‘Charlie’s Angels’ Doesn’t Do Much to Justify Its Existence in 2019, Except When It Gets Really Silly

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CREDIT: Chiabella James/Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Entertainment

Starring: Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott, Ella Balinska, Elizabeth Banks, Patrick Stewart, Djimon Hounsou, Sam Claflin, Noah Centineo, Nat Faxon

Director: Elizabeth Banks

Running Time: 119 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Deafening Explosions and a Lot of Flexible Legwork

Release Date: November 15, 2019

Globetrotting in 2019: who needs it? I, for one, cannot say I find it particularly necessary after watching the 2019 edition of Charlie’s Angels. As three gadget-toting, butt-kicking, espionage-deploying young women chase a McGuffin around multiple continents, what do they, or any person of any age for that matter, have to offer us that we haven’t been offered before? Maybe something new is theoretically out there somewhere, but what I see are mostly a bunch of competently (and frequently goofily) staged action scenes. I’ve never previously seen any Charlie’s Angels TV episode or movie in its entirety, but the main feeling this one gave me was a nagging sense of “been there, done that.” (Although, it is worth noting, there is nary a whiff of the “three little girls” paternalistic energy of the original.)

Despite that shortcoming, I suspect that Elizabeth Banks, who wrote and directed and also stars as Bosley (or rather, one of the Bosleys), is not necessarily too worried by the plot being overly paint-by-numbers. As long as our new batch of Angels (Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott, and Ella Sabinska) get to show off some personality, there can be a feature-length rasion d’être. For the most part, they just go where the story demands that they go, but occasionally there are flashes of extreme goofball energy. Naomi Scott wears a fantastic red dress because why not? K-Stew makes “beep boop” noises while cracking a safe just for the hell of it. And then during the credits there is an onslaught of cameos: a few make obvious sense for this movie, but most of them are breathtakingly, delightfully random. So at least there’s a little bit of fun to get these angels flying.

Charlie’s Angels is Recommended If You Like: Flirting with Noah Centineo, Original pop soundtracks

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Bosleys

Movie Review: ‘Shazam!’ is a Blast of Kinetic and Frequently Disturbing Superhero Fun

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CREDIT: Warner Bros.

Starring: Zachary Levi, Asher Angel, Mark Strong, Jack Dylan Grazer, Djimon Hounsou, Grace Fulton, Ian Chen, Jovan Armand, Faithe Herman, Cooper Andrews, Marta Milans

Director: David F. Sandberg

Running Time: 132 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Surprisingly Intense, Decently Scary Superhero Violence

Release Date: April 5, 2019

Shazam! harkens back to an era when superhero flicks, and the action-adventure generally, were legitimately scary. This is a movie in which a fair amount of people disintegrate, or get eaten by gargoyle-esque monsters, or get thrown out of windows hundreds of stories up. Seriously, this might set a record for most defenestrations in a PG-13 movie. I don’t mean to imply that the ostensibly family-friendly segment of the superhero genre has become otherwise toothless. The injuries and collateral damage are acknowledged in the likes of The Avengers (and overly fetishized in the likes of Man of Steel), but they are rarely this tangibly visceral. It’s been a while since the Penguin bit off someone’s nose in Batman Returns, but Shazam! has plenty of moments that are shocking on the same level, and that is mostly a good thing.

Those violent, sudden deaths hit as hard as they do because Shazam! is at first glance the height of boundless fun and bright colors. Its wish-fulfillment premise is that teenage boy Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is given the superpowers of an ancient wizard, which he accesses by shouting the title exclamation. This turns him into Zachary Levi in full-on beefcake form dressed in the most vibrant red and yellow with a lighting bolt on the front of his ensemble. Like most kids his age, Billy is nowhere near responsible enough to handle the weight of superherodom, which lends his adventures a “With great power comes great responsibility” vibe, but it’s a lot messier than the template set by Spider-Man. In his quest to exploit his powers for fame and fortune, Billy nearly kills a busful of people and panics so much in response that it is genuinely unclear if he can manage to fix his mistake and save them.

Lending a layer of tragedy to Shazam! is the fact that Billy and his main nemesis are both driven by an origin story of familial rejection. Billy was accidentally separated at a young age from his mother at a carnival, and he has spent the ensuing years running away from foster homes in an attempt to reunite with her. Meanwhile, Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong) grew up an emotionally abused outcast in his wealthy family. He was once considered a candidate to receive the Shazam powers, and he has spent decades attempting to rediscover the wizardly realm, primarily so that he can exact some extremely disproportionate revenge. It’s not too hard to imagine that in a parallel universe, Billy could grow up to be as terrifying as Thaddeus, but luckily he has the strength of his newest foster family to help carry him along. Amidst all the very real danger, Shazam! would very much likely us to recognize the importance of a loving support system no matter what our level of superpowers.

Shazam! is Recommended If You Like: Spider-Man, Batman Returns, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Finger Lightning Bolts

Movie Review: ‘Captain Marvel’ is a Blast of Low-Key Wonder

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CREDIT: Marvel Studios

Starring: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Jude Law, Ben Mendelsohn, Annette Bening, Djimon Hounsou, Lee Pace, Lashana Lynch, Gemma Chan, Clark Gregg

Directors: Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck

Running Time: 124 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Sci-Fi Action Violence That Tends to Cause Nosebleeds

Release Date: March 8, 2019

It’s been a while since I have felt consistently sustained excitement for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I’m a fan of superheroes, and Marvel in particular, but I’m a bigger film buff, and I often find myself in a weird liminal space where I want to have more unbridled emotions for these movies, but it is hard to feel that way about a series sticking to a formula that is so much about ticking off obligatory long-term checkpoints. Captain Marvel does not burst free of that formula, but it has enough of its own magic to make it the first MCU movie in quite some time in which I left the theater wanting to re-watch it. It could have just been the way it happened to hit me on one particular day, but I think it has also something to do with its vibe of ignoring all the noise and getting on with it mission.

The plot is a little too complicated to easily synopsize, which Disney and Marvel are surely happy about, as they do not want us spoiling any of their MCU flicks, particularly this one, as it is uniquely dependent on backstory reveals and memory retrieval. Suffice it to say then that Vers (Brie Larson) is an intergalactic warrior fighting for the race known as the Kree, but she is also plagued by visions of a past life as U.S. Air Force fighter pilot Carol Danvers. The Kree are stuck in a long-term struggle against the shapeshifting Skrulls, which leads Vers to Earth in 1995 in a race for a powerful energy source. This is a typical McGuffin-focused Marvel film, but this particular McGuffin is unusually resonant, touching on themes of refugees and the perils of deep psychological deception.

Captain Marvel is also your standard MCU movie insofar as it builds to a climax with an unengaging, undistinguished action set piece. But luckily, that is not the main attraction. Vers teams up with a pre-eye patch Nick Fury, resulting in a buddy flick that serves as Samuel L. Jackson’s biggest showcase thus far in this franchise. His and Larson’s dynamic is one of instant respect that still leaves plenty of room for clowning around as they save the universe. That feeling is matched by a strong sense overall of the film being aesthetically tuned in. I cannot think of any other superhero movie that features a steady stream of crickets chirping amidst characters talking outside.

Captain Marvel is not massively revolutionary. While it may be the first MCU movie fronted by a female hero, it is not about femininity the way that Black Panther is about blackness. But while it does not respond hard to the big questions, it gets so many of the little things right.

Captain Marvel is Recommended If You Like: Top Gun, Nineties Rock, Friendly and Intelligent Aliens Who Speak English or At Least Have Universal Translators

Grade: 4 out of 5 Supreme Intelligences

This Is a Movie Review: Guy Ritchie Adds Some Cockney Flair to Camelot with ‘King Arthur: Legend of the Sword’

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This review was originally published on News Cult in May 2017.

Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey, Djimon Hounsou, Aidan Gillen, Erica Bana

Director: Guy Ritchie

Running Time: 126 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Stab Wounds That Seem to Only Happen During Thunderstorms

Release Date: May 12, 2017

The King Arthur legend has been told and re-told countless times over the centuries. On film, it has been fantastical, animated, “realistic,” romantic, and explicit. Could Guy Ritchie, that purveyor of stylish British gangsters, possibly have anything new to add to the mythos? Based on Legend of the Sword, the answer is: apparently there were options that we were never even considering.

The bare bones of the plot of this edition play up the similarities between Arthurian legend and the biblical tale of Moses. Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana) places his infant son Arthur in a basket in a river to escape the grasp of his power-mad brother Vortigern (Jude Law), who murders Uther to ascend to the throne. Arthur then grows up in a brothel to become Charlie Hunnam, and he promptly draws the sword Excalibur from the stone. So far, so sticking to the script. The rest of it, however, is Ritchie’s unique vision – surprisingly fascinating, intermittently satisfying.

With phrases like “honey tits” and nicknames like “Kung Fu George,” this is basically the cockney version of Camelot. The archaic aesthetic is not committed to fully, though, but that oddly leads me to somewhat admire Ritchie’s restraint. There is, however, complete commitment to editing the film like a heist caper, rendering the future Knights of the Round Table a sort of Pendragon’s Eleven. The plan to topple Vortigern is not exactly a matter of trickery (at least no more so than any rebellious maneuver is), but I guess you have to get your kicks in somewhere. Legend of the Sword leaves its most lasting stamp in its fetish for oversized, foreboding animals. They are not quite as visionary as the eels in A Cure for Wellness, say, and I have no idea what purpose they serve (beyond the maxim “critters accompany magic”), but I have to give some props to a summer blockbuster with such strange, gooey visuals.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is Recommended If You Like: Slimy, Scaly Creatures

Grade: 2.75 out of 5 Mages