August 19-21 Box Office Predictions

Survival thriller Beast with Idris Elba and the animated Japanese fantasy sequel Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero will compete for the #1 spot this weekend. It could be a close competition and you can peruse my detailed prediction posts on the newcomers here:

Beast Box Office Prediction

Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero Box Office Prediction

I’m projecting that both will manage a low teens opening and I’m giving Beast an ever so slight edge. Either could over perform, but both could also top out in low double digits. As long as neither falls significantly short of expectations, they should place 1-2.

Bullet Train, after two weeks in first, should fall to 3rd or 4th depending on how well Top Gun: Maverick holds. It’s a safe bet that the latter will hold quite solidly so it could be a stiff competition for third with DC League of Super-Pets rounding out the top five.

Here’s how I see it playing out:

1. Beast

Predicted Gross: $14.3 million

2. Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero 

Predicted Gross: $13.2 million

3. Bullet Train

Predicted Gross: $7 million

4. Top Gun: Maverick

Predicted Gross: $6.7 million

5. DC League of Super-Pets

Predicted Gross: $5 million

Box Office Results (August 12-14) 

Brad Pitt and the Bullet Train was #1 again with $13.4 million, just shy of my $14.1 million take. The two-week total is $55 million as it is tracking to come in under $100 million domestically when all is said and done.

In a photo finish for second, Top Gun: Maverick achieved another remarkable feat. Rising from sixth to the runner-up position, Tom Cruise’s biggest hit ever (and then some) earned $7 million in its 12th outing. I projected a tad lower at $6.2 million. Sitting at $673 million and #7 all-time stateside, it will eventually get to the #5 slot and overtake Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War in the coming days.

DC League of Super-Pets was third and it also made $7 million, in line with my $7.2 million prediction. The animated tale has made $58 million in its three weeks of release.

It was a razor thin margin for 4th and 5th with Thor: Love and Thunder barely surpassing Nope. The former made $5.3 million (I was right there at $5.4 million) as the MCU sequel has rung up $325 million.

Nope was fifth and also did $5.3 million, outpacing my $4.2 million guesstimate. Jordan Peele’s effort has made $107 million.

Minions: The Rise of Gru was sixth with $5 million. I went with $5.2 million and it’s amassed $343 million.

#7 was Where the Crawdads Sing with $4 million (I said $4.1 million) with a $72 million overall haul.

Bodies Bodies Bodies couldn’t really capitalize on its impressive NY/LA limited rollout last weekend. Expanding wide, it took in $3.2 million for eighth place. I was a bit more optimistic at $4.4 million. While its per screen average was 2nd in the top 10 behind only Train, look for it to fade quickly.

Elvis was ninth with $2.5 million (I said $2.6 million) as the biopic has shook up $141 million.

The climbing thriller Fall debuted in 10th with $2.5 million. That’s nothing to brag about, but it did come in with better earnings than most prognoses. This includes my own at $1.2 million.

Easter Sunday fell outside of the top ten in 11th with $2.4 million in its sophomore frame (I was on target at $2.5 million). The meager total is $9 million.

Last and least, Diane Keaton’s comedy Mack & Rita was a massive flop in 13th position with $1 million. I gave it too much leeway at $2.3 million. As if that start wasn’t bad enough, it earned a dreadful D+ Cinemascore grade.

And that does it for now, folks! Until next time…

Oscar Predictions: The Gray Man

With an eye popping budget of $200 million (a reported record for Netflix), spy thriller The Gray Man begins streaming tomorrow. Anthony and Joe Russo (no strangers to gargantuan price tags thanks to Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame) direct Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans. Costars include Ana de Armas, Jessica Henwick, Rege-Jean Page, Wagner Moura, Julia Butters, Dhanush, Alfre Woodard, and Billy Bob Thornton.

The high priced endeavor is garnering mixed reviews with the positive ones not exactly over the moon. Its Rotten Tomatoes score is 49%. Unlike the Russo’s MCU extravaganzas, the visual effects here shouldn’t attract the attention of Academy voters. Same goes for Sound or anything else. My Oscar Prediction posts will continue…

Thor: Love and Thunder Box Office Prediction

Each Thor pic has outdone the last and Disney hopes that trend continues when Thor: Love and Thunder hits theaters on July 8th. The sixth MCU entry in the past 14 months, the franchise shows no signs of slowing down as this follows juggernauts Spider-Man: No Way Home and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. 

This particular series is only the second to have a fourth feature (the other being Avengers). Taika Waititi, who made 2017’s predecessor Ragnarok, returns behind the camera with Chris Hemsworth once again hammering away as the title character. Natalie Portman’s Jane is back after sitting out part 3 and other familiar faces include Tessa Thompson, Jaimie Alexander, and Jeff Goldblum. The Guardians of the Galaxy are also in the mix. Newcomers to the fold are Christian Bale as main villain Gorr the God Butcher and Russell Crowe as Zeus. Expect plenty of cameos as well.

The first Thor (only the 4th of now 29 MCU flicks) grossed $65 million out of the gate with an overall gross of $181 million. Two and a half years later, The Dark World improved upon that with $85 and $206 million, respectively. Ragnarok easily surpassed that with $122 million and $315 million eventually.

Love and Thunder should continue the trend. Since the character’s last stand-alone effort, Thor was prominently placed in the massive Avengers sagas Infinity War and Endgame. That said, Multiverse from early May was a direct benefactor of following No Way Home when it premiered with $187 million. Its Spidey predecessor swung the second largest domestic opening of all time behind Endgame. 

I don’t believe Thunder will reach the stratosphere of Multiverse. Somewhere between $140-$160 million seems doable. If buzz continues to grow louder in the coming days, I reserve the right to revise up. My current take puts it in the range of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 ($146 million) and Captain Marvel ($153 million). I’ll put it slightly over both.

Thor: Love and Thunder opening weekend prediction: $155.7 million

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness Review

Sam Raimi’s horror sense and gory sensibilities (Evil Dead style) permeates Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. On paper this is a sequel to 2016’s predecessor which introduced Benedict Cumberbatch as the cocky mythical surgeon Stephen Strange. As with most sagas in the MCU, his character has been in plenty of other adventures in the interim (most notably the gargantuan Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame). The fifth word is the most key in the title. As Spider-Man: No Way Home (with its understandably audience pleasing cameos) showed just a few months back, this cinematic universe is now comprised of scores of them. Multiverse has a limited amount of fun with this development that’s far less memorable.

Instead this sequel often serves as a continuation of Disney Plus’s first Marvel streaming series WandaVision with Elizabeth Olsen. If you didn’t watch that, you’re going to be a little lost. Olsen’s Wanda, on the TV show, created an idyllic home life with Vision (Paul Bettany) and two cute kids with superhero powers. The problem – it was a completely invented reality and Wanda was causing harm to others by continuing the charade. She comes to her senses eventually. Multiverse finds Wanda being taken over by her alter ego the Scarlet Witch after acquiring a book of magic spells. Her character motivations stretch credibility with the same elasticity as a certain cameo where she battles familiar MCUers with some different faces.

Wanda/Scarlet’s plans to reunite with her made up kiddos jeopardize life in plenty of multiverses. None of them involve her wanting to reunite with the love of her life Vision (there’s that credibility issue). It does involve Doctor Strange teaming up with America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez). I’m sure her persona will be fleshed out in future installments. For now she’s a teen with the ability to jump multiverses who possesses powers she’s just beginning to harness. Strange first makes her acquaintance while attending the wedding of his former flame Christine (Rachel McAdams). A CG monster interrupts the reception on the streets outside and an eye popping (literally) battle ensues. The Scarlet Witch wants America for her own nefarious purposes so the Doc must protect her across multiple dimensions.

Actually… only a couple of dimensions as Multiverse never gets much screen time to explore the possibilities other than a brief and very cool sequence. Therein lies part of the problem. While I know we’re dealing with intergalactic mayhem that can mean all sorts of unanticipated cameos and landscapes, Madness can feel surprisingly low stakes. It doesn’t help with the aforementioned matters of Scarlet’s clunky story treatment.

What does occasionally assist in the entertainment value is Raimi being in the director’s chair. Taking over for Scott Derrickson, the veteran filmmaker doesn’t shy away from jump scares and his unique brand made notable four decades ago in Evil Dead. There are unquestionably some impressive and spellbinding visuals. There’s also a pop-in by Bruce Campbell that is more satisfying than higher profile cameos. Unfortunately this suffers from a malady similar to Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 with villainous plots that don’t quite ultimately work. Chiwetel Ejiofor unceremoniously returns as a version of Mordo, Strange’s former ally turned foe.

All this Strange magic while Stephen pines for Christine makes for a middle of the universe to lower tier universe experience. I appreciate Kevin Feige and the team allowing Raimi so much creative control. However, while previous confrontations were fought in fewer dimensions, I felt they covered more meaningful ground. As the MCU moves forward across all these galaxies (sometimes with inspiration and sometimes trudging on shaky foundations), we’ll have lots of opportunities to see how the mix turns out. I still have guarded optimism.

**1/2 (out of four)

May 6-8 Box Office Predictions

The summer box office season officially kicks off in the manner it has many times lately… with an expected Marvel Cinematic Universe juggernaut. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness looks to accomplish some records after previous franchise entry Spider-Man: No Way Home set plenty of its own. You can peruse my detailed prediction post on Benedict Cumberbatch’s return as the mystical doc here:

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness Box Office Prediction

My estimate would give Multiverse the 7th largest domestic premiere of all time and the highest ever for the month of May (topping The Avengers). It would be #4 in terms of MCU entries – behind Avengers: Endgame, No Way Home, and Avengers: Infinity War. 

No other film is daring to open against this and family friendly entries The Bad Guys (after two weeks on top) and Sonic the Hedgehog 2 should slide a spot. Everything Everywhere All at Once is holding extremely well from week to week and it could rise to fourth over Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore. 

Here’s how I think the top 5 will look:

1. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

Predicted Gross: $208.5 million

2. The Bad Guys

Predicted Gross: $10 million

3. Sonic the Hedgehog 2

Predicted Gross: $7.1 million

4. Everything Everywhere All at Once

Predicted Gross: $4.4 million

5. Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore 

Predicted Gross: $4.3 million

Box Office Results (April 29-May 1)

Before Marvel begins its domination, it was a pretty quiet weekend with The Bad Guys repeating in first. The DreamWorks Animation effort made $16.2 million, topping my $14.4 million projection for $44 million in 10 days.

Most holdovers managed to slightly exceed my expectations. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 stayed in second at $11.5 million compared to my $10.8 million call. Total is $161 million.

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore continued its ho-hum run in third with $8.3 million, just above my $7.7 million take. The three-week tally is a disappointing $79 million.

The Northman was fourth in its sophomore outing with $6.3 million. I went with $5.6 million and it’s at $22 million.

Everything Everywhere All at Once actually had a 2% increase with $5.5 million to round out the top five (I said $4.2 million). The A24 Oscar hopeful has made an impressive $35 million.

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent was sixth with $3.8 million (I predicted $3.5 million) for $13 million in two weeks.

Finally, Liam Neeson’s streak of low grosses stayed intact as Memory opened in 8th with $3.1 million. That’s in line with his recent (non) earners and just below my $3.3 million projection.

And that does it for now, folks! Until next time…

2021 DGA and PGA Nominations Predictions

Two significant Academy precursors are coming our way tomorrow when the Directors and Producers Guilds of America reveal nominees. Both groups could shed major light on who and what we will see on Oscar nomination morning in less than two weeks.

The DGA nominates five directors for their top prize and it is a reliable preview for usually 4 of the 5 eventual hopefuls at the big show. In the past five years, the DGA’s list corresponds with the Academy’s on the 4 of 5 ratio. The exception was 2018 when it was 3/5. You have to go back to 2009 to find the last year in which there was a perfect match.

For weeks, my Oscar projections in Best Director has remained consistent: Paul Thomas Anderson (Licorice Pizza), Kenneth Branagh (Belfast), Jane Campion (The Power of the Dog), Steven Spielberg (West Side Story), and Denis Villeneuve (Dune). That’s probably the safest lineup to predict for DGA as well, but I’m hesitant to do so since it’s been over a decade with the two corresponding.

So who’s vulnerable and who could rise up? It’s hard to see Campion (the Oscar frontrunner), Villeneuve, or Spielberg missing. Same generally goes for Branagh though there’s whispers that Belfast could be slipping a bit (still not enough for me to take him out). That leaves Anderson and there’s some precedent. In 2017, the Academy nominated him for Phantom Thread while DGA omitted him. He’s the easiest to leave off their ballot.

Who takes his place? I doubt that it’s Ryusuke Hamaguchi for Drive My Car. In recent times, the Academy has been more generous with nods for filmmakers and their international features. Last year, they nominated Thomas Vinterberg (Another Round) and in 2018 they did the same for Pawel Pawlikowski (Cold War) while DGA ignored them.

If there’s a surprise fifth nominee in store, watch out for Guillermo del Toro (Nightmare Alley), Maggie Gyllenhaal (The Lost Daughter) or Sian Heder (CODA). However, I think it could come down to Joel Coen (The Tragedy of Macbeth) and Adam McKay (Don’t Look Up). The latter is a two-time DGA nominee (The Big Short and Vice) and Don’t Look Up is a buzzy streaming success story that’s been widely viewed. Coen, on the other hand, could be honored for the technical mastery of Macbeth. 

This is a close call, but I’m ever so slightly leaning toward McKay and I’ll go that route. Therefore – my official DGA predictions are:

Kenneth Branagh, Belfast

Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog

Adam McKay, Don’t Look Up

Steven Spielberg, West Side Story

Denis Villeneuve, Dune

Runner-Up: Paul Thomas Anderson, Licorice Pizza

Second Alternate: Joel Coen, The Tragedy of Macbeth 

Let’s move to the PGA, shall we? Over the last five years, these are the matches between the Producers and the Academy when it comes to their Best Picture awards:

2016: 9/9

2017: 7/9

2018: 8/8

2019: 9/9

2020: 7/8

It’s important to keep in mind that the Academy, for the past several years, can have anywhere between 5-10 BP contenders (the magic number has been 8 or 9). Yet in 2021, the Oscars are reverting back to a set 10 (the PGA always nominates 10 except for 2017 when they had 11 for some inexplicable reason).

That means there’s only been three films (Darkest Hour and Phantom Thread in 2017 and The Father in 2020) that received Oscar nods and didn’t materialize on the PGA list.

My current 10 selections for BP from the Academy are as follows: Belfast, CODA, Don’t Look Up, Dune, House of Gucci, King Richard, Licorice Pizza, The Power of the Dog, The Tragedy of Macbeth, West Side Story.

I’m estimating that only Gucci and Tragedy could be truly vulnerable to miss the PGA cut (anything else being left off would constitute a pretty big surprise). If that happens, CODA or Richard might be the ones.

In my view, Tragedy is exactly the kind of feature that PGA may not recognize. Gucci is more of a question mark as the Producers generally like to nominate pictures that performed well at the box office. To that point, the PGA has a history of honoring moneymakers that the Academy does not. Recent examples include Bridesmaids, Skyfall, Gone Girl, Straight Outta Compton, Deadpool, Wonder Woman, Crazy Rich Asians, A Quiet Place, and Knives Out.

That could absolutely open the door for No Time to Die or Spider-Man: No Way Home… or both. I’m slightly more hesitant to include Spidey being that neither Avengers: Infinity War or Endgame got PGA love. However, I’m not oblivious to the fact that this guild may want to mention the picture that broke pandemic era box office records.

Outside of the blockbuster mold, you could also see titles like Being the Ricardos, Drive My Car, The Lost Daughter, Nightmare Alley, or Tick, Tick… Boom! factor in.

I’m keeping Gucci in (with extreme uncertainty) and projecting 007 in the mega-earner slot so here’s my PGA ten:

Belfast

CODA

Don’t Look Up

Dune

House of Gucci

King Richard

Licorice Pizza

No Time to Die

The Power of the Dog

West Side Story

Runner-Up: Spider-Man: No Way Home

Second Alternate: The Tragedy of Macbeth 

So there you have it! I’ll have reaction up on both DGA and PGA tomorrow on the blog…

Eternals Review

When the core group of Avengers assembled in their climactic battle for that classic shot from the 2012 film, it held power because we’d come to know them in previous MCU entries. By the time we got to 2019 as seemingly half of Hollywood was ready to take on Thanos in Avengers: Endgame, the same emotions were present. The mere fact that we were witnessing many members of Marvel’s extensive roster ready for action via high quality predecessors was impressive.

That’s a testament to what Kevin Feige and team had pulled off. For all the nitpicking about the franchise, it’s easy to forget the monumental achievement in bringing these heroes to life in 20 plus pictures and getting us back to care about them. That’s not an easy assignment and they pulled it off.

This brings us to Eternals, the 26th entry in the series. And it often feels like we are meant to feel the same sentiments that I’ve described above. There’s a problem with that. Chloe Zhao’s immersion into the MCU is tasked with introducing us to a brand new team of heroes in its 156 minutes. Most of them, quite frankly, aren’t very compelling. Comic book lovers may be familiar, but the masses aren’t. When Iron Man got the gang together nearly a decade ago, we knew the gang. Eternals, which loves it landscapes and sunsets silhouetting its protagonists, strains to properly introduce them. For a movie that feels long, it’s still short on character development and getting us to care about this team in ways we previously did. I admired plenty about this latest adventure, but it still stands as one of the MCU’s overall weakest experiences.

A prologue set in 5000 B.C. establishes the players. The Eternals are a group of immortals tasked with saving planets from Deviants, a lot of monstrous CGI creations. Their leader is Ajak (Salma Hayek), who takes her orders from the almighty Arishem. Each Eternal has their own set of powers. Sersi (Gemma Chan) can transform matter. Her love interest Ikaris (Richard Madden) can shoot freakin lasers from his eyeballs (think Cyclops). Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry) is the science nerd capable of advancing technology centuries ahead of time. And… we’re gonna be here all day if I keep this up, but a couple more. Sprite (Lia McHugh) can create illusions, but can’t hide the fact that she’ll look like a 12-year-old girl for eternity. Thena (Angelina Jolie) is capable of creating weapons from thin air. Yet she’s a weapon herself because she has a condition that causes her to turn against her counterparts and try to kill them.

The Eternals spend centuries on Earth taking on the Deviants and appear to achieve their mission in 1521. The band breaks up and they’re free to roam free on our Earthly soil, which Nomadland director Zhao frames in loving travelogue mode. Importantly, Ajak orders them not to interfere with the many conflicts that will transpire over the coming centuries. That means the Eternals are not involved when Thanos wipes out half the population in Avengers: Infinity War. They’re not showing up for house calls with Doctor Strange or assisting Hulk smash anything.

In present day, the Deviants resurface and they must assemble (!) again. Some have taken on unexpected careers. Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani) is a Bollywood leading man with a trusty assistant (Harish Patel). He’s been a superstar for decades with the public believing his dad, granddad, and so on were different people. The real function for Nanjiani is to provide some comic relief in a story that needs it.. The actor and the superb Patel are up to the assignment. They might be the two characters I’d be excited to see return in future MCU tales.

On the flip side, the failed romance between Sersi and Ikaris is a yawner. And familiar faces like Hayek and Jolie aren’t given enough screen time to register. Barry Keoghan, always a compelling actor to watch, is Druig. He can manipulate minds and his superpower runs counter to his orders. Druig has the potential for a fascinating character arc yet, once again, the packed nature of the screenplay prevents it.

The look of Eternals is undoubtedly different than the MCU sheen we’re accustomed to. It has more of a real location feel as opposed to video game extravaganza. Some of the action sequences are well constructed. Others fall into the confused CGI jumble that’s hampered even some of the finest franchise flicks.

Here’s the bottom line – Eternals is by no means bad (even the middling stories in this series are quite watchable). It feels unnecessary because it never fully succeeds at making us understand why we need to be invested. Ajak’s hideaway in the present day is in South Dakota. Nothing that happens here made me think any Eternal will be carved into the Mt. Rushmore of Marvel’s cinematic universe.

**1/2 (out of four)

Oscar Predictions – Spider-Man: No Way Home

When Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man trilogy kicked off nearly 20 years ago, it managed to nab a Best Visual Effects nod (losing to Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers). Two years later, the 2004 sequel won the prize. Since then, the five Spidey features that followed (Maguire’s third, both Andrew Garfield iterations, and the first two Tom Holland MCU flicks) didn’t show up in the race. Will Spider-Man: No Way Home change that?

The 27th entry (and fourth this year) in the Marvel Cinematic Universe debuts Friday and I have it pegged for the fourth best domestic opening of all time (behind Avengers: Endgame, Avengers: Infinity War, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens). The review embargo lifted early this morning and it stands at an impressive 97% on Rotten Tomatoes.

While nearly all critical notices are positive, I don’t think this will be the second MCU title to nab a Best Picture nomination behind Black Panther. While Best Sound is feasible, Home‘s best hope at Academy inclusion is in Visual Effects. MCU movies vying for that prize is not unusual. The inaugural pic in the biggest franchise of all (2008’s Iron Man) made the cut. So have Iron Man 2, The Avengers, Iron Man 3, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Infinity War, and Endgame. None have won.

So despite the last quintet of web slinger sagas not being honored for their effects, Home should have no problem? I don’t think it’s quite that simple. There are two Warner Bros sci-fi extravaganzas (Dune and The Matrix Resurrections) that should get in. That leaves three slots. Warner has another hopeful with Godzilla vs. Kong. Marvel itself has Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and Eternals (and Black Widow to a lesser degree) vying for spots. Shang-Chi especially could get in (the Critics Choice Awards included it on their ballot). Don’t Look Up, Finch, and No Time to Die are other possibilities. It’s worth noting that whether Home makes the five, Dune is the very heavy favorite to take gold.

Here’s my hunch: by the time Academy voters cast their final votes, Home appears bound to have heightened box office numbers to their highest achievements in the pandemic era. That fact alone might get it some recognition from the Oscars and that would be for its visuals. Another interesting stat: of the ten current largest stateside premieres ever, only two (Avengers: Age of Ultron and Jurassic World) didn’t score at least one nomination from the Academy. That puts this in a decent position. My Oscar Predictions posts for the films of 2021 will continue…

Spider-Man: No Way Home Box Office Prediction

Bloggers Update (12/16): revising prediction up to $213.7M The Marvel Cinematic Universe is poised for the largest opening weekend of the pandemic era with Spider-Man: No Way Home out December 17th. In fact, it could debut higher than the current two record holders (Venom: Let There Be Carnage and Black Widow) combined. The 27th feature in the massive MCU franchise, this is officially the third entry in this Spider-Verse starring Tom Holland as the web-slinger (though he’s appeared in Avengers tales too). Jon Watts directs again and returning faces include Zendaya, Jacob Batalon, Jon Favreau, Marisa Tomei, and J.B. Smoove. That’s not all. Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange is in on the action and villains of previous Spidey series come to the party. They include Alfred Molina, Willem Dafoe, Jamie Foxx, Thomas Haden Church, and Rhys Ifans. There’s also the possibility of other Spider-Men turning up.

This has led to No Way Home having the distinction of being the event film of the year with the most moneymaking potential. It might be the fourth MCU title in 2021 (after Widow, Shang-Chi, and Eternals), but it’s easily the most breathlessly anticipated. Early ticket sales indicate we’ll see grosses not witnessed since 2019. Two and a half years ago, Spider-Man: Far From Home kicked off during the long July 4th weekend and earned $185 million. 2017’s Homecoming made $117 million over a traditional Friday to Sunday rollout.

The pre-Christmas unveiling should prove to be shrewd timing. Some estimates having this going north of $200 million. That would be music to the ears of an industry that needs it after almost two long years. I’m not quite ready to declare $200 million and I’ll hedge with just under it.

Spider-Man: No Way Home opening weekend prediction: $213.7 million

For my Nightmare Alley prediction, click here:

Nightmare Alley Box Office Prediction

 

Black Widow Review

The Marvel movies have become as American as apple pie. Or “American Pie” since that Don McLean ditty is featured prominently in Black Widow, a stand-alone feature designed to fill some backstory of Scarlett Johansson’s OG Avenger. Is it necessary? That’s debatable. However, the unexpected COVID layoff of nearly two years between MCU titles and some solid performances makes this a welcome addition to the franchise.

I guess I should say SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t taken in the rest of the cinematic universe so there’s your warning. Avengers: Endgame marked the demise of Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow as she went out in self sacrificial fashion. Her previous sacrifices for a darker cause are explored here. The film opens in 1995 Ohio with Natasha and her little sister Yelena being raised by parents Alexei (David Harbour) and Melina (Rachel Weisz). It’s all a front, though, as mom and dad aren’t really their folks. They are Russian spies on a mission for General Dreykov (Ray Winstone) and once the Midwest job is completed, the fake family unit is broken apart.

Natasha, of course, grows up to be the fighter we have seen in numerous other blockbusters beginning with Iron Man 2 and so on. Yelena grows up to take the form of Florence Pugh and she gets her training as well through Dreykov along with numerous other orphaned girls turned assassins. As far as timeline purposes go, Black Widow happens between the actions of Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War. That’s when The Avengers were experiencing their roughest patch with Tony Stark and Captain America at odds and the others being forced to choose sides.

Since Natasha is a wanted woman by the U.S. Government, she reunites with her long lost “sister” and “parents” in Budapest (remember to pronounce the SH sound in the word) in an effort to stop Dreykov’s mind control of his female army. Unlike other MCU pics, this truly is a stand-alone piece. None of the other Avengers are present and that gives time for new secondary characters to shine. Foremost among them is Yelena and the winning performance given by Pugh. She makes enough of an impression that I hope for her future involvement in other chapters. Harbour is good for a few comedic highlights as he reminisces about his time as Red Guardian (when he apparently had some battles with Captain America).

The MCU always comes down to bloodline dynamics and it is in abundant supply here. If Black Widow previously felt like a slightly underdeveloped character, there’s enough familiar familial dynamics to check off some boxes. Where Black Widow is weakest is not in the action sequences. They’re as first-rate as you’d expect. Cate Shortland makes her first contribution to the series in the director’s chair and she and the tech team certainly get a passing grade. The film’s liability is the villain Dreykov who doesn’t make much of an impression in the fairly short amount of screen time he’s given. This is not a unique flaw in the MCU. For every Loki or Thanos, there seems to be a handful of forgettable baddies.

We already said bye-bye to Johansson’s Black Widow once, but this callback to a time before her heroic departure proves the levee isn’t dry when it comes to her entertainment value. And it also shows she leaves behind previously unknown associates that could provide more highlights.

*** (out of four)