GIRL POWER: Captain Marvel

Of all the characters that have appeared in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Captain Marvel is probably the one that I knew the least about beforehand. I’m a huge comics nerd and have read several thousand pages of Marvel comics, but I don’t think Captain Marvel appeared in any of the ones I’ve read.

The name “Captain Marvel” is also more than a little confusing. Marvel and DC both have characters named Captain Marvel. Marvel’s Captain Marvel is a woman and DC’s Captain Marvel is a man, who will be appearing in his own movie later this year. That movie is called Shazam and I wonder if they called it that to avoid confusion with Marvel’s Captain Marvel.

So yeah, it’s all pretty confusing. Fortunately, Marvel’s just-released Captain Marvel film is quite a bit of fun. It’s certainly not perfect and I wouldn’t consider it to be a top-tier Marvel movie, but it’s enjoyable nonetheless.

Images: Marvel/Disney

Brie Larson plays the titular character, a fighter pilot whose real name is Carol Danvers. She becomes embroiled in an intergalactic war between two alien races: the Kree and the Skrulls. Carol doesn’t remember her past or even her name (her name isn’t revealed until later in the film) and struggles to control her photon-blasting abilities. She is a member of Starforce, which as far as I could tell was sort of like Kree Special Forces.

The Skrulls are a race of shape-shifting green aliens who resemble the sort of orcs or goblins that would appear in a Lord of the Rings movie. They have the ability to camouflage themselves to look exactly like anyone they see, and part of the fun of the movie is in guessing and discovering who is a Skrull in disguise. The movie doesn’t really get into the politics of the Kree/Skrull conflict, and it was never quite clear to me why they were fighting in the first place. Ultimately it doesn’t make too much of a difference because the movie’s plot is still easy to follow, but it could have benefited from adding a bit more depth to the underlying conflict between the two alien races.

There are several surprises in the plot that I didn’t see coming, but I thought they were well-executed and made sense, and weren’t there just to mess with the viewer. If that seems vague it’s because I don’t want to spoil anything, and so I’ll just leave it at that.

Brie Larson is a very appealing and likable lead, she’s tough and badass with a somewhat wry sense of humor that I found very appealing. This is the first Marvel Cinematic Universe film with a female lead, and Larson is a welcome addition to the MCU. This is also the first MCU movie to be directed (or in this case co-directed) by a woman. The film was directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, a filmmaking duo who made some very well-received indie movies that I haven’t seen but are well-regarded.

The movie is a lot of fun, and nicely balances action and spectacle with heart and a lot of very funny humor. Much of the humor comes courtesy of a cat named Goose (I suspect his name is a reference to Tom Cruise’s co-pilot in Top Gun), an adorable orange tabby who the end credits reveal was played by four feline thespians, who collectively should win an award for animal acting. And you should keep an eye on Goose, since he may or may not actually be a creature called a Flerken, which… well, I’ll let you find out for yourself. It’s amazing.

The movie is also a prequel, and takes place in the mid-90’s. As such, there are some very funny bits of 90’s nostalgia. Remember how slow computers used to be? This movie does. Some of the song choices are also quite funny, with one climactic fight scene being set to a song by No Doubt. The movie’s use of that song is very funny, but OH MY GOD I HATE THAT NO DOUBT SONG. Sorry, I just had to put that out there.

One area where the movie comes up a bit short in comparison to other MCU movies is the visuals. The special effects are fine but the movie doesn’t have the same creative visuals boasted by other MCU films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange or Thor Ragnarok. The movie doesn’t look bad, it just doesn’t look as good as its contemporaries. I found the interiors of the various spaceships in particular to be quite drab, and thought they lacked the lived-in feel of the spacecraft in the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, for example.

But despite the occasional visual blandness, the movie still offers up the requisite amount of slam-bang superhero action, and Carol really gets a chance to show off how powerful she is during the film’s action-packed climax. Carol will be an important part of the next Avengers movie, and I can’t wait to see how she will fit in to the larger story.

One area in which the visuals absolutely excel are in the uncanny de-aging effects used on Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury and Clark Gregg as everyone’s favorite dearly-departed SHIELD field agent, Phil Coulson. Remember, this movie takes place in the 90’s so Fury and Coulson are quite a bit younger and Fury is not yet the director of SHIELD. I don’t know how they do it, but the de-aging effects on Jackson and Gregg are so good that you don’t notice them at all, which of course is exactly the point.

Marvel has succeeded yet again in taking characters with which I had little familiarity and making a fun and engaging movie with them. It’s not a perfect movie by any means, its plot isn’t terribly original and its visuals are occasionally bland, and it does feel at times like there’s some table-setting for subsequent movies. But its action sequences are fun, its performances are great (the chemistry between Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson is one of the film’s best aspects) and it brings a fun character into Marvel’s box-office-dominating film series that I am looking forward to seeing in future films. Can’t ask for much more than that.

The movie also opens with a lovely tribute to the late, great Stan Lee, with the opening Marvel Studios logo set to a montage of his various MCU cameo appearances, and the words “Thank You Stan” appearing on the screen. A touching tribute to a legendary creator. In the immortal words of Stan himself…

…’Nuff said.

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The Hitman and The Bodyguard

The Hitman’s Bodyguard is a title that immediately raises a question: why would a guy who kills people for a living need a bodyguard?

The movie’s answer to this question involves constant gunfire and profanity, and I enjoyed the hell out of it. Call it a guilty pleasure. There were a couple times during the movie where I thought to myself: “I probably shouldn’t enjoy a movie with this much killing and swearing, but damn if I’m not having a good time.”

Image: Summit Entertainment

Ryan Reynolds plays the bodyguard, sorry, I meant “Triple-A-rated executive protection agent”, named Michael Bryce. At the beginning of the movie, Michael seemingly has it made: he’s wealthy, lives in a slick modern house, wears fancy clothes, has an array of shiny weaponry and a beautiful girlfriend named Amelia, played by Elodie Yung, best known for playing Elektra in Netflix’s Daredevil series.

Michael’s idyllic existence falls apart when his latest client is assassinated on the airport runway, and some time later Michael is living out of his car and protecting coked-up attorneys, and longs for his old life back. He blames everyone but himself for his problems, especially Amelia, whom he blames for selling him out and allowing his client to be killed.

Meanwhile, Amelia, an Interpol agent, is put in charge of the protection detail for recently-captured Darius Kincaid, a legendarily prolific hitman played by Samuel L. Jackson, our foremost artist of the f-word. Amelia needs to get Darius to The Hague so he can testify against deposed dictator Vladislav Dukhovich, played by the great Gary Oldman, who is utterly wasted in the role. More on that later. A violent shootout with Dukhovich’s henchmen promptly leaves Darius’ entire protection team dead except for himself and Amelia. Suspecting a mole in Interpol and with nowhere else to turn, Amelia reluctantly calls Michael for help.

From there, the movie becomes a series of shootouts and car chases as Michael and Darius race to get to The Hague before time runs out and Dukhovich is released for lack of evidence. There is a ton of action in the movie, and I enjoyed every action-packed scene. Dukhovich may have been deposed, but he still has an army of loyal henchmen that he sends after Darius and Michael, which leads to nonstop mayhem.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard is an unapologetically R-rated movie, and Jackson gets plenty of opportunity to use his signature 12-letter epithet. This is the sweariest movie I’ve seen in a theater this year. Atomic Blonde was up there in terms of Swears Per Minute, but The Hitman’s Bodyguard has it beat by a country mile. The movie was directed by Patrick Hughes, who directed The Expendables 3, which I found dull and overlong. Fortunately, this movie is more briskly paced and doesn’t take itself too seriously.

There are a couple of moments that clash with the comedic tone, like when Dukhovich kills a dissident’s wife and child in front of him. While something like that shows how much of an evil bastard Dukhovich is, it feels out of place when the rest of the movie is meant to be breezy and funny. Still, this is a highly entertaining movie with lots of funny moments. Jackson and Reynolds have great chemistry and their bickering is a lot of fun to watch.

It’s not the most original movie, admittedly. There have been plenty of movies that pair a fast-talking criminal with an uptight do-gooder, like 3:10 To Yuma, 16 Blocks, and Reynolds’ own 2012 hit, Safe House. Still, it’s a formula that works. You feel some doubt about who to root for, since the criminal is more likable but is, you know, a criminal, while the do-gooder wants to do the right thing but also seems like he’s got a stick up his you-know-what.

Every character in the movie has a lot of baggage, and the movie might have benefited from being a bit more trimmed-down, but at least the conflicts are relatable. Michael blames Amelia for selling him out, while in reality she didn’t and resents him for blaming her for something she had nothing to do with. Michael blames everyone for his problems except for himself, and as the movie progresses and with Darius’ smartass assistance, he begins to realize that he needs to take responsibility for his own life, and that he’s still in love with Amelia. That might sound cliched, and I suppose it is, but at least it’s relatable.
And I can’t forget to mention Salma Hayek, who plays Darius’ wife Sonia. She’s as foul-mouthed as her husband, and is really damn funny. It’s too bad that she spends most of the movie confined to a prison cell, since she’s such a hoot that I wanted to see more of her.

Also underused is Gary Oldman, a brilliant actor who doesn’t seem to be trying very hard in this movie. In his defense, he doesn’t have much to work with. Dukhovich is barely in the movie, and he’s less of a character than a MacGuffin, something that serves to drive the plot forward. It’s a shame, because I’m a huge fan of Gary Oldman. It’s such a waste to get an actor of Oldman’s caliber to play the Russian bad guy, and then give him almost nothing to do. Oh, well. I’d rather have a movie with an underused Gary Oldman than a movie with no Gary Oldman at all. Seriously, it’s mind-blowing this guy has never won an Oscar.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard is not a perfect movie by any means. It’s tonally inconsistent and some of the characters are sadly underused, but it is still a lot of fun for fans of action and foul-mouthed comedy. It’s a but overlong, there was one point where I thought it was about to end and it kept going for quite a bit longer than I had expected, but once I adjusted my expectations I kept having fun.

And I have to give a shoutout to this hilarious poster, which spoofs the Whitney Houston/Kevin Costner movie The Bodyguard.

Image: Summit Entertainment

Love it.