Captain Marvel *NO SPOILERS*

Captain Marvel 2019 *NO SPOILERS*

Directed by Anne Boden & Ryan Fleck

I went to see this on opening day, the eve of International Women’s Day and seriously, I couldn’t have been happier or more excited. Back in the long-lost past of my childhood, I used to read a lot more comic books and I was always wanting more female characters. In particular the kind that didn’t need saving, didn’t always lust after male heroes, the kind that wore sensible clothes and had agency. I remember Wonder Woman (2017) and how I enjoyed it despite the narrative flaws until the final act, which was simply awful and I confess, I haven’t watched it again since.

So, I came to this with more emotional baggage than normal and I’ll get it out of the way first.

This movie was everything I ever hoped for or wanted – a very cool origin story (with echoes back to Captain America), a strong, feisty central character that was warm, emotional and feminine without being sexualised. YAY!

Now that I’ve got that out of my system, let’s look at the movie.

Brie Larson puts in a great performance as Vers/Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel and achieves the balance of quirky, not-quite-sure-of-herself young girl and noble warrior hero with a lot of style. Unsurprisingly, she is very ably supported by Samuel L Jackson, who proves again why he is the glue that keeps so much of the MCU together. After one viewing, my big takeaway are the scenes Larson and Jackson share. There’s real chemistry there and we learn so much about Nick Fury’s backstory. Lashana Lynch is really good as Maria Rambeau, Ben Mendelsohn, Jude Law and Clark Gregg are all excellent in support but Annette Bening lights up the screen every time she appears.

I think the pacing is at times patchy. The first act seemed jerky and didn’t flow particularly well for me and I wonder if it’s an editing issue. The second act is very, very well done and really delivers some great scenes. As this is a Marvel movie, the final act is everything you’d expect – all the bells and whistles – but surprisingly well-paced and not as unwieldy as it could easily have been.

With twenty prior entries in the series – yes, I count The Incredible Hulk (2008) – the CG is just what I’d expect from Marvel – very high standard that only rarely made me think it wasn’t real. In the first act especially, I noticed hardware and props that had strong design similarities with Guardians of the Galaxy (2014 & 2017) and Avengers: Infinity War (2018). This offered further textual continuity and gave this film some excellent narrative grounding.

For me, the script was good, (particularly the Larson/Jackson scenes) and I really enjoyed the second act. But some of the one-liners (something Marvel is renowned for) seemed forced and dropped very flat. Again, I’m not certain if that’s an issue with editing, comic timing or just too many unnecessary cheap jokes. Having said that, I liked the little comedic touches that are delivered almost as background detail in some otherwise serious scenes. This harks back to the talent onscreen and the depth of characterisation they brought to the roles.

I think it was a bold move to invest so much in character development, so hats off to the directing team, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck. But the results are very deeply satisfying, bringing a fully-fledged female superhero to the screen with heart and soul. As always with the MCU, stay for the very end – there are two postscripts.

Take your mothers, sisters, daughters, girlfriends and enjoy the fun of this film. As a childhood fan of Marvel Comics and more recently, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’m thrilled to finally have a fully realised female superhero that I can see on the big screen.

Celebrate it!

PS: This is no spoiler – but the opening credits celebrate Stan Lee and gave me ALL the feels ❤

Extinction (No Spoilers)

Extinction 2018 Directed by Ben Young.

It’s been driven home to me recently that I’m getting old. My local cinema, the State Cinema in North Hobart is putting on a couple of screenings of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its release. But this also gives me cause to celebrate, as 2001 was one of the films that really hooked me into science fiction film, going to the movies in general and remains a film I still love to watch.

This release from Netflix reminded me again what in influence Kubrick still has over the genre, with some early shots from Extinction clearly paying homage. I also spotted a cinematic nod to Ridley Scott’s Alien (which is rarely a bad thing) and in hindsight, these little crumbs set the tone for this flawed but interesting piece of near-future sci-fi.

Essentially, this feature directed by Australian Ben Young is a film about family – what it means to be a family and how those bonds can be stretched, twisted and (in this case) strengthened – but it is quite a dour tale.

Michael Pena plays Peter, a building engineer cum maintenance worker who lives in an architecturally beautiful unnamed city with his engineer/town planner wife (Lizzy Caplan) and his two young daughters. Peter is troubled by dreams of an alien invasion that destroys his family but as his dreams become more intense and frequent, he finds himself increasingly alienated from those he’s trying to protect. I’m not going to spoil anything for those of you who haven’t seen this yet but suffice it to say that Peter’s nightmares turn into reality and the ensuing shenanigans provide the bulk of the film. The first act/set up tells us all we need to know and above all, doesn’t outstay its welcome.

Once the action starts, it wisely relies more on practical than computer generated effects, which at times look very cheap. The tension mounts in a good but fairly predictable way but despite this, overall I found the second act pretty lacklustre. There’s a flatness about the action that took me out of the film on several occasions and I suspect this is one of the issues of trying to be a big blockbuster on a budget. Also, I felt Michael Pena and Lizzy Caplan were sadly wasted in their roles, and the inclusion of Mike Coulter (Luke Cage) as Peter’s boss confused me. One of the things I really liked were the young daughters not being the standard stereotypical “plucky kids” so often seen in this kind of film. They’re not brave or particularly resourceful, they’re just terrified kids, which was refreshing.

The twist in the third act was very good and although I knew something was coming, I didn’t spot it specifically. (Again, no spoilers here – go and see it for yourself!)

Apart from uneven pacing and lacklustre CG, my main gripe with the film is the ending. Apart from clearly leading with a case for a sequel (please don’t do it!) I feel the movie lingered way too long after the denouement. I wanted it to wind up and wave goodbye at least 10 minutes before it did.

Despite this, I am increasingly impressed by Netflix’ foray into original sci-fi film distribution. While Extinction isn’t brilliant, along with Mute, Anon and the wonderful Annihilation (all of which I’ve written about elsewhere but neglected to review here!), Netflix is bringing a welcome breath of new(ish) science fiction to my screens. The ongoing issue I see here is the platform – these films were all made to be at their best on a big screen, with so much of their cinematic value being lost on my home television or laptop.

Or perhaps, I’m just getting old and feeling nostalgic for the magic of seeing something for the first time in a cinema? Nevertheless, I’m still watching with interest!

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Star Wars: The Last Jedi 2017. Directed by Rian Johnson.

I can rarely be bothered to go to big releases in their opening week but I made an exception with this, the latest installment in the Star Wars franchise.

I should say from the outset that while I like the original movies, I’m film studies scholar – not in the simpering fan-girl brigade. In fact, I’ve always felt a degree of frustration because I could always see how good these films should be but never seemed to hit the mark.

Having said that, I thought The Force Awakens (2015) was infinitely better than any of the prequels and reignited my interest in the series. But this was completely eclipsed by the stand alone and beautifully self-contained Rogue One (2016), which (despite a baggy first act) is a fabulous sci-fi war movie.

But Thursday I saw something really good, much better than I anticipated, and I reacted accordingly.

The Last Jedi explored complex themes – in a far more nuanced way than I expected – about family, friendship, connection and the nature of difference and subversion. Given the global political climate this past 12 months, it was an excellent commentary, and a reminder that nothing is ever just black or white.

The young cast are really very good, with Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver outstanding, providing emotional depth to their characters. They are ably supported by John Boyega, Oscar Isaacs and Kelly Marie Tran. Despite being a wee bit sentimental about seeing Carrie Fisher in her final role (yes, I did well up!) the thing that reduced me to tears was seeing the wonderful Laura Dern showing all the kids how it should be done – and a scene that immediately reminded me of her father Bruce Dern and Silent Running (1972), one of my favourite films.

If this is what Star Wars is going to be from now on, I’ll have some more thanks!

* This is an expanded version of a review that was included in Kermode & Mayo’s Film Review on BBC 5 Live (15/12/17) – and yes, I was thrilled to hear Simon Mayo read it out! *