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Review of Captain Marvel

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I saw Captain Marvel and wish I could say I really enjoyed it. But I liked the opening of the film and its end credit scenes better than anything in it.

Mind you, it's not a bad movie. But I was reminded of Wonder Woman which I also thought was only ok. But in WW there were moments I quite liked in it as well as a terrific battle scene early in the film. Right now I can't think of any real standout moments in CM, so given the high hopes many had I found it disappointing.

It's not enough for it to be a movie centered on a woman. The trailers before the movie alone were a clear indication of the number of projects with female leads coming out now (which is why I think efforts are best focused on women behind the scenes). On that front the movie did well, there were four women involved in its writing. On the downside, any movie with 5 writers is not sending out good signals.

One thing I noticed when arriving at the theater for the first showing was that (as usual) the place was largely empty but the two people in front of me in line were also solo women going to see CM.

The Marvel Studios logo reel had me tearing up. I was never a particular fan of Stan Lee, having barely heard of him before becoming an MCU fan. But that opening was so unexpected and full of heart, that it made me feel emotional in a way nothing else did.

The problems with CM are, to me, almost entirely with the way they decided to tell the story -- as a mystery without a strong payoff.

I tried to avoid hearing as much as I could about CM (and most movies I watch in fact), so while I knew a few things, I was quite unspoiled as to plot. But I had watched the other movies and Agents of SHIELD and it was pretty clear that the Kree are not good guys. So given the beginning with her fragmented memories and her being a part of a Kree team, it seemed clear that everyone was lying to her. In fact, what I wasn't clear about was how her memory issues had been explained to her. (Also, why was Jude Law not blue?)

So I figured she was a human kidnapped from Earth for some unknown reason, possibly as a weapon to be controlled (since control issues were central in her training). We never really get to know anyone else on her team so there's nothing to sway me to the Kree, though I didn't gather the Skrulls were necessarily any better. This is only an impression I've gotten from fanfic as I know nothing about them from comics.

Certainly that's the impression we're left with from the procedure Carol is put through and the Skrulls' arrival on Earth. I cared about her tracking them down largely because I assumed it would lead her to her past identity. But it's actually them tracking her down and explaining her past with the black box recording (which I don't think would have worked that way) that does the trick.

When we finally understand what's happened to Carol it's rather late in the film, so we have her timeline explained, the reveal about the Skrulls, and then the reveal about the extent of her powers. Frankly the reveal about Goose was rather more fun.

Speaking of fanfic, apparently a lot of it has just been jossed given the point made of Nick not going by anything but Fury. I wondered why he was so insistent about it only to realize later in the elevator scene that it was a hamhanded point to the audience. Also, the explanation of his eye -- I really didn't care for that. Not only did I get the impression that he'd lost it later per a discussion he had with Alexander Pierce (who does call him Nick) but it smacked of trying to explain too much with a not necessarily great choice. (I recall how awful it was when SPN tried to do this same thing in its comics, and the choices were so bad that they had to take one of them back). I get that the writers were trying to lighten up the character of Nick Fury since he's been a serious character in other films (though he's always had funny lines), But I didn't see that it was necessary.

Sidenote: I saw the trailer of the next Spiderman film, which I hadn't seen until now, and am rather more excited about that. And I see they're also pressing Fury into action there.

Speaking of Nick and humor, I'm assuming that his character was chosen to partner with Carol for several reasons. First, Samuel L. Jackson was a fairly big name to put on the marquee and the movie provided an opportunity for us to get to know more about an otherwise long-running character. Second, he has always been a connecting element among the films from the first time he appeared in a cameo at the end of Iron Man -- plus time-wise SHIELD's involvement makes the most sense. However I wasn't clear why SHIELD were on hand regarding her appearance, since a store break-in hardly seemed worthy of a call. Plus they didn't believe there was anything alien about her at first!

The downside is that making Fury funnier means Carol has to play the straight guy. This makes her character more one-note. She is determined and scrappy. This comes across in a variety of ways. But what else is she? I find it kind of funny that she is partnered with Jackson, largely because the word I'd use for her is "unbreakable." The plane crash didn't break her. Being infused with the power of the Tesseract didn't either (why exactly?) Her loss of memory and sense of self has not broken her. Her realization that she is not Kree has not broken her. Her realization that she has been fighting against the Skrulls for the wrong reasons has not broken her. The fact that she's had a portion of her life stolen from her has not broken her. And of course, at the end, we discover that pretty much nothing will. But this will not make for a very relatable character and it downplays what should be these world-rocking changes.

We see glimpses of Carol's old self in brief flashbacks and in the way Monica relates to her. She also has a sense of justice. But I do wish we'd gotten more.

There were a few good bits, such as her telling Jude Law that she has nothing she needs to prove to him. And the bit where Goose defeats the bad guys too, unexpected but a good payoff (also Goose suffering G forces and zero G). And I liked the bit with the dog tags and where Carol's name had come from. And overall I did like getting to know Nick Fury better –- I always enjoy a buddy film. But it should have been so much more.

The 90s tech and styles were played for laughs which, eh, amusing maybe but not really funny. But speaking of tech, why is Carol a telecom engineer? Granted, we know nothing about her past and she has been away 6 years, but did they spend that training her on how to create communication devices? How does she transfigure a pay phone into an interstellar radio? Or for that matter the pager? Does it have to do with the tech in her arm? What exactly is that? How is it that her uniform survives the cold of space and the heat of her body?

Another problem to me was the way the fight scenes were shot. Whether it was hand to hand or her pyrotechnics at the end, I had a hard time seeing what was going on (and this was a giant screen I was watching it on, at that). I think I can say that these were the worst fight scenes of all the Marvel films. In the beginning there were a number of physical scenes, but when it came to hand to hand, the best view I got of anything was her sparring with Jude Law in the second scene of the movie.

The lack of humor is still another problem. There are a number of points that are clearly intended to be funny. In fairness, I heard people in the theater laughing various times. But I only smiled at some things, nothing made me laugh out loud, and generally I've at least chuckled in most of the other Marvel films. To me, the humor, whether in dialogue, situational, or slapstick, has been one of the major components that made the Marvel franchise enjoyable and the characters relatable.

There's nothing wrong with the other characters in the movie. It's fun to see Nick Fury's early days, and I would have really enjoyed seeing more of the early Danvers & Rambeau team. But unfortunately, aside from the one flashback of the two heading to planes, their friendship is never that believable because Carol doesn't remember most of it.

Lastly I need to mention that having Samuel L. Jackson "de-aged" in so much of the movie was distracting. Marvel has done some really good work with other actors in this vein (rather better than what was done in Rogue One, for example), but those were all short scenes. Jackson is in at least half the film and a lot of the time I kept focusing on his forehead. Coulson's not entirely convincing either but unlike what I expected, we only see a few brief scenes with him.

The end was particularly disappointing. I would sooner watch Black Widow a hundred times than a CGI shoot-em-up by an overpowered hero. She's essentially Superman with a chip of kryptonite in her neck, weakening her. (How she was able to remove it mentally I don't get). And as many have argued, that tends to make him a rather boring hero to watch. The Donner film succeeded by making him both a fish out of water and focusing on character. I think film history has shown that the early success was difficult to match in repeated tries.

But we can't really focus on character here because Carol doesn't know who she is or connect very well to anyone around her, and she's entirely too competent in getting around Earth, so there's no fish out of water humor there either.

So what would have worked better?

We needed to get to know Carol from the start. Begin the movie with Maria at the crash site. Then have a flash back to when they were both arriving to work with Mar Vell and flying planes, setting up her life before the crash. Then end that at the crash again before jumping to her waking up to go spar as a Kree. We realize she remembers nothing, we wonder what happened after the crash. The mystery, the twist, everything works the same way but only now we're much more invested in her, in Maria, in Mar Vell. The search doesn't become about a piece of tech, it becomes about us wanting her to reclaim her life.

There are parts that could have been cut to accommodate this. Skip all the stuff with the Skrull mission and have them head to Earth right away. They already knew about Mar Vell's plans, why haven't they been trying to get their hands on the Tesseract all along? Why wait 6 years? It's not clear to me what wiped out Carol's memory, was it the effect of the engine explosion or something the Kree did to her? I get that they took her to find out more, to make her a weapon for their side. Her regaining her memories would be a double edged sword.

I'm assuming the AI's use of Mar Vell to speak to her was a test, to see if it jogged anything in her. She passed, so why not return her to Earth where the Kree already knew the Skrulls had infiltrated, just her and Jude Law? This would have given the movie a clearer through line and gotten us invested with Carol as a person before her amnesia begins. She could have been kidnapped by the Skrulls there (in a briefer scene), separated from him, and, unable to communicate with him, she simply tried to pursue the Skrulls on her own, running into Nick Fury, etc. So there would be more suspense for the audience as we watched to see if her memory would return before Jude Law caught up with her.

I might end up liking it better during a rewatch. For example, I thought Rogue One had a rather slow start and it had a number of promising characters, none of whom got a lot of development. Yet I also quite liked the last act and the ending. Of the now 4 SW movies that have been released since Disney took over, it is my favorite.

The mid-credit scene also made me realize how much I wanted to see some of the other characters, and I was glad it was included. And then the final scene -- at first the long cut of Nick's empty chair made me wonder if it was a type of homage, until Goose jumped up on it and barfed out the Tesseract. It took me a moment to remember the question of where to store it, and then I did chuckle. Now that was funny. Clearly Flerkens are not to be messed with.