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3 ½ (out of 4)
Where to even begin – Jordan Peele rode the dystopian zeitgeist of our tempestuous times to several accolades with 2017's Get Out, which appropriately repurposed its genre and proved the director a horror film scholar of unrivaled promise. Us is a vastly different stroke of terror and one capable of creating conversations beyond certain political implications – it's spectacularly bizarre by its end and unfailingly suspenseful up front. Peele's sophomore bump is tailored for far more interpretation than the exaggerated racial nightmare parable that is Get Out, though each are authentic enough to prove lasting artifacts of a propitious career.
Especially with the foreknowledge of the simple twist, the profound universality of Us is in trading genetic themes for class ones to make light of our own domestic hypocrisy in the most unthinkably ambitious fashion possible. Peele puts up no barrier between the literal and implicit components of his Twilight Zone-primed phantasm – broken down even by cinematic logic Us doesn’t really make a lick of sense. What really matters is the film has still managed to impress audiences while forcing them into the throws of social speculation, sparking more valuable discourse than any movie this past Oscar season.
It’s very unwise to take Us at face value given all of its symbols, red herrings and metaphorical substance. It’s bug-eyed wacky at its core and the wiliest kind of ingenious on the surface. A movie idea like evil doppelgangers doesn’t even require an explanation and might have even been better for it – it's hard to say whether a freaky, straitlaced thriller from Peele would have made for a more effectively scary film but the unchecked resourcefulness of Us gives way to broad and brawny societal suggestions. Even the most half-baked conceit in this story is drawn from more inspiration than the entire Conjuring universe. Peele is already a savant of his mode, understanding the correct shape and atmosphere a pivotal genre excerpt must possess to retain everlasting value.
Lupita Nyong'o is incredible also, taking the complexities of an absurdly complicated dual role and shining in the ambiguous, uncomfortable strangeness on both accounts. But as cockeyed and batshit crazy as the steady rise to the climax of Us is, it's implications outweigh any grandstanding or Hollywood rug-pulling. We should not take our own national counterparts for granted; every life spent in comfort is karmically leveled by one spent in misfortune. The film's message and exhilaration is overwhelming in total and sure to short circuit any brain that's made a habit of absorbing the content of the latest popular film in one pessimistic sitting. Us is just as insane and brazen as Peele required to reclaim the status as a blossoming auteur of exceptional control. Harebrained as it is, Us is at once audacious as well as calculated and resolute, proving that theatrical ingenuity comes from expanding the possibilities of what the most basic gotcha premise can elicit in either a cinematic or sociological sense.
2 ½ (out of 4)
My god, how many of these are there? Even as Phase 3 reaches the ultimate culmination and climax of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as we barrel toward the Endgame, they’re still introducing characters? And it took 21 movies for their first solo heroine? And, despite the most pernicious online precedent to one film's release, Captain Marvel is actually decent?
Listen, there’s very little left to critique stylistically regarding the MCU as it comes and goes, which happens more frequently than ever. The action and humor relieve each other in quick succession; a few jokes hit, many fall flat. The structure, despite any side-agenda universe building, is rooted in three traditional acts. Although you'd think grading Marvel movies on their own curve would bring about harsher appraisals, it actually leaves you far more lenient. Films like Infinity War, Civil War and the original Avengers had satisfyingly scopic spectacle. The offbeat, individual entries of this epic miniseries – the best includes Doctor Strange, Ant-Man and of course Iron Man – need to please in the premise of their story and the personality of their protagonist.
Captain Marvel as both movie and character is sensibly showcased for the sake of the collective franchise. She's a spark of hope for anyone dumb enough to have thought the final moments of Infinity War were permanent and her film itself is a way to introduce fresh blood into the Marvel crowd before the main players (Cap, Thor, Tony) more than likely depart. It's hard to understand the genuinely dissatisfied naysayers and "true" fans acting like she's ruining the whole enterprise. The actors are strong (casting has always been Marvel's forte and Jude Law, Ben Mendelsohn and obviously Samuel L. Jackson don't disappoint), the story is architecturally fresh, self-contained and driven by nice twists and revelations. It’s all fairly routine at its core and even underwhelming in totality given what the MCU has offered before, yet it goes down as easy as many watchable Marvel flicks have before.
Despite not clocking in the same hours, Brie Larson is as talented as her seasoned co-stars with which she will soon share the universe. Carol/Vers' relationship with Jackson's long-returning and now de-aged Nick Fury is enjoyable indeed. Larson's public rants interfered none at all with my experience because all I see is the woman who moved me so in films like Short Term 12 and Room. Considering her character's ridiculously overblown invulnerability (a problem at large but not in context), she would have a chip on her soldier wouldn't she? However infested with trolls Rotten Tomatoes is, the reaction to her performance has been one of sickeningly undue scrutiny.
The sequences on Hala liken to old-fashioned sci-fi more than the majority of the Thor and Guardians films – the first act of Captain Marvel is like a Star Trek fan’s wet dream. The visuals are impressive for a movie as modestly budgeted as Ant-Man. Themes on memory and identity keep things intriguing and emotional. The comedy bits aren’t too distracting and the soundtrack choices/'90s references, while wearing thin after awhile, don't come down in bombardment.
Given how long we've known the Avengers, it's hard to ignore the drawbacks of the film's placement in the greater whole of the saga. I enjoy my superhero movies largely free of future moneymaking ingredients but the introduction of this character into MCU is the most shoehorned aspect of a corporate empire that usually places its bets conservatively and congeals its characters smoothly. With only eight weeks prior to Endgame, Captain Marvel is in line with production quality and yet little more than an appeteaser and an afterthought.
To keep it brief...
Soon to Come:
The Rise of Skywalker
A Hidden Life
"So what've you been up to?"
"Escaping mostly... and I escape real good."
- Inherent Vice