COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) – Last year the global pandemic closed movie theaters across the nation and eliminated the summer blockbuster season. Now that vaccinations have been rolled out, theaters are re-opening and trying to get back on their financial feet. Over the past fifteen months, movie fans have grown accustomed to watching their favorite films from their sofas, so film distributors have unleashed their not-so-secret weapon: sequels.

In a world of cinematic universes and films based on existing “intellectual property” (IP), Hollywood is using familiar characters and the memories of summers past to lure filmgoers back into theaters. The latest installment in the Fast and Furious franchise was released last month. The next adventure of superspy James Bond awaits audiences in October, and the second film in the newest Halloween trilogy is scheduled for … uh, well, Halloween.

This week the Marvel Cinematic Universe offers audiences the long-delayed superhero film Black Widow starring Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanov, the Russian secret agent turned Avenger. The film is carefully positioned prior to the Infinity War films that put a period at the end of Black Widow’s plotline. However, I suspect that final punctuation may be written in disappearing ink.

Black Widow is set in the world of Russian espionage and offers more gunfights and hand-to-hand combat than it does mutants with superpowers. I found it to be a welcome break from the standard formula of heroes thwarting supervillains bent on world domination. Its tone is reminiscent of Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) which might be my favorite MCU film if you made me choose one.

I’m not a Marvel completist. I haven’t seen any of the series on Disney+. I long ago gave up on keeping track of the overall mythology at work in these films. I tend to judge each new MCU installment by one simple criteria: was it entertaining? When it comes to Black Widow, my answer is Yes.

The film offers colorful performances and a sense of humor that is often missing from comic book adaptations. The martial arts-style action sequences are effective. The finale drifts into the usual Marvel CGI overkill and begins to look more like a video game than a movie, but I’ve come to expect all Marvel films to overstay their welcome by about twenty minutes. That quibble aside, Black Widow delivers what summer audiences are looking for. It’s currently playing in theaters. It’s also streaming on Disney+ for a premium upcharge.

For every sequel that delivers the goods, there are a half dozen that prove their original concepts are tired and need a rest. The Forever Purge is the fifth film in the Purge series. It tries to give the franchise a breath of fresh air. Instead, it proves to be a stale rehash of the previous films that made me long for the days when action guru Frank Grillo anchored the second and third installments of the series.

The concept of The Purge films is simple. For twelve hours each year, nothing is forbidden. There are no criminal offenses. It gives the public a brief opportunity to purge themselves of their violent tendencies with no lasting legal consequences.

As the title of this latest film implies, The Forever Purge asks what would happen if people stopped adhering to the Purge rules and the mayhem didn’t end after the prescribed twelve hours? In other words, what would happen if The Purge world … were just like our current society where violent crime is a part of day-to-day life?

The previous films explored the societal ramifications of The Purge culture where the rich are safe in their fortified houses while the lower socio-economic citizens are picked off during the annual ritual. This newest film treads that same ground with nothing new to offer. The film isn’t funny enough to be a satire, and it isn’t exciting enough to be an engaging thriller (especially if you’ve seen the other four films in the series).

The Forever Purge is currently playing only in theaters. In a world of countless entertainment options, feel free to skip this one.