Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Captain Marvel (2019)

Captain Marvel (2019)

Directed by: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck  Rated: PG-13  Runtime: 2 hrs. 5 mins.

Screenwriter: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, Geneva Robertson-Dworet Studio: Marvel Studios  

Created by: Roy Thomas & Gene Colan Cast:  Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Jude Law, Ben

Mendelsohn, Lashana Lynch, Greg Clark, Djimon Hounsou, Annette Bening

Captain Marvel is a vibrant, well-told story with details, great CGI, and character development. It moves along at an enjoyable pace too.

It’s difficult to find movies sometimes that represent strong, fun, well-acted female characters in stories that haven’t been done before. So when Captain Marvel came out, nearly ten years after the start of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), the first thing many said was, ‘about time.’ 

Marvel Studio’s Official Trailer for ‘Captain Marvel’ via YouTube

That’s not to ignore the many female characters who fit the above description within the MCU already, but Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel is the first to have a standalone film. 

Captain Marvel is technically the twenty-second MCU film. It’s sandwiched between Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and Avengers: Endgame (2019). Its placement is only essential because of the scenes in the credits, which logically explains Captain Marvel’s place in Endgame, the film after this one in release date order. Chronologically, Captain Marvel takes place in the mid-90s, so it’s natural to place it after Captain America: The First Avenger

Vers/Carol/Captain Marvel is played by Bri Larson, who took a ton of flack for being cast. Some didn’t like how she looked for the role. Others objected to her cocky or unemotional depiction of the character. First, up to a certain point, women were not allowed to always fly, so when they could, being quiet and meek just wouldn’t do. Second, if male test pilots can be smug adrenaline junkies, why not women? To argue one can be but not the other is sexist. Third, Carol forgot everything about her life literally at one point. You can be told about your life, but there is little emotional resonance to be found if you don’t remember. Taking all the information provided about such a layered character and then crafting an authentic-like person from that is no small order. 

Lashana Lynch and Bri Larson in Marvel Studios ‘Captain Marvel’ Image Credit: Marvel Studios via the LA Times

Vers/Carol/Captain Marvel’s journey of discovery is the main thread of this film. Other threads are not loose ends but tie-ins to the MCU as a whole. Some of those threads make more sense in chronological order viewing than the Captain Marvel story being introduced so late into the MCU. Those threads can seem like an afterthought as initially distributed. Still, discovery and agency are the leading personal themes of the movie, on top of how this story adds to the MCU. 

Speaking of adding to the MCU, think about Djimon Hounsou, Greg Clark, and Samuel L. Jackson. Hounsou first appeared in the MCU in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 (2014) as Korath the Pursuer. An older version of the same character seen in Captain Marvel. Despite some visual issues with his facial hair and eye color between the two films, I can’t tell if de-aging technology was used on him. He ages so well; I just don’t know. It was used on Greg Clark and Samuel L. Jackson. That’s not to say any of them look bad with its use, just an observation on the technology itself. It removes the need, in certain projects, to cast a younger version of an established character. It’s ingenious! 

The MCU is known for taking licenses with established characters, minor and significant, so they fit an enormously pre-planned cinematic adventure. They did this with Lashana Lynch’s character, Maria Rambeau. And Mar-Vell, played by Annette Bening. One is a clever reimagining connected to Carol’s origin story, and the other is a letdown. I won’t elaborate because that rabbit hole leads to spoiler territory. Still, both actresses brought convincing energy to their respective characters.

Still image of Kree Starforce from Marvel Studios ‘Captain Marvel’ Image Credit: Marvel Studios via Screen Rant

Everyone performs their roles well, and many of the characters seen again in future MCU roles are fleshed out here. It’s like a window into their origins without the need for their own story. If a viewer is familiar with Agent Coulson (Clark) or Agent Fury (Jackson), it’s a nice insight. If not, they can learn and appreciate the development of certain characters from a fresher perspective than others. 

In terms of tonality, Captain Marvel is a stark departure from that of Captain America: The First Avenger, but that’s to be expected. The individual stories of Steve Rogers, Carol Danvers, Thor, Tony Stark, and every other Avenger shouldn’t be the same. They are all vastly different people or aliens. That fact means audiences will not like certain characters over others, just as all people don’t like everyone they encounter. So it’s okay to not like a character, or specifically their standalone film(s). However, the character should be given a chance of redeemed likeability when working with others in the MCU. To be fair, that point is only valid if you plan on watching all the Marvel movies to date. 

Jude Law and Ben Mendelsohn in Marvel Studio’s ‘Captain Marvel’ Image Credit: Marvel Studios via

I enjoyed Captain Marvel and Bri Larson’s portrayal of her. With Disney/Marvel now owning the rights again to the X-Men franchise, my sincerest wish is that they do better by those characters. Specifically that of Rouge, because her story is tied in with Carol Danvers in such vital ways. In the comics, that is when Carol was Ms. Marvel (later becoming Captain Marvel). Still, the MCU can be decently creative when they want. So time will tell. 

Whether you want to watch the whole MCU or not, Captain Marvel is a fun, energetic superhero adventure story worth a place on your watchlist. 

—a pen lady 

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Arrival (2016)

Arrival (2016)

Directed by: Denis Villeneuve Runtime: 1 hr 56 min Rated: PG-13 Studio: Paramount Screenwriter: Eric Heisserer Based on: Story of Your Life, 1998 short story by Ted Chiang Cast: Amy Adams, Jeremey Renner, Forest Whitaker 

Arrival is a cerebral experience that delivers a compelling sci-fi story with novel ideas through minimal CGI, well-edited sound, and strong performances by the cast. 

Twelve alien crafts suddenly arrive on Earth in places all over the globe. Top translation linguist Professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is…requisitioned by the U.S. Army to help communicate with these beings and find out why they came. Dr. Banks is aided by Dr. Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), a theoretical physicist.  

Two key points I found refreshingly novel compared to other alien films involving the military were: they put in a woman in charge, and they listened. In many professions, women are not at the top or even respected for the work they do. Chiang’s choice for a female lead, believably, drives the story forward. The studio’s version could have changed that but did not. Second, the American military could have listened and taken a ‘we’ll take that under consideration’ mentality to Dr. Banks’s assessment. Instead, more or less, she was permitted to work without interference. 

The military wants answers as quick as possible before another country starts shooting. Knowing that and trying to communicate correctly with a species you don’t understand… is a lot of pressure. In numerous films, the military person in charge is a hard ass, which would not fit this movie’s tone. Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) is the man in charge of operations. Forest Whitaker naturally projects a strong authority of presence without trying. His calm assertiveness and respectful demeanor when things are explained to him is a great example of why patience in this film is so important. It’s one of the main themes. 

Amy Adams delivers a grounded performance that is nothing short of graceful. She (Dr. Banks) is learning an alien language, teaching English-under the military’s eye, while processing some intensely personal events. She never misses a beat.

Why is it that alien movies with potential global destruction are what it takes to make the world work together and share information? Teams like Dr. Banks and Dr. Donnelly’s are also in contact with their local alien ships. How and why all these teams choose to communicate the way they do should remind us that one way isn’t the only way. 

Forest Whitaker, Amy Adams, and Jeremy Renner in Paramount Pictures ‘Arrival’ via

The subtle nods to the other teams and the world’s reaction to finding out aliens are real are very believable. It helps with scene transitions and story progression. Some of the scenes may be confusing as more about the aliens are discovered: how they travel, how they view time, their belief of the notion of fate, and language itself. I did say this movie is a cerebral experience. 

The authentic responses to the alien’s arrival are as intense emotionally as it is mentally. The alarms and subsequent evacuation of students from campus are relatable to me, as I’m sure it is for many. (It’s in the trailer, so I’m not spoiling anything). Who doesn’t remember how they felt when they learned the news of something huge? A war starting, a natural disaster wiping out places, the assassination of someone? For me, it was being in a college lecture hall on 9-11. It’s not the arrival of aliens, but there is a relatable sense of anxiety and dread. Scenes like this, created to resonate with the viewer, enable the filmmakers to craft a film with much less CGI than most sci-fi pictures.

Another cerebral form is physics. I’ve said in another review that I don’t do physics, it’s still true. However, when watching this film, pay attention to the comments about the ship’s design, how they move, and the energy they put out. For such a large object, my thought was, that’s one green ship! I don’t know if that was intentional. Still, I think it says a lot about this alien species and their intellect without explaining anything more. I reviewed the 2012 film Prometheus, and a ship in that film is similar to those in this one. Both are a nice departure from how other spacecraft are depicted. 

Amy Adams is Louise Banks in Paramount Pictures, ‘Arrival’ via

Ted Chiang created this alien language, and it was further fleshed out when adapted to the screen. It became a believably functional, artful, and original depiction of a language not based on our own. That takes immense creativity and understanding. When Dr. Banks learns enough of their language to understand their purpose on Earth, well, it’s absurd for real life, but for a movie? Sure. Go with it. 

If you don’t like to think when watching a film and want everything spelled out for you, this film is not for you. If movies like Alien and Independence Day are more your thing, this movie will disappoint you on multiple levels. If, however, you enjoy a great sci-fi story with good acting and original perspective, you should put this film on your watch list. 

—a pen lady


Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Alien: Covenant (2017)

Alien: Covenant (2017)

Directed by: Ridley Scott     Runtime: 2 hr 3 min     Rated: R    

Studio: 20th Century Fox     Screenwriters: John Logan, Dante Harper

Cast: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Danny McBride, Billy Crudup

Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant is the follow-up to his 2012 Prometheus prequel of his Alien franchise. Set ten years later, in 2104, Covenant follows a crew of 15 onboard a Weyland Group colonization vessel bound for a planet still several years away. 

Micheal Fassbender reprises his role as a ship android, this time named Walter. He and “mother” the ship’s computer, watch over the crew and 3,100 colonist and embryos asleep in stasis pods. Things in space movies never go as planned, and Covenant is no different. Walter is forced to wake the crew early to deal with the instigating event. 

The Covenant characters’ dynamic is much different from Prometheus; right after waking up, they all work to fix problems. This cohesion was not in the previous film, nor was any semblance of rank, security protocols, or notion that anyone had ever been in space before. Right away, I appreciate these things because whether a mission is from a company or military group, things happen in space, and there needs to be guidelines and structure. 

It’s obvious that this crew has worked together before, and there is history. It is a colonization journey, so I can let go of the fact that almost the entire crew is paired off already with someone. I think of the Netflix show Lost in Space, and I know that dynamic can be done well. This isn’t as good as that, but it’s not terrible. That history, understanding, is what gets the crew off course from their intended destination. After spending a decade researching and verifying a planet can be colonized, I find it ridiculously unbelievable a crew would abandon that on a whim. They still have a job to do. This isn’t Star Trek. 

Still, the characters are performed well, considering the interaction and story you get with some in a thriller movie like this. Katherine Waterston plays Daniels, second in command of the Covenant. Waterston’s character reminds me of Sigourney Weavers Ridley from the original Alien films. She has a strong presence, good leadership, and the right mix of ‘I can handle this and be scared at the same time.’ 

20th Century Studios Offical Trailer for Alien: Covenant via YouTube

The film’s pace is better than the last, and the scenes flow well from one to the next. Scene transition gets really important in the latter part of the film when Fassbender and Waterston’s characters learn more about the planet they are exploring.  

While Ridley Scott answers the question of what brings the Covenant to this planet with sound logic and justification, that’s where it ends. The backstory provided only serves to raise more questions and frustrations stemming from Prometheus’s introduction to the “Engineers.” Don’t worry though Covenant brings out the egg-pods, the face-huggers, xenomorphs, blood, gore, and running like its founders. The film has the suspense and thriller aspect closer to the originals than Prometheus, so fans shouldn’t be too disappointed.

There are many unanswered questions between these first two prequels that I wish Ridley Scott had done more to answer in this film. The cliffhanger those unanswered questions leave- lingers too much after two films. Scott’s master plan was to have three prequel films to connect the Alien’s origins with the original franchise. The third film may never be made. Covenant’s box office sales were disappointing. Then, Disney acquired the Alien franchise in 2019, and 2020 obliterated the film industry. I hope the film gets made and that Ridley Scott finally answers the questions he has raised so far. The fans deserve closure. 

Despite all those issues and unanswered questions, Alien: Covenant is a good if under-appreciated film worthy of being put on your watch list. 

—a pen lady 

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Prometheus (2012)

Prometheus (2012)

Directed by: Ridley Scott     Runtime: 2 hr 3 min     Studio: 20th Century Fox

Screenwriters: Jon Spaihts, Damon Lindelof, Dan O’Bannon     Rated: R

Cast: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Logan Marshall-Green, Idris Elba, Charlize Theron, Guy Pearce, Benedict Wong

Ridley Scott returns to the Alien franchise he started in 1979 but with a different trajectory in mind. In the previous Alien films, the question of “where did they come from” never comes up. That’s okay, those films were designed for thrilling suspense and to scare you. They were never intended to answer big questions. Or ask them. Prometheus tackles these logical questions head-on to examine the storyline from a new lens while still connecting it to its predecessor. 

Prometheus doesn’t precisely answer any of the questions it raises, to the annoyance of many viewers. Still, life doesn’t always give answers—and neither does Scott. Strangely, I’m okay with it. While the pacing is sometimes slow, the Prometheus crew gets an answer to if man is alone in the universe. 

This quest for understanding originates from archeological findings on Earth in 2089. A “scientist” belief that mankind is being invited to go looking for their maker is all that is required. The Weyland Group privately funds a space expedition for this journey through the stars. In Alien, the Weyland Group is what the Umbrella Corporation is to the Resident Evil franchise. Though it’s not really apparent in this movie.

While the plot’s rationale for taking a journey through space is thin and scientifically absurd, as are the other scientists and professionals, the characters are still likable. There’s a biologist who acts like a kid at a zoo, a geologist who gets lost despite mapping equipment, a medical doctor, security personnel, and the bridge crew. Two archeologists (one who believes more in faith than science), a Weyland employee overlord, and an android with a creepy god complex round out the rest.

Half of the characters are barely developed. The ones that are are a mixed bag. I can’t understand the lack of rules and protocols of a crew on a spaceship. It’s like you stole your parents’ car and drove for the first time with friends, it’s aggravating chaos. Despite that, the performances are well done; not Oscar-worthy but enjoyable all the same. My two favorite characters are the ship’s Captain/pilot, Janek, played by Idris Elba. Hello, it’s Idris Elba. No other reason is required. Seriously, I like his level-headed demeanor. It’s in stark contrast to everyone else. The other is David the android, played by Micheal Fassbender. He depicts an android emulating a human without emotion with precision. 

Another depiction that is well done is the scene/set locations. There is this opening sequence that shows this harsh, beautiful landscape. You don’t know if it’s on Earth or when. The similarity to that setting and the one later in the film highlight how our planet is not unique in the universe. It indicates how small we are, and that’s not a notion we like as a species. 

In movies, there is this notion that space travel, ships, and equipment have to be either old and industrial or clean and futuristic with lots of technology. The original Alien films look very dirty and industrial, which is a sign of the times when they were made. Special effects were not what they are today. However, the vessel Prometheus itself and the land equipment are a great mix of the two. Additionally, the other technology used throughout the film isn’t so reaching as to be unbelievable. 

This movie isn’t for those who don’t want to think about it too hard. It will also not be loved by serious fans of the Alien franchise if all that is expected is low-lighting, suspense, and body cavity bursting. Prometheus is designed to show you how the body cavity bursting aliens come to be. It’s about their origins. Sometimes a good story is slow to set up, which this film is for many. However, it’s not the only movie Ridley Scott has planned as an Alien prequel. With this in mind, you should add Prometheus to your watch list.

—a pen lady