This weekend at the movies, we’ve got immortal heroes (Eternals, starring Gemma Chan and Richard Madden), a portrait of a princess (Spencer, starring Kristen Stewart and Jack Farthing), a stylish shoot-’em-up (The Harder The Fall, starring Jonathan Majors and Idris Elba), and a cheeky crime caper (Red Notice, starring Dwane Johnson, Ryan Renolds, and Gal Gadot). What are the critics saying?
After 25 films (and a handful of TV series), Marvel finally decided to hand the reins over to a Best Picture and Best Director winner to see what she might do with an entry in the MCU, and the results so far are surprising, to say the least. Nomadland director Chloé Zhao takes the helm for Eternals, which introduces nearly a dozen immortal heroes who have lived alongside humans on Earth for millennia with one explicit mission: protect the planet from being overrun by a race of monsters known as Deviants, and nothing else. When the Deviants resurface in the present day, the estranged Eternals must rally to suppress the attack. Bolstered by an all-star cast that includes Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, Kumail Nanjiani, Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, and more, the film benefits from some strong performances and Zhao’s typically stellar cinematic eye, but critics feel that her instincts are hampered by the Marvel formula, resulting in a tonally inconsistent narrative with a few too many distractions on the side. Eternals is ambitious, but everyone seems to be split on whether those ambitions are satisfactorily met.
Director Pablo Larrain is nothing if not consistent — his last four films have all been Certified Fresh — and he’s proven in the past that he knows his way around a biopic (see: Neruda and Jackie). So far, it looks like he’s done it again with Spencer, a look at a brief period in the life of Diana, Princess of Wales. Set in 1991 during the holiday season, Spencer follows its titular royal (played by Kristen Stewart) as she navigates the Christmas festivities at Queen Elizabeth’s Sandringham Estate amid rumors of a potential divorce from Prince Charles (Jack Farthing). While most critics agree that Larrain has crafted a solid drama out of what easily could have felt like an exploitative story, the lion’s share of praise has gone to Stewart, who carries the film on the strength of her magnetic performance. There are certainly other impressive elements about the film, but Stewart is the reason to see it, if you can find it at a theater near you.
Red Notice (2021)
Dwayne Johnson has worked with director Rawson Marshall Thurber twice before, on Central Intelligence and Skyscraper, but for their latest collaboration, they decided to bring a couple more famous friends along. In Red Notice, Johnson plays an FBI agent who strikes a deal with a notorious art thief in order to bring down a mutual enemy, an even more notorious art thief. The two thieves in question? Ryan Reynolds and Gal Gadot (or their characters, anyway). Based on the synopsis and the talent involved, you pretty much know what you’re in for here, and you’re either all for it or not interested whatsoever. Unsurprisingly, critics as a whole haven’t been particularly impressed by the film so far; they say it’s so insistent upon its own charm and cleverness that it nearly backfires. In other words, it essentially delivers what it promises, even if it only promises a fairly boilerplate caper. Red Notice opens in limited release this week before streaming on Netflix next week.
The Harder They Fall (2021)
Westerns populated by majority Black actors are few and far between, so if you’re going to film one, it makes sense to gather the most stunning cast imaginable. That’s what Jeymes Samuel managed to do for The Harder They Fall, his debut feature, which stars — deep breath — Idris Elba, Regina King, Jonathan Majors, LaKeith Stanfield, Zazie Beetz, and Delroy Lindo, among others. Based on actual historical figures from the Old West, the story centers on outlaw Nat Love (Majors), who rounds up a posse to hunt down Rufus Buck (Elba), the man who killed his parents and carved a cross in his forehead. The story is pure fiction but peppered with other real-life cowboys and outlaws, and critics say the cast is all aces, helping to elevate what might otherwise be a familiar tale of betrayal and revenge. It’s got action and swagger to spare, but it’s also grounded in a way that helps keep viewers invested, and most reviews say it’s a lot of fun. Though it had a limited release in late October, it’s available to stream on Netflix this week.
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