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Play It Again, Tim – If it’s action you want, action you get

Black Widow
Written by Tim Miller

If you like action, you’ve got three good new screen options.

And even if you’re often bored with films filled with special effects, explosions and all that sort of movie mayhem, these films are better than you might expect.

The biggie: “Black Widow” (PG-13, 133 minutes, in theaters and on Disney+ with extra fee), the latest from Marvel. Scarlett Johannson returns as the title superhero in this film that fits in, time-wise, between “Captain America: Civil War” and “Avengers: Infinity War.” Hardcore Avengers fans will know exactly what this means; moviegoers who don’t are almost guaranteed to be confused by some of the proceedings. My recommendation: Try to see “Civil War,” “Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame” before seeing this film.

Black Widow

Scarlett Johannson, left, and Florence Pugh form a formidable team in “Black Widow.” (Jay Maidment/Marvel Studios)

Even then, there’s a lot to take in here. I won’t get into all of it, but, essentially, Black Widow, also known as Natasha Romanoff, a former Soviet assassin now with the Avengers, is on the run because of some superhero shenanigans detailed in “Civil War.” Meanwhile, her past catches up with her when she’s reunited with the family she hasn’t seen in more than 20 years.

The film opens in breathtaking fashion in 1995 Ohio as adolescent Natasha, younger sis Yelena and parents Alexei and Melina make a daring escape and are separated (again, long story). Jump forward 21 years, and Natasha, on the run, is reunited with the adult Yelena (Florence Pugh), who, like her older sister and many other girls, has been trained by the KGB to become a Black Widow killing machine. The two sisters have issues with each other, but bond and soon seek out Alexei (David Harbour) and Melina (Rachel Weisz) with the ultimate goal of taking on a villain named Dreykov (Ray Winstone).

“Black Widow” is heavy on action, as expected, much of it exciting, but there’s also amusing comic relief running throughout. (Directed by Cate Shortland, the film was written by Eric Pearson, one of the writers of “Thor: Ragnarok,” which also is quite funny.) There’s a running gag, for instance, in which Yelena taunts Natasha as a poseur for the way she lands from a leap in an exaggerated three-point stance and then flips her hair back dramatically. It seems like the kind of subject that might come up between feuding sib superheroes. Harbour also provides humor as a super-soldier type who, despite being out of shape, clings to the idea that he’s a rival to Captain America.

The story, in the way it deals with family and betrayal, also separates “Black Widow” from other superhero movies — in a good way. The film paves the way for more “Black Widow” movies to come and makes you look forward to them. *** (out of four)

“The Tomorrow War” (R, 140 minutes, in theaters and on Prime Video) offers Mr. Star-Lord himself, Chris Pratt, as a science teacher sent to the future to fight aliens.

Tomorrow War

Chris Pratt, second from left, takes action with, from left, Alexis Louder, Edwin Hodge and Sam Richardson in “The Tomorrow War.” (Frank Masi/Amazon Studios)

The aliens are hungry, they find humans tasty, and, well, things have gotten out of hand. Soldiers from the future arrive in the present day to seek help, and the world of the present responds. The devastation continues, and if things don’t turn around, humanity is a permanent goner. More troops are sent; a worldwide draft is started.

Dan Forester (Pratt), a former Green Beret who’s now a family guy with a wife (Betty Gilpin) and young daughter, is drafted. He heads to the future; encounters hideous, vicious critters known as Whitespikes; and — shocker — becomes a key player in humanity’s possible survival. As in “Black Widow,” family also plays a big part of the proceedings.

Directed by Chris McKay (“The Lego Batman Movie”), the film is big, loud and violent. Imagine Paul Verhoeven’s over-the-top “Starship Troopers,” but with some heart. The relationship between Forester and his daughter (Ryan Kiera Armstrong as a child, Yvonne Strahovsky as an adult) is responsible for the heart; Forester’s estranged father, played by great character actor J.K. Simmons, delivers some laughs.

While hardly a sci-fi classic, “The Tomorrow War” is fun, and that’s the point. ***

“The Forever Purge” (R, 103 minutes, in theaters) is the fifth in the “Purge” movie series. No, they’re not about vomiting: The premise is that the U.S. government has determined that 12 hours, one night a year, will be designated as the Purge, when people can murder or commit any other crime they want without legal interference or prosecution. People can either barricade themselves and hope for the best, or they can go on a crime spree. Just who will survive is another matter.

It sounds like the stuff of a really awful series, but the “Purge” movies — I think I’ve seen four of the five — are pretty good for what they are. Ethan Hawke actually was in the first movie, for instance.

“The Forever Purge,” like its predecessors, is reminiscent of action films from the ‘70s and ‘80s such as Walter Hill’s “The Warriors” and “Streets of Fire” or John Carpenter’s “Assault on Precinct 13” or “Escape From New York”: stylized B-movie-type survival flicks that can be very entertaining.

Appearing in “The Forever Purge”: from left, Tenoch Huerta, Ana de la Reguera and Alejandro Edda. (Universal)

This “Purge” is a modern Western, set in Texas, where self-proclaimed “real Americans” use the purge as an excuse to rid themselves of those pesky Mexican immigrants. In fact, once the 12 hours come to an end and the year’s Purge is supposedly over, these “patriots” keep the Purge going. I mean, why stop when you can “purify” the country, right?

Among those trapped in this hellish situation: Mexican immigrants Adela (Ana de la Reguera of “Army of the Dead,” from earlier this year) and Juan (Tenoch Huerta); Juan’s boss (Will Patton) and the boss’ adult son (Josh Lucas), who’s not too fond of Mexicans. In a twist, some of these “Purge” survivors will try to fight their way to the Mexico border in order to find shelter from the violence in the United States.

The points made here about immigration and racism are pretty obvious, but they’re still welcome. Meanwhile, director Everardo Gout does a good job of keeping us on edge as we wonder who, if anyone, will make it through this horror. ***

** Click here for  Tim Miller’s previous movie columns for Cape Cod Wave **

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Tim Miller

Play It Again, Tim

Tim Miller is a Cape-based member of the Boston Society of Film Critics. He and Tony Raine host “Tim ’n’ Tony’s Rock ’n’ Pop Show” from midnight to 3 a.m. Sunday nights/Monday mornings on WOMR (92.1-FM), WFMR (91.3-FM) and (archived shows at He also teaches film at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or follow him onTwitter @TimMillerCritic. Or you can ignore him completely.

About the author

Tim Miller

Tim Miller, a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics, was the Cape Cod Times film critic for nearly 36 years. A Detroit native (and hardcore Tigers fan), he’s been obsessed with movies since skipping school in 1962 to see “Lawrence of Arabia” with his parents when he was 7. Miller earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and his master’s from Suffolk University, where he taught film and journalism for 10 years. He continues to teach film at Curry College and Cape Cod Community College. He is a juror each year for the short-film competition of the Martha’s Vineyard International Film Festival, has moderated several panel discussions at the Woods Hole Film Festival and frequently is heard as a guest on Cape & Islands NPR station WCAI. His work appeared as a chapter in the book “John Sayles: Interviews.” His favorite movie is Cameron Crowe's “Almost Famous” – because it makes him feel good to be alive.

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