Category Archives: Action

‘Unhinged’ Review

Not much has been consistent about 2020, especially when it comes to movies, but you have to give “Unhinged” credit: through all the delays and theater closings it has remained determined to get itself seen.

“Unhinged” stars Caren Pistorius as a recently divorced mother who gets into an altercation with a stranger (Russell Crowe) at a red light, and has him begin to terrorize her life. Gabriel Bateman, Jimmi Simpson, and Austin P. McKenzie also star while Derrick Borte directs a screenplay by Carl Ellsworth.

While many films were getting pushed back in the early summer due to the uncertainty of theaters, “Unhinged” was actually moved up to July 1 in by new distributor Solstice Studios in order to take advantage of the open field. Like “Tenet” and others, the film was then delayed several times as the pandemic progressed, but finally seems like it will see the light of day this month (ironically its original release month anyways). So, after all the hype and delays, is the film worth the constant perseverance of Solstice or you risking going out to the theaters? I mean, no, nothing short of “Tenet” really seems like it would be at this point in time, but it is a fast-paced and entertaining B-grade pulp film that, as the expression goes, does exactly what it says on the tin.

Russell Crowe is a bit removed from his blockbuster and Academy Awards days, opting instead lately for more character and dialogue-driven films like “Boy Erased” and “The Nice Guys.” “Unhinged” certainly won’t win him any awards, but for what he had to do and be (that being a hulking, growling sociopath) Crowe gets the job done. His accent is a little inconsistent (not sure if he was going for Southern drawl and his Australian half broke through or what), but he has a commanding-enough screen presence and it’s a role that not every actor could have pulled off.

The rest of the cast is solid enough, with Jimmi Simpson doing his nice, soft-spoken he’s known for and Caren Pistorius conveying stressed and scared. For a kid actor, Gabriel Bateman isn’t bad, but he has a few line deliveries that are easy to mock.

But you don’t see a film like “Unhinged” for the acting or script. You see it for car crashes and over-the-top kills, and there it mostly delivers. I do think that much like “Spree,” this is a theater or group of friends movie, because there are a few moments that are so insane they’d only be heightened by a crowd atmosphere. Director Derrick Borte also deserves credit for creating a few tense sequences, including the initial confrontation between Pistorius and Crowe even though we know what is coming.

“Unhinged” is not perfect and you need to suspend disbelief at several points (unless the New Orleans PD is truly incompetent, Crowe should get apprehended a half-dozen times), but I think if you go in knowing what to expect then there is lots to enjoy here. Is it the most tense or well-shot film of its kind? No. But in 2020, especially when it comes to cinema, we have to be thankful for what we are given, and I think that if you are truly dying to get out to the theater again, or if this comes to a drive-in near you, then it is a great way to spend 93 minutes.

Critics Rating: 6/10

‘Greyhound’ Review

Another day, another film that was meant for theaters going to streaming.

“Greyhound” is set during the Battle of the Atlantic in 1942, and follows an American escort ship captained by Tom Hanks (who also wrote the script) as it faces off with German U-boats. Rob Morgan and Stephen Graham also star as Aaron Schneider directs.

Originally slated for a May theatrical release, this film was sold to Apple TV for a whopping $70 million after coronavirus hit (if you think that is a lot of cash to pay just for distribution rights, this week Apple spent $105 million to acquire the Will Smith slavery film “Emancipation”). Apple is hoping this increases the worth of their digital library (their subscriber base is tracking behind what they initially hoped), and while “Greyhound” is not the next “Saving Private Ryan” I thought it was a very effective, tautly paced war picture.

Everyone loves Tom Hanks, and this was clearly somewhat of a passion project for him as it’s just the third feature script he’s ever written. Based on C.S. Forester’s 1955 novel “The Good Shepard,” this isn’t necessarily based on a true story, however it does depict a World War II conflict that doesn’t always get the screen time that its Western Front and Pacific Theater counterparts do. Hanks plays Ernest Krause, the commander of a destroyer, who is on his in the middle of his first command. Hanks, like everyone else here, doesn’t have much character development (there is a single flashback scene with Elisabeth Shue to try and add any amount of depth, and it was surely the easiest paycheck of her career), but his Everyday Joe likability makes us root for him.

Somewhat like “Dunkirk,” I think that we don’t get much detail or backstory on these characters because it is meant to drop us into that world and have the “this could be me, my son, or anyone” mentality. The supporting players, including Rob Morgan, Stephen Graham, and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, all do solid work filling out this 1942 world, even if you don’t really bother to remember their names.

But who cares about character development; this is a war film! We’re here to see things go boom! And luckily the ship battle sequences deliver. This thing was shot on about a $50 million budget, pretty modest for the genre, and besides some wonky greenscreen sequences early on the staging and the effects are pretty effective. There are points you feel the emotional impact and scale of the events taking place (Hanks remarks after sinking a U-boat that those weren’t simply Germans they killed, it was “75 souls”), and one intense sequence racing against the clock and a leaking oil tanker really had me getting anxious.

Aside from the thin characters, the only real issue I have here is the leader of the German submarines continuously radios into Hanks’ ship to scold the Americans, and he comes off like a cartoon character in an otherwise moderately somber film.

“Greyhound” is certainly worth checking out if you have Apple TV, and at just 91 minutes it is refreshing to have a war film (or any movie, for that matter) that wastes no time getting into things and chooses not draw out its runtime for the sake of self-indulgence. In what has been a weird year overall and solid-but-not-great year at the movies, I think this film ranks among the best we’ve gotten in the first half of things, and at this point, like the Americans in World War II, we’ll take a win anyplace we can get one.

Critics Rating: 8/10  

‘Extraction’ Review

It is always refreshing when a movie is exactly the thing the trailer promises it will be.

“Extraction” is the latest vehicle for Chris Hemsworth to attempt and establish himself outside the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and follows a black ops mercenary who must rescue a drug lord’s kidnapped son from a rival dealer in Bangladesh. Rudhraksh Jaiswal, Pankaj Tripathi, Randeep Hooda, Golshifteh Farahani, Suraj Rikame and David Harbour also star. Career stuntman Sam Hargrave makes his directorial debut, as “Avengers” directors Joe and Anthony Russo produce.

While they long-ago perfected the television binge and seem to have a grasp on Oscar movies, Netflix has been trying to compete in the big-budget blockbuster game for a while now. Their first attempt back in 2017, “Bright” starring Will Smith, was a critical failure but a hit with the views. Other attempts, the overly expensive but solid adult actioneer “Triple Frontier” or the brainless “6 Underground” from Michael Bay, have also failed to make a lasting impression. “Extraction” may not stay on the mind for very long after watching it, but while you’re on the ride it provides several standout action sequences.

I have long been a fan of Chris Hemsworth, and really want him to find his niche outside playing Thor. He seems to be enjoying the character now that it was reinvented by (Oscar winner) Taika Waititi, but I have always thought he was at his best and most-natural as the supporting player in comedies, like the “Vacation” and “Ghostbuster” reboots. He has tried his hand at dramas and lighter action pieces before, but this is the first time I think he was able to really find something that worked for him. His character development is pretty thin, but Hemsworth is able to get one emotional scene in that he does a pretty good job with. But, for the most part, he is running around with a gun, and for the sake of the story he does a convincing job doing that.

Since this follows in the footsteps of “John Wick” and has a stuntman in the director’s chair, the action sequences here are all very well put together. For the most part the camera isn’t too close or shaky, allowing the audience to take in the fights and the actors to actually put on a convincing bout. There is a sequence in the middle of the film that includes several car chases, a shootout and a knife fight, and it is shot and is edited to look like one continuous eight-minute take. The individual moments in the scene are very impressive entertaining, but unlike a “Revenant” or “1917” the spots where they stitch the (at least four) separate shots together are a bit obvious, if not distracting. I love a one-take, but feel it must have some sort of purpose, not just to show off.

The script by Joe Russo is, fine. I don’t think he set out to write the next “Social Network” or anything, just need excuses to get characters from A to B. There are some awkward bits of dialogue (although also a couple entertaining quips), and the ending is, well, something. There is also a lot of violence and a comically high bodycount, and while I’m fine with that since this is, well, an action movie, I know some people have lines even with R-rated films, so just a heads up.

“Extraction” is certainly a take-it-or-leave-it movie, in a “you’re stuck at home right now anyways, so how picky can you really be about the things you watch?” way. The actors all do a solid job, and the gunplay and hand-to-hand combat sequences are well put together. Could it use a little more meat on its bones? Sure. But for being locked in my house and going on nearly two months without movie theaters, “Extraction” was a welcome mindless treat.

Critics Rating: 7/10

‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ Review

Remember in 2015 when we were all excited about where a new Star Wars film by Disney could go? Oh, that was fun…

“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” is the third film of the sequel trilogy and the ninth and final installment of the main Star Wars saga. J.J. Abrams, who directed and co-wrote “The Force Awakens,” returns to both jobs here, while Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac reprise their roles from the first two installments of the trilogy. Among other returning players are Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Anthony Daniels, Domhnall Gleeson, Lupita Nyong’o, Kelly Marie Tran, Ian McDiarmid and Billy Dee Williams, while Richard E. Grant and Keri Russell join the cast. In the film, the remainder of the Resistance as they prepare for the final face-off against the First Order and the return of Emperor Palpatine.

Overall I have enjoyed Disney’s Star Wars films, with “Rogue One” being one of the best films in the franchise to-date and “The Force Awakens” and “Solo” both being fun, if not familiar romps. I was mixed on “The Last Jedi” and have watched it at least three times in an attempt to see the universal praise that it received from people, but can’t fully get past all its plot holes and cringe moments (however it is hard to fault its ambition and better scenes). “The Rise of Skywalker” is more of the same from “The Last Jedi” in that it has a few good moments but also trips over itself too often for its own good.

One of the reliable things throughout this entire series (and there hasn’t been much consistency) has been the acting and again the cast does a solid job. Adam Driver (likely on his way to his second career Oscar nomination for his great work in “Marriage Story”) is a solid, emotionally conflicted villain as Kylo Ren, even if at this point it is hard to take him seriously as a super powerful bad guy after he lost to Daisy Ridley’s Rey on multiple occasions. Speaking of Ridley, she again conveys a lost girl desperate for answers, although she remains so overpowered that her arc isn’t so much of an arc as a continuously increasing line. John Boyega and Oscar Isaac share some amusing bromance moments and it’s also nice to see Billy Dee Williams return to his iconic Lando Calrissian.

Much like this year’s “Avengers: Endgame,” this film is the culmination of years of story-telling and world-building. However while that film worked its fan service into the plot (pretty much) seamlessly, “Skywalker” is a little more on-the-nose. Some of the appearances and Easter egg references are fun, others range from eye-rolling to cringe.

One of the complaints people had about “The Last Jedi” was that Kathleen Kennedy (the president of Lucasfilm and producer on the trilogy) gave Rian Johnson complete creative control of the sequel and he chose to throw out or ignore so much of what J.J. Abrams set up with “The Force Awakens.” With Abrams returning, he not only had to close out a trilogy and 42 years of a saga, but had to win back fans who felt betrayed by “The Last Jedi.” Abrams attempts to retcon much of the previous film but it only ends up making the whole thing feel disjointed. Palpatine is back despite appearing to die in “Return of the Jedi” and the way they introduce him into this trilogy is so forced it’s hilarious, just because they killed off Snoke unceremoniously. The introduction of Richard E. Grant’s bad guy general is because Domhnall Gleason’s character was made into a whiny cartoon and could no longer be taken seriously. And this isn’t bringing up the numerous bits of dialogue where the characters all but turn and wink to the camera about how they didn’t like the last film.

The first act of the film is full of a bit of exposition and forced catch-up (including that Palpatine intro) but the second act actually moves along at a quick pace and is quite enjoyable. The script by Chris Terrio and Abrams has some entertaining bits of dialogue (especially from the droid characters) and even though the plot is just hopping from place to place, it is fun. But the third act then hits a wall, mainly because it turns into a nonsensical CGI destruction festival that would have made George Lucas’ prequel films blush. It just keeps going and gets stupider and stupider before ending on a line that actually made the woman next to me laugh and shake her head.

“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” may give enough fan service for diehards, but it will upset people who loved “The Last Jedi” because it doesn’t take many risks and turn off casual Star Wars fans because it’s an objectively sloppy film that doesn’t answer half the questions set up in 2015. I remember walking out of  “The Force Awakens” thinking that it had flaws but it had laid the groundwork for the best Star Wars trilogy to-date; little did I know that we had already peaked. Overall, I would lean more negatively than positive here because the final 40 minutes are a mess, but there are enough entertaining character interactions and “that was cool” visuals to make your obligatory viewing of this anticlimactic final chapter worth at least some of your dollars.

Critics Rating: 5/10


‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ Review

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me four times, you’re the Terminator franchise.

“Terminator: Dark Fate” is the sixth installment to the long-running franchise, and features Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger returning to their original roles from the first two films. Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes, Gabriel Luna and Diego Boneta also star, Tim Miller directs and James Cameron returns to the franchise as a producer and co-writer.

The first two Terminator films are renowned among the best action films of all-time but ever since 1991’s “Judgment Day” the series has been on the decline, with each sequel getting progressively worse and sloppy. What used to be “grounded” shoot-em-ups and chase scenes mutated into CGI throwdowns and explosions, and if “Dark Fate” isn’t as bad as 2015’s “Genisys” then it’s damn close.

The bar for a Terminator sequel is pretty low nowadays, especially after the cluttered mess that was “Genisys.” But “Dark Fate” has been touted as the return of founder James Cameron to the franchise, and in the day and age of the reboot/remake/sequels like “The Force Awakens” and “Halloween,” maybe this is just what Terminator needed, to get back to its roots. Maybe that is what it needed, I couldn’t tell you; this film is as messy and ugly as any other of these films.

The film just feels like a studio checklist, from safe and calculated nostalgia drops (most of which aren’t even good and are just lazy pandering) to over-the-top set pieces. On the most basic level of popcorn thrills, sure, maybe there is enough here to satisfy. On one occasion when Mackenzie Davis’ half-human, half-robot character was hitting Gabriel Luna’s Terminator with a sledge hammer I thought “oh that was a cool shot.” But for the most part this action just feels stale, like there are no true consequences or stakes because everything going on is just ludicrous. Each action scene starts and ends the same way, with our heroines having slowed down the Terminator, who then turns to the camera and slowly begins to stand as the score gives us a “buh buhh” before cutting to the next scene.

For being a $185 million blockbuster in the year 2019, the film doesn’t even look all too good. Whenever Gabriel Luna is having his skin re-form over his Terminator exoskeleton, it looks so incredibly fake to a distracting degree; like PlayStation 3 cutscene level bad.

The performances are, fine; about as much as you can hope to get from a film like this. I’m sure older generations will get a kick out of seeing Linda Hamilton onscreen once more in her iconic role, and as far as Arnie goes… like, he’s playing the same dry robot he was in “Genisys” so it isn’t the same rush to see him in the role. I personally wasn’t a fan of how they have the Connor character portrayed, she is just rude and grumpy to everyone all the time so it’s hard to root for her, but for the storyline they give her to play with in this film I suppose it worked fine.

“Terminator: Dark Fate” is just as incoherent, loud and boring as its predecessor which begs the question why they bothered to try this mini-reboot at all? I can’t see diehard fans being pleased with several decisions in it, and newcomers or lukewarm folk to the franchise catch get all the Easter eggs planted to distract them from the garbage plot. I would call it a disappointment but no rational-thinking adult had very high expectations for a franchise that hasn’t been good in nearly 30 years, so I’ll just call this what it is: a not very good movie.

Critic’s Rating: 4/10

‘Spider-Man: Far From Home’ Review

This is “Spider-Man 2” in more ways than one.

“Spider-Man: Far From Home” is the sequel to 2017’s “Homecoming” and is the 23rd film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Tom Holland reprises his role as the titular wall-crawler, as the film follow Peter Parker trying to balance his school trip in Europe with a growing threat from unknown creatures. Samuel L. Jackson, Zendaya, Cobie Smulders, Jon Favreau and Jake Gyllenhaal also star and Jon Watts returns to direct.

I enjoyed the first MCU Spider-Man film a decent amount, mostly due to Tom Holland’s incredible charm and Michael Keaton enjoying himself as a very entertaining (and almost sympathetic) bad guy. And I have always doubted that any Spider-Man film will ever top the heights of 2004’s “Spider-Man 2,” but dammit does this thing at times come close.

Much that worked about the first film again works well here. The John Hughes-ish high school dramedy take on Peter Parker’s story is often very relatable, from dealing with fitting in to trying to work up the courage to talk to your crush. We feel like we can empathize with what Holland is going through (until it gets to the whole “saving the world” part) and thanks to his and Zendaya’s wonderfully awkward chemistry those scenes work so well.

The action is much bigger this time (despite a smaller budget), and for the most part it is nothing short of incredible. There are some mind-bending sequences throughout this film, thanks in large part to Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio, but more on him in a second. The fights have much more color this time around than last (most of those battles took place at night) and because of the threat at hand it gives Watts more toys to play with and things to throw at the screen. There are a few wonky moments, especially with green screen during one web swinging sequence, but overall this thing pops.

So, Mysterio. One of my favorite cartoon villains growing up, I had accepted a long time ago that I would never get to see him portrayed on the big screen. So when it was announced that not only would he appear in the “Homecoming” sequel but he would be portrayed by Oscar nominee Jake Gyllenhaal, I got excited. From his brief appearance in the first trailer I knew the filmmakers has nailed him and after seeing the actual film I loved it. So many times watching this I got excited because they got this character perfect with his nature and powers, but I won’t go into further detail because the marketing hasn’t.

I really have no major complaints about “Spider-Man: Far From Home.” It sets up the next phase of the MCU in mind-bending fashion and even the first act—which some may find “slow”—is full of cute awkward young affection and some actually pretty funny lines of dialogue. I’ll say it: “Spider-Man: Far From Home” is not only the best Marvel movie to come out in 2019 (I didn’t stutter), it is the best “Spider-Man” film since “Spider-Man 2.”

Critic’s Rating: 9/10

‘Avengers: Endgame’ Review


“Avengers: Endgame” is the follow-up to 2018’s “Infinity War” and is the 22nd film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which began 11 years ago with “Iron Man.” The film returns its ensemble cast as the titular team, with Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson and Jeremy Renner, alongside about a dozen other actors. Anthony and Joe Russo return to direct.

To say this film is one of, if not the, most anticipated cinematic events of all-time is an understatement. It literally broke the internet when tickets went on sale and Disney is giving it a $200 million marketing campaign, which is more than most movies even cost to make. I personally was enthralled with the film seeing as I am a semi-Avengers fanboy (half of the MCU is fantastic, half is “meh, fun, fine”) and “Infinity War,” a movie I have seen ten times and only gets better with each viewing, was my top film of 2018. So it actually crushes me that “Avengers: Endgame” is just… meh, fun, fine.

We will start with the positives of the film, because there are plenty. The fan service in here is incredible, and for the most part it does not come at the expense of drama or pacing. I really can’t get into much of the *why* (in fact most of this review will be vague redactions) but how they address certain past films of the MCU or give characters little moments is either touching or entertaining, and feels earned not forced.

The plot itself is kind of clever, albeit predicted by any fan who has read a comic or can piece two-and-two of how the MCU has played out over the last 10+ years. They really don’t give much of it away in the trailers, save for one shot that if you know what you’re looking for will confirm your theory, so casual filmgoers (if there are any of those left still going to Marvel movies) will enjoy the route they take.

It is well-documented that Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr.’s contracts expire after this film and it could be their final go-around, at least as leading roles. Captain America didn’t make Evans a star but it is hard to picture anyone else throwing the red, white and blue shield after all these years, while Downey literally had his career saved by “Iron Man” after plenty of arrests, and it is impossible to imagine where this universe would be without him. Both men turn in great performances and the film honors the journeys their characters have taken.

I can’t really say what I didn’t like about the film because of “spoilers” (as far as wanting to go in blind), but I will just say there are two people that I really do not like what they did with the characters. One is altered simply to become a joke and I hoped it would just be a one-scene ordeal but it drags on, and the other becomes a distracting cartoon character. Neither really fit the doom-and-gloom tone the film seems to (at least is pretending to want to) be going for.

A complaint a lot of people have about the Marvel movies is they insert jokes at the expense of drama, and I think that is only sometimes true. “Thor: Ragnarok” is a literal comedy but it certainly tosses out improve humor in moments that should be life-and-death, but in films like “Infinity War” no one is cracking one-liners as Thanos approaches them with the Infinity Stones. Here, the writers are more than willing to try quips at the expense of a should-be dramatic moment, and just like “Us” a few weeks back or “Captain America: Civil War” I think the stakes are too high and it just seems unorganic. Quips worked in the first two “Avengers” movie because Joss Whedon is clever; this script isn’t always.

The climax is emotional and fun, albeit in a “dump out your toy box and throw them at each other” kind of way, but it made the 12-year-old kid in me giddy with joy and it certainly came close to putting a lump in my throat having seen so many of these stories over the past 11 years. The final 30 minutes of this film certainly rank among the MCU’s best.

“Avengers: Endgame” actually has some guts and conviction, something a few Marvel movies lack, but it is also overstuffed and sometimes doesn’t know when to get out of its own way. It treats half of its characters with respect but then will turn around and alter others, and it just rubbed me the wrong way. I got my fan service, even if I was able to predict 95% of what was going to happen, and to some that may be enough. Following up “Infinity War,” one of the best superhero films of all-time, I expected more, but I can’t say I was fully let down.

Critic’s Rating: 7/10

‘Captive State’ Holds Audiences Hostage with its Boredom

Remember back in 2014 when Netflix was known for its cut-rate made-for-TV movies instead of helming Oscar contenders? Yeah, this film feels like it missed the queue by a few years…

“Captive State” takes place on Earth after an alien species has invaded and forced humanity’s surrender, and follows a small faction determined to start a revolution. John Goodman, Ashton Sanders, Jonathan Majors, Machine Gun Kelly and Vera Farmiga star as Rupert Wyatt directs and co-writes.

When the trailer for this dropped, the few people who saw it (I bet most people don’t even know this film exists) believed it was another “Cloverfield” joint and that John Goodman was playing his character from “10 Cloverfield Lane” who was right about aliens after all. Unfortunately, instead of that possibly interesting story we get a pretty standard rebellion movie with some less-than-convincing effects and way less-than-entertaining alien encounters.

I love John Goodman and was part of the group of people who really wanted award voters to take notice of him back in 2016 with “Cloverfield Lane” because it was arguably a career-best turn from him. Here he is reuniting with “The Gambler” director Rupert Wyatt (who is best known for helming the first and best film of the “Planet of the Apes” reboot trilogy) and he just seems bored. He has a frown on his face the entire time and often seems as lost as the audience. Wyatt intentionally (or maybe not) gives us little information about Goodman’s character in an attempt to murky the waters and not let us know whether or not we can trust him, but the problem is Goodman isn’t the only person running around 2027 Chicago without an arc.

Ashton Sanders, Vera Farmiga, Machine Gun Kelly, all these people are given a job title and name and that is where their character development begins and ends. No personal demons to combat, no past they’re trying to run from or future they’re trying to embrace, just “character #14 in a sci-fi thriller.” Sanders has shown after his “Moonlight” turn that he has some acting chops and can even hold his own alongside Denzel Washington, but here he seems lost and his character literally does get lost for a good chunk of the film.

The alien designs are laughable at best (and just plain ugly and dumb at worst) but Wyatt doesn’t waste any time letting us get a good chuckle in. The aliens are shown in the very first scene, ruining any and all sense of wonder or suspense, and also confusing us the entire film with why the aliens are here and how they actually operate. Some of the other effects would be cheesy by 1977 standards and the climax to the film makes about as much sense as Rami Malek winning Best Actor this past year.

“Captive State” has all the makings of the next classic alien invasion thriller, except for the layered characters, creative creature designs, engaging plot, nail-biting tension and revolutionary special effects. It is the kind of film you would flip on Netflix and have going in the background, and if you were to randomly start watching at any point you would still know about as much as someone who had been paying attention since the opening credit crawl. Skip it. If you’re really jonesing for a movie, go see “Captain Marvel,” save your money for “Us” or go find John Carpenter’s “The Thing.”

Critic’s Rating: 3/10

‘Captain Marvel’ is Pretty Fun Stuff

Ok. I’m a big enough man to admit when I’m wrong.

“Captain Marvel” is the 21st installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the first film to feature Brie Larson as the titular hero. Samuel L. Jackson also stars as a younger version of his Nick Fury character (thanks to the wonders of de-aging technology) while Ben Mendelsohn, Djimon Hounsou, Annette Bening, Clark Gregg and Jude Law also star; Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck direct.

So, there has been a lot of talk surrounding this film for the past year and because its 2019 and nothing makes sense anymore, most of the talk is dumb and holds no weight. Brie Larson and co-director Anna Boden have been on record multiple times stating that this is a feminist film, and that made large groups of Twitter trolls spam the comment sections online. Conversely, trolls on the opposite side attacked anyone who pointed out the objectively bland (and widely criticized) trailers for the film, which were all stale and didn’t do Larson any favors selling the character. I was very vocal with my distaste for the trailers and like many people was nervous about the film and the character’s place in the MCU, but am happy to report that most all my fears ended up being irrational.

One of the complaints about the trailers and worries towards the film was Brie Larson. She is an Oscar winning actress who has also shown her ability to be comedic (“21 Jump Street” and “Trainwreck”), however in the trailers she came off as cold, stoic and unwilling to smile. I’m not sure if this was an attempt by Marvel to troll fans or what, but Larson’s performance in the film is actually full of grins, deadpan one-liners and a range of emotion. She has some nice back-and-forths with Samuel L. Jackson and Jude Law, and on more than one occasion is given the chance to get choked up as a woman trying to figure out her mysterious past.

Speaking of Samuel L. Jackson, his 70-year-old self is playing a 45-year-old version of himself. Thanks to de-aging technology, similar to what has been done in previous Marvel films but never to this scale (and what we will see done to Robert de Niro and Al Pacino in “The Irishman”), Jackson appears like he did back in his “Jackie Brown” and “Pulp Fiction” days, and his performance (and the facial recreation) are both entertaining. It looks less convincing on Clark Gregg’s Agent Coulson (it looks like a CGI character wearing a human mask), but on Jackson you forget you’re not actually watching a 40-year-old man pretty quickly.

Aside from Jackson’s de-aging the effects are typical Marvel, with some designs and fights being really well-done and polished and others (namely, greenscreen) appearing clearly fake to the point of distraction. Also, someone needs to tell the people at Marvel how to light a film set. Nearly all their films (save for “Black Panther”) have no true creative camera angles or lighting aspects, with most scenes taking place in an evenly-lit space with a grey hue in a shot-reverse-shot. “Black Panther” took risks and took its time; at the end of the day “Captain Marvel” just feels like a cookie-cutter film out of the MCU oven.

And there is nothing inherently wrong with that. It surprised me in ways I didn’t think it would, and while I hope she doesn’t suddenly become the face of Marvel and save everyone’s lives single-handily in “Avengers: Endgame” I enjoyed Brie Larson’s turn as a not-so-well-known superhero. Is it forgettable? Probably. Is it as good or inspirational as the likes of a “Wonder Woman?” Not for me, at least. But it’s fun, and in a cinematic world where half of life in the universe was just wiped out of existence, maybe a little fun is a good thing.

Critic’s Rating: 8/10

‘Venom’ is a Mess of a Disappointment

I don’t know what else I expected from a studio like Sony…

“Venom” is the second film to feature the titular antihero (following 2007’s “Spider-Man 3”), and follows Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) as he is exposed to the alien symbiote and gains superpowers. Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Scott Haze and Reid Scott also star as Ruben Fleischer directs.

A Venom film had been in the talks for years, both before and after his appearance in “Spider-Man 3,” and this rendition was finally confirmed in March 2017 as part of Sony’s new “Marvel Universe” (different than Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe, but that is an entire different can of worms). It was promised to be rated R, sticking to the dark and violent nature of the character, but just a few weeks before its release Sony announced that it would be rated PG-13 in order to possibly accompany a cross-over with Spider-Man in future films (something Marvel and Disney have strongly implied they won’t allow). Combine this with the fact star Tom Hardy went on record (before backtracking) that his favorite 40 minutes of the film were cut and there were alarms going off all over the place. And where there is smoke there is fire, and it turns out to be of the dumpster variety.

I am a fan of Venom. I never read many of his comics but growing up I always liked it when he showed up in a Spider-Man show, and didn’t hate Topher Grace’s portrayal of Eddie Brock in “Spider-Man 3.” So when it was announced Hardy, fresh off an Oscar nomination for “The Revenant,” would play the character I got excited. And Hardy is (mostly) the only thing in the film that actually works.

His dynamic with the Venom character is often fun, as it is a voice in his head that only he can hear. Much like this summer’s “Upgrade” (one of the year’s better films, please seek it out!), Eddie is hesitant to hurt people so when Venom takes control of his body and begins to use humans as a baseball bat on others he is confused and outwardly apologizes to his victims. There are some laughs and some creative fight sequences, although you can tell some of the Venom kills (namely when he goes to bite off a character’s head) were cut and clipped to get that bloodless PG-13 rating. And the fact Sony made this PG-13 (especially after saying it would be R) is almost infuriating since it was done simply with the dollar sign in mind, yet we’ve seen the R-rated “Deadpool” films each make over $700 million.

Every other actor here is either wasted and/or trying their best, but the script is so clunky and reliant on exposition that they feel like cardboard cutouts. The evil head of a sketchy corporation? Check. The ex-girlfriend who comes back into the frame when her new boyfriend tries to help our main character? You know it. The member of the bad guy’s staff who has a sudden change of heart? Oh you know she’s in here. But none of the dialogue is engaging and the narrative just jumps from plot point to plot point with little flow (Venom doesn’t even appear for the first hour of this hour-42 minute film).

The special effects are mostly not all that special, with some of them actually looking straight-up like a PlayStation 3 cutscene. This was made on a “modest” $100 million budget (the average superhero film costs between $150-200 million nowadays) but this film really does look and play like it should have come out in 2007, before “The Dark Knight” and Marvel changed the superhero game.

“Venom” has occasional moments of intrigue or amusement, and Hardy and Venom’s dynamic and interactions are just good enough to make me want to see more of these “Marvel Universe” if they can get a script (and tone) that fits the character. But much like Tom Cruise’s “The Mummy” last year, a film that was supposed to kick off the “Dark Universe” for Universal, “Venom” just feels uninspired, bland and all-too-often is ugly to look at. The tagline for this film is “the world has enough superheroes” and after seeing this I think we have enough antiheros, too.

Critic’s Grade: C–