Captain Marvel (2019): A Compelling World and Greater Point

     “Captain Marvel” is a film that is draped in controversy. The more I’ve read about it the more I don’t understand it. Brie Larsen talked about diversity in media (https://www.nbcnews.com/pop-culture/movies/brie-larson-calls-more-diversity-film-criticism-following-usc-study-n88314), which is a pretty basic moral good. Having more perspectives at the table is a positive. There has been a reaction to this that has been pretty toxic, all one has to do is look up Brie Larsen and youtube to see just how bad it became. That is all I’m going to say on this as I came for the story and further exploration of Marvel Cosmic, which this film delivered on. Without going into details, I’m all the more pumped for “Avengers: Endgame.”

     The film was directed by Ana Boden and Ryan Fleck who also wrote the screenplay along with Geneva Roberston-Dworet.

The story follows Vers (Brie Larsen) a Kree Warrior who can’t remember her past but is pulled towards it when she is captured by the Kree’s shape-shifting enemies known as the Skrull. Their infiltration of her mind points her to memories of Earth and when she escapes to while Skrull forces arrive as well, seeking what she knows. From here she must work with Fury to discover her past and the truth of who she is.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Marvel Cosmic Universe – This is a movie that has a lot of lore on both the Kree and Skrull. This is Marvel Cosmic in the same way “Thor” films sometimes too and “Guardians of the Galaxy” always has. This film fits comfortably in those and is definitely better than the first 2 “Thor Films,” though for me the “Guardians of the Galaxy” films keep getting better with each rewatch, so it definitely isn’t that level. In this film you learn about the Supreme Intelligence who rules the Kree (in this film appearing as what person matters most to the individual interacting with it). This was my main reason for coming since as a sci. fi. nerd I love a well developed Cosmic Universe, which the MCU have done a good job of doing.

Fury – Samuel L. Jackson is Agent Fury in this and ends up being Vers’s partner as they seek her past. He starts out antagonistic as he’s had no experience with aliens and it is the events that happen in this film that shape his more cynical world view of the Fury we meet later. In this we see him before he became cynical and I appreciated how warm he was. This was a man who had fought as special forces in countless wars but had found a way to live. I hope we see him get more development in later films as this film still leaves so much open in regards to what he was doing before the first “Iron Man” and what he was doing before this film.

Goose – Goose is Mar-Vell’s Flerken, an alien cat capable of consuming anything. Goose is awesome and when our heroes are facing down enemy forces at the end, Goose eats them, saving both Fury and the refugees they are helping. Fury ends up keeping the Flerken too even though it takes out his eye over the course of the movie. I would not mind seeing this cat again, especially if it is taking out enemy soldiers once more.

The Kree-Skrull War – The main conflict is the Kree-Skrull War. This is war where we don’t know who started it (it implies it was probably the Kree) and now has become a one-sided war. The Skrull have largely gone into hiding with only their strong forces taking on the best of the Kree, which leads to their capture of Vers and where we learn however long the war has been going on, what the Kree are doing has become unjust. They have been doing extermination lead by Ronin by this point in the conflict and it is Mar-Vell who is trying to rescue them and help them find a new world before she is taken out by Kree special forces lead by Yon-Rogg. It is only Carol Danvers (Vers true name) who stops the Kree from getting the super-engine she’s crafted from the Tesseract energy and from here Danvers becomes the hammer of the Kree against the Skrull. By the end of the film Carol Danvers, having come into her full power once more returns to face Kree leadership to end the war and help the Skrull’s find a new home safe from the Kree. Where this war is in the modern timeline is up in the air but there is so much history in this film that I found it all fascinating. Kree distrust of the Skrull’s is so great that on their homeworld they have announcements of days since the last Skrull attack and everyone asks questions of each other to make sure they are Skrull infiltrators. The main leaders in the conflict are Talos (Ben Mendelsohn) who leads the refugee Skrull and leads Skrull Intelligence and the Great Intelligence of the Kree whose commanders are Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) and Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace).

Vers / Carol Danvers / Captain Marvel – Brie Larsen does a great job as Captain Marvel. She doesn’t know who she is so what she can do is limited at first, but once she arrives on Earth and starts putting her past together she really comes into her own. This is a character dealing with being brainwashed and gaslit by the Kree and her freeing herself from that, and in turn freeing the Skrull refugees who the Kree hunt is a powerful story. Throughout the story her commander Yon-Rogg is telling her not to feel and to repress herself, while his people repress her abilities. It is toxic and we see how her abusive father was the same way. Throughout the movie is her dealing with this, as she discovers the truth of what was done to her and from that what she chooses to fight and to stand-up for herself and others.

Talos – This is my favorite Ben Mendelsohn character. Talos leads Skrull Intelligence based off what we see in the beginning as he was the one responsible for planning the trap that captures Vers. We see that his aims are noble though. He is tired of the war and just wants to protect the Skrull refugees and his family. Seeing this reveal as he goes from enemy to friend is powerful and I’m glad he survives the film. This is a character I’d like to see again as he is morally complicated which gives so much potential for what he may choose to do in the future. I also think he is only one of the Skrull leaders and I want to see his relationship to the others.

The Themes – The main themes of the film are those of gaslighting, feminism and the plight of the refugee. Gaslighting is explored in what the Kree are doing to Vers (having her suppress her power, emotion, etc.) and it is only after she stops, fights it and accepts her own power that she flies and is able to defeat the enemy forces. Feminism is a theme in that women fighting for equality is a huge part of the film. Both Carol Danvers and her friend are pilots and the only ones in their unit besides the Scientist on the base. This is also shown in the gender swap of Mar-Vell who is played by Annette Bening. This fit the theme as much of Kree leadership is male as well and Mar-Vell’s push against it mirrors Carol Danvers’s later fight against the Kree. The final theme is the plight of the refugee as in the end Mar-Vell was trying to invent a super engine in order to help the Skrull refugees she was protecting on her secret base. The refugees aren’t the soldiers and we see the vulnerable people who are affected by wars.

Okay:

The Kree Team – Jude Law’s Yon-Rogg is the most compelling member of the team, sadly we don’t get to know the others all that much. Their dynamic with Vers is good in the beginning. I couldn’t really describe who they are to you beyond Korath’s distrust of Vers. I wish we’d gotten more time with them, ideally not in conflict so we can see their dynamic and how they work as a team.

Cameos – Coulsen makes a cameo, Ronan makes a cameo and Korath is on the Kree Team. This was another time where I wish we’d gotten more time with them. These are all intriguing characters but they aren’t given the time to be developed like they deserved.

The Cons:

Amnesia Story – Rather than amnesia I wish Carol being lied to had been primary story. We see how her memory was played with where a Skrull is put in the place of Yon-Rogg killing Mar-Vell but that is all that really pays off at the end. If there had been a running theme of the lying and her still knowing bits of her history we would have had the chance to know her more as a character. She could have been pushing against the Kree and their ways more, knowing she was being lied to. I wanted to see her make more choices as Carol and as Vers. Amnesia stories are hard to tell and this was one time where it did hurt the story. I wanted to know Carol but I felt the only time I truly did was when she came into her own at the end. She was the character with a mission, which was fine but I wanted more. Still a great character but an origin story mixed with an amnesia story is a hard thing for any writer to pull off.

What are Captain Marvel’s Limits aka the Superman Problem – Captain Marvel is destroying Kree Cruisers at the end. She is so incredibly powerful that no one around her has the chance to even injure her. This was empowering but it also leads me to the Superman problem. Why do we need the Avengers if Captain Marvel is powerful enough to solve the problem on her own? This is something the Justice League constantly runs into by having a character as powerful as Superman on the team. Kevin Feige said they’ll be dealing with this in “Endgame,” so I’m curious about what the solution will be.

I really liked this film and I hope that we see a sequel or at least see more of the Kree an Skrull, as so many stories have been born out of their relationship to our heroes. I also want to see more Captain Marvel. I wanted more time with her having all her memories as the amnesia story was definitely the weakest part of the film. This was a film that is a solid origin story that further expands the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Marvel Cosmic. If you have liked the other MCU films, chances are you will really like this too. I’m really curious to see where they take Carol Danvers from here.

Final Score: 8.4 / 10

Mad Max (1979): Stupid Action with no Interesting Characters

Mad Max Poster

      After being spoiled by “Snowpiercer,” I was expecting more from the Post-Apocalyptic classics…especially the ones that spawned franchises (“Planet of the Apes” series did well at least). After this, I may watch the others in the lead up to the new “Mad Max” film coming out, but if the story and characters don’t improve I’m going to tear it apart as harshly as this one.

      The original “Mad Max” was directed by George Miller who also wrote the screenplay and story, produced by Byron Kennedy who also helped write story and James McCausland who did the screenplay with George Miller. The fact that it looks like they knew what they wanted makes how much it failed to deliver all the stronger.

     The story takes place in a world where law and order have broken in a dystopic Australia and the gangs rule the streets, with the police only functioning as a stronger group of gangs trying uphold the law that once was. Corruption is rampant and the main gang who targets the main character Max (Mel Gibson) for killing one of their boys Night Rider begins reeking havoc all around when they come for revenge. From here the story unfolds as Max is given reasons to seek revenge, and reasons to stay on the police force and stick to the status quo. This conflict eventually comes to a head and the story unfolds from here.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The World – As much as the characters in this world are one beat and uninteresting and uncompelling…the world they come from is quite rich. From vehicles being the thing everyone needs and basis of power being number of vehicles makes the energy crisis feel real, as the more vehicles and gas…the more power you have. The government is powerless against the gang and government in name only as the world lives in true anarchy. This is the slow reveal over the film and the one thing I really liked about it.

Okay: Max – He has character I guess? When is son is killed and wife is killed he goes and gets revenge on Toecutter’s gang who had also killed his partner Goose earlier and raped two innocents. You get why he’s complacent as his family represents the ideal of safety that he is trying to hold onto. Eventually everything is too much though when he loses that and he snaps like everyone else around him. This isn’t a pro since it happens only at the very end and the structure is horrible in how they do it…I also never got his attachment to his family. They weren’t really characters. He succeeds in revenge and a franchise is set up as he drives off into the sunset. Honestly, “El Mariachi” did the action and revenge thing a lot better.

The Action – There are some good motorcycle and car fight scenes but that is about all the movie has going for it.

Goose – Max’s partner has some personality at least, he’s sensitive (helps comfort a victim of Toecutter’s gang the Acolytes) and also has suave, arrogant charm. When he dies it is one of the few character moments in the film since Johnny Boy is now regretting his quest for revenge. This comes out of nowhere though as well as Goose just taking off on his motorcycle which leads to them trapping him. At least this character was a little fleshed out at least.

The Acolytes – They aren’t great antagonists as I never understood their motivation and what drove them to insanity and destroying of peoples’ lives…but they at least felt like a threat, so I’m putting them in the okay. Toecutter does feel foreboding in every scene he’s in.

May – We don’t get to know her character but she tries defending Jessie and Jessie’s son from the Acolytes with a shotgun. Her moment with the shotgun is pretty cool, but she doesn’t really feel like a character.

The Cons: No Strong Women – Every woman who fights back gets killed, there is a rape…women exist as perpetual victims in this and that isn’t fair. It’s giving the heroes the most basic of motivations and taking away the times they do stand up for themselves…for example Jessie knees Toecutter in the groin, sadly minutes later and he and his gang mow her down and she’s left in a coma. Even May with the shotgun is powerless and the only one who apparently knows how to do it is Max but all Max does is stare angrily and do things that anyone can do (burning Johnny Boy alive, getting the car with the powerful engine and running down the Acolytes). Why even have female characters if they only function as props? That really annoyed me and it brought down an already weak story.

       I would not recommend this movie. I know it’s a classic and some people love it…but I don’t care about Max or any of the characters because we mostly see them doing one of two actions – killing or running. That isn’t enough to get to know a character so they in the end only function as tropes…from the cop out for revenge (which Gibson would do better later), the damsel in distress (every female character for the most part), the mindless bullies (the Acolytes) and the corrupt leaders (the politician and police chief who do nothing but allow Johnny Boy out). “Snowpiercer” was depressing and had a larger point and gave every character their due…this had no point beyond destroying one-dimensional baddies and having the “Good” cop go “Bad.” That’s it.

Final Score: 3 / 10. Stupid action in an interesting  world is entertaining but not enough to carry this script. This is one of the worst films I’ve seen in a while.