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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The Legend of Tarzan

TarzanDirector: David Yates

Screenwriters: Adam Cozad, Craig Brewer

Cast: Alexander Skarsgård, Christoph Waltz, Samuel L. Jackson, and Margot Robbie

Ahhhh AhAhAhAhAhAh Ahhhhhhhh! Tarzan is swinging back into theaters for like the 60th time in the last 100 years.  In the scheme of things with James Bond and superheroes, that’s not such a frequent appearance! Still, the problem with most Tarzan appearances is that they are all basically a retelling of Edgar Rice Burrough’s first Tarzan novel:  Parents are marooned, child is orphaned, child is raised by gorillas, scientist discovers Tarzan, Tarzan rescues scientist’s daughter, and they fall in love. So is David Yates’s new film, The Legend of Tarzan a “different story?” The answer is yes…and no.

In this film, we are introduced to an already grown Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgård). Home in England during the mid 19th century, famous world-round, and married to his love, Jane (Margot Robbie).  Tarzan (AKA John Clayton) has adjusted to life as an heir to his parents’ fortune and lives a most civilized existence, far removed from the one he knew in the jungle. When he is summoned by the Prime Minister (Jim Broadbent) to sit in on a matter regarding King Leopold’s hold of a mining encampment in the African Congo, Tarzan is encouraged to use his celebrity and act as an ambassador. The Prime Minister’s hopes are that by traveling to the site, Clayton’s  presence will calm some rumors circling around Leopold’s interests and practices in the Congo.  American Historian George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) volunteers to accompany Clayton and Jane, but his true intention is to investigate his theory that indigenous Africans are being used as slaves to mine the Congo.  When that theory pans out, Williams easily persuades Clayton to join him in exposing Leopold’s private slave state, but they are thwarted by Léon Rom (Christoph Waltz), a Belgian soldier sent by King Leopold to act as administrator of one of the major stations in the Congo.  Rom is devious and maniacal, and when he captures Jane, Tarzan will stop at nothing to get her back and bring Rom down.

So like I said, is this film’s narrative a different story than we’re used to? Yes, we are not dragged through a 60-minute plotline about a boy growing up as an ape man.  But no, we are not treading much new ground as Tarzan still spends most of the movie trying to rescue Jane. Fortunately, director David Yates tips the scales in favor of freshness as the story unfolds.  The filmmaking is vibrant, alive, and exciting. Yates takes that smooth, “Peter Jacksony” style he honed with his four Harry Potter films and transfers it beautifully to The Legend of Tarzan.  The visuals are sweeping and the film benefits tremendously from Yates’s touch.

The actors are equally enjoyable. Margot Robbie gives Jane real dimension; she even has a line where she mocks even the idea of being a “damsel in distress.” Skarsgård does well as the stoic Tarzan.  He looks the part and shows that he may be able to carry a big-budget action film.  However, as is the case in many films, the supporting cast is where Legend of Tarzan shines.  Waltz and Jackson are together again for the first time since Django Unchained.  This time, however, the roles are reversed and Waltz is the unabashed, racist tyrant, while Jackson gets to play the charismatic hero!  Mostly though, Jackson steals the show, and if you’re looking for that one extra reason to persuade you go see this film, Jackson firing off countless rounds from a machine gun turret is that reason.

The Legend of Tarzan is fun, summer blockbuster fare, and it’s better than the average film in that category. It clips along at a nice pace, and it doesn’t pander or feel false or ironic.  If you’re looking for something to see this summer that is (mostly) not animated, The Legend of Tarzan is a worthy option. B

The Legend of Tarzan is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 1 hour and 49 minutes.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

ImageJust as Spidey is swinging back into theaters for, doubtless, another big opening at the box office, The People’s Critic is just getting a chance to write up the Spring’s first big blockbuster. That’s right, Cap is back, and in a big, big way! Remember when Sam Raimi’s Spiderman came out, and everyone was saying, “Now that is how you make a comic book movie!”? But then The Dark Knight came out and everyone said, “No wait, now that is how you make a comic book movie!” Taking nothing away from Spiderman, The Dark Knight, or the other entries in the Marvel franchise, I would like to formally invite Captain America: The Winter Soldier into the conversation because this is how you make a comic book movie!

To begin with, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a terrific political conspiracy thriller in the style of Three Days of the Condor or The Parallax View except with superheroes and a bigger budget. I can honestly say that anyone can enjoy this film even without previous knowledge of other Marvel franchise films. I can say this because I took my mother to the film and she loved it. For those of you who know my mother’s skepticism to all things “comic,” that should send you to the theater immediately.

For those of you who don’t know my mother or need even more motivation, now I’m speaking to you. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the follow-up to Joe Johnston’s 2011 film, Captain America: The First Avenger. The sequel, exquisitely directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, finds “Cap” Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) finally adjusting to life in the 21st century. Still an active member of S.H.I.E.L.D, Rogers continues to take missions but is finding modern ethics a bit distasteful compared to those he lived by in the 1940s.  

When S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), reveals a new initiative called Project Insight, Rogers has major doubts. Spearheaded by the World Security Council, Project Insight would use triangulated helicarriers that track bio-levels in all humans to determine future threats and then eliminate them before they can ever strike. Similar to the conflicts in the film Minority Report, this form of “pre-crime” judgment is a tough pill for Rogers to swallow. After Fury requests that Secretary of Defense Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) delay Project Insight, Fury is suddenly attacked in one of the finest action sequences put to film in recent memory.

Now Rogers along with new pal, Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and Agent Natasha Romanoff (Scarlet Johansson), must search to find who it is that is attacking S.H.I.E.L.D. and preserve the safety of America and the world. His efforts are complicated with the arrival of The Winter Soldier, a mysterious super soldier with talents and abilities rivaling those of Rogers’s. The cat’s mostly out of the bag regarding what the Winter Soldier’s identity truly is, but I will not reveal it here.

Back to my original statement about why this film belongs in the conversation of finest comic book movies. While many films of this genre are born into intergalactic conflicts and absurdly fantastic plotlines, the best of them are grounded, at least partially, in reality. The motive for Captain America has always been protecting his homeland from threats, and it is a credit to the Russo brothers and writers Christopher Marcus and Stephen McFeely to put him in an environment where he is doing that very thing.  Additionally, the performances are pitch perfect.  Evans brings the perfect balance of charm, bravado, and idealism to the role of Captain America, and Robert Redford puts forth a very real and noteworthy performance as Pierce, no doubt inspired by how Tommy Lee Jones treated his role as Colonel Phillips in Captain America: The First Avenger. 

The film, while capable of standing alone, is also so well woven in to the Marvel universe. References and Easter eggs abound including one small homage to actor, Samuel L. Jackson that is sure to delight fans of his films. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is yet another fantastic entry into this still unrivaled and unprecedented series of associated franchises. However, this film sets a new bar but one that I have no doubts will be surpassed again. A

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 2 hours and 15 minutes. Marvel continues its trend of providing stingers after the credits, so stay comfortable and enjoy two scenes – one midway through the credits and one afterwards.

Robocop

ImageThe murder of Alex Murphy in Paul Verhoeven’s ultra-violent 1987 Robocop still ranks as one of the most disturbing scenes I have ever seen.  This time around, the studio handcuffed director Jose Padiha to a PG-13 rating in hopes of recouping the $120 million dollar budget even though Padiha and star, Joel Kinnaman fought for an R rating.  The result is a film with an entirely different tone that goes for a strong punch in the arm rather than the jugular.   

The premise is mostly the same as the original.  Set in a dystopian Detroit in the year 2028, Alex Murphy (Kinnaman) and his partner Jack (Michael K. Williams) get too close to drug kingpin Antoine Vallon’s (Patrick Garrow) operation.  After a car bomb detonates, Murphy is critically injured giving mega-corporation OmniCorp a chance to unveil its capacity to create a part man, part machine police officer.  OmniCorp has had success with similar ambitions by planting robotic “peacekeepers” in military hot-zones throughout the world.  These giant, armed intimidation machines wander the streets bellowing phrases like “May peace be upon you” as they continuously scan the area for threats. 

US citizens are happy to have these things keeping peace in other parts of the world, but they have not warmed up to the idea of having them within their own boarders.  With much hesitation, Murphy’s wife, Clara (Abbie Cornish) agrees to allow OmniCorp to go ahead with their plans to use Murphy as a way to sway public opinion towards a robotic police force. 

 “Dead or alive, you’re coming with me.”  Screenwriter Joshua Zetumer takes these words to heart by writing a screenplay that has too many ambitions but still manages to take the audience for a ride.  While the original film had two feet firmly planted in satire, this sci-fi, action, satire, political drama, morality play, crime story doesn’t quite know what it is.  Regardless, it has sufficient doses of each of those to summon enough enjoyment for the movie to come across as surprisingly fun. 

The film also looks very good and it’s a credit to director Jose Padiha since his heightened budget is certainly on full display.  While occasionally delving into video game style action, most of the “futuristic” touches are done with seamless realism that do not force the audience to zone out.  This has been the case with too many action films of recent years, most notably, another 80’s retread (and coincidentally also a February release) A Good Day to Die Hard from last year.   Another credit to Padiha is that this film is far better acted than it has any right to be.  Kinnaman is a great Robocop and supporting roles from Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, and Jackie Earle Haley are strong, energetic, and believable.  However, the most surprising and enjoyable performance comes from Samuel L. Jackson channeling Bill O’Reilly as reality news anchor and personality, Pat Novak.  Novak spews absurdly biased opinions on his show, The Novak Element, and Jackson sinks his teeth in and does not let go.  I’d watch an entire movie about this character alone. 

While it lacks the bite and intensity of the original, Robocop is not bad.  Part man. Part machine. All cop.  Alright – B-

Robocop is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 1 hour and 57 minutes.