Captain Marvel (2019)

Director: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck

Cast: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Djimon Hounsou, Lee Pace, Lashana Lynch, Gemma Chan, Annette Bening, Clark Gregg, Jude Law

Screenplay: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, Geneva Robertson-Dworet

124 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive language.

 

Captain Marvel, much to the chagrin of sexists and trolls, is good. Take that!

Vers (Brie Larson, Room, Basmati Blues), a member of the Kree Star Force team with no memory of her life until the last six years, has been taken captive by the Skrulls, a shapeshifting alien race, and when she escapes, she finds herself crash-landing on Earth. Aided by S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, Pulp Fiction, The Hitman’s Bodyguard), Vers begins to uncover secrets of her past life on Earth. She is pursued by the Skrulls, led by Talos (Ben Mendelsohn, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Robin Hood), on her way to finding her past and her connection to a mysterious woman she does not remember named Dr. Lawson (Annette Bening, American Beauty, Life Itself).

Captain Marvel is filled with spoilers, so I avoided as much as I could, but the film is thick with mythology. Too thick at times and too thing at others. The screenplay has some holes and plotting issues, having perhaps traded hands too many times. It’s the biggest problem with the film. Not enough time is given to developing the various members of the Star Force, which would give more purpose to their goals. There’s also no understanding of Vers’s superpowers. They appear limitless in the film. No boundaries are given which limits the stakes.

Brie Larson is pretty solid in her MCU debut as Vers. Her best work in the film comes from her great chemistry with Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury. The two actors have worked together on three previous films and, in Captain Marvel, a true comradery is formed. These two characters form a bond that really works well. I also liked her interactions with Lashana Lynch (Brotherhood, TV’s Bulletproof), who portrays Monica Rambeau, someone who knew Vers during her time on Earth and holds many secrets to who she was. I hope these two get more time together in future MCU installments.

Jackson and Clark Gregg (Spinning Man, TV’s The New Adventures of Old Christine) return to the MCU, playing their younger selves. The CG de-aging is so great in this film. The MCU is known for de-aging their actors in flashbacks, and each film seemingly gets better. Captain Marvel is the best version of this tech. Not once with Fury did I really think about the age difference. Clark Gregg had one scene where he looked a little glossy, but overall it didn’t pull me out of the film.

Outside of Jackson and Gregg, Djimon Hounsou (Blood Diamond, Serenity) and Lee Pace (The Fall, Driven) also return to the MCU as Korath and Ronan, having previously appeared in Guardians of the Galaxy. Unlike Jackson and Gregg, these two aren’t given all that much to do. It’s nice to see some more interconnectivity in the MCU, I feel like Korath is on the verge of more development but never quite reaches it, while Pace appears in essentially a cameo appearance. He’s just not given anything worthwhile to do.

Ben Mendelsohn is under thick makeup to play Talos, leader of the Skrulls who are pursuing Vers and Fury, and he’s so much more fun than most other actors would be under all that makeup. Mendelsohn is having fun here, and that’s noticeable. It’s a tough line to walk as a villain to be fun and still threatening, but his performance really works in light of his character arc.

An area where the film stumbles is from directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, who are dealing with their first big budget film. Marvel has a tendency to get great success in this arena, but I feel like Boden and Fleck are in over their heads with the action. Their skills lie in the drama between characters, but when action happens, it doesn’t feel exciting in the way that it should. This is particularly noticeable in the finale. I didn’t get a sense of the direction in the action, and it was unfocused.

Captain Marvel had a tall order. It was the first solo female-led film in the MCU, the first film to be released following the death of Stan Lee (the way this is handled in the film is exemplary), has to lead into Avengers: Endgame, and became the target of asshole trolls. For the most part, it handles all of these problems very well. Outside of a muddled script and some directing issues, it’s a very fun time at the movies with a terrific 90s flavor and soundtrack, and an MCU movie to push forward into the Post-Endgame slate of the franchise.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Joe Johnston’s Captain America: The First Avenger, click here.

For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, click here.

For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man 2, click here.

For my review of Louis Leterrier’s The Incredible Hulk, click here.

For my review of Leythum’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor’s Hammer, click here.

For my review of Anthony and Joe Russo’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, click here.

For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, click here.

For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2, click here.

For my review of Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, click here.

For my review of Anthony and Joe Russo’s Captain America: Civil War, click here.

For my review of Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, click here.

For my review of Jon Watts’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, click here.

For my review of Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok, click here.

For my review of Anthony and Joe Russo’s Avengers: Infinity War, click here.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)

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Director: Peter Jackson

Cast: Ian McKellan, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Luke Evans, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ken Stott, James Nesbitt, Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Orlando Bloom

Screenplay: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro

144 mins. Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images.

 

Let’s just take a moment to appreciate the work that Peter Jackson (The Lovely Bones, King Kong) and his creative team has accomplished. Six films, two trilogies, and hours upon hours of extended editions have comprised the Middle-Earth Saga.

Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman, TV’s Sherlock, Hot Fuzz) and the company of dwarves have just let the diabolical Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game, Penguins of Madagascar) loose on Lake Town. It’s up to Bard (Luke Evans, Dracula Untold, Fast & Furious 6) to stop the evil dragon and reclaim their lives. Tempers soon flair up as the treasures of Erebor are up for grabs and Thorin (Richard Armitage, Captain America: The First Avenger, Into the Storm), consumed by greed, has decided not to honor the agreement made with Bard and his people. Meanwhile, Gandalf (Ian McKellan, X-Men, The Prisoner) continues his battle against the dreaded Necromancer.

The finale to The Hobbit trilogy is a far different film from its predecessors, and with a very simple plot, revolves entirely around the Battle of the Five Armies, one of the biggest battles in Middle-Earth history. It is very similar to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, where the entire film revolves around the climactic ending as opposed to standing on its own. It is definitely my sixth favorite Middle-Earth film.

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Ian McKellan is a torn Gandalf here, caught between his allegiance to the Company of Dwarves and his commitment to reason and peace. McKellan continues to impress.

Evangeline Lilly (TV’s Lost, Real Steel) is great as Tauriel here, the elf who has developed feelings for the poisoned dwarf Kili. Her relationship with Legolas (Orlando Bloom, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, The Three Musketeers) and his father Thranuil (Lee Pace, TV’s Halt and Catch Fire, Guardians of the Galaxy) are further delved into in this film and helps to increase her internal and external conflicts as the story progresses.

As far as the Company of Dwarves, we get more great but wholly underutilized work from Ken Stott (Shallow Grave, One Day) as Balin, the dwarf who will one day claim Moria, and James Nesbitt (Coriolanus, Match Point) as Bofur, the dwarf who, above all else, just wants his home back.

I also loved the continual references to future events and foreshadowing from The Lord of the Rings, like the cameo appearances from Cate Blanchett (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, How to Train Your Dragon 2), Ian Holm (Ratatouille, Lord of War), Christopher Lee (Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, Dark Shadows), and Hugo Weaving (The Matrix, Cloud Atlas). My only major issue was that I wanted more. Tolkien fans will know that Balin ends up in Moria with Oin, we know that Gloin has a son named Gimli, we know Saruman’s fate, but I wanted to see more in this film.

Director Jackson continues to prove he can handle action and large-scale battle sequences, the action here is incredible. His cinematography mixed with the amazingly well-put-together sequences, and Howard Shore’s deep and thunderous score.

It took me a while to really enjoy Billy Boyd’s final song, “The Last Goodbye,” but once I did, I really felt it tied together not just this film, but the trilogy and in fact the entire saga.

If you get the chance to watch Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance capture for Smaug and the Necromancer, do it. He is incredible to watch even without the CGI placed over it.

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The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies isn’t Jackson’s best work, but it certainly is a perfectly fine finale to an epic series. I feel like the theatrical cut of the film is missing some key details, and I hope that the extended cut has the ability to expand this on the film and show us some more connective tissues.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, click here.

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, click here.

 

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones, click here.

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

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Director: James Gunn

Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Benicio del Toro

Screenplay: James Gunn, Nicole Perlman

121 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language.

 

The Marvel Cinematic Universe just keeps on getting bigger. Each film just seems to open up the world a bit more, and with Guardians of the Galaxy, director James Gunn just blew the lid off the whole thing. This movie is huge, epic in scale, absolutely opening doors to further adventures both for these heroes and a whole lot more.

Guardians of the Galaxy is the story of Peter Quill (Chris Pratt, Her, Jurassic World) aka Star Lord, an Earthling kidnapped from his home many years previously by aliens. Peter steals a mysterious orb from Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2). Ronan wants it back, badly. Peter joins up with several other degenerate thugs to protect it. Among them is daughter of Thanos, Gamora (Zoe Saldana, Avatar, Out of the Furnace), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista, Riddick, The Man With the Iron Fists), a walking and talking tree named Groot (Vin Diesel, Fast & Furious 6, Babylon A.D.), and a talking genetic raccoon named Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook, American Sniper). Together, they form the loosely fitting title of the “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

First of all, I just want to point out that Chris Pratt takes a commanding lead of this colorful cast of characters. He controls the film and doesn’t falter under any pressure carrying us along. I’ve been saying for a while that Pratt is going somewhere. This film proves it.

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Zoe Saldana is such a beauty; I will never understand why every damn movie has her suiting up in CG of makeup, but the performance here doesn’t suffer, mostly because Saldana requested to wear light makeup so as not to mess with her ability to act. Gamora is a tough character to knock down. Through her relationship with father Thanos (last seen in 2012’s The Avengers in a cameo appearance) and sister Nebula (Karen Gillan, Oculus), she probably has the most connections to tie us into the MCU.

I was actually fairly shocked by Dave Bautista as Drax. I see a former wrestler-turned-actor in a lineup and assume the worst, but that is because more often than not, I am right, but Bautista doesn’t hold us down. He serves the tough guy purpose nicely, and he has a heart in there; the glimpses are just enough to connect to the audience.

Vin Diesel’s Groot is the breakout performance of this film. With three words and seemingly endless permutations, Groot is the source for a lot of the heart and soul of the picture, and his relationship with Rocket is a beautiful thing.

The Collector (Benicio del Toro, Snatch, Inherent Vice) was introduced to us in the post-credits sequence for last year’s Thor: The Dark World, and he serves the purpose of really expanding the Marvel universe. Apart from having the subtle nuances to complete with the other major players, The Collector delivers a lot of big game info in his small role, like the Infinity Stones, certainly something to learn about for future features all over the verse (wait, was that the cube?), as well as giving us some nice cameos of perhaps some future Marvel players (not all, but dammit, enjoy the post-credits scene for what it is).

Now, I did have criticisms for the film. For example, Lee Pace’s Ronan the Accuser is a somewhat generic villain, very much alike to previous Marvel fare. We as the audience wanted more of Thanos that we didn’t really get. At least the film served a purpose of reminding us that he isn’t really an endgame. Not to mention the fact that the ending builds to a less-than-stellar face-off that could have been used earlier for better effect.

The nicest thing we could be given for this film is that we didn’t have a lot of it ruined by the trailer. More films should take a page from Guardians of the Galaxy and understand that a trailer can be made up of non-feature material.

Before I end this off, I want to point out how impressed I was by Gunn’s choice of soundtrack and how much it actually, surprisingly works. Give it a listen and let it pump you up.

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Guardians of the Galaxy was a Marvel Studios test, and it works. Producer Kevin Feige wanted to see it fans would turn out for some of the more cosmic, out-there characters that Marvel has to offer. And we did. And we loved it. I think you will too.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

What did you think of Guardians of the Galaxy? Did this ship take you places or crash land on a strange and disappointing planet? Tell me!

 

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

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Director: Peter Jackson

Cast: Ian McKellan, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Benedict Cumberbatch, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Luke Evans, Ken Stott, James Nesbitt, Orlando Bloom.

Screenplay: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro.

161 mins. Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Editing

Peter Jackson continues his return trip to Middle-Earth with The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, a more fun follow-up to An Unexpected Journey, which showed up in late 2012 to polarized reactions. The Desolation of Smaug falls for some of the same pitfalls that troubled its predecessor, but all in all, it is a worthy addition to the epic world created by J.R.R. Tolkien many years ago.

We meet up with Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman, Hot Fuzz, TV’s Sherlock) and his Dwarf company (consisting of Thorin Oakenshield, Dwalin, Balin, Kili, Fili, Dori, Nori, Ori, Oin, Gloin, Bifur, Bofur and Bombur) as well as Gandalf the Grey, played once again by Ian McKellan (X-Men, Stardust) to rescue the dwarven city of Erebor from the beastly dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, also of Sherlock fame). This is the part of the story where we really get to the meat of Tolkien’s epic journey.

The performances here are at the top of their game. McKellan makes me fear for the beloved wizard for the first time since The Fellowship of the Ring. I can honestly say that I was unsure that we would be seeing Gandalf again after he breaks away from the group to hunt down the location of the foreboding Necromancer we keep hearing about. You can tell Freeman is getting more comfortable with the weight he now carries in this franchise, as Bilbo is now more comfortable with his stake in things as well. Bilbo definitely takes a step back though, for a sizable amount of this film so that we can focus on other characters. Richard Armitage (Captain America: the First Avenger) has more to do in this film than just brood, which is a welcome addition.

Let’s get to Benedict Cumberbatch, who has received a lot of talk since this film was release barely over a month ago. Other critics of this film claim that he is nothing more than a name tacked on to this film and that his voice-work for both Smaug and the Necromancer could have been done by anyone. I will disagree with this claim, let us not forget that Cumberbatch also did performance capture for the characters and I feel like he adds a layer of tone and inflection to what could’ve been stock bad guys in a fantastical backdrop.

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Lee Pace is finally given the chance to boast some acting chops in this film, after completing what could be thought of as a mere cameo in An Unexpected Journey as the Elvenking Thranduil, father to Legolas, who also returns to the series played again by Orlando Bloom.

Desolation also brings some new faces to the world of Middle-Earth, one in particular, Tauriel, portrayed by Evangeline Lilly, is a completely original character, who gets some nice screen time with Aidan Turner’s Kili. We also meet Bard the Bowman, who is introduced much earlier and given more to do than in Tolkien’s original work. For those of you who are fans of the book, we will be seeing Bard again.

The Hobbit’s gorgeous cinematography and high-frame rate compliment this more-actionier installment, especially when Bilbo and company take a rather exciting barrel ride down a river. The music is definitely owed dues once we encounter Lake Town. Howard Shore really creates some new auditory wonders for us as we edge closer to Erebor. As per usual, the visual effects are stunning and magical without taking us away from the real reason that Thorin and Bilbo have come all this way.

Really, the only thing I can see film-goers not loving about this film is the length. Jackson and fellow writers Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Guillermo del Toro (who worked on the script when he was originally attached to direct) have bulked up this story a lot more than the 300-page novel had, we will call it Epic-sizing it up to turn a novel shorter than that of any of the individual Lord of the Rings books into a 9-hour love letter to Middle-Earth. I am a big fan of Tolkien’s original work and Jackson’s storytelling, so the length really doesn’t bother me, but I can see how casual viewers may not be as swept up as I was.

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The film ends on somewhat of a cliffhanger, and I have to say that I’m not sure I can wait a year to revisit this world, but fans fear not, I’m sure we’ll get an extended edition of Smaug soon enough.

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, click here.

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, click here.

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, click here.

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, click here.

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, click here.

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones, click here.

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