Monday, July 1, 2019

Reverend's Reviews: Marvel-ous Women

Fans of badass females, zombies, aliens, and/or cats who may be aliens (are there any other kind?) will want to check out these new releases!

Captain Marvel (now available for streaming and on home video) is the first female-led entry in the ever expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe. Though lesser-known than her male counterparts such as Captain America, Iron Man and Thor, Captain Marvel has a convoluted comic book history that also incorporates Ms. Marvel, but she technically pre-dates many other superheroes.

Fan boys including my husband were generally thrilled with this blockbuster movie adaptation. The screenplay by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, who co-directed, plus Geneva Robertson-Dworet is a celebration of girl (super)power that smartly incorporates elements from the title character's various iterations. Here, she is referred to as Vers for the most part but is ultimately identified as Carol Danvers, a military test pilot who is kidnapped and brainwashed by an alien race. We learn her background along with her when she becomes marooned on earth circa 1994.

The Marvelous Ms. Danvers

Vers/Carol finds herself caught in an intergalactic battle between the Kree, the alien race she believes to be her own, and the Skrull, a race of shape-shifters who also arrive on earth. Things aren't as they initially appear, however, which also applies to a scene-stealing feline dubbed Goose (after Anthony Edwards' character in the 1986 movie Top Gun) who befriends Vers.

Captain Marvel's plot is engrossing, its special effects are impressive (especially the CGI that convincingly de-ages Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury), and its supporting cast that includes Annette Bening, Jude Law and Ben Mendehlson (finally breaking his tiresome streak of villains) in addition to Jackson is excellent. Best of all is Oscar winner Brie Larson, perfectly cast in the title role that she has already repeated in Avengers: Endgame to similarly winning effect. Larson also shouldn't be missed as the star of her 2019 directorial debut, the delightfully whimsical Unicorn Store, available on Netflix.

Meanwhile, Dark Phoenix (which may or may not still be in a theater near you) is the final chapter of Twentieth Century Fox's long-running X-Men saga, based on the Marvel Comics. The public and critical response has been decidedly underwhelming, partly because Dark Phoenix re-boots a story that was previously told in 2006's X-Men: The Last Stand that involved Jean Grey turning evil and going haywire.

That aspect of the plot is overly familiar but the new movie is an accomplished, occasionally thrilling farewell (at least for now) to the beloved characters and their longtime players. Also, Dark Phoenix is notably more female-centric than its predecessors, with Sophie Turner's Jean Grey, a nasty body-snatching alien played by a stiletto-wielding Jessica Chastain, and Jennifer Lawrence's Mystique taking center stage for the most part. This sequel is a somewhat tired but nevertheless acceptable option to tide one over until Disney/Marvel inevitably resurrects the X-Men...and X-Women.

Endzeit (Ever After in German, now playing theatrically in LA and NYC) does not involve superheroes but is based on a graphic novel. Set in a post-apocalyptic, zombie-plagued world, the movie is worth noting as the first feminist take on the genre with few male cast or crew members involved.

Set in an unspecified but not too distant future, only two European cities have survived an uprising of the undead that began two years prior. No one is allowed to leave their community in an effort to thwart further infections. Despite the rule, two young women escape their city, Weimar, in the hope of finding a better life in the other, Jena. Eva is the more experienced, badass of the pair, with the pink-haired Vivi sensitive and fearful. When the supply train they stowaway on breaks down in between Weimar and Jean, the women end up bonding while taking their chances.

Endzeit features moments of de riguer zombie violence but also many striking moments of natural beauty. These include a family of moths living in the train's bathroom, green meadows, sunsets over wide-open fields, a rabbit and even giraffes frolicking, all shot with an observant eye by cinematographer Leah Striker. Directed by Carolina Hellsgard, this is a unique horror-romance.

Reverend's Ratings:
Captain Marvel and Unicorn Store: A-
Dark Phoenix: B-
Endzeit: B

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film and stage critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.

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