CAPTAIN MARVEL (2019)
Latest MCU film begins with the tale of Vers (Brie Larson), an elite warrior for the Kree Starforce who are fighting an invasion by shape-shifting beings known as Skrulls. Vers is captured by the Skrulls and upon escaping her imprisonment, finds out they are looking for a woman named Wendy Lawson (Annette Bening), a scientist on planet D-53…Earth. Vers crash lands on Earth, where it’s the year 1995 and soon finds all is not what it seems and her strange dreams may be memories from her life there, as Air Force pilot Carol Danvers. With her team commander Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) out of reach and Skrull leader Talos (Ben Mendelsohn) in hot pursuit, can Vers/Carol find out who she really is and how she got her powers?
Superhero epic is directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck from a script and story by they, Meg LeFauve, Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Nicole Perlman. Five people on a screenplay is rarely good news and too many cooks do spoil the soup here. The story is choppy and feels like exactly what it is, a script Frankenstein-ed together by five different writers. Add to that, it is one of the most flatly directed of the Marvel epics and you have a disappointing first adventure for Carol Danvers. The action is bland and routine, there is little suspense or excitement and the 90s nostalgia is overdone, with too many songs shoehorned into the soundtrack and far too many pop culture references for it’s own good. The film seems to stop dead sometimes to almost scream out “Hey, look…it’s the 90s”. It’s obtrusive. Even Captain Marvel’s spectacular powers are presented without any of the awe and wonder they need to give them impact. The only thing that elevates this by-the-numbers epic is the veteran cast.
Here is where Captain Marvel gets it’s only luster. Oscar winner Brie Larson is a great choice to play Danvers and her confident swagger and disarming smile really help the audience warm up to her and she’s very likable despite a mediocre maiden voyage. She also is solid in the action scenes and we wish that action were more worthy of it’s leading lady’s charm and spinning back-kicks. She has a great chemistry with her Kong: Skull Island co-star Samuel L. Jackson, who returns as a younger, and somewhat less hardened Nick Fury. Jackson is jackson and he seems to be having a good time as Larson’s second banana. Ben Mendelsohn is good as Talos and the Skrull has a disarming sarcasm to his delivery and a few secrets of his own. Bening, Jude Law and Agent Coulson himself, Clark Gregg, all do well despite underwritten parts. We even get a few brief moments from Lee Pace returning as Guardians of the Galaxy’s Ronan The Accuser, along with his henchmen Korath, again played by Djimon Hounsou…and let’s not forget “Goose” the cat.
Overall, this is one of Marvel’s lesser efforts and sometimes feels thrown together just to introduce the Captain before she returns to kick Thanos ass in Avengers: Endgame. It’s bland and very routine and it’s only a stellar effort by the film’s cast that elevates it above an outright failure. You know a movie is in trouble when it’s mid-credits and post-credits scenes are better than the movie that precedes them. At least the film opens with a wonderful goodbye to Stan Lee, where images from all his Marvel cameos replace the usual heroes in the Marvel logo sequence. A very touching moment and one wishes the rest of the movie had as much heart.
Rated 2 and 1/2 (out of 4) Marvels.
TOMB RAIDER (2018)
Reboot finds a young, down and out Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander from Ex Machina) refusing to accept her inheritance by declaring her missing father (Dominic West) dead in absentia. When finally forced to do so, she gets a key and clue that sets her on a quest to find out what happen to him. It leads her to the uncharted island of Yamatai where the mysterious Order of Trinity has Archeologist Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins) searching for the tomb of Japanese sorceress Himiko. The woman was said to be of incredible power and Trinity wants use of it. As Lara seeks to find her father’s fate, she must now also find a way to stop Trinity from accomplishing their goal.
Do-over is directed by Norwegian filmmaker Roar Uthaug (Cold Prey, The Wave) from a script by Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons and is wisely an origin story that starts fresh after the previous films. It’s also refreshingly down to earth in terms of it’s story telling with Uthaug going back to basics with the action and avoiding the bombastic, over-the-top spectacle that has become the status quo. Some may find the action routine, but it evoked the old fashioned action films before digital software allowed for things to become so much larger than life and in some cases, out of control. The pace is fairly swift with an almost two hour running time and just when it starts to drag a bit, we head into the last act tomb raiding finale. The South African locations look good substituting for a Pacific island and the interiors of Himiko’s tomb are interestingly designed, though with all the previous adventure flicks in this vein, the whole traps and puzzles thing is getting very old hat. Possibly why it’s kept at a minimum. Otherwise we get some solid gun-play and fisticuffs and it makes for an entertaining night at the movies with the hope that this franchise has new legs.
Alicia Vikander makes for a solid heroine as young Lara. Purists may feel her petite frame does not suit the statuesque video game character she’s portraying, but she is quite the spitfire and gives Lara both a strength and a vulnerability that make her more than just megapixels. She does action scenes as good as the boys and was convincing as a young woman coming into her inner adventurer. Walter Goggins is a serviceable enough villain. He could have had a bit more gusto, but they were going for a more grounded approach, so he is not the usual pontificating, cackling villain that most movies of this type feature. Dominic West is fine as Richard Croft in flashbacks, which provide backstory and exposition and Daniel Wu is solid as drunken sailor and Lara’s back-up, Lu Ren. We also get appearances by veterans Kristin Scott Thomas and Derek Jacobi, as well as, fan favorite Nick Frost.
Overall, this was a solid action adventure that stripped away the over-the-top overindulgence of today’s action films and settled for a more back to basics approach. Alicia Vikander made for a strong Lara Croft and overcame her petite stature with a tenacity and vulnerability that really worked here. The whole tomb of traps and puzzles thing is kind of worn out at this point, but there was plenty of chases, gunfire and brawling to keep us entertained. A fun flick from Roar Uthaug.
Rated 3 bullets.
Warner Bros and MGM are rebooting the Tomb Raider film series and the new flick is due 3/16/18. We are getting our first look with a new trailer which shows lots of action as fans will expect. The real draw here is that this new version is directed by Roar Uthaug (The Wave) and stars sexy Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina) as a young Lara Croft. Will it be better than the Angelina Jolie vehicles? Only time will tell. Screenplay is by Geneva Robertson-Dworet who is also writing the upcoming Captain Marvel film.