Film Reviews: Captain Marvel; Greta; A Madea Family Funeral
The next stage of Marvel’s takeover of our national multiplexes continues with Captain Marvel (and why not?) the first film in the Marvel Universe that is anchored by a female superhero. In case you haven’t heard, it’s another origin tale, only the origins are as much a surprise to the hero as they are to the public. Once again the tale begins in the galaxy, with the Krees and Skrulls at war with each other. Brie Larson (Room, Kong: Skull Island) is Vers, a Kree warrior under the tutelage of Jude Law’s Yon-Rogg, a Kree military commander and Vers’ mentor. Vers has been having recurring nightmares; after being captured by the Skrulls, some of her suppressed memories are unleashed (involving Annette Bening as a scientist). After an exciting escape from her Skrull captors, Vers finds herself on Earth, circa the mid-1990s. She quickly meets a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, two-eyed Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), and together (with some assistance from Clark Gregg’s Agent Colson) they figure out who the guys are and who the bad guys are in this intergalactic struggle.
As written and directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, Captain Marvel has a fairly good blend of action, characterization, and humor. The 1990s setting provides many opportunities for humor derived from reference points that exist in our fond memories (Blockbuster Video, internet infancy issues, pay phones). Larson is a perfectly competent hero on her journey to self-discovery; the nature of the character doesn’t allow for much meaningful emoting, but she projects determination, compassion and integrity. Jude Law and Ben Mendelsohn (as a leading Skrull) also do more than pick up their checks, providing wit and flair throughout, as does Bening in her various incarnations. I suspect that for many Marvel fans, it might be Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury that holds the most appeal. We know Jackson/Fury as the one-eyed Avengers assembler extraordinaire, but here he is a younger (with sustained digital help), low-level agent who is capable of heroics, wisecracks, and screw-ups in equal measure. And there is also Goose, a perfectly adorable scene-stealer of a cat—and another essential component of the Marvel Universe. In all, Captain Marvel is a perfectly enjoyable way to while away an evening in anticipation of Avengers: Endgame later this spring.
As an antidote to the model of female empowerment on display in Captain Marvel, the new Neil Jordan film Greta provides your classic damsel-in-distress (Chloe Jean Moretz), only her tormentor is Isabelle Huppert’s seemingly reserved Greta. It all begins innocently enough, as Moretz’s naïve New York City waitress finds a handbag on the subway and decides to return it to its owner (as opposed to heeding the “if you see something, say something” edict that New Yorkers know by heart). Greta (Huppert) seems to be a grateful, lonely widow in search of a daughter surrogate; coincidentally Moretz’s Frances is also looking for a mother figure. These two bond, become best buds—until…I won’t spoil too much here (although one of my criticisms is that the film is too quick in its revelations). Needless to say, Greta is not all that she seems, and the cat-and-mouse game that ensues is heaving in Greta’s favor. This is partly because Frances, as written, makes all the wrong moves in dealing with the quietly formidable Greta. And Greta, in Huppert’s masterful playing, is fascinating to watch throughout. Whether she is feigning either hurt or compassion, standing still across a busy street—or doing a little dance as gunfire is headed her way, Huppert’s Greta is a compelling creation. You may not believe a moment of this film, but Greta does have plenty of entertainment value, as well as a satisfying wind-up.
I finally saw one of Tyler Perry’s Madea films, and A Madea Family Funeral promises to be the last one in the successful run of Madea films. It’s technically adequate (Perry seamlessly juggles four roles, and also writes and directs) frequently amusing, and even occasionally poignant. Madea, who seems to be equal parts racy raconteur, provocateur, and self-proclaimed fixer, is visiting some relatives when a proposed anniversary celebration becomes a memorial instead (as the patriarch dies while in the arms of another—decidedly not the wife, and a family friend to boot). There are some hilarious moments involving how the deceased is remembered (as he was last seen), the abuse of dentures, and culminating in a fairly funny sequence depicting one of the longest funerals known to mankind. A Madea family Funeral also provides some interesting observations on family, marriage, commitment, and when to forgive—and not forgive, especially when it comes to the female characters in relation to the actions of their straying men.