Captain Marvel (2019)

CaptainDirectors: Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck

Screenwriters: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, and Geneva Robertson-Dworet

Cast: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Jude Law, Annette Bening, and Lashana Lynch

Ever since that cryptic page sent by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) in the post-credit scene from Avengers: Infinity War, people have been saying…”Who’s Captain Marvel?” That is an epic question in itself. Those familiar with the Marvel Comics origin of Captain Marvel know it is a strange one. The first Captain Marvel dates back to 1939 as a fictional comic book superhero from the now defunct Whiz Comics. Whiz and Captain Marvel were put on the back burner after DC Comics sued the publisher over Captain Marvel’s similarity to Superman in the 1950s. Marvel Comics eventually developed a trademark on their own character named Captain Marvel in the 1960s with the caveat that in order to retain the trademark, they’d need to publish a Captain Marvel title at least once every two years, leading to DC eventually rename their iteration Shazam, a character that is also getting the cinematic treatment this year. But that’s not all! Marvel’s Captain Marvel went through 6 different versions before finally arriving as the Carol Danvers version that we have now!

Ok, so now that we have that out of the way, who’s Captain Marvel and what is this movie all about? Captain Marvel is centered around Carol Danvers (played by Brie Larson), a U.S. Air Force pilot who through a series of events is recruited to an elite team of alien warriors called the Kree on the planet of Hala. Danvers develops superpowers under the tutelage of her mentor and commander, Yon-Rogg (Jude Law). With the Kree, Danvers (known as Vers to her Kree comrades), helps fight in an ongoing war against a group of alien shapeshifters known as the Skrulls. The tricky bit is somewhere along the line, Vers (Danvers) has forgotten any and all of her life on Earth save for some disturbing nightmares featuring a woman (Annete Bening) she recognizes but cannot place. During a botched rescue operation, the Skrull commander, Talos (Ben Mendelsohn) capture Vers and tortures her for answers about the Kree as they make way to Earth with the plan to find a scientist who may be the key to helping them develop a quantum drive that would give them the edge in the battle against the Kree. Vers manages to escape only to crash land in Los Angeles. It is here that we discover that it is the 1990s, and Vers’s spectacle of an entrance draws the attention of (much younger) S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Nick Fury (Jackson) and Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg). Now it’s a race against time as Vers teams up with S.H.I.E.L.D. to stop the Skrulls from obtaining the quantum drive. Another battle – one of identity – also ensues as Vers’s sudden appearance on Earth begins to uproot some repressed memories of her previous life on Earth, some of which may affect the future of the universe! So the stakes are high.

Captain Marvel is a very fun movie, and much credit for its success goes to Larson, who really carves out a character here that could fall flat with the wrong performer in the role. She is charismatic and all-in on this performance, which is no surprise given she’s an Oscar winner for her work in the intensely gripping film Room. Captain Marvel certainly is a pivot from Room, but Larson’s versatility shows here that she’s a bankable and playful actress who will elevate a film. Her chemistry with Jackson, Mendelsohn, and Danvers’s best friend Maria Rambeau (played by Lashana Lynch) is contagious, helping the audience feel much more connected to the film’s events.

In addition to the performances, the action and story are on point as well. I think there were some heightened expectations that this film would provide more clues and explanations associated with the fateful climax of Avengers: Infinity War, but Captain Marvel is an origin story film and it takes place well before Thanos started outfitting that gauntlet with infinity stones. That being said, Captain Marvel is not without some nuance in providing a few answers to some questions within the MCU. Several of which can be attributed to the scene-stealing break-out star of the film, Goose. I’ll say no more. If there’s one other scene-stealer of note worth mentioning, it’s the late, great Stan Lee. 2019 will mark the last year of Stan Lee Marvel film cameos. Captain Marvel, Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home all feature appearances by the comic legend, and this one from Captain Marvel is a real gem.

Finally, for some reason, there’s an unfair amount of pressure on this movie due to its milestone status of being the first MCU film with a woman in the lead. This kind of treatment is the ignorant equivalent of saying, “Wait, women can be superheroes too?” The subversive and powerful impact of Black Panther is not part of the mission with Captain Marvel, nor should it be. Of course art is reflective, and so releasing a giant film like this will be part of a cultural conversation, but it really should only be a positive one. If the movie was not good, it should not be used as some kind of barometer test for a larger gender-based agenda. Fortunately the movie is good, and Captain Marvel is cool, so girls and women will be proud and inspired by that. No need to harp on it or heap tons of pressure on it. Ok, end of moderate politically correct rant.

If there is a flaw in the film, it’s the challenge of balancing the Earth story with the Kree story. Jude Law’s Yon-Rogg is somewhat squandered and lost in the sauce once Vers leaves Hala. There’s an obvious desire to tap into some of that Guardians of the Galaxy space opera cache, but it doesn’t quite work. The movie really soars with its Earth storyline, and when it soars it is a blast! A-

Captain Marvel is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 2 hours and 4 minutes.

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Danny Collins

Danny CollinsDirector: Dan Fogelman

Screenwriter: Dan Fogelman

Cast: Al Pacino, Annette Bening, Christopher Plummer, Bobby Cannavale, and Jennifer Garner

Most people have wondered “what if?” at some point in time in their lives. But what if your “what if?” happened? And what if you never knew? And what if your “what if?” was John Lennon writing you a handwritten letter of appreciation and advice? That’s the true story that inspired the new film, Danny Collins.

In the film, Al Pacino plays Danny Collins, a tremendously successful entertainer who makes boatloads of money filling arenas and performing the hits from his 40-year career. When his manager Frank (Christopher Plummer) tracks down a 40 year old letter written to Danny from John Lennon, Danny decides to rethink his life and his choices.

Lennon’s letter suggested that it is not money and fame that corrupt us, but ourselves. These words lead Collins to cancel his current tour, appropriately named The Greatest Hits Vol. 3 Tour, and move to New Jersey in the hopes of rediscovering his passion for music as well as connecting with his adult son, Tom (Bobby Cannavale) who he has never met.

Danny Collins treads paths that ultimately feel familiar, but while formulaic, the redemption Danny seeks takes him on an enjoyable ride. Pacino is finally not chewing on scenery here. It is fair to say that the 2000s have not been kind to Pacino and watching him in films like Jack and Jill, 88 Minutes, and Two For the Money makes me yearn for the days of The Godfather…or at least Scent of a Woman. But breathe a sigh of relief, as Pacino gives a real performance here, and he is very fun to watch.  In fact, his string of hollow films in recent years appropriately reflects the inner-struggle Danny Collins faces in this film.

The best part of Danny Collins though is not the inner-search for creativity gone missing, but the father-son story between Danny and Tom. Both actors play off each other very well and Collins’s desire to repair the desperately broken relationship is endearing. Equally endearing are Jennifer Garner as Tom’s wife Samantha and Giselle Eisenberg as his adorable daughter, Hope.

An additional romantic subplot involving Danny and Annette Bening who plays the manager of the hotel Danny stays at never really finds its footing, but the “patter” between them is fun.

Danny Collins is a surprisingly good movie, although it should be less surprising when taking into account it is written and directed by Dan Fogelman who also made the remarkably entertaining 2011 film Crazy, Stupid, Love. In the same way that Fogelman used The Scarlet Letter to emphasize the mood and themes of that film, he uses the music of John Lennon to do so in Danny Collins. Lennon’s words saturate the film through a soundtrack layered with much of the late musician’s solo work from the 1970s. This is a nice touch and Lennon serves as a constant reminder about the importance of love no matter who you are or where you find yourself. B+Lennon letter

Danny Collins is rated R and has a running time of 1 hour and 46 minutes. Stay a few minutes through the credits for a brief clip of an interview with the real-life Danny Collins, folk singer Steve Tilston who truly did receive a handwritten letter from John Lennon 40 years after it had been written (see image, right).