Reel Opinions


Saturday, July 31, 2021

Stillwater


There's a great movie trying to come out in Stillwater, but because the movie's script is overstuffed and tries to cover too many topics, it ends up being a good one.  At the center of it all is a complex performance by Matt Damon, whose pathos carries the movie through any rough patches, and makes it worth following all the way through.

Damon plays Bill Baker, a man who could have easily come across as a stereotype, but Damon finds a lot of interesting angles here.  Constantly hidden underneath his cap and goatee, Bill Baker is the sort who religiously follows college football, listens to country music non-stop on his outdated iPad, and goes from one oil rigging job from the next to support his simple lifestyle.  We immediately notice his pained eyes, and it's an early sign Damon gives us that Bill, despite his seemingly simple life, has a lot of pain in his past and, as we soon learn, in his present.  Early in the film, he catches a flight to Marseilles, France, where his estranged daughter Allison (Abigail Breslin) is currently halfway through a nine-year prison sentence for murdering her roommate and lover - A crime she says she is not guilty of, and whom Bill solidly believes.

The film is fiction, but has clearly been inspired by the real life court case of Amanda Knox, the American college student who was accused of murdering her roommate while studying in Italy back in 2007, and was acquitted eight years later.  Bill frequently visits Allison in prison whenever he can, and we can sense the strained relationship between the two.  After his wife took her own life when Allison was young, there has obviously been a lot of tension between the two.  A grandmother was the one who mainly raised Allison, and there's talk of Bill having a history of alcohol, drug use, and some jail time of his own.  When he's not visiting with her, giving her updates, he's hitting the streets, trying to reopen the case with some information he's received about a young Arab man at a bar the night of the murder who may have a connection.

Here, Stillwater tries to tackle the theme of racism on both sides, as Bill does not fully understand the culture, and there are those who clearly view him as an outsider.  It's during this search for anyone who can lead him in the right direction that he happens to meet Virginie (Camille Cottin), a stage actress and single mother to an adorable nine-year-old girl named Maya (Lilou Siauvaud).  Virginie offers to help Bill in his investigation by translating what people say and gathering information for him on line.  In turn, they strike up a friendship, and begin to form a family-like environment when Bill feels that his search for the truth will take longer than the two weeks he initially scheduled, and moves in with them.  His relationship with this woman and her girl makes up a good chunk of the film's middle portion, and seems to be hinting that maybe Bill has finally found somewhere he truly belongs in the most unexpected place.

After this stretch where it looks like Bill may find some kind of personal redemption for his past mistakes, the movie veers into much darker territory that will not be revealed here but, suffice to say, brings a lot of surprise revelations, and a curious plot point regarding a suicide attempt that is brought up, and then never spoken of again, as if that part of the film has been cut entirely.  So, why is it here if there is no follow up?  This is a movie with a lot on its plate, and a lot of themes.  There's the possible redemptive journey that Bill starts to undertake, but then it is immediately brought to a halt by the third act.  There's the focus on Bill's investigation into the mysterious man who might have a connection to the murder, but then that is stopped for the part of the movie where Bill moves in with Virginie and Maya, and starts to form a family bond.

Even with a running time of nearly two and a half hours, there seems to be a lot here that simply doesn't get the time it should.  There are some wonderful scenes here, especially the ones between Damon and Breslin, where they talk about how both of them have screwed up their lives, almost as if it has been passed from father to daughter.  And the scenes where Damon bonds with young Maya have a genuine sweetness to them without being cloying or overblown.  She's portrayed as a real little kid, not a one-liner spewing clone who gets to be cute each time she's on camera.  There are a lot of moments here that feel genuine and honest, but they are ensnared by a Hollywood plot that, at least doesn't want to give us a predetermined tidy ending, but also is a bit too mechanical and pat for its own good, considering what we learn.


I am recommending Stillwater, because of the strengths of what works here.  It's not a bad film by any stretch of the imagination, it simply tries to do too much, and some of its strengths feel pushed aside at times just when the movie seems to really be getting great.  I think with a tighter focus, and a bit less loopy of a third act centered around one shocking reveal after another, this could have been one of the greats of the year.  You can certainly see hints of that greatness from Damon's performance.

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Friday, July 30, 2021

Jungle Cruise


Under normal circumstances, Jungle Cruise would probably be a pretty solid B-Feature.  But, given some of the blockbusters I have had to sit through this summer, maybe I liked it a bit more than I expected.  My expectations were not exactly sky high, mind you.  But, you want a rip-roaring, swashbuckling adventure in the style of Indiana Jones or 1999's The Mummy, and don't mind a heavy serving of cheese?  You might find yourself in the same spot I did while watching it.

I will be the first to admit that I have a soft spot for adventure movies like this, and this is a cheerful and buoyant example of it.  There is a part of me that still loves movies built around secret tombs, ancient legends set around magical healing trees in the South American jungle, and at the center of it all, a charming and bickering couple, usually a fast-talking rogue and a woman with a desire for adventure, and an even stronger desire to prove all the boys wrong.  Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt fill the roles of the rogue and the woman, respectively, and they make the most out of their individual turns.  Yes, they're playing predetermined characters here.  We know that he's going to try to cheat or swindle her several times, she's not going to stand for it, there will be much arguing and maybe she'll throw a punch or two in his face (some accidental, some not), and sooner or later, they'll realize that they care a lot for each other.  But, sometimes you just stick with what works, and they have the chemistry to pull it off.  

The action is set in 1916, which finds our heroine Lily (Blunt) as an adventurous sort trying to stand out in a man's world.  When she wants to arrange an expedition to South America in order to follow a map that could lead to a mystical tree whose healing properties could be used to heal and save countless lives, she has to have her snooty brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall) talk to the explorer's council in order to try to get it off the ground, as the stuffy council members won't even listen to her.  She's come across an arrowhead that she thinks can help lead her to the tree, but even with her brother's help, the council won't bite.  At this same time, she learns that a pompous German Prince named Joachim (Jesse Plemons) is also seeking the tree for his own more selfish means, and sets about trying to take what Lily has by force.  This leads to the first of many broad action scenes filled with narrow escapes and much dangling from precarious ledges, cliffs and windowsills featured in the film.  At least the movie doesn't take long to tell you where it stands, and I admit, my heart kind of got excited when I realized what director Jaume Collet-Serra (The Shallows) was going for.

After they escape, Lily and MacGregor head for the Amazon River on their own to seek a boat and a guide who can lead them through the jungle.  In steps Frank (Johnson), a riverboat Captain who takes gullible tourists on staged tours through the most "dangerous" parts of the jungle.  He owes a great deal of money to a powerful harbor master (Paul Giamatti), so Frank cons his way into getting Lily to agree to take him on her voyage.  With Joachim constantly pursuing them in his personal submarine, our three heroes will brave the different threats of the jungle, and uncover the secrets of an ancient jungle curse that was set some 400 years ago, and concerns some ancient explorers who were seeking the same tree everyone else is.

You have to be in the right frame of mind to enjoy a movie like Jungle Cruise, and after the non-stop idiocy of F9 or the overly chaotic nothingness of Space Jam: A New Legacy, it felt good to be watching an old fashioned, cheesy throwback like this.  Heck, I almost wanted to stand up and applaud when I noticed the movie was using physical sets, and contained stunts and action scenes that actually looked like they were being performed by actual human beings. (Do you have the sense that the movies this summer have been a bit too artificial?) The cast are also more than capable of selling this material.  Johnson has always been a charming leading man, and he brings to that quality a more roguish quality that is not so much dangerous, but more of a smart aleck with a love for corny jokes.  Blunt, meanwhile, expertly handles the role of the woman who thinks she can handle anything, but isn't expecting to fall for the guy she initially can't stand.  Like I said, we've seen these types a dozen times, but both stars bring enough here that I didn't mind seeing them again.

In fact, it's only when the movie is being artificial that it failed to work on me, and that concerns the CG.  It's pretty bad here, and kind of distracts from the old adventure movie vibe the movie is going for, and mostly achieves.  Johnson has a jungle cat living on his ship, and it's so blatantly a special effect, it pulled me out every time it showed up on screen.  Given the cat never gets any big scene or truly contributes to anything, the movie would have been better off without Johnson's CG sidekick.  Luckily, this does not happen enough to be an overall determent to the film.  It's just an annoyance.  I was so in love with the lavish jungle and ruin sets, I wanted everything else to get the same level of attention to detail.

Outside of the odd effect mishap, Jungle Cruise is the kind of summer entertainment I crave sometimes.  It may be made almost completely out of cliches and worn material from better movies, but it knows how to use those elements, and the cast is able to bring a fresh enough spin to it.  It also simply has an innocence that has been missing from a lot of the other big movies we've gotten so far this year.  You go to a movie like this to see the two lead stars get into a lot of dangerous and improbable adventures while they slowly fall in love, and it provides this simple desire with more skill than you might expect. 

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Saturday, July 24, 2021

Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins


Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins
is a solemn movie that takes itself way too seriously, based on a kid's cartoon from the 80s that was designed to sell toys.  I wonder if anyone at any point of production realized this, and maybe thought, "Gee, shouldn't we be having more fun with this"?  When you're building your movie around an ancient clan of ninjas whose purpose is to protect an ancient stone that holds the power of the sun, you shouldn't be afraid to cut loose a little.

For whatever reason, director Robert Schwentke and his team of writers have decided to treat this live action movie of a toy license as if it's serious business.  It's muted, kind of downbeat, and features a lot of tortured characters who feel hurt and betrayed.  Even when the movie forces itself to add absurdity into its storyline by having its lead ninja have to pass a trial where he must face a group of massive CG anacondas at the bottom of a pit, it still seems afraid to truly have fun with itself.  There were two previous G.I. Joe movies back in 2009 and 2013, respectively, and while they weren't exactly good, they at least had the sense to not take themselves seriously.  If the filmmakers behind this thought that audiences did not respond well to those earlier entries because they were goofy, they are sorely mistaken.

The focus here is on the ninja Snake Eyes, who in the cartoon and the earlier live action movies never spoke, and always hid his appearance behind a black mask and body armor.  This time, he is portrayed by Henry Golding, a charismatic actor who cannily hides the charisma and charm he has displayed in the past in this role.  We learn right off the bat that as a boy, he witnessed his beloved father get murdered by a criminal who attacked them for reasons he has never understood.  Since then, he has devoted his life to vengeance, trying to track down that mysterious man, and to learn the truth about what his father was hiding from him.  This path to vengeance leads Snake Eyes to working for the Yakuza, where he eventually ends up saving the life of a ninja named Tommy (Andrew Koji), who will become his best friend, brother figure, and eventually end up becoming his main rival from the cartoon and toy line, Storm Shadow.

But before that, Tommy welcomes Snake Eyes into his secret ninja clan, who have protected Japan from criminals for centuries, and hang out on a set that looks like a combination of every 1980s movie built around ninjas ever made.  First, he must win the trust of the clan, which includes the lovely and strong Akiko (Haruka Abe), the noble Hard Master (Iko Uwais), and the wise Blind Master (Peter Mensah).  To do this, Snake Eyes will have to complete three trials, which include not letting a bowl of water spill under certain conditions, and being guided by an entity that looks like a cross between a firefly and Tinkerbell into a dark forest to face his deepest fear about himself.  I've already spoken about the third trial, which is the pit with the massive cartoon snakes waiting for him.  All of this should be a lot of fun, and leave me with a goofy grin on my face while I reflect back on its plot.  But, I'm afraid this is supposed to be taken with the utmost seriousness.

Snake Eyes is a total miscalculation of tone.  It not only acts like we're supposed to actually care about what's happening, but it has its actors pretend like they do as well.  There is just this overall sense of gloom to its storytelling.  Everybody's so heartbroken, feels betrayed, or feels angry and unfulfilled.  It got to the point where I was begging for someone to at least make a quip to lighten the mood once in a while.  As someone who grew up on the toys and cartoon, my spirits did lift a little when it seemed like they were going to work in a pair of other characters from the G.I. Joe Universe, namely the heroic Scarlett (Samara Weaving) and the evil Baroness ( Úrsula Corberó), into the plot.  My hope was that maybe they could lighten the tone.  And while they at least aren't as solemn as everyone else seems to be, they don't add enough to save the film.


Not only is this movie just not fun to watch, it's badly shot as well, featuring fight scenes that are almost indescribable due to the camera's constant and violent shaking in the heat of battle.  This allows us to miss out on most of the fight choreography, so all we get to focus on is just how oddly downbeat and depressed the movie is.  When you consider what a fun little bit of Summer escapism this could have been, it makes Snake Eyes feel like even more of a cop out.

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Friday, July 23, 2021

Old


In making Old, writer-director M. Night Shyamalan obviously saw the film as an opportunity to indulge in both his best and worst qualities as a filmmaker.  The strengths that can be found here are in its bizarre and intriguing premise, about an island paradise where aging is sped up to the span of 50 years within 24 hours.  A group of people become trapped on the beach, and there seems to be no escape.  It must be said that Shyamalan tackles this premise the right way, creating a kind of mystery that we don't want to solve.  We just are along for the ride, and enjoying the unsettling weirdness of it all.

Then he has to go and ruin the fun by actually trying to explain and rationalize what is going on in a final 10 minutes that fails to stick any sort of landing.  By trying to solve the mystery he's created, he winds up lessening the impact.  The film is adapted from a graphic novel called Sandcastle, which I have not read, but doing some research have learned that in the original story, the nature of the rapid aging and the reasoning behind it was kept completely a mystery.  The explanations that come in the final moments are entirely the work of Shyamalan.  Here is a movie that creates a fun atmosphere of uneasiness, despite the sometimes stilted dialogue and wooden acting on display. (Another trademark of the filmmaker that is on display here.) It's only when it tries to make sense of itself that it trips up, and the movie completely lost me.

The movie opens by introducing us to a dysfunctional family that are having one last holiday together before mom, Prisca (Vicky Krieps) and dad, Guy (Gael Garcia Bernal) call it quits.  They're visiting a luxury resort with their kids, Trent (Nolan River) and Maddox (Alexa Swinton), and although they put on the face of a happy family, the parents frequently argue out of sight of the children, with dialogue that sound like no argument any human being has ever had before.  At breakfast, the resort manager tells them about a private beach where they can relax, and they are driven there by Shyamalan himself, fulfilling his required pointless cameo quota.  On the beach, they find a few select guests have been invited there as well, including a shady doctor (Rufus Sewell), along with his trophy wife (Abbey Lee), their young daughter (Mikaya Fisher), and elderly mother (Kathleen Chalfant).  There's a young couple (Ken Leung and Nikki Amuka-Bird) there too, and a famous rapper as well who goes by the name Mid-Sized Sedan (Aaron Pierre).

Despite the island paradise setting, Shyamalan does successfully create a feeling of menace and isolation early on.  The waters seem oddly rough and violent, and the rock walls that surround the beach are imposing and imprisoning.  And then a dead body is washed ashore.  The rapper seems to know the body, as it's the person he's visiting with.  But, he's acting very aloof and odd, and his nose is bleeding.  This raises suspicion toward him, especially from the doctor.  Then Guy and Prisca discover that their two kids have seemingly aged five years in about the span of an hour.  Naturally, nobody is able to get a signal on their cell phone to call for help, and when they try to walk back up the path they took to get to the beach, they experience severe headaches, black out, and find themselves back on the sand with the group.  The adults start aging as well, experiencing blindness and deafness the longer they stay on the beach, while the dead body that washed ashore earlier has now completely decomposed in a matter of minutes.

I have to admit, I was fully with Old for a good part of it.  Sure, the dialogue was clunky and made up largely of exposition, and yeah, some of the acting was off.  But the movie creates such a visceral feeling of dread and tension that it's hard not to get caught up.  Despite this, the movie does stumble in some other ways, such as how it's clearly been forced to fulfill a PG-13 rating, by having some of the more violent and disturbing moments be filmed as rapid blurs, or kept off camera.  It especially seems muted when it tries to hint at the possible sexual exploration of the children as they age, which I think robs the film of what could have been some compelling and disquieting moments.  Still, it was the kind of movie where the flaws were plainly visible, but I was still along for the ride.  

If only Shyamalan knew when to bail out, we could have had an eerie little movie.  Instead we get an ending that started out rubbing me the wrong way as soon as the answers started coming, and then continued to do so as it went on.  I want to avoid spoilers here, so I won't go into detail.  As the revelations came, I found myself wanting to go back to not knowing the answer.  I didn't need to know why these people were trapped on this beach, how, and just who was responsible for it all.  Here is a movie that works better when it is a mess, rather than when it tries to tidy everything up with a traditional Hollywood ending.  The weirdness of it all is what was keeping me engaged, as the characters themselves are certainly nothing to shout about.


Old
is such an odd film, both intentionally and otherwise, that it's kind of disappointing that it finds it necessary to explain itself at all.  Like I said, I have not read the source material, but I have a hunch that it did a better job of holding onto a proper tone.  It's too bad the movie didn't follow suit.

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Friday, July 16, 2021

Space Jam: A New Legacy


Space Jam: A New Legacy
starts out like it wants to be about something, until it eventually devolves into a shapeless and indistinguishable blob of special effects, and references to as many movies and TV show properties that the filmmakers could think of to squeeze into the background.  It may be a soulless corporate product, but hey, it has a father-son message, so that means it has a point.  Kind of.  Sort of.  Maybe.  

And no, I am not forgetting that the original Space Jam from 1996 was just as much of a corporate monstrosity as the follow up.  And to be fair, this film's star, LeBron James, is a much better actor than Michael Jordan was.  However, he gets to show none of the comedic timing he displayed in 2015's Trainwreck, which is disappointing.  Teaming him up with Bugs Bunny (voice by Jeff Bergman) and the rest of the Looney Tune gang doesn't help either, because they are simply treated as special effects here, instead of characters inhabiting a story.  LeBron could have been partnered up with any cartoon universe or character, and the movie would be exactly the same.  This is as soulless a corporate cash grab that has ever been produced, and that's even before the sight gag where a Toon version of James crashes through the ground, and leaves a mark in the shape of the Nike symbol.

The plot doesn't make the slightest bit of sense, but that's at least to be expected.  This movie finds James as a frustrated dad trying to connect with his 12-year-old son, Dom (Cedric Joe), who would rather design his own video games than play basketball.  They are both invited to the Warner Bros. Studio, where an evil computer algorithm has taken on the physical form of actor Don Cheadle (very game here, and keeping his dignity amongst the chaos around him), and calls himself Al G. Rhythm.  Al, for some reason, needs LeBron's help in getting the world connected to his server, so he zaps both the star and his kid into a digital world, holds Dom hostage, and forces LeBron to compete in a game of basketball for his freedom.  James is quickly joined up with Bugs, who has lost his fellow Looney Tune friends over time, and needs the Basketball Great's help in finding them before the game can begin.

The Tunes have been scattered into different parts of the Warner Bros. server, so LeBron and Bugs get to venture into different worlds built around different properties and intellectual IPs owned by the studio.  Lola Bunny (voice by Zendaya) is training with Wonder Woman (voice by Rosario Dawson) to be an Amazon, Daffy Duck and Porky (both voiced by Eric Bauza) are wannabe superheroes in Metropolis, Yosemite Sam (voice also by Bergman) is now the piano player in Casablanca ("Play it again, Sam".), and Granny (voice by Candi Milo) and Speedy Gonzalez (voice by Gabriel Iglesias) are trapped in The Matrix.  These are more nods to these films than actual tributes, and when the fateful basketball game eventually starts, the audience in the background is filled with numerous WB properties like King Kong, the Iron Giant, Pennywise the Clown, The Mask, and (for some reason) the 'Droogs" from A Clockwork Orange, who were honestly the last people I expected to come across in a family blockbuster.  

If this all sounds like insanity, it would be if the movie ever slowed down long enough for us to take it all in.  But it never stops for a single second, and just keeps on throwing nods, references, and special effects to the point that I almost want to take back some of the things I have said about other failed blockbusters in the past.  This Space Jam is a literal assault on the senses, and I felt like it was constantly hitting me over the head with post-production work that I'm sure was very expensive and took a lot of time for the artists to make, but is literally meaningless, because absolutely nothing gets to resonate here.  There are no characters, no real motivations, and nothing that resembles a coherent plot in the nearly two hours of the film.  Even the big basketball game is meaningless, because we feel no connection to it.  LeBron and the Looney Tunes compete against a group of CG monsters who call themselves the Goon Squad, and resemble snakes and monsters made of fire and water, but hold no personality or character.  They're simply a failed tech demo that isn't even interesting to look at.

I simply didn't know how the filmmakers expected me to respond to this.  It's a total bombardment that never comes close to establishing a tone or a goal.  Sure, the movie tries to add a heartfelt angle by having LeBron and his on-screen son having a hard time connecting early on, but it abandons this notion for long periods, so we can point out all the various characters who are cheering the players on in the background.  Speaking of the literal thousands of cameos, they got a little cheap here.  The Batman and Robin costumes in the background, for example, look like something from a novelty party store.  And just what does the villain hope to achieve with his plan?  What will trapping LeBron and thousands of innocent bystanders into his digital world do for him?  And why did this script require 6 credited screenwriters and four story people?  Were they being paid for suggesting a character the studio owned that could be in the audience?


When the screening was done, I felt drained, tired, and assaulted.  I had just spent the past couple hours witnessing a soulless visual stimuli that was equal parts dumb and exhausting.  If anything, the movie made me appreciate 2003's Looney Tunes: Back in Action more.  At least that movie had the sense to make Bugs, Daffy and the rest matter in their own storyline, and gave them personalities that matched the early cartoons.  Here, they're just special effects vying for our attention with other special effects in one of the most moronic vanity projects ever put to film.

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Friday, July 09, 2021

Black Widow


No one will ever mistake Black Widow for being one of the classic entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it is a lot of fun, and finally gives Scarlett Johansson a chance to stand out in her own movie in this franchise.  After the non-stop idiocy that F9 gave just a couple weeks ago, all I wanted was some competently done action, and maybe some characters I could give a damn about.  This movie succeeds effortlessly at both noble goals.

Here is an action movie that is not just thrilling, but actually feels energized.  It's got thrilling stunts, as is to be expected, but they feel like the actors are actually performing them most of the time.  It has one liners that don't seem lame.  It has a pulse, and a source of life.  In other words, it feels like this is a movie the cast and crew actually wanted to make, instead of a contract negotiation that so many failed Summer blockbusters feel like.  It does so by filling in some intriguing background information on Johansson's character, and introducing us not just to where she came from, but the people who surrounded her before she entered the Marvel Universe.  It's an effective enough of a hook to carry us through the film's numerous action scenes, so that the audience's eyes don't glaze over when another explosion or car chase shows up.  Director Cate Shortland (an indie filmmaker making a successful transition to mainstream Hollywood for once) and veteran Marvel Universe screenwriter Eric Pearson show expertise with this kind of material, and the cast is more than capable of pulling it off.

In the film, we learn that when Natasha (Johansson) was a little girl, she lived in Ohio with her younger sister Yelena (played as an adult by Florence Pugh), and parents Alexei (David Harbour) and Melina (Rachel Weisz).  Turns out "mom" and "dad" were really Russian spies, and that the girls were being prepared to enter a Super Soldier program in order to become Black Widows, soulless assassins who work for a shadowy boss known as Dreykov (Ray Winstone).  We know that Natasha eventually broke free from the deadly program, and went on to become an Avenger.  This film is set in 2016, after the events of Captain America: Civil War, and finds her in hiding from her own government, when she is forced to confront her own past.

Yelena has now been broken free from the Black Widow program as well, thanks to a special gas-like substance that can free the Widows from their programmed assassin training.  She needs to find a way to free all the other women, and wants Natasha's help in doing so, given her past heroics.  The two sisters go on a world-spanning adventure that will find them breaking their father Alexei (who prefers to go by his costumed superhero identity, the Red Guardian) out of prison, and reuniting with Melina, who is living a solitary life away from her violent past.  There is also a new supervillain introduced known as the Taskmaster, who participates in a lot of the film's action scenes, and can mimic the fighting style of anyone, but never gets to make much of an impression as you would like.  As is often the case with a lot of the Marvel Movies, the villains are the weaker element compared to the heroes here.

Still, Black Widow works mainly on the strength of the action, the chemistry of its lead cast, and the fact that this is a simple story that is told in an expertly handled way.  There's very little filler as the movie deftly shifts from one sequence to the next, and despite having a running time that stretches past two hours, seldom if ever slows down.  It serves as a wonderful entry that is centered on Natasha, gets us excited for what role Yelena will play in future entries of the Universe, and works well enough as a standalone film so that the audience feels fulfilled when it's done.  I know it sounds odd to praise a film for having a self-contained story, but with so many blockbusters these days focused only on setting up sequels, that is a rare thing in a movie such as this.  We get some definite possibilities here, but we still feel like we've gotten a complete movie, and not just a tease.

The film also finds plenty of time for humor (mostly provided by Pugh and Harbour), some important character building, and a bit of future world building, with the film's after credit scene hinting at where the story is going to go from here.  If anything, it gets you excited for where Pugh is going to take her character.  In a short amount of time, she has impressed me greatly in other films like Fighting with My Family and Midsommar, and here she gets to show that she's just as capable of not only playing a vital role in someone else's franchise, but carrying it on in the future.  Her inclusion here is to show her potential to the fans, and she does a fantastic job of doing just that.  Like her co-stars, she gives a performance that is able to ground the film in a small bit of reality that finds the humanity in a movie where the characters are bringing down floating villain fortresses, and diving through the skies.


And that has always been the key to the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in my eyes.  For all of its world-shattering stakes, the characters at the center of it were always what drew me in.  Black Widow proved to me that there is still plenty of that humane essence at play here.  If F9 was just technical wizardry run amok at the hands of a screenplay that seemed like it were written by a madman, then this is the simple, tightly-edited, well-paced, and enjoyable antidote that I badly needed.

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