Pokemon: Detective Pikachu

I am a fan of Pokemon. I’ve played the games since Red and Blue were first released and while I don’t obsess over them, I can point to evidence that I have played nearly every mainline release in the series. While knowledge of or nostalgia for Pokemon is certain to greatly enhance a person’s enjoyment of Pokemon: Detective Pikachu, I think is works without much affection for its base series.

Knowledge of the details of the Pokemon world and knowledge of the close to one thousand little creatures that inhabit it are a definite plus for watching this movie. It does some work in explaining how things work, but there are significant chunks of background stuff that are helpful to a viewer. Like the opening scene with the Cubone. Tim, the protagonist, makes a comment about its bone helmet while trying to catch it. The movie never really explains what Pokemon fans already know, that a Cubone wears the skull of its dead mother as a helmet. That is the kind of information a player would find in their pokedex or the cartoon would explain. This movie doesn’t have time to explain all of the series’ accompanying nonsense; it just assumes the player is familiar. For the most part this works; most pokemon are pretty self-explanatory. The big dragon with fire on its tail breaths fire, the toads with big flower bulbs on their backs have plant abilities. When the movie needs the player to know a stranger fact, like the fact that psyduck’s have trouble controlling their psychic powers under stress, it tells the viewer. Most of the incidental stuff is just there to be spotted by fans, and the movie does a great job of filling the frame with incidental stuff.

The cast is a nice mix of relative newcomers and some favorites. I loved seeing Bill Nighy and Ken Watanabe as secondary characters. Justice Smith is a rising star, who has been enjoyable in largely enjoyable misfires like The Get Down and Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom. The star is Ryan Reynolds, who lends his voice to Pikachu, doing a PG version of his Deadpool schtick. It mostly works.

One part of the movie that unreservedly shines is its effects. I was not crazy about the realistic Pokemon renders in the trailers, but pretty quickly in the movie I not only got used to them, I became pretty impressed with how good they looked. It isn’t easy to turn fanciful, cartoonish monsters into realistic creatures, but they did it. Pikachu in particular is a success, with him appearing wonderfully real, furry and expressive.

Detective Pikachu plays out like a Blade Runner for babies; it is a child’s first noir story. And while it can’t quite bring the mystery home in a truly satisfactory way, it mostly works. Tim is a lapsed Pokemon fanatic who is called to Ryme City to settle affairs after the apparent death of his estranged father. His father was an ace detective who disappeared on a case. At first, Tim has no interest in picking up where his father left off, he just wants to deal with his dad’s stuff and get back to his insurance job. That changes when he finds his dad’s Pikachu, who for some reason can talk. This Pikachu considers himself a great detective, but he has amnesia so he doesn’t remember what happened to Tim’s dad. The two of them team up to solve Tim’s dad’s last case.

The way the mystery plays out is where it is most apparent that this is a movie for kids. I pretty much sorted out all of the characters immediately and what their roles would be. There are a couple of bonkers twists near the end that I couldn’t predict, but the general roles of every character was pretty much immediately apparent to any savvy viewer. It is a simple mystery, but a largely satisfying one up until the near the end.

That is the movie in a nutshell; deceptively simple and largely satisfying. All of the Pokemon nonsense might be hard to grasp for the uninitiated, but the parts needed to understand the film are simple.

****

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John Wick Chapter 3 Parabellum

I thought I understood where this third John Wick movie was going. I thought the second movie was this series Empire Strikes Back or Back to the Future 2; a movie where the end leaves the characters kind of stranded, kind of defeated, a low point setting up a triumphant third part of the story. John Wick Chapter 3 – Parabellum is not that triumphant third piece of a trilogy. It is a bigger, messier movie in the series that sends the titular protagonist on a journey through hell, but it is a highly entertaining trek.

Parabellum picks up right where Chapter 2 left off, with John Wick an hour away from being declared excommunicado, running with no safe place to run to. Wick starts this movie desperate, and it never really gets better. First, he has to escape New York. Then he has to find a way to get the contract on him lifted, to get back in the good graces of the High Table, the group that leads the assassin world. To do this, he has to call in all the favors left to him. He has one from The Director, who runs a ballet/wrestling school and has some kind of past with John Wick. She gets him passage to Casablanca, where he meets up with Sofia, cashing in another favor to try to find The Elder, to get him to intervene on his behalf with the High Table.

While Wick fights every assassin in the world, the High Table sends an adjudicator to hand out punishment to everyone who helped Wick along the way, from Winston at the Continental Hotel to the Bowery King to people he encounters in this movie. There are fewer and fewer safe places for John Wick to go.

John Wick does not have the resources available to him in this movie that he had in the past, making the fights rougher and meaner. Lots of knives, lots of hand to hand combat. This is not the carefully planned assassination from the last movie, with John Wick getting outfitted for every contingency. This is a scramble to survive, all the way up to the final action scene.

The movie introduces more allies and/or enemies with history with Wick. The most interesting is Sofia, played by Halle Berry. Sofia is essentially a female John Wick; one who realized she would never get out of the life and did what she could for her family. She shows her similarity to Wick in one of the movies highlight action scenes, right down to her affection for canines. Then there is Zero, an assassin hired by the High Table to help them get revenge on Wick. He too is another master murderer, this one something of a John Wick fan trying to prove himself to the legend by killing the legend. I kind of want to say more about certain developments in this movie, but I really don’t want to spoil it.

John Wick Chapter 3 – Parabellum is amazing in all the ways that its predecessors were amazing. This one tries to go bigger, and I would be lying if I said that path did not lead to some diminishing returns. I don’t fault the movie for it, the previous two basically perfected this sort of balletic violence. What is there left for this chapter but for more and bigger? It mostly works here, while occasionally feeling like too much; like the movie went too big. There are still plenty of memorable fights and letting characters that are not Wick get in more on the action was a good idea. It is everything you could want in an action movie.

I misread where John Wick was on his hero’s journey. I though the last movie ended with him further along, with John Wick at the abyss, ready to start his ascension out of the underworld. With the third chapter, I realized that he has much further to go. After Parabellum, I am eager for more adventures for John Wick and eager to see him find peace.

*****

The Hustle

I love Dirty, Rotten Scoundrels. That con man caper just hits all the right notes for me, and the combination of Steve Martin and Michael Caine is just perfect. And that is saying nothing of Glenne Headly. I consider it a perfect comedy. Naturally, I was excited to see the remake, which changed the title to The Hustle and stars Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson. That remake turned out to be somewhat disappointing. I wouldn’t call a complete loss, but it is a missed opportunity.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is a movie that it is hard to get upset about seeing remake, if only for the fact that it was a remake itself. The common story to these three movies is one that lends itself well to changes to the details while keeping the core conceit in place. That conceit is that one character is an uncouth, small time con man, who meets up a refined, polished trickster. The two briefly form a partnership, but it soon becomes apparent that the town, Beaumont-sur-Mer, is not big enough for the both of them. So they concoct a competition to see who will have to stay and who will have to go. The details of the cons, and who is tricking who at any given time, could be changed without changing much of the appeal.

The Hustle, doesn’t change enough from its predecessor. Or maybe it changes too much? It gets into a weird place where things are different, but seemingly only because makers knew some things had to be different. Sometimes the changes make no sense. At one point in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Martin pretends to not be able to walk. Caine poses as a psychologist who can cure Martin’s psychosomatic condition. He takes Martin, and their mark, to a dance club, his fake theory being that seeing them moving around and having fun will snap him out of it. The same scenario plays out in The Hustle, except Rebel Wilson, playing the Steve Martin role, is pretending to be blind. How not seeing people dance will make her see again is unclear. It isn’t something she is forced to miss out on; blind people can dance and she can’t see people dancing without her. Many of the changes are like that, a seemingly small alteration that makes how the con plays out nonsensical.

The movie is at its best when it pushes things further away, like when Wilson is setting up fake tinder dates and scamming men out of money for fake boob jobs. Those bits work. As do a lot of the scenes that change nothing from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. It is when the movie gets in that halfway state that it falls apart, when it keeps the set up but changes the punch line, or vice versa.

The other part where it didn’t change enough is in taking into consideration its new stars. Anne Hathaway does a decent Michael Caine impersonation, all haughty and controlled. She brings a very similar energy here, and it works. Rebel Wilson is no Steve Martin. That is not intended to be a dig at Wilson; she just brings a different comic energy that Martin does. They give the role completely different flavors of sleaze. It means that jokes that worked for Martin do not work as well for Wilson.

The bones of a good movie are apparent in The Hustle. The musculature built around those bones is lumpy and misshapen. While I will watch anything with Anne Hathaway in it, I’d rather just watch Dirty Rotten Scoundrels again.

**1/2

Long Shot

Long Shot is a solid romantic comedy with a political bent. It does not do anything that has not been seen before in the genre, but it is a well acted and well written, making it more than worth a watch. The movie stars Charlize Theron as a Secretary of State gearing up for a presidential run while trying to win support for a big environmental treaty. Seth Rogen is a recently unemployed journalist who is hired to punch up some of Theron’s speeches. During the trip, they kindle a romance.

As with most romcoms, Long Shot’s appeal comes down to its two leads and the chemistry between them. Here, Long Shot soars. Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen work surprisingly well together. Yes, it is that old schlubby guy with a beautiful woman dynamic, but it works here. It works because Rogen as Fred is genuinely charming. He is opinionated and a goof, but he also clearly shows what he cares about. Theron is similar as Charlotte, a genuine and likeable politician. You can see why she’s popular and why Fred has been in love with her for so long. They work together thanks largely to Fred’s mostly unselfish infatuation with Charlotte. He clearly has a crush on her from the start. He is also smart and funny enough to show to win her over. It really helps that Charlize Theron is always amazing. She seems perfect in nearly every role, and this is no different. This is her movie. Fred gets sucked into her orbit, but it is all about Charlotte’s journey and Theron sells that journey.

It also has some pretty great supporting players, from June Diane Raphael as Charlotte’s chief of staff to O’Shea Jackson Jr. as Fred’s best friend, to Bob Odenkirk as an actor turned incompetent president because the American electorate is a bunch of brain dead knobs who will fall for any stupid mother fucker no matter how obvious corrupt and shitty he is. It is a fun cast to spend time with.

The big conflict between them also works. Fred refuses to compromise, about almost anything. Charlotte perhaps compromises too much. They are both somewhat right, and the movie does a good job of showing how they each learn from the other. Fred becomes a little less strident, which had isolated and hurt is ability to actually accomplish anything. Meanwhile, Charlotte realizes, or at least finally finds the point, where compromise has given everything away and it is no longer worth it. Added to this is the optics of what dating Fred would do for Charlotte’s optics. Charlotte’s struggles also get into to the compromises that women in positions of power have to make that men don’t even consider. The movie could beat you over the head with that point, and while it isn’t subtle it mostly just lets it come out organically in the story.

The movie mostly gets along on the charm of its cast and some fun, snappy dialogue. It leaves the believability that is often a hallmark of the romcom. These are not normal people, they are extraordinary people. How well their struggles translate to relatable is up for debate. The movie largely works anyway just on charm. It is an easy, pleasant time in the theater. Long Shot is slight, but delightful.

****

Avengers Endgame

This is a hard movie to review.  I get why people love it, but it was such an uneven experience for me that I ended up walking out of the theater somehow completely satisfied and a little disappointed.  For more than two hours of Avengers Endgame’s runtime it is easily the best Avengers movie.  It is focused and narratively coherent, while also having a real solid theme and doing great character stuff.  It is everything I could want from superhero movie.  Then the finale hits, and none of the payoff lands.

Endgame is a movie about loss and grief and how people handle it.  The surviving Avengers all deal with it in a different way.  Natasha throws herself into her work, Tony retreats to his family, Steve pushes himself to help others through it, etc.  Thor, who lost more than anyone between Infinity War and Ragnarok, kind of gives up completely.  The movie lets each character process things in their own way and spends time digging into how and why they have reacted the way they did.  It is some of the best character stuff in any of the Marvel movies, let alone the always overstuffed Avengers movies.

I also loved the middle section of this movie.  The time heist was great.  They chose some really interesting scenes to revisit.  Sure, going back to The Avengers was a no brainer; I may personally believe it has aged poorly, but that was when the MCU went from a handful of decent to good movies to a full on phenomenon.  Likewise, jumping back to the start of the original Guardians of the Galaxy makes sense because that is when the movies first really left Earth.  The third drop in for the time heist is the most interesting choice, with Thor and Rocket stopping in during Thor: The Dark World.  While not all the movies have been equal in terms of how important they are to the overarching story of the MCU, the two that have been the most comprehensively ignored since their releases are The Incredible Hulk and Thor: The Dark World.  Endgame manages to pull more pathos out of that movie than was in it to begin with.  The time heist overall manages to be both a lot of fun, and really dig down into the core of most of it characters.  Especially the original Avengers, excluding the Hulk.  Tony gets to hash things out with his dad, Cap gets another look at the life he lost, and Thor gets a few precious moments with a world he has lost.  Then there is the big scene between Nat and Clint, which works for both characters, even if I think it doesn’t get quite get to where it wants to.

All is going well until the big climactic moment.  It is a big moment that brings in nearly every superhero to appear in one of these movies.  However, unlike the sprawling battle from Infinity War, this battle didn’t work at all for me.  The geography of the battle makes no sense, its objectives make no sense, there is no flow or feel.  It is just twenty or so minutes of largely pointless violence.  Getting to see some cool hero shots doesn’t really fix anything.  It takes a movie that had fun and entertaining and just lands with a big, deflating thud.

At least the wrap up after the fight scene was suitably emotional and well done.  This movie is definitely an end, and it clears the deck for movies to come.  Movies that, for the first time in like a half decade, we don’t know are coming.  Outside of a few obvious ones, at least.

Someone else, I’m sorry I don’t remember who for attribution, noted that these last two Avengers movies work as a strange pair of inverted expectations.  Infinity War was largely a downbeat, mournful adventure. Endgame, on the other hand, is sparkling light-footed meditation on loss.  The start of this movie is a fitting coda to its predecessor, the middle section is as much fun as any Avengers movie has been, but that ending lets it all down.  I know that is not a popular position to take, but while I applaud the ambition and scope of that last fight, it also worked to disconnect me from a movie that I had been largely in sync with until that point.  The point where when the final climax hits, I felt nothing at what was objectively a very cool line.  This is also a movie that, the longer I think about it, the less I like it.  There are a lot of unanswered questions and a lot of strange choices.  Still, it is a fitting and entertaining end to more than a decade of good movies.

****

Hellboy Review

If I am being completely honest, I was not too happy to hear that instead of a third Guillermo Del Toro Hellboy movie, we were instead going to be getting a reboot.  However, I tried my best to put my disappointment aside and go into the new movie with an open mind.  It wasn’t like Del Toro’s Hellboy was a particularly close adaptation of the comics, there is certainly room for a different but still good take.  Hellboy (2019) is certainly different, but it is not good.

This movie shares many traits with Del Toro’s Hellboy movies.  As is common with Del Toro movies, his Hellboy movies largely sympathized with the monsters.  Hellboy and Abe Sapien most obviously, but even the one off creatures and the villains are generally portrayed at least partially sympathetically.  This movie does the same.  Again, that almost goes without saying with Hellboy, but also villains like the Gruagach and Nimue get at least some moments of sympathy.  It also features a lot of practical creature effects, though there feels like there is more CGI here.  If only the movie around the these things was enjoyable.

This new Hellboy is focused, almost exclusively, on two things: plot and gore.  The first is not necessarily a problem.  Hellboy is an action movie and those tend to focus on plot. Hellboy, though, crams in enough plot for three movies.  It feels like it is consciously trying not to fall into the trap of that many would be franchise starters do, of spending a lot of time setting up stuff for future movies.  To Hellboy’s credit, it puts as much on the screen as possible.  It tries to tell a story, but the story is just too much, like a trilogy crammed into one movie.  The movie feels like it is sprinting from one set piece to another, without ever taking time to really explore the concepts it introduces.  It starts in Medieval times, with King Arthur defeating Nimue, the Blood Queen.  Then it jumps to Hellboy in Mexico tracking down a lost agent, before shunting him off London to hunt giants, only to be betrayed by his friends.  Mixed into that are scenes of a pig monster, the Gruagach, hunting down the pieces of the quartered Blood Queen in order to revive her.  Then Hellboy gets in on the race for the parts of the Blood Queen, which sends him all over England.  There is just so much.  It is coherent, but it mostly exists as just a bunch of half formed concepts that exist to propel the story along without actually being about anything.

While the story is just a little too much, the gore is definitely a problem. It reveals a big problem with the movie, stressing affect rather than tone. This movie started out with the intention of being rated R, and made sure it had the gore to earn it, whether or not that gore was necessary or helpful.  It wants so bad to be cool and adult that it makes itself appear all the more juvenile.  It is just trying to hard, and the gore is a big part of that.  It feels desperate.  Honestly, if it had just relaxed and been the movie it was, it would have been much more likeable.  It wouldn’t have fixed all of the movie’s problems, but it would have made them more forgivable.

There is stuff in Hellboy to like.  The cast does their best with the material they have; the highlight being Ian McShane.  Hellboy is a great concept.  But the movie is just … bad. All the pieces are here, but not of them seem to fit together right.  Though the plot is almost entirely different, it ends up feeling like a pale imitation of not only the previous Hellboy movies, but of quite a few recent action movies.

**

Shazam! Review

For most people, the DC cinematic universe got started on the wrong foot.  The first two Zack Snyder directed films are controversial to say the least and set a tone that is certainly not to everyone’s taste.  But people seem to be unable to let go of his two and half movies and see what DC has been offering for the last couple of years.  Wonder Woman was one of the best just straightforward superhero movies of the last decade.  Aquaman was a bonkers spectacle that is unlike anything else I’ve ever seen.  Shazam continues DC’s trend of making individual movies that play the strengths of the characters, with the unifying feature the sincerity with which they approach things.  Shazam is a pure delight.

Shazam manages to find a new niche in the super hero movie genre.  It feels like a throwback, like the 80’s Amblin version of a superhero movie.  What came to my mind while watching it was Gremlins. Gremlins is a weirdo family horror movie.  This movie is combines a sincere, even touching drama about foster kids with strange magic secrets and some moments of terrifying horror.  It is a unique mix, but one that absolutely works.

Shazam starts with the young Thaddeus Sivana, bullied by his father and older brother, being magically transported to the realm of the wizard Shazam.  Shazam is old and his power is fading.  He is tested to see if he is worthy of the wizard’s power, but succumbs to the temptations of the seven deadly sins, who are monstrous spirits trapped in statues.  Shazam returns Sivana to his horrible family; Sivana then spends the next thirty or so years trying to get back there to get the power he feels he was wrongly denied.  Eventually he does, and the wizard is too weak to stop him from freeing the sins.  The story then shifts to Billy Batson, a troublesome foster kid who is searching for his birth parents.  Knocked around by the system, he doesn’t trust anybody and constantly finds himself in trouble.  At the start of the movie, he is assigned to a group home as sort of his last chance.  After sticking up for one of his foster siblings, he is transported to the wizard.  The wizard is unsure of Billy’s worthiness, but he is out of options and grants Billy the power to turn into the superhero Shazam.  The distrustful Billy must learn how to be a hero before Sivana finds him and wrests the power away.

Shazam feels like something from the 80’s because it is ostensibly a kids movie, but it still features some horrific stuff that is sure to scare kids.  The scenes of Billy and Freddie testing Billy’s new powers are delightful and sure to please children.  But mixed in with those are some scenes of the villains committing terrible crimes or one particularly graphic death.  They are these weird atonal elements that mostly get ironed out of kids movies these days.  There is also the a few genuinely heartbreaking scenes with Billy attempting to track down his mom.  It is this idiosyncratic mix of tones that makes the movie feel fully fleshed out. It also doesn’t feel like an accident, the movie wants to vary the tone.  And the mix just works.

It helps that it has some genuinely charming performances.  The combination of Zachary Levi and Asher Angel as Billy Batson/Shazam is perfect.  They manage to echo each other, making it easy to believe that they are the same person just with different outside appearances.  Jack Dylan Grazer has a perfect mischievous air about him as Freddie Freeman.  The two of them carry the movie, really feeling like a pair of teenagers that stumbled upon superpowers and are pushing the boundaries and seeing what they can do and get away with.  Shazam perfectly juggles teenage irony with a touching, childlike naivety with these two damaged kids figuring things out as best they can.

The movie does spend a little too long on the final confrontation.  It is a scene that seems to go on too long, and that time feels like it could have been better spent fleshing out Billy’s interior journey just a little more.  Still, that is a small complaint in a movie that is otherwise a delight.

Shazam treats the genuinely strange magical backstory of the mythos with admirable sincerity.  Shazam is a concept from the 40’s and it feels like it.  Most often backstories like this get sanded down in the adaptation process, Shazam leans into it, to great effect.  It is just a genuinely charming movie.

*****

Dumbo

Disney’s animated classic Dumbo is a slim movie, with a runtime just over an hour and few wrinkles to its story.  It feels among the least likely of their animated catalog to merit the full live action remake treatment.  But other than Marvel and Star Wars movies, live action remakes of animated movies is what Disney does these days.  The live action Dumbo clocks in at nearly two hours long and gives almost no one what they wanted to see.  However, the movie is just charming enough to make it hard to hate.

The story of Dumbo is of a big eared baby elephant who learns to fly.  This adaptation adds plot elements from what seems like three other movies to pad it out to full feature length.  There is a story about Colin Farrell’s Holt Farrier, a circus equestrian and WW1 veteran freshly returned from the war.  He lost an arm in the war and his wife died while he was away.  He has to pick himself back up and keep things together for his two kids.  His son exists and that’s about it, but his daughter doesn’t want to follow in her parents footsteps as part of the circus but instead wants to be a scientist.  Holt’s struggles are exacerbated by the fact that while he was gone, the ringleader, Max Medici, sold his horses to keep the circus afloat.  Holt is the center around which the movie revolves, but there isn’t enough done with his struggles to make it the center plank of the movie.  Medici, played by the always delightful Danny Devito, takes up another chunk of the movie dealing with him struggling to keep the circus viable and eventually going into business with the transparently shady V.A. Vandervere.  Vandervere, of course, is only interested in the flying elephant.  The movie introduces a dozen or so characters and a half dozen plots, all because it is unwilling, for good reason, to focus on the spectacle of a flying elephant.

The problem is that Dumbo flying doesn’t look that amazing in live action.  It looked really interesting in traditional animation, but this CGI realistic facsimile inspires little awe.  Really, the movie is missing so much of what makes the original version so entertaining.  The most memorable part of the movie was the Pink Elephants on parade sequence, when Dumbo sneaks some of the circus laborers liquor and has drunken hallucinations of pink elephants on parade.  That scene does not happen in live action movie, but it is replaced with a “realistic” copy that has none of the weird charm, it is merely there to remind you the think you liked in the old movie without actually giving you that thing you liked.

Somehow, though , the movie manages to be charming despite feeling like a mismatched grab-bag of other movies.  A lot of that is thanks to uniformly strong performers being generally very charming.  Devito, Farrell, Eva Green and Michael Keaton are all doing something.  It is fairly enjoyable to watch them.  Each of the four movies that its feels have been Frankensteined together could have been good if fully fleshed out, Dumbo merely gives you glimpses of them. It is not a good movie, but it is somehow charming despite being bad.

**1/2

Captain Marvel Review

Captain Marvel hits a lot of familiar notes. Like Captain America: The First Avenger, it is a period piece origin story. Like Iron Man it is a movie that works largely due to the charisma of its star. Like Guardians of the Galaxy, it frequently leans on popular music. Captain Marvel tries to blend all of this together, but the movie ends up a lot like its heroine; searching for an identity. The movie is solidly good. It has the highly polished sheen that all Marvel movies seem to have. But it ends up being less the start of a bold new era, instead settling in as merely the bridge between Infinity War and Endgame.

There is a lot to like about Captain Marvel. Brie Larson stars as Carol Danvers, an Air Force pilot who somehow ended up in space, with amnesia working to the Kree as the superpowered Vers. After a mission goes awry and she ends up stranded on Earth, her attempts to complete her mission are derailed by her discovering her past. Larson makes the movie work, showing both Carol’s natural headstrong exuberance and the more subdued persona she is urged to take on with the Kree. She manages to be both vulnerable and a super strong badass. Likewise, Samuel L Jackson appears to be having an enormous amount of fun playing a digitally de-aged version of Nick Fury. The two of them make a great combo and it is fun to see Jackson’s usual intimidating persona become essentially the comic relief. The action is solid as well, both the more grounded stuff and the superpowered fights closer to the end. Nothing mind-blowing or really anything you haven’t seen in other movies, but it is executed well enough.

It also has some flaws. The ones that stand out are how it uses the 90’s period setting. All of the events in the movie happen in the mid-90s. The movie uses this for window dressing, with Radio Shacks and Blockbusters around, along with some 90’s fashion and music. Some have complained about the soundtrack not being exactly period appropriate, but it is not as if the music is diegetic, so that is a nonsense complaint. My problem is that the 90’s setting doesn’t seem to inform any part of the movie. It is just a ploy for nostalgia. That in itself is not that big of a problem, but it feels like a wasted opportunity. Also, the movie spends a lot of time trying to plaster over cracks, real, imagined or created by this movie, in the Marvel Cinematic backstory. Do you want to know how Fury lost an eye? Why they are called Avengers? Any of another half dozen pointless questions? This movie has answers. Not interesting answers, but answers nonetheless.

Captain Marvel does not reach the heights of Thor: Ragnarok or Black Panther. It never does manage to carve out its own identity, like even movies like Ant-Man or Spider-Man: Homecoming do. Its various ingredients do not blend into a solid of a whole as it could have. It just feels like a Marvel movie. I feel like I’ve been very negative in this review, when my thoughts on the movie are largely positive. I guess I do think Captain Marvel is a bit of a missed opportunity, but only because it is very good and not quite great.

****

Fighting With My Family

I am not the world’s biggest wrestling fan. I’m not much of a fan of wrestling at all, to be honest. I am conversant in the subject, but other than a few months in 2001 or so, I’ve never really watched or cared about wrestling. I get the appeal, but it was never something that stuck with me. While Fighting With My Family is a wrestling movie, and at times takes the viewers knowledge of wrestling a little bit for granted, it is not a movie that requires the viewer to be a wrestling fan. This is a pretty well executed sports biopic, wherein the sport just happens to be wrestling. Where is truly succeeds is not in the fighting from the title, but the family.

Fighting With My Family tells the story of WWE Champion Paige, real name Saraya or just Raya, and how she came to win the title, focusing on her relationship with her family, especially on her relationship with her brother Zac. It opens with the two of them fighting, only for their parents not breaking up the fight, but instructing them on how to fight better. The two of them grow up participating in their parent’s regional wrestling association. They also train neighborhood kids who want to be wrestlers. When they get invited to WWE tryouts, it is Raya who goes on, while Zak is not chosen. So the newly christened Paige goes to Florida to train and join the WWE’s developmental league NXT, while Zak stays home and stews in his perceived failure. The two both struggle with how to move on from this.

The movie is directed by Steven Merchant, who you might know from his work on The Office or Extras or playing Caliban in Logan. You can feel his touch in the films comedic moments. The comedy is what really makes this worth watching. The world of wrestling is a slightly unreal place, even when you go behind the scenes and look at the real people behind it. There is a circus atmosphere to it. Playing it completely straight would be a disaster, but Merchant leans into the ridiculousness, without ever making the wrestling itself seem like the ridiculous part. It helps that the cast is rock solid, which is not an intention reference to The Rock, who has what is essentially an extended cameo in this movie. Florence Pugh plays Paige with equal parts strength and vulnerability. Jack Lowden (Dunkirk) plays Zak and his desperation to succeed is palpable. The parents are Nick Frost, who is delightfully chummy, and Lena Headey who seems to be having fun as well. The last big name is Vince Vaughn, who plays the man heading up NXT and gives his usual glib charm to the tough training coach.

The movie doesn’t shy away from the Knight family’s fairly low class status; they are outsiders even in their hometown. They struggle with money and the law. But it also shows them as a loving family and how they work to help each other and the neighbors. Zak’s training with the local youngsters keeps them out of trouble and their parent’s really seem to want what is best for their kids.

Fighting With My Family is a perfectly enjoyable movie; it isn’t really going to surprise anyone or make any top ten lists, but it is a decent little comic drama that is well worth seeing.

***1/2