Captain Marvel Review

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It’s a big year for Marvel Studios. Next month, Avengers: Endgame releases, a film that will end Phase 3. Then in July, Spider-Man will be back and heads to Europe where Mysterio will make his big screen debut. Before all this however, we are introduced to a band new player to the universe: Carol Danvers, known as Captain Marvel. This movie serves a few different purposes. Of course, it introduces a powerful new character to the film universe. It is the first female-led Marvel Studios film. It also bridges to Infinity War, as we learn about the relationship between Nick Fury and Ms. Marvel. Finally, it shows how Fury came up with the idea for the Avenger initiative, an unexpected, nice touch.

Carol has had a prominent role in the comics in recent history, and thanks to the movie, it’s only going to get bigger. Brie Larson, last seen as a photographer in Kong: Skull Island, brings the character to life. It’s a unique take on an origin story, and has surprising plot twists that radically change how the story is viewed. As a whole, Captain Marvel is solid. It’s an enjoyable film with especially great performances from Samuel L. Jackson as Fury, and Ben Mendelsohn as Talos.

The story begins with Carol (at this time known as “Vers”), training with Yon-Rogg (Jude Law.) Yon-Rogg is a leader of the Kree Starforce, an intergalactic band of soldiers whose task is to bring down the Skrulls. The Skrulls are shapeshifters, making them potentially deadly enemies. After a meeting with the Kree’s Supreme Intelligence, Carol is given the okay to join the team on a mission. That mission ends up going bad, as Carol is tricked by a Skrull named Talos. Carol is taken to a Skrull base, where she’s forced to relive memories she has no recollection of. Thanks to her Kree powers, she is able to escape, and crash lands on Earth. Skrulls follow her, including Talos. Now, Earth is seemingly in danger, but things may not be what they seem…

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Carol Danvers is established early on as a headstrong character with a sarcastic wit. It’s not all jokes though. Carol does show scenes of feeling, such as her conversation with Yon-Rogg about the picture she found of her life on Earth. Brie Larson brings a likable charm as Captain Marvel. I would have liked to see more of those emotional scenes, because the “sarcastic character ” is nothing new in these movies. This film does not go overboard with jokes or one-liners however, as was the case in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. and Thor: The Dark World. Although I didn’t get that same inspiring persona as Gal Gadot emitted in Wonder Woman, I am looking forward to seeing more of Carol. One of the most effective sequences (and great example of editing) was in the climax, as it shows that Carol had fallen down many times throughout her life – but she always got back up.

The early space mission was engaging. It introduced the Skrulls as a big threat, and featured good choreography on a gloomy planet. While the space stuff is good, a lot of the best parts of the film are actually back on Earth. Once Carol crash lands on Blockbuster, the fun rarely stops. From Carol walking into Radio Shack to establish communications, to Fury’s first dialogue with her, there’s a lot of great moments. Speaking of Fury, right from his meeting with Ms. Marvel, viewers know they’re in for a treat. Fury is much like his current self, but less hardened due to not being exposed to these otherworldly dangers up until this point. What we have is an extremely fun character, who works really well alongside Carol. This is personally one of my favorite buddy cop duos I’ve seen in awhile.

The most interesting character might be Talos. Ben Mendelsohn plays this Skrull with perfect charisma. Perhaps the best scene in the movie is in Maria Rambeau’s house. There was such great tension thanks to Talos. He has easily become one of the best characters in the MCU.  Meanwhile, Coulson appearing as “the new guy” was fun. It’s a shame he didn’t have a bigger role. What’s even more disappointing is Ronan the Accuser. When it was announced that this character, who first appeared in Guardians of the Galaxy, would be featured in Captain Marvel, fans were thrilled. But, it ended up being like a few glorified cameos. It would have been great to learn more about him, and what led him to become the psychopath seen in Guardians. This was definitely a missed opportunity.

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Another big character is Yon-Rogg. Here’s the thing: he was great in the first half of the movie, but then his character takes a different turn in the second. Jude Law portrayed the character of a mentor perfectly, bringing a sense of calm authority. But, this goes away because (spoiler) it’s revealed that he’s the one who killed Carol’s superior. Technically, this is a smart plot twist. But, Yon-Rogg just isn’t that interesting as a villain. Even Law’s performance took a dip – he was great as a mentor, but as an antagonist, it came off as run of the mill.

Captain Marvel features some great settings for actions scenes. Of course, we already discussed the film’s opening act on another planet. On Earth, there’s a great sequence inside an airforce warehouse. We’re also treated to action inside a Skrull spaceship, and later a Kree one. Of course, there’s also the train battle, probably the most memorable. The soundtrack definitely enhances these sequences, making use of some ’90s songs.

For a few last notes, the friendship between Maria Rambeau and Carol felt genuine. I also liked the scenes with Carol and Maria’s daughter, Monica (longtime comic readers will recognize her). Their sequence toward the climax was a very fun way for Carol to get the iconic costume. Oh, there’s also Goose, the cat-like creature. He was definitely fun to have around, but virtually nothing is known about him, which is a shame. He just kinda shows up, and then appears as a deus ex machina when needed. There’s definitely a cool aspect to Goose, but he could have used just a hint of backstory.

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Overall, Captain Marvel is yet another solid film in Marvel’s ongoing library. It doesn’t quite reach the quality of Black Panther, however. Carol herself could have used more compelling scenes, and Jude Law’s character ended up being a disappointment. But, the positives outweigh the negatives. Carol is still a very fun character that is portrayed nicely by Larson. The scenes with her and Nick are priceless, and feature some of the best exchanges from these films. Talos was also excellent – hopefully Marvel isn’t done with this character. All in all, this is a very good film with likable characters, fun action, and some great ’90s backdrops. (Hopefully you didn’t miss the Game Boy.)

8.5/10

KONG: SKULL ISLAND Review

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It’s been 12 years since the last King Kong film. Peter Jackson’s 2005 film is a remake of the classic 1933 story of a giant ape who falls for a woman and ends up meeting an unfortunate demise. Skull Island takes a break from this plot to tell a unique tale using elements from the original story. This isn’t the first time Kong has deviated from the usual story of course, with one example being TOHO’s King Kong Escapes where he battles a mechanized version of himself. Skull Island brings an ensemble cast to the titular setting for an adventure that feels both familiar and new. It lacks enough quality writing to call it a “great” film, but it’s still an enjoyable, fun trek.

The primary reason why people would come to watch this film is to see the title character in action. Kong himself doesn’t disappoint. The sequence with him taking out the helicopters was excellent and rivals Godzilla’s grand airport entrance in the 2014 film. The music going silent when the tree struck the first helicopter changed the mood drastically, and as one by one each helicopter was destroyed the viewer got a sense of how ferocious Kong was. This is his most violent portrayal yet, and in this early scene the viewer actually begins to think that Kong might actually be bad in this one. The story smartly destroys that thought later on. The writing perfectly balances Kong’s gentleness with monstrous ferocity.

Again, his big scene with taking down the helicopters was incredible. It featured some of the best cinematography and editing ever in a monster movie. It’s actually a shame that the very first scene in the film featured a full face shot of Kong, because the helicopter sequence later on would have been a much better way to first show the character. Kong commands a presence every time he’s on screen, and the film features him a lot, which is a nice change of pace from monster films hiding the beast for extended periods of time.

Like in the previous King Kong films, Skull Island is home to many dangerous creatures. Unlike the previous films, the creatures in this film aren’t ones we’d find in a book. Instead, they’re either abnormally giant (the spider) or completely brand new, such as the Skullcrawlers. The creatures are used to great effect. The spider sequence was very well done (it features one of the creepiest deaths in a monster movie) and how the characters managed to overcome it was pretty smart. There’s even a giant octopus which Kong battles. (It reminds the viewer of his encounter with another giant octopus in the original King Kong vs. Godzilla.) The Skullcrawlers are the film’s primary antagonists, and they are really well utilized. They’re genuinely creepy and also command a presence. (The quick death scene of a character turning around only to be chomped by a Skullcrawler was something straight out of a horror film.)

Of course, the climax couldn’t feature Kong simply taking on a bunch of little creatures. The final battle featured a giant Skullcrawler. It got some quality buildup beforehand, and it doesn’t disappoint. It takes what made the little ones creepy and amplifies it. The fight was very well done. The battle is brutal, the setting is used to great effect, and above all else – it’s satisfying. There are no extended cutaways, there are some surprises, and it’s just fun to watch as a moviegoer and as a longtime kaiju fan.

The main thing the story suffers from is an unnecessarily light tone. There is some seriousness to the atmosphere, namely when the music stops when that tree struck the helicopter. Despite scenes like that the story appears more on the light-hearted side at times. John C. Reilly’s character for example kinda takes the viewer out of the realism at times with his dialogue. With horrific deaths taking place on an unknown setting, it seems like the overall atmosphere should be consistently more serious than what it is. Perhaps the idea was to differentiate itself from Godzilla, since that film was completely series from beginning to end. This is not to say Skull Island is a comedy, because it isn’t. A more serious tone throughout just could have been better.

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A rather big drawback is that the Island natives don’t really do anything in this film. It felt like they were just there for tradition’s sake. (They barely do anything other than stare and nod.) An additional 10 minutes could have been added to explain more about their relationship to Kong and the fascinating backstory only briefly mentioned. Moving on to the characters, the film features a cast with quite a few familiar names. Just about all of them are fun to watch. (It could be a fun game counting how many zoom-ins they give Samuel L. Jackson.) Ultimately though, there’s no standout performance. Maybe it’s assumed that simply having these big name actors on screen is good enough. (We have Tom Hiddleston grabbing a sword and slashing like a samurai.) The characters needed to be fleshed out just a little bit more.

The pacing is solid. Some of the early scenes on the boat were a little on the boring side, but it doesn’t take too long for the characters to arrive on the Island. There’s just the right amount of Kong scenes and humans, whether the latter be talking or running away from another creature. The soundtrack has some great moments. There’s also some classic music thrown in the mix, being set in the 70’s. This is used to great effect in the helicopter sequence.

Overall, Kong: Skull Island is a worthy addition to the large catalog of monster movies. Director Jordan Charles Vogt-Roberts’ vision of Kong is truly special. The ape steals the show, having the perfect balance of being the kind creature viewers have come to know and displaying monstrous ferocity. If Kong had a reputation of being on the weaker side before, this film changes that. The other creatures are really cool to watch, especially the Skullcrawlers. The big one made for an excellent final boss, with the actual battle being a satisfying finale to the story. The characters aren’t bad. They’re fun to watch, and are given enough personality to keep them from being dry. Still, they could have used just a bit more development. Some of the lighter elements and humor didn’t work, but they don’t ruin what is Kong’s most explosive film yet.

7.5/10