A tale of two queens, battling movable cities, and an awesome new Spider-Man flick are among the metro Phoenix movie openings for Friday, December 14. Openings were accurate at the time of publication and are subject to change. For showtimes and more film and television coverage, check out the Phoenix New Times film page.
Mary Queen of Scots – Saoirse Ronan's Queen Mary of Scotland and Margot Robbie's Queen Elizabeth I of England share only one scene in Josie Rourke's intimate, piercing, Mary Queen of Scots. Adapted by Beau Willimon from a Mary Stuart biography by John Guy, Rourke's film examines men's hostility to a woman with power. A sense of agonized inevitability grows even as Mary seems to triumph, suppressing a rebellion and bearing an heir. It's a film of two faces, Ronan's exposed and glowing, Robbie's blotted out with mummer's makeup, its vulnerability painted over. Both leads reveal aching souls beneath the regal toughness, but only Elizabeth intuits the danger of being free, natural, girlish, sexual – the danger of loving a man who after marriage would have to be called king. Rated R. Alan Scherstuhl
Mortal Engines – The first 20 minutes of Christian Rivers' otherwise dreary Mortal Engines stand as a perfect illustration of the logic behind buying subscription passes to your local multiplex: By all means, go watch the opening on the biggest screen possible if you have any interest in beholding a chase scene between great cities built atop colossal tank-treaded vehicles. Then maybe go about your day. Yes, there are mobile cities eating each other: The sequence finds horizon-wide London, its skyline as jumbled up with landmarks as the roof of Las Vegas' New York-New York casino, stalking a much smaller Balkan town across the steppes. The camera swoops around the impossible combatants, showing us complex action with clarity and verve. Imagine the white city from the third Lord of the Rings movie gone steampunk and roving the landscape like an angry Pac-Man — this stuff is wonderfully weird and expertly rendered. (Peter Jackson is a producer, and he cowrote the script with his Rings and Hobbit partners Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens.) What follows that spectacular start is a confused, clanging film too rushed to invest emotion into. It answers a complaint many viewers had about Jackson's second and third Hobbit movies but does so the wrong way: Rather than three hours of aimless action and little story, Mortal Engines runs just over two — but the proportions of action to story are still out of whack. The film plays as if a three-hour epic has been sliced down to size in the editing, but only the scenes establishing character and context have been cut. It lurches too abruptly from from set piece to set piece to make the basics clear. Rated PG-13. A.S.
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Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (critic's pick) – Bold and boundlessly inventive, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is the best Spidey movie since Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 2, and the best superhero movie since The Dark Knight. Its funky pulse, vibrant cartooning, and neon-graffiti aesthetic make the other movies about Marvel superheroes look staid and safe by comparison. Suddenly, it's more obvious than ever that too much of Captain America and The Avengers take place in same-y steel labs and drab frontage-road office parks. Like the Lego movies, from which its creators borrow a spirit of creative license, the Spider-Verse ethos is one of play, of the joyous mash-up. Its story smashes universes together and sets a host of alternative Spider-folk running amok in the New York City of Brooklyn teen Miles Morales, the mixed-race Spider-Man (his father is black and his mother Latinx) invented for the comics in 2011 by Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli. Here Spidey-ness is something like open-source software, and any possible permutation any kid or comics creator ever doodled is likely to show up: Here's Gwen Stacy, Peter Parker's girlfriend who got murdered in the comics and the miserable The Amazing Spider-Man 2, swinging in from an alternate universe where she's the hero and it's Peter Parker's death that haunts her. And here's Peter Porker, Spider-Ham, a heroic pig from some Looney Tunes counter-Earth of falling anvils and enormous mallets that fit right in your pocket. Even in the giddy gush of it all – such breathless web-swinging! such bravura Spider-brawls! — the writers and directors have achieved something rare in comic book films. This Miles Morales has a more textured and convincing life and world onscreen than in his actual comics. Rated PG. A.S.
Other openings – Julia Roberts tries to help her addict son when he returns home from rehab in Ben Is Back; Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes chronicles the rise and fall of the late Fox News CEO; Clint Eastwood directs and stars in The Mule, based on the real-life story of a 80-something cartel drug runner; and Natalie Portman portrays a troubled pop star in Vox Lux.