“Kong’s god on the island, but the devils live below us.”
An unexpected mash-up of Jurassic Park 3 and Apocalypse Now results in a brash big-budget B-movie but it does nothing for its titular character beyond scaling him up to 300 feet. We see Kong express both rage and protectiveness, but there is little nuance to the giant ape. Even Rampage imbued its giant ape with some depth, but here Kong is a force of nature reacting to human intrusion. Those humans are a diverse team of scientists and specialists escorted by soldiers fresh out of the Vietnam War, though there is no substance to the numerous nods to Apocalypse Now — it serves more as an in-joke. The audience perspective is that of Tom Hiddleston’s SAS-turned-tracker and Brie Larson’s photojournalist, both of whom treat Kong with the requisite awe and respect. The remaining characters serve largely as interchangeable fodder for the island’s creatures. I can’t recall seeing credits open with a concept artist but plainly Skull Island’s varied fauna owe a debt to Crash McCreery’s designs. The producers’ end goal is clearly next year’s Godzilla vs Kong and, based on the special effects in Skull Island, one can expect it to deliver on spectacle at the very least (and, likely, at most).
It’s impossible to discuss the final instalment of Marvel’s 12-year project without spoilers but then this is a movie that no one requires a review to decide whether or not they will see. Its overarching time travel plot holds together surprisingly well, offering an opportunity to revisit characters lost in the previous films despite a fairly tight focus on the original six Avengers (with a few additions). For all the build-up, the overpowered Captain Marvel is largely absent elsewhere in the universe, serving predominantly as a deus ex machina when needed. After Infinity War, I knew that my overall view would depend largely on Doctor Strange’s seemingly inexplicable refusal to use the Time Stone, instead willingly handing it over to Thanos. Although Endgame offers half an answer, it is never adequately explained. Despite my issues with the journey, Endgame provides a satisfying conclusion that ties up the character arcs for a host of original characters, including a weighty, well-earned death near the end. It’s also particularly nice to see Jon Favreau given a few scenes, having helmed the film that started it all.
Those words during a fight late in the film ring like a challenge to detractors who feel threatened by female-led blockbusters. What Captain Marvel ably proves is what most already knew — that the Marvel superhero formula works just as well with a female lead — making it maddening that it has taken until the penultimate film of the decade-long three-phase MCU project to release one. Unfortunately fatigue is setting in with that formula and, where Black Panther shook things up by raising the bar for social and cultural exploration in a comicbook movie, Captain Marvel is largely content to play it safe in a sea of 90s nostalgia. The musical choices from the era are notable, with female fronted acts like Garbage and No Doubt setting a fun and rebellious tone to match Danvers’ own. Brie Larsen is great, though hamstrung slightly by an origin story which has Danvers slowly piecing together her memories so that her personality does not really crystallise until late in the film. The classic superhero action is fun as ever despite virtually non-existent stakes once her incredible powers are fully unleashed.