Cinema Dispatch: Captain Marvel

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Captain Marvel and all the images you see in this review are owned by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck

You know, it’d be nice if a Marvel movie can come out and NOT bring out the worst of the man babies which has sadly become an almost yearly ritual that the rest of us have to deal with.  Now admittedly I was something of a crybaby when I was pretty scathing about Infinity War, but at least I WAITED until I saw the movie and… you know… FORMED MY OWN OPINION ABOUT IT!  I didn’t go into it assuming it was going to be bad or pass of blatant lies as a “review” to tank an arbitrary number like an alarming number of people took time out of their day to do!  The amount of wailing and gnashing of teeth that this movie generated is phenomenal, and frankly it’s a BIT worrying at this point for the most popular thing in the world to somehow also be the largest lightening rod of faux controversy in cinema.  It’d be nice if something other than the latest Disney Money Maker can be talked about without the SAD BOY PATROL rearing their ugly heads and derailing ACTUAL conversations that people care about, but I guess we don’t get to choose our villains who in this day and age are less James Moriarty and more The Collector from that one Treehouse of Horror episode.  Anyway, we’re all here to talk about the movie, so let’s cut through the nonsense and look at what all the hubbub’s about!  Is this a cinematic masterpiece that will crush the patriarchy once and for all, or did all these crying losers utterly lose their cool over a not especially good superhero movie?  Let’s find out!!

Vers (Brie Larson) is a refugee on a Kree planet who was found by Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) and trained to be a warrior to fight the enemy that left her for dead and with no memory; an enemy of shape shifting green dudes known as THE SKRULL!  Vers is not only tough but she has some sort of energy blast power thingy that makes her an effective hammer to smash things with, but she’s still struggling to be a team player which becomes an issue on her first mission with Yon-Rogg and his crew to extract a double agent before the Skrull find him.  The mission inevitably goes wrong, Vers is captured but manages to escape, and so she and a bunch of Skrull soldiers including their commanding officer Talos (Ben Mendelsohn) crash land on Earth which so far has been left unaware of the Kree/Skrull conflict.  Not long after landing, she meets up with a S.H.I.E.L.D. operative named Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) who decides that the enemy of my enemy is my friend (at least for now) and is helping her find the Skrulls and whatever it is that led them to Earth in the first place.  Eventually Vers learns that she’s actually FROM Earth and that her real name is Carol Danvers which is quite a shock to her considering that she was supposedly a refugee from another planet, so on top of stopping the Skrull from destroying this planet like they have to so many others, she has to find out exactly who she is, why she ended up on a Kree planet, and what this would mean for her life going forward.  Can Carol find the secrets of her past, and will they be the key finding her true place in the universe?  What exactly are the Skrull planning, and can Carol’s new perspective lead her to finding a way to end this conflict once and for all?  Seriously, why were there SO many creepy dudes combing through every single detail before this movie came out!?  Do they really think it makes them look smart and credible!?

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“You think I should smile more?”     *PUNCH*     “How about now?”     *PUNCH*     “This is actually kind of fun.”     *PUNCH*     “Oh would you look at that?  I might just start to smirk!”     *PUNCH* *PUNCH* *PUNCH*

It’s good!  I know; you’re all shocked.  Disney knows what they’re doing when it comes to making superhero movies!?  STOP THE PRESSES!!  Yes, if there’s one thing that can be said about this movie, both positively and negatively, it’s that it’s good in all the same ways that Marvel films usually are.  Where that’s good is in its ability to do different things without feeling out of place in the grander story line (Black Panther and Ant-Man are wildly different in terms of scope, design, and theming yet are still similar enough to still feel congruent with each other), but it also has a lot of the same problems that have been dogging the franchise since it began and it feels like they may have tried just a LITTLE bit too hard to somehow cram this into whatever chronology the series is supposed to have.  Still, there are Marvel movies FAR worse than what we have on display here, and whether or not this is the best of the best of the best is kind of irrelevant considering the specific place it currently has in the story of the MCU as well as the wider culture.  Sure, we don’t want to OVER praise the most monolithic entertainment entity in the world for throwing a bone to an underserved audience that had been mostly ignored up to now, but you can’t deny that Disney has done an admirable job of bringing this character and what she represents to a lot of people (both those who know the ins and outs of the character and those who only know her from the film’s trailers) to the big screen with confidence and aplomb.  Captain Marvel may not NEED to prove herself to anyone, but by almost any reasonable measure she’s knocked it out of the park.

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I still don’t get the Mohawk, but who am I to judge?  You do you!

The best way I feel to talk about the movie is chronologically, and admittedly the movie doesn’t start out great.  Now this COULD be my fault since I got in a bit late (the theater was crowded which I probably should have expected) so I could have missed some crucial details right at the beginning, but it wasn’t so much me being lost as the movie doing a not especially good job of conveying this war that’s supposed to be so important.  It’s probably has the most in common with the opening of Thor in that we’re on a new planet with its own internal politics and stakes, but it worked in that movie because said setup was very straightforward and well… THEATRICAL I guess.  Kings and princes, a jealous brother to a brash fool, YOU ARE UNWORTHY, stuff like that!  It’s harder to sell when the situation is much more realistic (at least comparatively) and the perspective is at ground level instead of at the seats of power.  On top of that, the first major action scene is bafflingly set on the planet of perpetual fog which is not pleasant to look at, nor conducive for making out the scene geography during the fighting, and I don’t think they were going for a “fog of war” scenario here considering this is still a superhero film.  Things do pick up a bit once the Skrull capture her and start searching her memories one of the more ingenuous uses of exposition I’ve seen in a while, and things get even better once we make it Earth which is when the plot ACTUALLY kicks in.

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ANY movie gets ten times better the moment Samuel L Jackson comes on screen!  It’s a scientifically proven fact I tell you!

For as long as it takes for the movie to get going (only about fifteen to twenty minutes), it’s ultimately worth it because the film really is one of the better Marvel films in the middle section.  MAYBE not one of the best overall (we’ll get into the third act soon enough), but it definitely feels like the kind of Marvel movie that I really like that we haven’t really gotten since The Winter Solider or Iron Man 3.  Aside from Ant-Man and the Wasp, the Marvel films have been getting bigger and bigger which has led to some good movies like Black Panther (something with that kind of scope probably couldn’t have been done as a Phase One film), but also gave us the black hole of awfulness that was Infinity War.  To go back to Ant-Man, those movies are among my favorites because their scope is small enough that the individual character moments are able to shine all the brighter.  That’s not to say that the bigger films can’t have great characters and interactions (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 probably has the best balance of this), but this movie chooses to be almost exclusively about character growth instead of a MacGuffin laden adventure.  It’s got those elements to be sure (this movie wouldn’t cost so much if they DIDN’T throw in a bunch of special effects), but what’s driving the movie isn’t some ticking clock; rather it’s about a person discovering who they are and what the other characters expect from her.  The Kree see her has a valuable asset in their ongoing war, while Nick Fury sees someone who might just be the most important person on the planet, for good or ill.  Her best friend from her past just sees someone who they’ve always cared for taking on yet another challenge in an already amazing life, while another group sees something else in her that I won’t spoil here.  This is where the meat of the story is; trying to find out who Carol Danvers is both in terms of her literal past and the less concrete idea of who she is and wants to BE as a person. Now that’s not to say the film isn’t littered with fun action scenes throughout, but they never really overshadow the drama or the character growth and work more as very entertaining connective pieces to get us from one place to another or to give Carol another turning point in her character arc.  Winter Solider is probably the best comparison for the section of the movie in terms of what the scene to scene pacing and how the action is shot, but it also differs quite substantially on this front.  Even at his lowest point in Winter Solider, Steve Rogers never really questioned his own beliefs or understanding of himself; rather if he is in any way compatible with the world that he’s expected to fight for and defend.  I mean year, internal struggles are themselves nothing new for Marvel (*cough* Iron Man 3 *cough* Black Panther *cough*), but it’s still great seeing these different elements being reconfigured in new and interesting ways to keep the franchise going, and I think this movie does enough to refocus on its characters and their internal struggles as opposed to an external conflict to even get some of the naysayers back on board.  No, it’s not radically different from any other film in the franchise, but it doesn’t have to in order to get us enjoy this movie for its own merits instead of as yet another cog in the Disney Franchise Machine.

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“THIS GIRL IS ON FIRE!!  THIS GIRL IS LITERALLY ON FIRE!!”

The third act is sadly where things start to wind down again.  Now it’s not bad and it’s much better than the initial lull in the first fifteen minutes; but where this felt like a fresh departure from the current crop of MCU movies, things start to ease back into that formula and you’re getting more of the same.  What carries it though is that Brie Larson and Samuel L Jackson are STILL phenomenal to watch on screen and they throw in enough great moments for each of them to set the third act apart from other films even if it does feel a bit familiar.  In particular, there’s a musical cue right as the action starts to kick up that’s as perfect as anything in the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, and there’s a fun final “fight” if you will to dispatch the antagonist that’s almost as good as when The Hulk rag-dolled Loki in The Avengers.  What’s not as good is the rather awkward insertion of other Marvel movie stuff into this film to give it a sense of CONTINUITY and it also leaves the third act on a rather awkward note as everyone just kind of agrees to… finish this up in the sequel I guess since we can’t cause TOO much damage to things that will need to still be around later in the timeline.  To some though, the third act will be a lot more impactful than it was for me and I think that’s where Marvel continues to succeed in making their films still culturally relevant despite being the most overexposed franchise in the world.  Yes, we’re gonna talk about the feminist messaging in this movie which I’m sure is gonna make those aforementioned jerk wads throw a few more fake negative reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, but frankly that alone would be reason enough to praise this movie’s messaging.  IT’s got a lot of heart and isn’t afraid to go all in on GIRL POWER at the end which sure is corny and certainly a very narrow view of feminism, but then again that’s easy to say when dudes get our masculinity fix with every other movie.  The resistance against a female super hero and what that could represent, even in the very basic and straightforward way they present it here, is perhaps all the evidence we need as to why it’s still important to make all kinds of movies for all audiences.  Not really sticking my neck out there with THAT proclamation, yet even so it’s clearly something that’s popping more than a few monocles out there.

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“HELP!!  THE MATRIARCHY IS COMING TO DESTROY US ALL!!”

This movie is certainly not the kind of thing for dudes to start frothing at the mouth about, but I guess if all art is political than the worst of those among us were bound to find something to object to even before they saw the movie; not to discount REAL criticisms of the movie that have been surfacing here and there, but we all know who’s going to outright despise this movie and the terrible reasons they’re going to have for doing so.  I’d certainly give the movie a few points for making those kind of people sad, but even beyond that, what might be the most impressive thing this movie accomplished is that it ACTUALLY has me excited to see Endgame.  Well… excited still might be a strong word, but whatever misconceptions I have about that movie are greatly tempered by how much fun I had in this movie and what it will hopefully mean for the way Marvel plans on wrapping up their overly long funeral dirge of a conclusion to the first wave of Marvel stories.  I’m sure I sound like a broken record right now, but you should definitely check out this big budgeted Disney franchise film and should see it in theaters to get the full big screen experience.  Also, I could really use some info on getting those Disney Critic checks.  Considering how often I sing their praises, I should be a millionaire by now.  Then again, I was pretty harsh to The Nutcracker and the Four Realms so maybe I blew my shot with them and now must simply live with the fact that I’ll enjoy watching their movies even if I’m not getting paid to do so.  DARN YOU, CAPITALISM!!

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