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 Fail to pay attention to every member of Starforce and you’ll struggle to work out whether someone has been replaced by the enemy.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
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.
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
Film Review: It Chapter Two
The sweet spot between Stephen King fans, horror fans and (believe it or not) comedy fans
The final installment in the It saga is a clever, scary, probably-too-long allegory about the power of friendship — complete with a 20-foot clown spider. Sure, it’s probably a half-hour longer than it really needs to be — but It Chapter Two is still a fantastic film that hits the sweet spot between Stephen King fans, horror fans and (believe it or not) comedy fans.
It’s a story about friendship, and just like the first film, it’s those relationships that make this story so compelling and keep it woven together in a way that you really care about what’s happening to all the folks Pennywise has been menacing across these two films. Sure, Bill Skarsgård’s absolutely terrifying performance as Pennywise is what puts butts in the seats, but at its heart, this is a story about the power of friendship to win out over pretty much anything. If we work together, we can overcome fear, loneliness, doubt, depression — and yeah — even a supernaturally godlike killer clown. Thankfully, all the blood keeps that message from getting too sappy along the way.
The first It in 2017 was a surprise, monster hit — but for good reason. The Stephen King adaptation by director Andy Muschietti is pretty much a horror masterpiece wrapped in a compelling coming of age story. Think Goonies meets a face-eating monster flick with jump scares galore to keep the blood pumping. But, despite a decently-closed ending to the first chapter, the story was always conceived as a two-part film run, which is pretty much the only way one could hope to possibly wrap up King’s massive tome (the studio actually briefly considered splitting Chapter Two into two films, because there’s just so much material).
It Chapter Two makes a wise decision to keep the stellar younger cast from the first film involved via ample flashbacks, while still providing space for the adult Losers to live and breathe (and, ahem, die) while bridging the gap between who they were and who they all grew up to be. It also embraces the inherent silliness and insanity of its premise to laugh, now seen through the lens of middle-aged adults as opposed to middle school minds. It’s a hard tone to hit, and it arguably might come off with more laughs than scares, but it’s true to the inherent madness of Pennywise.
The adult cast is also a home run by and large. James McAvoy makes for a capable adult Bill; Jessica Chastain is the embodiment of adult Bev; James Ransome nails grown-up Eddie; and Isaiah Mustafa does a capable job providing the necessary info-dumps as adult Mike. But the real breakout is Saturday Night Live alum Bill Hader as grown-up Richie. There’s scattered buzz that Hader could be worthy of an Oscar nomination for his performance, and he deserves every bit of it. We knew Hader had comedy chops, and he uses them plenty to keep this dark tale from getting too dark, but he really taps into the emotion of what it’d be like to go through something so traumatizing. And the moments that break Richie will almost certainly break you, too.
As for the changes to King’s original novel, sure, they’ll certainly be noticeable for fans. That said, the book itself — especially the ending — is absolutely wild and arguably impossible to adapt in a way that could work on the screen. The ending on-screen largely stays true to King’s themes built into the novel, and for the story that’s been told across these two films, it really does work. Hell, even King himself shows up in a cameo to make a joke about just how hard it can be to get an ending right.
Thankfully, despite a few bumps, It Chapter Two pretty much nails the landing. In a world filled more and more with King adaptations, this two-film run will stand as one of the best.
It Chapter Two is in cinemas now
IT CHAPTER TWO
Directed by: Andy Muschietti
Written by: Gary Dauberman
Cast: James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Bill Skarsgård
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Run time: 169 minutes
Film Review: Hobbs & Shaw
If you’ve already got the volume at 11, you might as well blast it to oblivion
It is hard to believe that 2001’s The Fast & The Furious was just a film about the underground culture of street racing. Fast forward nearly 20 years later and the films have gotten so ridiculous that the only logical next step for the film series is to blast it into space. Our endless appetite for the series has seen us grown accustomed to cars taking planes out of the sky (Fast 6), cars jumping from one building to another (Fast 7), and cars being remotely controlled to act like a pack of mechanical wild dogs (Fast 8). Ridiculous is not a barrier the film series will ever brake for and so it brings us to this, the biggest spin-off the series has seen, Hobbs & Shaw.
When the chemistry between The Rock and Jason Statham proved magic in Fast 8, it only took The Rock butting heads with Vin Diesel to see that logically, the series needed a freshness to it. Who better than Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham? Well, as Hobbs & Shaw proves, if you’ve already got the volume at 11, you might as well blast it to oblivion as the film cares not for subtlety, pouring gasoline on the fire. The film sees the addition of Idris Elba as supervillain Brixton Lore and the effervescent Vanessa Kirby as Hattie Shaw, the sister of Statham’s character. Both characters fit in superbly well to the colorful, over-the-top personas of the series, but with one difference; they haven’t worn thin yet and are extremely likable. The film benefits greatly from the absence of Vin Diesel’s dopey head and the majority of the dopey Fast “family”, instead taking the Fast and Furious formula and giving it a spit shine, turning it sideways, and sticking it right up… well, you know the drill.
Hobbs (Johnson) and Shaw (Statham) play the unlikeliest (but most charismatic) buddy cop twosome since the days of Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte. Unexpectedly, this film is really quite hilarious- with the two swapping one-liners and jibes that keeps the film light and funny. The two are tasked with stopping global genocide at the hands of the megalomaniacal terrorist organization known as Etheon. The “face” of Etheon is superhuman Brixton Lore (Elba), an agent left for dead and turned into a weaponized cyborg-esque villain using genetic engineering. He’s the “black Superman” as he says, and he’s got an array of tech and gadgets (including a transforming, autonomous motorbike that would have found itself at home in a Transformers movie) that are part of Etheon’s plan to rid the world of the “weak”.
Etheon are after a deadly virus that is in possession of Hattie Shaw and what ensues is the expected cinematic equivalent of flexing your muscles and undoing the top few buttons of your blouse soundtracked to explosions, fast machines, and zippy dialogue. Director David Leitch (Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2) keeps things by the book, and visually it’s all very on brand with the film series. But it is the chemistry and likability of the stars- namely Kirby, Statham, and Johnson- that keeps Hobbs & Shaw light on its feet, big with its set pieces, and never a chore. Kirby, in particular, has shown that her action chops are as deadly as her acting chops (is it too late to make her Black Widow? Or maybe just put her in all the action films). She never spends the film waiting to be rescued and is often the one quelling the childish, but hilarious quarrelling between Statham and Johnson.
The film trades the tired Fast family for real blood family, and while we still get the whole “family” and “heart” spiel that Vin Diesel loves to harp on about in these films, there is definitely a welcome change to the last few films. In fact, the Fast films haven’t been this fun in a long time. Unlike the last few, Hobbs & Shaw knows that the stakes of the film are global, but never does it take that too seriously and we the audience never feel too burdened by the ridiculousness of it all. There are some great cameos (two unexpected stars pop up that add the right comedic touches, plus Helen Mirren is always brilliant) and while the changing of scenery to Samoa is reminiscent of the previous Fast family vacations to South America et al, there’s something spiritual about this trip.
In the end, you don’t even have to turn your brain off because the film is soaked in charm and lightness that makes for a fun, smart enough romp that keeps its two-plus hour run time feeling like quite a breeze. Hobbs & Shaw is what this film series desperately needed. And while we can’t say the appeal will still be there when we’re inevitably sitting through Hobbs & Shaw 2, 3, 4, 5… we can say that for now, we’ll live this life one spin-off at a time.
HOBBS & SHAW
Directed by: David Leitch
Written by: Chris Morgan, Drew Pearce
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Vanessa Kirby, Idris Elba, Helen Mirren
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Run time: 135 minutes