Chemistry Experiment

The “opposites attract” romantic comedy is a venerable institution. You could go back to Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew,” though with its misogynist elements you may want to look at a more modern version, like My Fair Lady or – even better – Ten Things I Hate About You. The differences between the two main characters gives the writer a fertile field in which to grow and harvest laughs. It’s also a form that lends itself to the hard-R rated comedy, such as the Amy Schumer/Bill Hader film Trainwreck or the Seth Rogen/Katherine Hagel flick Knocked Up. Rogen could be the poster-boy for hard-R comedies, with films like Pineapple Express, This Is the End, and The Interview, though he can also plumb emotions as he did in 50/50.

It’s hard to think of a greater opposite for Rogen than Charlize Theron. She started her film career with a series of eye-candy roles, though in films like 2 Days in The Valley, The Devil’s Advocate, and The Cider House Rules, her performances had a depth and nuance one wouldn’t expect. She broke out with her stunning, Oscar-winning performance in Monster, and has recently reinvented herself as an action hero in Mad Max: Fury Road, Atomic Blonde, and The Fate of the Furious. Putting them together in a movie seem like pairing Dom Perignon with pizza, but in Long Shot, it works.

Fred Flarsky (Rogen) is an investigative reporter for a small New York City paper. When the paper is bought out by conservative media mogul Parker Wembley (Andy Serkis), Fred quits. His best friend Lance (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) takes him out for a special day to heal his wounds, which includes a party where Boys II Men are performing. But there he meets Charlotte Field (Theron), the hyper-competent and confident woman who’s serving as Secretary of State. Fred had grown up next door to Charlotte and had even been babysat by her, which led to a terminally embarrassing moment for him as an early teen.

Charlotte has her own challenges. The president (Bob Odenkirk) was elected because he’d played a president on TV. Shortly before the party he told her he’s bypassing a second term so he can try something really challenging – making the jump to the movies. Charlotte gets his promise of an endorsement, and she decides to launch her campaign after negotiating a massive environmental protect treaty with a hundred countries. In the run-up to her announcement, she needs a new speech writer. Her chief of staff (June Diane Raphael) and primary assistant (Ravi Patel) have suggestions, but after meeting Fred again – and reading his material – she decides to give him the job.

The screenplay by Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah, from a story by Sterling, has a sharp edge in light of the current situation in Washington, even as they avoid easy, cheap shots. It doesn’t rise to the acumen of Aaron Sorkin’s The American President or “The West Wing” but it does provide a comedic comment on realpolitik verses the aspiration to accomplish worthwhile results. In a sense, the teaming of Sterling and Hannah has its similarities to Rogen and Theron. Sterling started out in TV writing for “South Park” and “King of the Hill” while also spending 2006 as a producer of “The Daily Show.” He’d previously written the Rogen/James Franco North Korea flick, The Interview. Hannah came out of nowhere two years ago when Spielberg did her on-spec screenplay, The Post. Director Jonathan Levine had worked with Rogen on 50/50, which showed he could handle a serious topic – cancer – while still making a comedy. That sense of balance is at play here as well.

Particularly delightful are Raphael and Patel. They provide the flint for the sparks that fly between Theron and Rogen. Serkis is unrecognizable – which isn’t unusual for him – though that’s normally because of motion capture filming. His media mogul Wembley is a blend of Rupert Murdock and Boss Hogg from “The Dukes of Hazard.”

While it might not hit the heights of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, or even of Dave, it does have a bit of the DNA of those movies: the hope that politics can actually help rather than simply exploit the people. That’s a thought that’s in deep peril right now. Maybe Long Shot can make us hope for better again.

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Everything Comes to an End(game)

For the three or four people in the world who haven’t seen Avengers: Endgame in its opening week, I won’t put any spoilers in this review. Of course, some aspects of the film’s plot have already been revealed. The trailer for Spider-Man: Far from Home has been out for a while, featuring two characters who were dusted in the snap at the end of Avengers: Infinity War, so it’s not a surprise that Thanos’s wiping out of half of the creatures in the Universe is reversed.

It’s also been broadcast how completely Endgame has re-written box-office records. In its first weekend domestically, it earned $357 million dollars, which is enough to put it in 5th place for last year’s box office results for the full year! In less than a week worldwide it’s taken in $1.5 billion dollars, placing it in the 8th spot on the all-time box office list. By the time you read this, it will have likely sped past Furious 7 and the original Avengers to be nipping at the 5th place spot occupied by Jurassic World. It’s easy to conceive it will overtake the #1 movie, Avatar, and may become the first movie to surpass $3 billion at the box office.

Truthfully, the success of Endgame isn’t a surprise. Marvel has been building to this point for eleven years, over the course of 22 movies. They followed the same model that Marvel had in the 1960s, with the serialized stories spread over several editions of a comic book, as well as bringing together multiple superheroes for special events. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby did the first Avengers comic in 1963, featuring much the same line-up as the movies: Ironman, Thor, the Hulk, along with Ant-man and the Wasp. Captain America came on board in the 4th issue, after being discovered and defrosted. In a sense, they had fifty years of market research to show them how to make this work.

But even with that, execution is everything. From Ironman’s first appearance in 2008, Marvel has managed to maintain a high quality in the movies. There have been miscues. Edward Norton’s The Incredible Hulk, while an improvement on Ang Lee’s 2003 version, was poorly done, and it took Mark Ruffalo’s beautiful embodiment of the character to finally rinse away that bad taste. Likewise, Thor: The Dark World is best left stuck in a dark closet, never to be seen again. Yet Marvel also had surprising success with Captain America: The First Avenger, leading to my personal favorite of the Marvel Universe series, The Winter Soldier.

That movie was important, since it brought the Russo brothers, Anthony and Joe, into the Marvel fold as directors. They’d mostly done work on television comedies like Community, Happy Endings, and Arrested Development. Likewise, their movie experience was essentially two comedies, Welcome to Collinwood and You, Me, and Dupree. Yet they delivered stunningly with The Winter Soldier and continued their success with Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War, and now Avengers: Endgame.

Along with the Russo brothers, screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely have been most valuable players for Marvel. Along with Infinity War and Endgame, they wrote all the Captain America movies and created the Agent Carter TV series. (They did write Thor: The Dark World, but you can’t hit home runs at every at bat.) Their knowledge of the whole Marvel Universe would have been invaluable in crafting Endgame.

That’s because Endgame is essentially the summation of all that has gone before, with over fifty characters who have appeared in the twenty-one previous movies. The main roles are the same as the first grouping of the Avengers: Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Black Widow (Scarlet Johannson), once again going up against Thanos (Josh Brolin). Others from previous movies take on substantial roles in Endgame, including Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), War Machine (Don Cheadle), and Nebula (Karen Gillan). The most recent addition to the series, Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel, has a small role in the scope of the movie, but it is pivotal. However, all the others have their parts to play, and it’s a testament to the skills of the Russo brothers along with Markus and McFeely that they have crafted and executed a story that manages to balance and feature so large a cast. It’s like the circus trick of spinning plates balanced on sticks, only in this case they’re spinning fifty-plus plates at one time.

There are a couple of times when the story drags, but they are few within the context of a movie that runs slightly over three hours. Overall, though, Endgame grabs you emotionally from its first scene and doesn’t let go until the credits roll. You laugh, you cry, you applaud, and at the end you are satisfied. It’s a fitting capstone to all that has gone before.

Now Marvel can explore other parts of its universe in the next series of films. As the Oscar-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse showed, there’s a lot of worlds out there, and plenty more stories to tell.

DC Finds Its Funny Bone

For the past few years, DC and Marvel have been competing like they once did in the early days of comic books. Instead of pulp-paper pages, though, it’s now on the silver screen. DC, in collaboration with Warner Brothers, has had success with their characters, especially the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy. Beginning in the 1970s, they also had the first hit superhero movies, first with Christopher Reeve’s Superman and then Michael Keaton’s Batman. In both cases, the quality took a sharp dive after the first sequel, and Keaton was smart enough to jump ship before the third movie. But in the ten years since Ironman premiered, Marvel has held the field. DC managed to put out 5 movies during that time, while Marvel quadrupled that number (not even counting the Spiderman or X-Men movies.) Marvel also cleaned up at the box office, with 7 films breaking the billion-dollar worldwide box office mark, compared to one for Warner Brothers/DC: last year’s Aquaman. The problem was the films helmed by Zack Snyder were deathly serious and featured cookie-cutter final battles that exchanged noise and over-the-top action for coherence and story. The fun quotient was essentially nil. Patty Jenkins (Wonder Woman) and James Wan (Aquaman) gave their films a different feel, though the climactic battle scenes returned to Snyder’s style, just transferred to WWI Europe or submerged in the sea. None of the DC films came close to the comedic interplay featured in the Marvel Universe movies like Ant-Man or Guardians of the Galaxy, or the emotional resonance of Black Panther or Avengers: Infinity War.

Until now. Shazam! manages to both tickle your funny bone while still pulling at your heartstrings.

Like the Bond films, the super-hero genre needs a strong villain to support the hero’s story. Director David F. Sandberg and screenwriter Henry Gayden spend an extensive time at the movie’s beginning establishing Dr. Thaddeus Sivana as a worthy villain. He’s the scion of a wealthy family who couldn’t do anything right in his father’s eyes. As a young teen Sivana’s transported from the back seat of his family car to a mysterious cave where a wizard (Djimon Hounsou) offers him great power if he’s deemed worthy. Sivana fails the test, instead choosing the power of the 7 Deadly Sins. The wizard throws him back into the car. Years later, the adult Sivana (the eminently reliable bad guy, Mark Strong) has been funding research into what appears to be a delusion shared by dozens of people – being transported to the wizard’s lair only to be found unworthy. It finally gives him the key to return to the lair where he finally takes the power of the deadly sins into himself.

Billy Batson (Asher Angel) has been in the Pennsylvania Child Care system ever since he was separated from his mother as a very young child. Now a teenager, he’s never given up finding his birth mother, which has kept him from bonding with any of the many foster families he’s had. In Philadelphia, he’s assigned to the care of Victor and Rosa Vasquez (Cooper Andrews, Marta Milans) who’d both been in the system themselves and now run a group home. They introduce him to the rest of their ersatz family, who range from college-bound Mary (Grace Fulton) to pre-teen Darla (Faithe Herman), though Billy gets closest to Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), a super-hero fanatic with a bad leg. When bullies at school attack Freddy, Billy comes to his aid. Chased by the bullies, he gets away on the subway, only to be transported to the wizard’s lair himself. There he’s found worthy, and by uttering the wizard’s name – Shazam – he’s transformed into an adult superhero (Zachary Levi) with muscles on his muscles, lightning that shoots out of his fingers, super speed and bullet-proof skin, but who’s still a kid inside.

Levi’s an excellent choice for the main role, since he demonstrated his ability to balance genres in the comedy/spy series “Chuck.” He bulked up with about 20+ pounds of muscle to embody Shazam, but he also gives the best boy-in-a-man’s-body performance since Tom Hanks in Big. Angel’s Billy manages to be a regular kid, though one damaged by his history, and Grazer’s Freddy fills both the sidekick role as well as being a conscious for Shazam when he becomes too indulgent of his power.

Sandberg and Gayden were unusual choices as director and screenwriter. After creating a number of short films, Sandberg did two horror features prior to Shazam!: Lights Out (based on one of his shorts) and the entry in the possessed doll series, Annabelle: Creation. Gayden only had one screenplay produced before this, the sci-fi light story Earth to Echo, and was an assistant to the screenwriter of one of my least-favorite movies, Spider-Man 3. But as has happened before in the superhero genre, unknowns have scored huge successes when given the chance. The Russo brothers (Anthony & Joe) had worked in television and directed a couple of forgettable comedy flicks before they were given the directing job for arguably the best Marvel movie, Captain America: The Winter Soldier. They followed it up with Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War, and the upcoming Avengers: End Game, which will make them the only directors to have three billion-dollar movies to their credit.

You’ll laugh your face sore by the end of Shazam! It also manages a thrilling final battle that still has hilarious moments, including a twist on the bad guy explanation scene that’s just perfect.

As I related in my review of Captain Marvel, Shazam! shares an interconnected history with the Marvel character, and it’s a bit strange that both finally make it to the big screen within a month of each other. However, the two movies are completely different in tone. It’s unlikely Shazam! will beat Captain Marvel’s box office total, which has already zoomed past the billion mark worldwide. But Shazam! is a delight and worthy of its own success.

Double, The Fear

When you have a Best Picture-nominated film the first time you direct, there’s usually only one way to go with your next project, and that’s down. As a cautionary tale, there’s Orson Welles. For his debut, he made one of the greatest films of all time, Citizen Kane, but his follow-up became a story of studio interference. The Magnificent Ambersons originally clocked in at 132 minutes. Welles made a couple of small edits for test audiences, but the movie didn’t connect with the people. Because of a dispute on another film, Welles had lost control of the final cut of Ambersons to the studio, RKO. While Welles was in South America on another project, they ordered reshoots, changed the ending, and cut nearly an hour from the movie. Even in its truncated form, The Magnificent Ambersons is now regarded as a masterpiece, though it lost money when released. Sadly, Welles original vision will never be restored since the studio destroyed the cut footage to free up space in its vault.

For his first film as writer/director, Jordan Peele had a massive hit. Get Out made $255 million worldwide off a budget of $5 million. It also garnered a Best Picture nod, which is almost unheard of for a horror thriller. For his follow-up, Peele ratchets up the action and creates a nightmare scenario playing off the idea of the doppelganger – a double or look-alike of a person that can be ghostly and often is the harbinger of bad events.

Us begins in the 1980s at a boardwalk amusement park in Santa Cruz, California. Young Adelaide (Madison Curry) wanders away from her parents and into a funhouse hall of mirrors. Something happens there that leaves her mute and traumatized for years. Fast forward to the present day. Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) and her family – husband Gabe Wilson (Winston Duke), daughter Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph), and young son Jason (Evan Alex) – are returning to Santa Cruz to visit their friends Kitty and Josh Tyler (Elizabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker). While Adelaide now appears well-adjusted, her tension heightens as they approach town and arrive at her childhood home – her first time back since her mother’s death.

When they meet the Tylers on the beach near the boardwalk, Adelaide tries to control her fear, but she loses it fast when Jason briefly goes missing. The family returns to the house, but that night Jason tells Adelaide and Gabe that there’s a family standing outside in their driveway. Gabe tries to scare them off, but instead the people run forward and break into the house – and reveal that they are physical copies of the Wilsons, though a nightmare version of them.

Peele sticks to the classic form of Greek tragedy, with the events taking place within 24 hours. He establishes the family as loving and relatable, and he frontloads the movie with a growing sense of foreboding. In both the 1980s scene and present day, we see a vagrant holding the sign reading “Jeremiah 11:11,” creating its own double. A sign quoting a Bible reference is inherently threatening, like the holder plans to beat you senseless with the sign. It’s worse when you learn the verse says, “Therefore thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will bring evil upon them, which they shall not be able to escape; and though they shall cry unto me, I will not hearken unto them.”

Nyong’o and Duke have wonderful chemistry together, partially from attending Yale Drama School at the same time, and they both had starring roles in last year’s megahit, Black Panther. As the children, Joseph and Alex convey a realistic balance of dedication to, and exasperation with, each other that parents know so well. It’s an impressive feat when you add on that all four play double roles.

As a person who particularly enjoys movie music, I have to note the accomplishment of director Peele and composer Michael Abels use of “I Got 5 On It” by Luniz. At first you hear the classic rap song over the car radio with the family feeling the beat. Then its deconstructed into short sections played on shrieking violins that increase the tension every time you hear them.

At first Peele keeps the focus directly on the family, but then he slowly pulls back to a wider shot that takes if from an intimate horror story to a commentary on society. In the end the story gets fuzzy in its critique, in contrast to Get Out’s razor-sharp script. The best thing to do is forget the exposition and simply let the story flow. In the end, Peele has hidden a twist that makes you re-evaluate everything you’ve seen.

Peele’s newest gig is as executive producer, writer, and host for the reboot of the classic series “The Twilight Zone.” It has been tried a couple of times in the past, but was never able to approach the quality of the original, which served up social commentary hidden beneath a layer of sci-fi/horror. Episodes like “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street,” “Eye of the Beholder,” or “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up” speak to the current paranoid, divided world as much as they did to the 1960s. Peele has already demonstrated with Get Out and now Us that he can match the form of “The Twilight Zone.” I only wish it was available on a commonly available service rather than CBS Access.

But that’s why God invented DVDs.

Glorious

People often bemoan the fact that films don’t give mature women their due, and I couldn’t agree more. I can’t count how many films feature leading men with 30 years on their leading women. If there’s a May-December relationship, it’s always the men with the snow on the mountain. Along with that, many movies push the narrative that without a man, a woman is missing out on life, where a man on his own is much more acceptable. So, it’s a delight to find a movie that takes those conventions and blows them away. That movie is Gloria Bell.

It’s not surprising the director and original screenwriter comes from outside of Hollywood. Sebastian Lelio hails from Santiago, Chile, and began making short films and documentaries in the 1990s, when he’d just turned twenty. He moved up to features in 2005, achieving international acclaim in 2017 for A Fantastic Woman, which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. He moved to English-language films last year with Disobedience, starring Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams. In 2013 he’d made a movie called Gloria which racked up nominations and wins on the festival circuit. With the help of co-screenwriter Alice Johnson Boher, he’s done an English language version of the movie.

Gloria (Julianne Moore) is a free-spirited woman in her fifties in LA. During the day she works as an adjuster at an insurance company, giving personal care to the people she helps, while nights often find her in a retro-disco club, dancing to hits from her youth. She has a network of supportive friends and is an active part of the lives of her mother and her two children, Peter (Michael Cera) and Anne (Caren Pistorius), without smothering them. Gloria’s been divorced from her ex-husband Dustin (Brad Garrett) for 14 years and is on good terms with Dustin’s new(er) wife.

Then she meets Arnold (John Turturro) at her club. Arnold’s a former army officer who now owns a park in the hills outside LA where people can indulge in activities like paintball and zip lines. He explains he’s recently divorce when he asks her to go out to dinner, and she finds herself attracted to him. On the other hand, they’re often interrupted by calls from his adult daughters who are constantly in need of help, much different from her own children. Is there a chance they can build a relationship, and what would it cost her?

Moore is absolutely luminous as Gloria, a woman who embraces life and the people around her. She’s front and center throughout the entire film, and Lelio takes the time to give you a full picture of her life. She has her stumbles and her falls – you need that for the story – but the movie is thankfully free from most of the story tropes that are common in a romantic movie.

The supporting cast is first-rate, and also includes Jeanne Tripplehorn, Rita Wilson, and Sean Astin. Lelio fills the film with a great selection of the better dance music from the ‘70s and ‘80s. It won’t be a surprise that he uses Laura Branigan’s hit “Gloria,” but the way it’s used is perfect, becoming a cathartic moment at the climax.

You may not find Gloria Bell at your local multiplex, but if you get the chance to see it, I heartily recommend that you do.

Not Exactly Captivating

Captive State is a curious blend of sci-fi and a resistance film a la World War II. It can work to cross genres, like Overlord last year or District 9, but it’s always a high-wire act that can easily crash to earth. For a resistance film, you usually have three main protagonists/antagonists. There’s the good guys, who can be noble like Paul Henreid’s Victor Laszlo in Casablanca, or ruthless like Brad Pitt’s Lt. Raine in Inglourious Basterds. There’s a person caught in the middle, deciding what to do, like Humphrey Bogart’s Rick or Melanie Laurent’s Shosanna in Basterds. But you also need a great bad guy or guys, like the duo of Conrad Veidt’s Strasser and Claude Raine’s Renault, or Christoph Waltz’s Landa. You can’t light a match without striking it against something. That’s where Captive State falls short.

The movie starts during an extra-terrestrial invasion, though it’s told from the viewpoint of a Chicago police detective and his wife trying to escape the city. His badge doesn’t help him when he comes up against a police barricade. The officer manning it won’t let him through and opens fire when the detective drives past. It would have been better if they’d been stopped, as they find the tunnel that they’ve entered blocked by the aliens at the distant far end. The detective and his wife are killed by some sort of blast, and only then do we see the couple’s two sons have survived in the back seat.

Fast forward ten years and the world has been conquered. Almost the whole populace has been subjugated, though there are still pockets of resistance fighting against the invaders. That’s a concern for William Mulligan (John Goodman), a Chicago police detective now tasked with rooting out the resistance. While others think the freedom fighters have been scattered and are unable to mount a serious challenge, Mulligan pursues them, using sources like an anonymous prostitute who goes by Jane Doe (a sadly underused Vera Famiga). Mulligan focuses on Gabriel Drummond (Ashton Sanders), the younger of the two kids from the car, now grown. He essentially works for the aliens, harvesting digital information from sim cards after the invaders have taken control of all digital networks. His brother, a legend of the Resistance, is presumed dead.

As with most resistance stories, there’s a convoluted plot hatched by the resistance to strike at the aliens. At the same time Gabriel learns his brother, Rafe (Jonathan Majors), is still alive. It’s hard to follow the action since the cinematography and production design gives us a gray, damp-cold world of mud and rot. The narrow focus of the story leaves you feeling claustrophobia amid the darkness. Director Rupert Wyatt did the excellent sci-fi reboot Rise of the Planet of the Apes, but with Captive State, which he co-wrote, he lets the story become muddled.

The fatal weakness of the movie, though, is with the aliens. They’re only rarely seen and are left under developed beyond their being “alien.” The audience doesn’t get any handle on what they’re like or their strengths and weaknesses, which may be part of the point for Wyatt though it leaves a large gap in the story. Even the alien spaceships simply look like big black rocks. Compare that to, say, Independence Day. You didn’t see the actual aliens except for a couple of scenes, yet the audience knew their strengths and weaknesses, as well as their motivation.

While Captive State has decent twist at the end, it feels contrived after the audience has slogged through the rest of the film. The credits come as a relief.

Truly Marvelous

The Marvel Universe boasts some incredible women – Black Widow, Scarlet Witch, Gamora, Peggy Carter, and Okoye, among others – but they’ve never been the stand-alone title character in any film. Last year the studio took a calculated chance with Black Panther, though they’d already established Chadwick Boseman’s character in Captain America: Civil War. It turned out to be successful beyond anything expected, beating out Avengers: Infinity War for the top place in the domestic box office (though the Avengers prevailed worldwide), and garnering the studio’s first Best Picture Oscar nomination. This year, they’ve finally given women their place in the title with Captain Marvel.

With the notorious misogyny displayed by certain elements of the geek community, Captain Marvel was bound to face trouble. It started early with trolls posting negative reviews on Rotten Tomatoes even before the movie was released in order to drive down its rating on the site. The administrators took the extraordinary action of banning user reviews until the movie’s release. Marvel also didn’t have the benefit of the character’s introduction in another movie, beyond the final shot of the costume symbol on Nick Fury’s pager during the final credit tag of Infinity War. Marvel made up for the lack of a previous appearance by releasing multiple trailers and behind-the-scenes shorts before the movie’s release.

It also doesn’t help that the Warner Brothers/DC movie version of Shazam comes out in a couple of weeks. Captain Marvel was the original name of the character that Billy Batson becomes when he says the word, “Shazam!” The comic version was an early competitor of Superman’s in the superhero genre, first appearing in 1940. It’s publisher, Fawcett Publications, was sued by DC Comics for copyright infringement since the character was so close to Superman. DC lost the original suit, but it turned out the Captain Marvel writers had plagiarized some Superman stories. Faced with losing that suit, Fawcett shut down its stable of superhero comics and switched to other fare, including “Dennis the Menace.”

In the 1960s, the copyright on the name Captain Marvel lapsed and Marvel Comics claimed it for their own version, the super-powered alien known as Mar-vel. DC later bought the rights to publish the original version of Captain Marvel but had to go with the name Shazam. In tone, though, the two films couldn’t be farther apart. The character has gone through several incarnations at Marvel Comics, including being Ms. Marvel in the late 1970s. For the movie, the touchstone is the 2013 version of the comic, written by Kelly Sue DeConnick with artwork by Dexter Soy.

Captain Marvel is set in the 1990s, though it begins far from Earth. Vers (Brie Larson) is part of the Starforce warriors of the Kree empire, locked in a battle with the Skrull, a race of alien shapeshifters. The Kree are ruled by the Supreme Intelligence, an AI program that takes a different form for whoever communicates with it. For Vers, the Supreme Intelligence is an older, silver-haired woman (Annette Bening). The Kree have interbred with other species over their long history, leading to some Kree being blue (like Ronan the Accuser [Lee Pace] and Korath [Djimon Hounsou] who showed up first in Guardians of the Galaxy; here they’re earlier versions of the characters) while other Kree look like Caucasian humans, like Vers and her Starforce leader, Yon-Rogg (Jude Law). While she’s dedicated to her place in the Kree world, Vers is haunted in her dreams of another, different life.

During an operation, Vers is captured by the Skrulls and subjected to an intense psychic interrogation, focusing on the woman who, to Vers, personifies the Supreme Intelligence. Vers manages to escape and destroys the Skrull spacecraft, only to find it was orbiting Earth. She modifies a telephone to contact Yon-Rogg, but as she hangs up Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) arrives. This is a much younger Fury than we’ve seen before – he still has both eyes – and he’s also accompanied by a brand-new SHIELD agent named Coulson (Clark Gregg). Vers warns Fury that the Skrulls are now on Earth, and that they can impersonate any human, though they only have access to the subject’s recent memories. It’s a warning Fury needs almost immediately.

The writing-directing team of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Half Nelson) have created a densely-plotted screenplay as Vers discovers her previous life on earth as Carol Danvers, hot-shot Air Force test pilot. Much of her history is filled in when she finds her best friend, Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch), and Maria’s daughter Monica (Akira Akbar), who thought Danvers died six years earlier in a crash. The backstory is required as Danvers moves forward to claim her power and become Captain Marvel.

Larson is an excellent casting choice, and she worked hard with a trainer to handle the physical demands of the role. She also has wonderful chemistry with Jackson, having worked with him before on Kong: Skull Island. With Jackson, special effects wizards used CGI to de-age him 25 years. It’s been used before – it gave us the younger Tony Stark in the virtual reality program during Captain America: Civil War – but this is the first time its been used for an entire movie. Captain Marvel truly finds its heart, though, in the scenes with Maria and Monica. This is a philia love story of a depth you usually don’t see in films.

I’d watched the original trailer a dozen or two times, even though I’d never read any of the comics. It caught my imagination, so I was looking forward to its release. While it’s not the best movie Marvel’s made – I’d split that slot for Black Panther and Captain America: The Winter Soldier – it is still very, very, very good and thoroughly enjoyable. It seems to have won over some of its early detractors, garnering Captain Marvel the 6th best box-office opening worldwide in history, during a spring that has seen a fair number of flops and disappointments. It shouldn’t have any problem remaining in theaters long enough that I can do a double-feature at the end of April, watching Marvel right before seeing Avengers: End Game. That will be marvelous.