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Film Review: Captain Marvel

It’s taken a while to get here, sure, but let’s put all that external baggage to one side for a moment and answer the most fundamental question: is Captain Marvel any good?

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Ok, so Carol Danvers isn’t the first female superhero to get her own Marvel movie (although perhaps the less said about Elektra the better). But with 2008’s Iron Man came something of a clean slate for Marvel: the launch of both a new studio and a shared cinematic universe to go with it. And now we’re 21 films deep and finally getting a female-led outing. It’s taken a while to get here, sure, but let’s put all that external baggage to one side for a moment and answer the most fundamental question: is Captain Marvel any good?

The answer, thankfully, is yes.

Acting as something of an origin story in reverse, the film opens with an amnesiac Brie Larson. She’s a Kree soldier on the planet Hala, and a member of Jude Law’s black ops team, Starforce. Or is she? The questions of who she is, where she’s from and what happened to her aren’t the hardest to work out, but her journey to discovering their answers is sort of the point.

Honestly, the way the movie front loads its mysteries is perhaps its biggest weakness. The opening act is stuffed to the brim, introducing a gluttony of planets, characters, species, wars and powers. It’s a lot to take in – at times maybe too much. Miss a line of dialogue and you might not realise that the baddies of the piece – the Skrulls – are shapeshifters. Fail to pay attention to every member of Starforce and you’ll struggle to work out whether someone has been replaced by the enemy. It doesn’t help that the first big action scene is pretty darkly lit (more so in 3D), which just adds to the feeling of confusion.

Of course, in true shared-universe style, some of the heavy lifting has been done in other Marvel films. The Kree, you’ll recall, are the blue-skinned aliens we first met in Guardians of the Galaxy – a movie which serves as a cosmic touchstone of sorts here. And as Captain Marvel progresses and lets the main story kick in, it definitely finds its groove.

This is helped enormously by the addition of Sam Jackson’s Nick Fury. Given the film is set in the mid-90s, Fury is a younger, two-eyed man here. He’s in full-on sidekick mode, providing much of the film’s humour and acting as the audience’s way into the crazy world of Kree warriors and Skrull shapeshifters.

And what of the Skrulls themselves? They’re pretty big in the comics, responsible for the excellent Secret Invasion storyline, where it was revealed they had slowly been replacing many of the heroes – including members of the Avengers – over a number of years. It was excellent paranoia-inducing, who-do-you-trust stuff, and that element definitely translates well to Captain Marvel. For a species we’ve never met before in the MCU, they’re given a great introduction here, and Ben Mendelsohn is fantastic as their leader.

Which, of course, leaves us with Captain Marvel herself. Carol Danvers’ journey of discovery is a lot of fun, and Brie Larson does a superb job in the part. There are other strong female characters in the MCU – Black Widow, Gamora, the Wasp and so on – but this is Larson’s movie and she shines in every scene she’s in (which is pretty much all of them). She’s clearly having a blast being a superhero, and it’s nearly impossible not to enjoy it just as much as she is.

It may sound obvious, or perhaps even a little strange, but having a female-led superhero film in today’s age is important. It perhaps shouldn’t be, it perhaps should be pretty normal, but given the recent output of Marvel and DC combined have given us a grand total of two, that’s clearly not the case. Like Wonder Woman before it, Captain Marvel will be subject to far deeper levels of scrutiny than their Spider-Man or Batman counterparts (the clue’s in the name). Sure, this will hopefully fade over time, but the online furore surrounding the release of Captain Marvel shows there’s still plenty of basements out there with an internet connection and a mother who’s prepared to pay for it.

The best thing this film can do to really rile up the trolls is succeed; a weak outing would only serve to fan their flames. But if directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck are aware of the pressure on their shoulders – and they surely must be – they don’t let it show. Captain Marvel handles its subject matter well, introducing another strong female character to the MCU, one who will be instrumental in the upcoming battle against Thanos. She’s superpowered without losing her humanity, sexy without being sexualised. Her costume isn’t revealing – it’s the same as what the guys wear. It’s her character at the forefront, not her gender. Its message isn’t as overt as Wonder Woman’s, but it’s no less important or successful because of it.

As a movie, you’ll know without reading this whether you’ll enjoy it or not. Captain Marvel doesn’t reinvent the Marvel wheel, but that’s not necessarily a criticism. They’ve pretty much perfected the formula these days – a insurmountable obstacle, some over-the-top set pieces, a large dose of humour and a twisty-turny storyline that leads you straight into the next one. It worked back in 2008 and it’s still working today. And just as Tony Stark signalled the beginning of what was to come, maybe Carol Danvers is doing much the same.

CAPTAIN MARVEL
Directed by: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
Written by: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, Geneva Robertson-Dwore
Cast: Brie Larson, Jude Law, Ben Mendelsohn, Annette Benning, Gemma Chan, Djimon Hounsou, Clark Gregg, Lee Pace
Released by: Marvel Studios
Running time: 124 minutes

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Spider-Man: Far From Home is a splendid coda to the Avengers

Save the world, save the girl?

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Spider-Man

Where do you go after Avengers: Endgame? The finale to an 11-year journey was always going to be a heavy exhale. But with much of the story finding conclusion, it was only natural that the next chapter would be something a little lighter, less fraught but still tense with importance. The question of responsibility and the burden of carrying it has been a fundamental principle of being a superhero in this universe, a burden that only continues in the final film of this phase. So where does the Marvel Cinematic Universe go after Endgame? Well, on holiday of course. Spider-Man: Far From Home is not only a splendid film but a nice coda to the biggest cinematic undertaking we’ve seen in recent history.

You can find Spider-Man: Far From Home nestled in the cinematic landscape somewhere between Iron Man 3 and National Lampoon’s Vacation. Peter Parker (Tom Holland, really solidifying himself as this generation’s best Spider-Man) is Clark Griswolding himself across Europe to chase the heart of MJ (Zendaya). As a bumbling 16-year-old who only wants to find the girl, his romance is cut a little short by the expected Marvel cinematic tomfoolery we’ve come to expect from our arachnid hero. Jake Gyllenhaal’s turn as Mysterio is a concerted effort; a cross between Tony Stark’s wise but too cool tutelage and Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin (take that how you will). As the carnage across Europe unfolds, the film becomes a well-balanced juxtapositioning of the kind of humor we’ve found appealing within in the MCU and action and adventure that doesn’t become overly burdensome or heavy. Far From Home keeps things light and breezy, but you never forget the stakes or think that this is just a tacked on fling after the events of Endgame.

The cast are well rounded and the addition of Marvel players we’ve come to love (Jon Favreau’s Happy Hogan, Spider-Man sidekick Ned, and both Nick Fury and Maria Hill) makes it hit with almost the same gravitas as the previous films. But more importantly, they never make the film feel like an overstuffed mess that plagued outings like Age of Ultron. The pace is engaging, and as the story unfolds amongst the smoke and mirrors, you can’t help but feel a kind of comic book happiness that you felt through Homecoming. It’s charming, it’s earnest, it’s funny, and at times, doesn’t take itself too seriously (Spider-Man video game in-joke included!). Plus it has those little moments that while may have been written for fans, will appeal to anyone who enjoys a good laugh, a touching moment, and good filmmaking. While the death of Tony Stark looms large within the narrative of the film, it doesn’t become baggage- but rather the catalyst for growth within Parker and helps propel the story to its conclusion.

However, one can’t help but feel that the continued presence of Tony Stark, and the reminder that he is gone, really does give this universe a sense of finality. If you stay for the end-credits (both scenes), you’ll know that Marvel has plans both big and small in the coming years. Far From Home is both the end and the beginning in a sense. It’s a nice coda to Endgame, and for some, probably a good place to step away from the past 11 years. Far From Home is also continued proof that heart and the desire to do good doesn’t always have to follow the same tired script. Save the world, lose the girl? Maybe not this time.

Spider-Man: Far From Home is in cinemas now.

SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME
Directed by: Jon Watts
Written by: Erik Sommers, Chris McKenna
Cast: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Jake Gyllenhaal, Samuel L. Jackson, Colbie Smulders, Marisa Tomei
Distributed by: Sony Pictures
Run time: 129 minutes

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Film Review: Murder Mystery

Murder Mystery is a pretty crap film.

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Murder Mystery is the next film in the long line of terrible Adam Sandler films distributed by Netflix. At this point we’re not sure that Netflix actually watches these movies before they put them on their service but here we are. Murder Mystery, like many of the recent Sandler-helmed flicks, seem less like movies than they do lavish holidays that Adam Sandler and friends go on where filming of random skits tied together loosely by some semblance of narrative occurs. Much of the film is slapped together with the kind of duct-tape storytelling you’d find in all those mediocre SNL movies.

There is star quality though. Jennifer Aniston is back, after working alongside Sandler in 2011’s equally terrible Just Go With It, and they’ve roped in some pretty prominent names, including Luke Evans (Fast & Furious series, The Hobbit), Gemma Arterton, and a happily cashing in his check Terrence Stamp. What happens can be best described as stupid Cluedo, or more blatantly, a dumb Murder On the Orient Express where Sandler and Aniston’s characters, a bumbling New York cop and hair dresser, stumble upon a high-stakes inheritance-grab murder mystery where absurd things happen. It never makes much sense but the biggest problems with these movies are not so much the cartoony skits (Sandler’s cop is so bad at shooting his gun that when he does, it’s a cartoon-like hail of bullets missing their target), but just the insanely unbelievable characters that fill these movies. It’s OK to suspend belief, but at this point, you don’t believe for one second any of the characters would exist in real life or that any of them act like actual humans do. There is also no shortage of cartoon bozos: Fat New York cop sidekick? Check. Buffoony Inspector Clouseau French detective? Check. Overly Spanish Spanish guy? Check. Ali G Indian guy? Check. Even Gemma Arterton’s Jessica Rabbit-esque character would make Jessica Rabbit shake her head in disbelief. At least Rob Schneider isn’t in it.

Is it funny? No, but there are actually some moments worth a chuckle. And that’s already better than Sandler’s previous Netflix outings. Murder Mystery’s jokes are mostly at the expense of the exaggerated caricatures and Sandler’s goofy self, but for the most part, its pretty bereft of humor. To make matters worse, the film has that cheap Netflix sheen to it that makes it even more of a TV movie than it already is. In the end, the movie is such a blatant Murder on the Orient Express rip-off that the end scene literally shows the Orient Express train. Unironically too.

Netflix’s has a serious movie problem- one that we’ve talked about before. Murder Mystery, is no different. You can’t fault Sandler for continuing down this path. Same goes for Aniston. Both have more than established their craft over the years that at times, you can’t help but feel envious of the position they’re in. So what if they just want to put their feet up, cash in a nice pay check, and enjoy the nice sights? Who wouldn’t?

Murder Mystery is a pretty crap film, but it’s what happens when we’ve given this much clout to Netflix. Spielberg had a point when he said Netflix movies shouldn’t be competing for Oscars. It is not only because they eschew theatrical traditions, but it should also be because they’re crap. And not even in the Spielberg Artificial Intelligence sense of being an average movie- but in the Lifetime channel level of crap. So really, when you think about, Murder Mystery is all our fault.

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