REVIEW: BLACK WIDOW (2021)

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BLACK WIDOW (2021)

Not only was Black Widow a long time coming in terms of Natasha Romanoff getting her own solo feature, but it is another highly anticipated flick postponed for over a year by COVID 19 shutdowns. Now it has arrived and we finally get some of the answers we were looking for, and a bit of closure.

Film opens with a sequence from 1995 detailing Natasha’s (Ever Anderson) fleeing from America with her Russian sleeper cell family and being taken with her sister Yelena (Violet McGraw) to be part of the Black Widow training program. Film then resumes between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War with Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) on the run after helping Cap and Bucky escape. Nat is about to go off the grid, when her long lost sister Yelena (Florence Pugh) pulls her into a mission to stop the Black Widow assassins training program, still being conducted in the Red Room, by a man she thought she killed, Dreykov (Ray Winstone). Determined to stop the Red Room and Dreykov once and for all, reunites her not only with Yelena, but with her sleeper cell mother and father, Alexei “Red Guardian” Shostakov (David Harbour), a super soldier and Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz), a Black Widow herself.

Flick is directed by Cate Shortland from a script by Eric Pearson and story by Jac Schaeffer and Ned Benson. It has some nice emotional resonance and gives us a glimpse into how Natalia came to be the hero we know her as from the previous MCU films. The first act is strong and features a lot of action, as Nat reconnects with Yelena and are on the run from a metal-clad master assassin known only as Taskmaster, who perfectly mimics the fighting styles of his enemies. The pace here is quick, though not too fast and the action can surprisingly be a bit brutal, pushing the limits of the PG-13 rating. It’s the second act where the film loses some momentum, as Nat and Yelena break Alexei out of a Russian prison and then travel to a pig farm in St. Petersburg to reconnect with Melina, who has vital information as to the Red Room’s whereabouts. It’s here the story grinds to almost a halt, as the “family” catches up, voices their issues and awkwardly tries to bond again. Despite some nicely placed humor in the first third, here a few of the attempts at laughs fall a bit flat amidst the melodrama. The film thankfully picks up again as a betrayal brings the foursome’s enemies to their door and we head into the climactic last act in the flying Red Room complex, where Natasha comes face to face with her past, Dreykov and Taskmaster. There is a lot of action and the FX are spectacular, though there are a few weak CGI fire effects that stand out a bit. As a whole, Black Widow plays more like a Daniel Craig Bond film than a superhero movie, until the more FX heavy climax. It has a nice emotional center giving the character of Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow, some closure and us some answers and details, that have been left out of her story thus far.

The cast all shine here. Scarlett Johansson gives one of her best performances as Nat and imbues her with some emotional depth that she wasn’t always afforded as a second banana in the other flicks. It’s too bad her story arc is at an end, as it would be nice to see her in solo action again. That being said, if this is a passing of the torch, Florence Pugh does a great job as her “sister” Yelena Belova, who takes up the mantel in the comics. Pugh is funny, tough and handles the action quite well. She has star quality and hopefully Yelena returns in future projects. Harbour is good as Red Guardian, though the character’s dialogue tends to ramble a bit and it stands out, especially in the slow middle. Weisz is good as the matronly Melina and gets to have a few action moments herself. Winstone is efficiently villainous as Dreykov, a far more grounded villain than we are used to in these films, but the veteran actor makes him lethal. William Hurt is briefly seen as Ross, O-T Fagbenie is a Natasha ally named Mason and Olga Kurylenko appears in a role that won’t be spoiled here. A good cast and it was nice to see Johansson get to say goodbye (?) to Romanoff with a really good performance and her own flick.

Overall this was a solid entry in the MCU. It’s a more down to earth action/adventure than the previous films, at least unit the last act, and gives us some of the details we’ve been waiting for. It has a good cast, with hints at the future, as well as, finally filling us in on Nat’s past. If anything holds this flick back, it’s that the middle act slows down momentum considerably and a few of the character interactions, during these sequences, come across as more awkward than effective. It recovers for it’s last third, with an action packed finale and some nice closure for the Romanoff character. Maybe not quite living up to the large expectations set by the long wait, but far from a disappointment. Stay through the credits for an especially shocking post credits scene.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 Black Widows

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BARE BONES: THE NEW MUTANTS (2020)

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THE NEW MUTANTS (2020)

The New Mutants takes place in the X-Men film universe with a young Native American girl, Dani Moonstar (Blu Hunt), being admitted to a clinic for young mutants. She’s there with four other youths, Illyana (Anya Taylor-Joy), Rahne (Maisie Williams), Sam (Charlie Heaton) and Roberto (Henry Zaga), under the “treatment” of Dr. Cecilia Reyes (Alice Braga). They initially think they are being taught to control their mutant abilities to become X-Men, but when their fears and inner pains begin to manifest against them, they unite under the belief that there is a more sinister purpose in store for them.

Flick is directed by Josh Boone from his script with Knate Lee. Initial shooting supposedly ended in 2017 and then the film spent three years in post production hell with a lot of tinkering and reshoots. As such, the result is basically A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, meets The X-Men and not nearly as fun or interesting as that sounds. It’s not really a bad film, though it’s not an overly good one either. We’ve seen the X-Men elements done better in those movies and if you’ve seen ANOES 3, there really isn’t much new here on that front either. The characters are a bit cliché, but the cast is good, with Blu Hunt making a likable lead and heroine as Dani, and Braga making a suitable villain as Dr. Reyes. The FX are well done, the hospital location atmospheric and there is some effective action and violence. After a somewhat more grounded first half, the climax does get a little bloated and overloaded and comes quite close to getting silly. The flick tries to be a bit more of a horror movie than a comic book movie, but it is still a PG-13 one, once all is said and done. All in all, it’s an entertaining enough 94 minutes, if there is nothing else to watch, but nothing memorable or impactful. A lackluster end to the 20th Century Fox film series, as now Disney and Marvel have the rights to the X-Men, and they’ll be joining the MCU at some point.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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FAREWELL AND RIP to “BLACK PANTHER” STAR CHADWICK BOSEMAN!

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Chadwick Boseman November 29, 1976-August 28, 2020

Horrible news tonight as word has broken that versitile Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman has lost a battle with cancer and has died at only 43 years-old. His performance of the classic Marvel character alone made him a household name all around the world and his loss is a sad blow to movies and the Marvel Cinematic Universe and it’s fans. Farewell and RIP to a talent gone far too soon! Heartfelt condolences to his family and friends.

-MonsterZero NJ

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REVIEW: SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME (2019)

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SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME (2019)

Spider-Man: Far From Home opens with a lot going on in the life of Peter Parker (Tom Holland). He’s adjusting to life after returning from “The Blip”…the five year period during which those Thanos vanquished were gone. He’s trying to cope with the death of mentor Tony Stark. He’s dealing with an apparent relationship between Happy Hogan (John Favreau) and Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) and his own feelings for MJ (Zendaya). Even his class trip to Europe gets complicated as he’s approached by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to battle creatures from another dimension with help from Quentin Beck, aka Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), a man said to be from an alternate dimension Earth. Can Peter save the planet, his friends and win the heart of MJ?…and can he trust Mysterio?

Sequel is a lot of fun and a bit bittersweet, as it deals with the effects of Tony Stark’s death on Peter and the world and it’s the first MCU flick without a cameo from the late, great Stan Lee. It’s directed with enthusiasm and a fast pace by a returning Jon Watts from a script by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers. It’s a bit refreshing…and slightly off-putting…getting Peter Parker out of NYC for a while, but it keeps things fresh as Peter tries to deal with Stark’s hopes the he would pick up the mantle, if anything should ever happened to Tony…and it obviously has. There are a lot of lighter moments, too, as Peter has to juggle his secret mission for Fury, keep his identity a secret, battle otherworldly creatures and still try to win MJ away from handsome jock Brad (Remy Hii). The script keeps the various story elements mixed nicely, all the while delivering some spectacular action scenes in various European locals, much like a 007 film. The movie establishes a nice bond between Peter and Quentin which makes the betrayal all the more effective, even though we know it’s coming, as Mysterio is one of Spidy’s classic villains. It all comes together in a nice, action-packed climax in London and then a shocking mid-credits sequence back in NYC that has a familiar face turning Peter and Spider-Man’s life upside down. The next Spider-Man flick should be interesting indeed!

The cast are all good. Tom Holland is a great Peter Parker and he handles the various emotions very well. He’s a superhero still growing into his suit and now has to handle the pressure of Stark choosing him as his successor. He also has to balance his duty to battling evil and satisfy his own heart with the girl he’s falling for. As MJ, Zendaya is smart, sarcastically funny, sweet at heart and has a girl next door beauty that makes her completely crush worthy and a fitting addition to Peter’s small circle. The actress creates a very quirky, independent, yet endearing character. Jackson and Favreau can play their characters in their sleep at this point and thankfully they don’t. Jake Gyllenhaal is a welcome addition to the MCU as Quentin Beck, aka Mysterio. Initially he delivers a man with very noble and heroic intentions, a man you can believe Peter would bond with. Once his nefarious plan is unveiled, Gyllenhaal goes delightfully over-the-top for some solid villainy. A good choice for one of Spider-Man’s major bad guys. The supporting cast, such as Jacob Batalon as the lovable Ned, Tony Revolori as Flash, Martin Starr as Mr. Harrington and Marisa Tomei as Aunt May, all create entertaining supporting characters in their given moments.

After the dramatic intensity of Avengers: Endgame, Far From Home delivers a lighter break, but with enough emotional depth to make sense with what it follows and as the supposed last film in MCU Phase 3. It has Peter Parker adjusting to missing five years, handling the death of his mentor and the possibility of filling his shoes to a degree. As with all the Spider-Man films, he also has to balance being a hero and yet still be a teenage boy. There are some really fun moments, a lot of spectacular action, it balances multiple characters well and delivers a solid villain in Mysterio. There are a few scenes that could have been a bit shorter, but overall is a lot of fun and feels far more like it’s own film than Homecoming. Stay through the credits for a shocking mid credits scene and a fun end credits scene.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 (out of 4) webs!


 

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REVIEW: AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019)

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AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019)

“Whatever it takes” ―The Avengers

Fourth Avengers flick finds the surviving heroes still devastated by the mass genocide caused by Thanos and the Infinity Stones. Five years later, hope is reignited as the reappearance of one of their number thought dead, gives The Avengers one last chance to possibly set things right.

Joe and Anthony Russo, again armed with a script written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, give this ten year journey the best ending possible. It’s an emotionally draining roller coaster ride as The Avengers enact a desperate plan that will lead them to a final showdown with the Mad Titan…and we’re along with them, every step of the way. It’s the type of movie best enjoyed going in knowing as little as possible, so this will be brief. There are loads of surprises, epic battles, some wonderful cameos and a plot that cleverly wraps up the story and also manages to pay tribute to what came before. There are some truly great moments here and heartbreaking ones, too. The audience in attendance laughed hysterically, cheered thunderously and some even wept openly. It wraps up the last ten years wonderfully, while opening some doors to the future. Simply a great flick and an enormously entertaining 181 minutes.

The cast is once again, too large to discuss each individually, but all deserve kudos. Our mainstays from the series all perform these now familiar characters with the expected gusto. A great ensemble cast that has endeared us over the last decade and have grown into their roles so well. Josh Brolin again impresses as Thanos, the Mad Titan. The clever script gives us a bit of a different Thanos, one possibly more dangerous than he was in Infinity War. There are too many great character cameos to mention, which is fine, as they will not be spoiled here anyway. A spectacular cast.

There are a few flaws, but for all the spectacle and emotion you get in it’s three hour running time, they are too small to bother discussing. A clever script and story gives us everything we could hope for from epic battles, heartbreaking actions, nail-biting suspense and some truly hilarious moments, all mixed very well. It rarely slows down and only stumbles slightly here and there, but otherwise is an epic finale to a great series of movies. While there is no post credits scene, stay during the entire credits anyway for a wonderful sendoff to our beloved heroes.

…and, on a personal note, I can’t remember the last time I laughed, cheered and even teared up so much in one movie…and I’ve been watching movies for over five decades-MZNJ

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 4 (out of 4) infinity gauntlets.

 

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REVIEW: CAPTAIN MARVEL (2019)

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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.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 2 and 1/2 (out of 4) Marvels.

 

 

 

 

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AVENGERS: ENDGAME GETS A TEASER TRAILER!

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The fourth Avengers flick gets an official title…Avengers: Endgame…and a teaser trailer! The original release date for the film was May 3rd, now the poster says April 26th. The sooner the better!…as the team plans to take on Thanos one last time!

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CAPTAIN MARVEL GETS A NEW TRAILER!

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The Adventures of Carol Danvers aka Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) are headed our way on March 8, 2019 and a second trailer has landed! Captain Marvel is directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck and co-stars Samuel L.Jackson and Ben Mendelsohn !

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BARE BONES: PEPPERMINT (2018)

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PEPPERMINT (2018)

Loving wife and mother RIley North (Jennifer Garner) watches in horror when she sees her husband (Jeff Hephner) and daughter (Cailey Fleming) gunned down by members of a drug cartel on her daughter’s birthday. After a failed attempt to bring the thugs to justice, Riley disappears. Five years later, members of the cartel start dying and it seems Riley North has transformed into an avenging angel and revenge is exactly what she is back for!

Film is directed very by-the-numbers by Pierre Morel from an extremely lazy script by Chad St. John. Lazy because the most important aspects of the story, such as Riley’s transformation from mom to vigilante and even the killing of the three men actually responsible for her husband and daughter’s deaths, occur off-screen. We jump five years after the ineffective trial to RIley’s war on the cartel in midstream. All we get is some FBI babble about her spending time in Europe and Asia and being a cage fighter to a gun store theft with Riley taking some very specific weaponry. Riley is now wiping out cartel members like a widowed Rambo and becoming a folk hero on the mean streets in the process. Where did she acquire her arms training? Her knowledge of guns and ammo? She’s outmaneuvering and mowing down men who have spent their entire lives with guns and in gangs. When we last saw Riley she was a banker. What really happened to her in those five years aside from what little we are told? That’s what’s important to give the story some needed substance, but St. John’s script gives us scraps and more clichés than Riley delivers bullets. Even an 80s style training montage would have supplied more information. At least Garner is very effective as Riley and it’s too bad her soulful anti-heroine isn’t in a much better movie that the actress’ work deserves.

-MonsterZero NJ

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