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Captain Marvel (2019)

Directors:  Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck

Screenplay:  Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, Geneva Robertson-Dworet


Carol Danvers/Vers/Captain Marvel: Brie Larson

Nick Fury:  Samuel L. Jackson

Maria Rambeau: Lashana Lynch

Monica Rambeau: Akira Akbar

Yon-Rogg: Jude Law

Dr. Wendy Lawson/Supreme Intelligence: Annette Benning

Talos/Keller: Ben Mendelsohn

Agent Coulson: Clark Gregg

Goose: Goose

I’ve often wondered why Marvel Heroes often have the rank of Captain.  Ryan Reynolds, in Deadpool, made gentle fun of the tradition, suggesting and quickly abandoning, the idea of “Captain Deadpool.” Perhaps it’s because in the military, a captain has just enough authority to know what he’s doing, but can still engage in combat.

In any case, reviewers have, for the most part, not been particularly kind to Brie Larson and Captain Marvel.  Tyler O’Neil at PJ Media, a site for which I’ve written, is among the most gentle:

credit: poster cat

I saw Captain Marvel last night, and I have to say it was rather disappointing. I love Marvel movies and have no problem with a female superhero lead. Wonder Woman was fantastic.

That said, Captain Marvel is a Mary Sue character. She’s fun to watch, but ultimately she has very little of a real or compelling personality. She’s way overpowered, and she knows it. Her slow discovery of her past made the movie enjoyable, and the action was great, as always. But her character left a great deal to be desired.

Marvel movies usually strike the perfect mix between action, humor, and character development. Sadly, the main character in this movie was flat, overpowered, and the “strong woman” stereotype. [skip]

Captain Marvel is a fun movie, but it is far too on-the-nose and it falls far short of the Marvel secret sauce and the excellent character development in Wonder Woman. I deeply wish a character as deeply intertwined in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and as pivotal to Avengers: Endgame (as Captain Marvel is) would be a deeper, more compelling figure. It cheapens the entire universe to have a Mary Sue at the center of it.

There are a variety of definitions of the “Mary Sue” character, often at least somewhat self contradictory as is this Wikipedia definition:  

Mary Sue’ today has changed from its original meaning and now carries a generalized, although not universal, connotation of wish-fulfillment, and is commonly associated with self-insertion, though the characterization of upstaging the established protagonist(s) of existing properties remains fundamental. True self-insertion is a literal and generally undisguised representation of the author; most characters described as ‘Mary Sues’ are not, though they are often called ‘proxies’ for the author. The negative connotation comes from this ‘wish-fulfillment’ implication: the ‘Mary Sue’ is judged as a poorly developed character, too perfect and lacking in realism to be interesting.

Considering Captain Marvel is a well-developed character of the Marvel Comics Universe, one would have to argue, given this definition, that Anna Boden is projecting herself into the character, apparently with the support of Ryan Fleck. Unlikely.  Probably, O’Neil intends the very last part of the Wikipedia definition.

Captain Marvel is an origin story, and like most Marvel movies, character development really isn’t the point.  In much drama, this would be a weakness.  In Marvel movie story telling, it isn’t, primarily because the characters are already well established.  The screenwriter’s task is to make them interesting and compelling.  In that, Fleck and Boden succeed.

The plot is easily understood and followed.  Vers–Brie Larson–is a Kree warrior, and a particularly powerful one, but her fellow warriors, led by Yon-Rogg–Jude Law–have been lying to her.  She’s not Kree, but human, and her extraordinary powers were not given her by the Kree–at least on purpose.  The Kree are at war with the Skrull, and the reasons for that war are also a lie, as followers of the MCU should suspect from the beginning.

Vers has dreams in which she glimpses her past, her real origin, and the movie is her journey in rediscovering that past, which requires a visit to Earth, where she meets Nick Fury–Samuel L. Jackson–and a young Phil Coulson–Clark Gregg–new to SHEILD.  In the process she rediscovers her best friend Maria Rambeau–Lashana Lynch.  Both were hot shot USAF F-15 pilots.

The Kree civilization is guided (run?) by the Supreme Intelligence, an AI that manifests differently to everyone.  Vers’ AI avatar is Dr. Wendy Lawson–Annette Benning–who is actually Kree, and whose light speed engine design gives Carol Danvers her powers–six years earlier–when Danvers heroically sacrifices herself, and that’s as far as I’ll go with that.

The movie is up to Marvel’s usual standards.  Production values are excellent.  Props, costumes, make up, lighting, sound, sets, CGI, all are first rate.

The movie also has moments of Marvel’s trademark humor, including wry cultural references.  Vers arrives on Earth by crashing through the roof of a Blockbuster video store, circa 1990s. She examines a VHS version of The Right Stuff, and later meets Nick Fury in a bar called Pancho’s.  The Right Stuff is in partially the story of legendary test pilot Chuck Yeager, who used to hang out at a legendary bar called Pancho’s, run by the equally legendary female test pilot Pancho Barnes.

Maria and Carol

Quickly convinced that Vers is a benevolent alien, Fury helps her on her journey of self-discovery, which leads her to Louisiana and Maria Rambeau and her daughter Monica–Akira Ackbar–who knew Carol Danvers, and immediately recognizes her.  This is where she not only discovers her true identity, but learns through Talos–Ben Mendelsohn–that the Skrull are Kree enemies because the Kree are genocidal bad guys.  How could it be otherwise with leaders like Ronan the Accuser?

Carol’s journey is not only discovering her actual identity and remembering her past, but discovering the–for now–full extent of her powers, which establishes her as the most powerful member of the MCU.

Many reviewers suggest Larson’s portrayal of Danvers is weak, humorless and unemotional.  Many also read a great deal of intersectional nonsense into the movie, and judge it on the basis of their those delusions.  Larson plays Captain Marvel as a focused warrior, until she discovers her human origins. From that point, she becomes much more human, so to speak.  She displays a wry sense of humor, and creates an engaging character.

Larson is often compared to Gal Godot’s Wonder Woman. It’s an obvious comparison, but the differences in backstory make it inexact at best.  Diana Prince knows who she is.  She has to adapt to a new world.  Carol Danvers has to rediscover her true self as well as adapting to a new world.  Both are enormously heroic characters, and both are self-sacrificing.  Wonder Woman is probably a better movie overall, but Captain Marvel is also an engaging and entertaining movie.  Wonder Woman is DC’s strongest offering to date, coming close to Marvel’s standard of excellence.

In reviewing Wonder Woman, I wrote:  

But what about women? Is Wonder Woman a movie that speaks specifically to women? Can the feminist movement–which these days consists mostly of angry, hateful progressives–claim Diana Prince as one of their own?

Not a chance. Diana Prince is female, but the epitome of a good human being. She is not at all a pacifist. She is clear-eyed about the nature of evil, and understands if love is to prevail, evil must be destroyed wherever it appears. She accepts the help of good men, even though they’re flawed and not up to her abilities, and doesn’t worry about contemporary narratives that separate and denigrate. I suspect few men will have any difficulty accepting a female superhero like her. Scarlett Johansen’s Black Widow has, in many ways, paved the way. Diana Prince is a good woman, and one any rational person would want on their side in a fight.

Diana is indeed, an appropriate role model for young girls, and of course, women. Strength, courage, martial skill, self-sacrifice and love are qualities everyone, male or female needs. So too do the need the understanding that evil exists, and it is our responsibility–not someone else–to deal with it if we, and mankind, are to survive.

credit: ign.com

Carol Danvers is also an appropriate role model for young girls and women.  She demonstrates not only female compassion, but the strength necessary to defend those less able to defend themselves.  when she has to recognize evil, she does not fail, and comes down decisively on the side of good.  Perhaps the primary difference between Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel is Carol has to fit into a past, present and future MCU, one that is more coherent and better developed than the DC movie universe.

Captain Marvel does have some annoying issues.  Marvel movies have generally avoided the bizarre contemporary technique of making action scenes, particularly fight scenes, blurry and chaotic through the use of cuts, shaky and blurry camera work, and constantly shifting framing. There are several fight scenes in this movie–the worst is a fight that takes place on a Kree ship in near darkness–that are caught up in this poor filmmaking technique.  It can obviously be used to cover poor fight choreography, or a weak lead actor, but Larson seems physically competent in this, so it’s probably just directors thinking themselves edgy.

Much has also been written about the sound track, again to make political points, but the music choices are effective.  Good music in a movie takes the audience where the director wants them to go.  It invokes emotion without being manipulative, and supports the action.  Bad music choices are annoying and call attention to the music, not the action.  The opening sequence is a homage to Stan Lee, who also makes his usual cameo appearance in a charming way.

The other actors, and there are many, well fit their roles, including Goose, played by a cat who is actually an alien, another endearing character who will doubtless appear in future movies.  We discover how the Avengers got their name, and what happened to Nick Fury’s eye.

Captain Marvel is not Marvel’s best offering to date, but it’s a movie that celebrates man’s best qualities. Viewers look forward to seeing Larson again, which they will in April with Avengers: End Game.  It’s entertaining, and worth the price of theater admission, and it’s certainly worth owning on DVD.