christine Palmer.

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I’m actually tempted to move this couple ever so slightly further up the list, because while they’re not exactly memorable, they’re also probably not as bad and/or boring as you remembered. Dr. Stephen Strange, a snobbish, arrogant surgeon, wasn’t just the on-and-off boyfriend of Dr. Christine Palmer – he was also her work-partner, and it was mentioned (though never really elaborated on) that the two had even pioneered an important new surgical technique, making the couple basically equal. And after Strange’s run-in with karma, it was Palmer who tried to help him recover his strength and rebuild his life: their heated argument about Strange’s future is the most powerful scene in the Doctor Strange movie, and carries a lot of emotional weight. Unfortunately, Rachel McAdams’ character basically fades into the background after that, and apart from being privy to a battle on the astral plane and trying (unsuccessfully) to save the Ancient One’s life, she really has nothing more to do in the story. And she’s not returning for the sequel, so I guess that’s the end of that.

8: Peter Quill & Gamora.

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I don’t really like either Peter Quill (a.k.a. Star-Lord, an interstellar pirate armed with braggadocio, semi-Celestial powers that have proved to be entirely inconsequential outside of his own movies, and an impressive playlist of golden oldies), or Gamora (a.k.a. The Most Dangerous Woman In The Galaxy, who never actually lived up to that title before her untimely death at the hands of male screenwriters who didn’t know what else to do with her her own father, Thanos): nonetheless, I have to admit they had a spark of chemistry in both Guardians Of The Galaxy movies – and their interactions in Avengers: Infinity War, during which Gamora nearly convinced Quill to kill her (long story), are pretty emotional. There was something there! It wasn’t much, maybe, but it also wasn’t not there – much to the dismay of Thor & Peter Quill shippers everywhere. But in the end, Quill failed (because doesn’t he always?), Gamora got tossed off a cliff, and here we are with nothing left of their relationship but a sad trail of bubbles.

7: Natasha Romanoff & Bruce Banner.

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I like Avengers: Age Of Ultron. I know it’s unpopular to say this, but it’s honestly the best Avengers movie – not only because it references the events of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., but also because it successfully balances almost all of the main characters while still being able to add a couple new ones to the mix. There’s a cohesive plot, the stakes are raised, and the Avengers get to interact with each other on a more personal, intimate level than ever before. And then there’s Natasha Romanoff’s random relationship with Bruce Banner – while it’s not a bad idea, and they make a cute couple, the basis for their coupling up is based on the problematic idea that they’re both “monsters”: Bruce, because he transforms into a giant green killing machine; Natasha, because she’s…infertile? The messaging is weird and kind of sexist, especially since it would have been way easier to make Natasha’s murderous past with the KGB the reason for her guilt and self-loathing. It’s a shame, because Natasha actually did have better interactions with Bruce than she ever had with her former love interest, Clint Barton, but for better or worse their story arc was completely abandoned in Avengers: Infinity War.

6: T’Challa & Nakia.

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While there’s certainly an argument to be made that T’Challa, the catsuit-wearing guardian of the African nation of Wakanda, is slightly more low-key and subdued than many of his co-stars in Black Panther (let’s face it, he doesn’t have Okoye’s fiery energy, Killmonger’s smoldering charisma, or M’Baku’s macabre humor), there can be no denying that his relationship with Wakandan secret agent/humanitarian Nakia is super cute. The two are a power couple, with both characters having genuine hero moments – Nakia even briefly diverts the main focus of the film away from T’Challa, and considers becoming the Black Panther herself. By the end of the film, she’s also working around the world to help extend Wakandan aid to those in need. And when they’re onscreen together, they’re presented as a healthy, sturdy relationship that doesn’t have to rely on drama, troubling gender dynamics, or sarcastic banter to be interesting. They’re basically #CoupleGoals, and I love them.

5: Wanda Maximoff & The Vision.

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Ah, the tragic story of the computer program who became a man…once, for no apparent reason, and never did so again. The Vision, a sentient computer program outfitted with a cool new body (that, unfortunately for him, came along with the Mind Stone, one of the most coveted objects in the galaxy), didn’t really show any signs of attraction to the troubled witch, Wanda Maximoff, until Captain America: Civil War, but when their romance finally kicked into gear, and the two began to bond over spicy food, things got good – and then immediately got weird again, when Wanda blasted Vision through a floor, before suddenly…ending up on the run with him in Scotland? Where Vision was suddenly able to turn into a human man, but only did so once, for reasons that were never explained? Yeah, so there’s some serious gaps in what we actually know about their relationship, but at least it ended on a strong note, with Wanda having to brutally murder her lover in an attempt to destroy the Mind Stone before Thanos could get to it, only to watch Thanos use the Time Stone to reverse all her hard work, murder Vision again, and use the Stones to wipe out half the galaxy, including Wanda herself. If it’s any consolation, the upcoming WandaVision series on Disney+ will feature Wanda resurrecting her dead partner, only to have him presumably die once again when her entire reality inevitably comes crashing down around her. Cheerful, am I right?

4: Scott Lang & Hope Van Dyne.

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Technically, there have been two canon MCU power couples that call themselves Ant-Man and The Wasp: Hope Van Dyne’s parents, Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne, and then Hope herself and her partner, reformed burglar/single father/world’s best grandma, Scott Lang. But the latter couple has the edge on its predecessor, mostly because Janet doesn’t actually show up until the end of the second Ant-Man film, and most of her flashbacks with Hank were cut out of the movie anyway. Scott and Hope share the spotlight (and the title-card) in Ant-Man And The Wasp, which focuses almost entirely on their relationship – and their exchanges of playful, witty banter, coupled with their fidelity and focus on family, make them one of the most endearing couples in the MCU.

3: Steve Rogers & Peggy Carter.

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Specifically, their relationship in the first three Captain America films, before Avengers: Endgame happened. In the beginning, scrawny new recruit Steve Rogers and fast-talking, no-nonsense commanding officer Peggy Carter were actually quite a sweet pairing: they both had character arcs, and agency in their own stories. There was a quaint little 1940’s love story between them, but Peggy, by virtue of being in the military, wasn’t forced to play the damsel-in-distress or grieving-girlfriend-on-the-home-front roles: and in the post-war era, after Steve went down in the frigid Antarctic Ocean and was lost, she picked up her life and moved on, founding S.H.I.E.L.D. and starting a family. Her relationship with Steve after his resurrection from the ice was deeply emotional and interesting, and it was tragic when she passed away. But then to essentially reverse all the complexities of their post-The First Avenger relationship by having Steve go back in time and start all over with her, making her essentially a consolation prize for Steve after he failed to move on with his life, thus preventing her from moving on with hers? No, just no.

2: Tony Stark & Virginia “Pepper” Potts.

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They’re the MCU’s original duo: how could they not come in near the top of the list? Tony was a sarcastic, cynical mess of a human being; a war-profiteer who didn’t care one iota about the countless people killed daily by his weapons of mass destruction; Pepper was the very opposite, a cool, collected woman with savvy business skills and a friendly disposition. It’s a trope, and a tired one at that. But their relationship evolved into so much more than that – Tony became Iron Man, and Pepper took over as CEO of Stark Industries. They constructed the Avengers Tower in New York City. In the five years after Avengers: Infinity War, they got married and had a daughter. In Avengers: Endgame, where they even got to fight in battle alongside each other, their decade-long relationship came to an end with Tony Stark’s tragic death. In that final moment, as the former “Merchant of Death” gave up his life to save the world, Pepper stayed beside him and her face was the last thing he ever saw. I’m not crying: you’re crying.

1: Leopold Fitz & Jemma Simmons.

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Yes, I cheated! Fitz and Simmons, or “Fitzsimmons” as they’re more commonly known among the fandom, are not technically members of the MCU: they come from the Marvel TV division, where they made their debut on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and have endured through six grueling, torturous seasons of hardship, personal loss, tragedy and pure, wholesome romance. While they started out as the team’s two bumbling, socially-awkward scientists, it didn’t take long before the universe’s vendetta against them resulted in them standing up for S.H.I.E.L.D., and for each other, in incredible ways. Their tense, frantic struggle to figure their way out of an airtight box at the bottom of the ocean (long story) was one of the highlights of Season 1, as it showed just how powerful the two are as a team – so of course they were then split up. Jemma became an undercover spy, got eaten by a space monolith, was transported to another planet and had to survive on her own, fell in love with an astronaut who turned into an evil alien god, was possessed by the Kree, was possibly hinted to be bisexual (come on, we all know she had a thing for Daisy), and even met and defeated the demonic personification of her self-doubt: Leo lost his ability to communicate for a long period of time and became delusional, was possibly hinted to be bisexual (come on, we all know he had a thing for Mac), became a dashing secret agent, met his evil HYDRA doppelganger, fell in love with HYDRA’s cyborg overlord, and then got stuck in two different time-periods at once, which resulted in him dying but still being alive and yet somehow a space pirate in both timelines…it’s a wacky and confusing series, but their love for each other, which persists even against all odds, has always been at the heart of the story, and I would be lying if I didn’t say they’re the most romantic couple in what used to technically be part of (or at least adjacent to) the MCU.

So what do you think of my top ten, and would you have chosen differently? Did I leave your favorite couple off my list? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Sam Raimi To Direct “Doctor Strange 2”!

In a shocking turn of events, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has hired director Sam Raimi to pick up the pieces that were left scattered about in the wake of Scott Derrickson’s abrupt departure from the production of Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness, fulfilling a lifelong dream for Raimi and allowing him to return to the superhero genre that he, in large part, helped to define with his iconic, and hugely successful, Spider-Man trilogy.

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The process of finding a new director for the long-awaited Doctor Strange sequel began last month, after Scott Derrickson, who directed the Sorcerer Supreme’s first solo movie, suddenly parted ways with Marvel Studios, citing “creative differences”. Later, unconfirmed, reports suggested that Derrickson wanted the film to push its (presumably) PG-13 rating and tap into the horror genre, but Marvel was reluctant to follow him down that path: others have hinted that he was upset about having to structure much of the film around the events of the WandaVision Disney+ series. We don’t know for certain why he left – but for a while after his departure, all we knew was that the film was rushing towards a production start date in Spring without a director. It was a bad look for Marvel, and many wondered if Doctor Strange 2 would be pushed back from its 2021 release date.

However, things were still going smoothly behind the scenes, by all accounts: recent reports have suggested that a number of Marvel characters will be introduced in the sequel, including America Chavez, Brother Voodoo, Clea, and a host of alternate-versions of established MCU characters (which, for whatever reason, enraged fans who hadn’t noticed the word “Multiverse” literally in the film’s title), and the first film’s antihero Karl Mordo was also confirmed to return, with Chiwetel Ejiofor reprising the role. So it should come as no surprise that Marvel has had their eye on someone to replace Derrickson, and that that someone is quite possibly already onboard the project and getting comfortable in the director’s seat. It’s not the fact that a director has been chosen, but the identity of that director, that’s so shocking, relieving, and exciting all at once.

Sam Raimi, who worked closely with current Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige to craft his own Spider-Man trilogy between 2002 and 2007, is in talks to helm Doctor Strange 2. Raimi is a fantastic choice for many reasons – not only is he the most successful and recognizable director to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe since their early days, but he’s also a huge fan of Doctor Strange (there’s even a reference to the character all the way back in Spider-Man 2), and arguably the man who made Marvel Studios’ huge success possible. Both before and since the Spider-Man franchise’s controversial final installment, Raimi has made a name for himself in the horror genre, making him an ideal substitute for Derrickson, who had hoped to explore a darker, creepier corner of the MCU with his movie. Raimi won’t have much time to rewrite the Doctor Strange scripts if he wants to meet the release date, but he’s also the sort of director who will want to leave his mark in other ways – despite claims from Marvel’s critics that their films are made by committee, using generic formulas and disregarding directors.

It’ll be interesting to see what’s left over from Derrickson’s brief tenure as director, and what Raimi will salvage, or throw out. Two of the strangest (no pun intended) elements rumored to feature in Derrickson’s script were the violent deaths of Strange’s constant companion Wong, and former girlfriend Christine Palmer, early in the film. While Benedict Wong (who plays Wong) will return for the sequel, it was revealed tonight, almost casually, that Rachel McAdams will not be coming back to portray Palmer, making me think those damning rumors were accurate, and McAdams left the project rather than become a victim of Derrickson’s killing spree. If Raimi does have time to rework the script, this could be something he addresses – on the other hand, the character of Christine Palmer is not one that audiences are deeply attached to, and so much else is going to be happening in the film that adding her into the mix seems unnecessary.

And then, of course, there’s the question of Spider-Man. While it’s unlikely that Peter Parker will feature into Doctor Strange 2 in any way, it would also be fittingly poetic if Raimi were able to do something with Tom Holland’s iteration of the beloved character. Funnily enough, theorists have long felt that an interaction between the web-slinging superhero and the Sorcerer Supreme would be able to clear up some of the problems presented by the awkward joint-custody arrangement between Sony and Marvel, that has kept either studio from fully enjoying all the benefits the character has to offer: for instance, if there comes a day when Spider-Man has to leave the MCU, what better way to manage that in-universe than by having him exit through the Multiverse, with a little help from Strange? To be clear, I don’t think this will happen in Doctor Strange 2, as a third Marvel/Sony Spider-Man movie has already been greenlit, but it’s still something I wanted to mention.

All in all, this is exactly the type of shocking news that Marvel excels at dropping as if it’s no big deal. Not content with simply finding a replacement for their first directorial misfire in years, they went out of their way to enlist one of the biggest names in the superhero business.

What do you think? Were you a fan of Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy, and what do you feel about him joining the MCU? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!