Happy International Women's Day! It seems only fitting that I saw Captain Marvel, the first movie by Marvel Studios to headline a woman, today.
When you are a huge fan of comic book movies... but also well-versed in the original comics which inspired them... you have a fine line to walk. On one hand, you have to understand that what works in comic books doesn't always translate to screen, so there will be changes made. On the other hand, movies that stray too far from the source material are throwing away what made them popular enough to be made into movies in the first place.
DC Comics' attempt at a "shared universe" of stories has been a complete disaster. They not only take a steaming shit on their source material*, they can't even be consistent between films. Batman vs. Superman, Justice League, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman don't match up, even though the entire point of rebooting everything was to make it so they do match up.
Marvel, on the other hand, has made painstaking strides to ensure that their entire "Marvel Cinematic Universe" is consistent and everything syncs together. There have been minor missteps but, for the most part, they have succeeded beyond all reason. On top of that, they have also been exceedingly respectful of their source material. Changes are made, of course, but they are changes that (mostly) make sense.
And then along comes Captain Marvel...
The comic book character has a long... very long... history. "She" was originally a "he" and explaining how we got from point A to point B would take pages to explain. Suffice to say that the original (male) was a Kree warrior. An explosion of an alien device merged his DNA with that of Carol Danvers, turning her into a super-powered Human/Kree hybrid known as "Ms. Marvel." Over the years she became "Binary" followed by "Warbird." Eventually she came back around to "Ms. Marvel" before landing on "Captain Marvel" in her character-defining series of the same name by Kelly Sue DeConnick. Last year Marvel completely changed her origin. Instead of being a human that became a Kree hybrid in an explosion, it turns out her mother was a Kree all along, and the explosion just "awakened" her powers.
Personally, I thought that the change was a load of shit that was entirely unnecessary. But apparently Marvel wanted a strong, independent female character whose powers weren't derived from a man, so this is what we got.
The movie is something entirely different. Ordinarily this would be a major sticking point for me... but, in this case, I understand why they did what they did. Unlike the Marvel Comic Book Universe which is going on 60 years now, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is just 10 years old. Adding a new character with such an extensive and complicated history like Captain Marvel and having them work within such a truncated timeline is nigh impossible unless liberties are taken. How do you have her get her powers from the original Captain Marvel without having to explain who he is? Well, within a 2-hour movie, you don't.
That being said, I think Marvel did the best they could to find a way to get Captain Marvel into their Cinematic Universe while still respecting the source material as best they could. Sure, there's a part of me that believes better choices could have been made, but only if the MCU was standing still. Which it's not. The current Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame storylines are massive undertakings which are the culmination of a decade's worth of films. Even by having Captain Marvel take place in the 1990's, there's only so much you can do.
And what Kevin Feige and Marvel did do is make a pretty darn good movie.
The story is mostly entertaining and cohesive within the bigger MCU picture. The characters are well-crafted, the dialogue is well-written (even if the humor doesn't always land), and Samuel L. Jackson turns in a computer-youthified performance that's as great as you would expect. Brie Larsen was terrific as Carol Danvers, though parts of her character felt oddly detached and lacking in subtlety. I'm hoping that this was an attempt to make her seem more "alien-like," but we won't know that until her future appearances (such as Avengers: Endgame, coming next month!).
If I have a criticism of the film, it would be that the action is not as engaging as it should have been. If you're going spend a good chunk of the movie playing detective so you can uncover Carol's past, you'd better darn well deliver when the fighting starts. Except the battles weren't quite "there"... sometimes bordering on tedious. I wish a little more thought had been put into providing more memorable action beats.
If you want to read my spoiler-filled comments on the film, you can do that in an extended entry.
Alrighty then. I won't be recapping the story... if you're here, you've probably already seen it for yourself. Instead I'm just going to jot down my thoughts on random stuff...
- Going back to the 1990's was a great way to get Carol Danvers to "fit" into the MCU timeline, but the world they built for 1995 didn't feel very 1995. Sure we got a throw-away joke about how slow dial-up internet and CD-ROM access was back in the day, and we also got her using pay-phones and crashing into a Blockbuster store filled with VHS videotapes, but if it weren't for the fact that they made Nick Fury look 20 years younger (thanks computer graphics!), you wouldn't really know it.
- That being said, they did fill the soundtrack with period-appropriate music, which was nice.
- MVP of the movie? Goose the Cat ("Chewie" from the comic books). What surprised me is that they kept Goose a "Flerkin," which is an alien that happens to look like an earth cat... but really isn't. And they didn't wimp out when it came to Flerken physiology with her mass of tentacles and all that. Goose was perfect, and a total scene-stealer...
- The "youthification" of Samuel L. Jackson was pretty darn good. When he was in motion and you weren't able to really focus in on his face, it was actually pretty convincing...
- Despite having scenes that went on too long, all of the exchanges between Fury and Carol were gold. Agent Fury is the touchstone for the entire MCU, and this is why Marvel keeps putting him in their movies... he's just so damn entertaining (and Samuel L. Jackson is just so damn good at what he does).
- I love that the explanation for Fury's eye-loss was tied to Goose. It made for a pretty funny moment in the movie and goes completely against how you'd think it happened.
- For whatever reason, Agent Coulson was not done as well. His youthified face looked kinda plastic at times. He definitely crossed into uncanny valley territory. But since he wasn't in the film much, it wasn't as problematic as it could have been...
- I really liked the friendship between Maria Rambeau and Carol Danvers that they built for the film. But even better than that? Maria's daughter, Monica, was in the mix. As readers of the comic books know, she was the second "Captain Marvel," even before Carol Danvers was "Captain Marvel." Whether Monica grows up to become the comic book hero "Photon" in the movies is anybody's guess.
- Back to Maria Rambeau... how great was it that they actually found something meaningful for her to do? Her plane battle with the Kree was one of the more exciting action sequences in the film. It would have been so disappointing to have her be there as just emotional support after building her up to be a badass pilot...
- The Skrulls were handled really well, though it will be interesting to see how they fit into the future of the MCU. The movie Skrulls are good guys but, as comic book readers know, they make for some really good bad guys too. Their ability to change into anybody opens up huge possibilities for new stories.
- That being said... how amazing was Ben Mendelsohn as Talos? His character could have easily been a forgettable bit part, but he sure did his best to make it special...
- The "Star Force" segment with Carol Danvers living her life as "Veers" on Hala was kinda a snooze. What could have been another fun Guardians-of-the-Galaxy-style-romp (as that was clearly the inspiration), fell way short. For inexplicable reasons, they abbreviated Star Force badly to devote screen-time to other places they really shouldn't have.
- Jude Law always turns in a good performance, and his time as Yon-Rogg was no exception. I just feel bad that he didn't get that One Killer Scene which would have cemented him in the movie. As it was, he always felt on the outside of the story...
- Marvel being Marvel, they made sure to integrate Captain Marvel firmly in the MCU... sometimes in surprising ways. Like showing what Korath and Ronan were up to before Guardians of the Galaxy. Korath's role was kinda a throw-away, but I was intrigued at the small glimpses we got of Ronan before he went Infinity-Stone crazy. With barely any screen-time, Lee Pace sure found a way to make you feel Ronan's intensity and obsession with Kree dominance. It has me wishing that Disney+ will give us a Kree mini-series to fill in the blanks...
- The other member of Star Force tossed into the action was Minn-Erva. The character has a long, complicated comic book history, which made it a real shame that she was reduced to a sniper who gets killed in short order. But, still, it was nice to have yet another nod to the source material that made the movie possible...
- One of the most glaring changes from comic book to screen was the portrayal of the Kree's "Supreme Intelligence." We've gone from a giant green floating head with tentacles on top to... Annette Bening?!? I know that this was done to try and ground the movie a bit, but come on. This was a mistake and total missed opportunity to do something absurdly alien and cool and set the movie apart. That being said, it's hard to complain about having one of the best living actors in your movie...
- The whole Supreme Intelligence /slash/ Dr. Wendy Lawson /slash/ Mar-Vell weirdness was needlessly complicated. I think they just wanted to have more for Annette Bening to do, and this is how they made it happen (regardless of how it affected the story). They should have had Supreme Intelligence be the giant green head and kept the whole Mar-Vell as Dr. Lawson drama separate. Not only would this have made things less confusing and more streamlined, it would have made the nod to the original Captain Mar-Vell more meaningful.
- The big space battle at the end seemed anticlimactic. Yes, Carol finally realized the full potential of her powers and got to blow shit up, but the actual realization came earlier in the film so there was a big disconnect there. The story would have been better served to have combined the ship battle and the space battle so as to have more impact after her power was unleashed.
- One of the things I'm exceedingly grateful for is how skillful they were at integrating Captain Marvel into the MCU without being dragged down by it. Agent Fury, Agent Coulson, Korath, and Ronan showing up was great but not distracting. Having The Tesseract be the energy behind Carol's powers was cool, but didn't overshadow who she is. They could have gone nuts filling in the past of, well... everything... from all the movies which preceded this one, but restrained themselves so Carol Danvers could shine. This is the hallmark of what Marvel Studios does, and the reason their movies are so vastly superior to what others are doing.
- As one of the most powerful beings in the entire universe, finding a way of having Captain Marvel stories work within the MCU will involve finding increasingly powerful adversaries for her to face (hello, Thanos!) or coming up with a way to scale back her powers significantly. Both approaches have their drawbacks, but how else will they be able to keep challenging her and moving her forward?
- Turns out Carol's callsign in the Air Force was "Avenger" and that's where Fury got the idea to name the team. Nice. Carol Danvers was an Avenger from the very start!
- The mid-credits scene which has Carol dropping in on the Avengers post-Thanos-snap was pretty great. Obviously she's going to be a big part of Endgame. I like the idea, but really hope she doesn't overshadow the original team since this is the culmination of their story.
- The post-credits scene explains how S.H.I.E.L.D. got The Tesseract in their hands (thanks, Goose!), but doesn't explain how Dr. Wendy Lawson/Mar-Vell got it from Howard Stark (who found it at the end of Captain America: The First Avenger). I'm guessing Stark gave it to the government who in turn set up Project Pegasus to exploit its power? One line of dialogue could have cleared this up, but we didn't get it.
- The revised Marvel Studios opening honoring Stan Lee was pretty great.
Ultimately I was quite happy with Captain Marvel. It did exactly what it needed to do in order to lead us into Avengers: Endgame and was a darn good introduction to a character who will undoubtably be very important to the Marvel Cinematic Universe going forward. Sure it was not without its problems... easy problems that should have been caught and solved long before filming... but I suppose expecting all the Marvel Studios films to be flawless would be asking too much.
But I'm happy to take "close to perfect" over "tragically bad" any day.
*Yes, even Wonder Woman, as much as I loved it, shit the bed by killing off the Greek gods of myth. That's a huge... huge... part of Diana and her life, and it makes absolutely no sense to get rid of them.
Time to update my "Y2K Super-Hero Comic Book Renaissance" scorecard...
Ant-Man and The Wasp... A-
The Avengers... A+
Avengers: Age of Ultron... A
Avengers: Infinity War... A
Batman Begins... A
Batman Dark Knight... A+
Batman Dark Knight Rises... A
Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice... D
Big Hero Six... A+
Black Panther... A+
Blade 2... B
Blade Trinity... B-
Captain America... A+
Captain America: The Winter Soldier... A+
Captain America: Civil War... A+
Captain Marvel... B+
Daredevil (Director's Cut)... B+
Deadpool 2... A
Doctor Strange... A
Electra Woman and Dyna Girl... B-
Fantastic Four (2005)... C
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer... D
Fantastic Four (2015)... D+
Guardians of the Galaxy... A+
Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2... A
Ghost Rider... C
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance... D
Green Hornet... D
Green Lantern... C+
Hellboy 2: Golden Army... A
Incredible Hulk... B
The Incredibles... A+
Iron Man... A+
Iron Man 2... A-
Iron Man 3... A+
Jonah Hex... F
Justice League... F
Kick-Ass 2... B-
Man of Steel... F-
Punisher War Zone... C
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World... C
Spider-Man 2... A
Spider-Man 3... D-
Amazing Spider-Man... B
Amazing Spider-Man 2... B-
Spider-Man: Homecoming... A+
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse... A
Suicide Squad... D
Superman Returns... C+
Thor: The Dark World... B
Thor: Ragnarok... A+
The Wolverine... B
Wonder Woman... A
X-Men 2: United... D
X-Men 3: Last Stand... F-
X-Men Origins: Wolverine... D
X-Men: First Class... B
X-Men: Days of Future Past... B-
X-Men: Apocalypse... D+