Captain Marvel Review

Captain Marvel hits a lot of familiar notes. Like Captain America: The First Avenger, it is a period piece origin story. Like Iron Man it is a movie that works largely due to the charisma of its star. Like Guardians of the Galaxy, it frequently leans on popular music. Captain Marvel tries to blend all of this together, but the movie ends up a lot like its heroine; searching for an identity. The movie is solidly good. It has the highly polished sheen that all Marvel movies seem to have. But it ends up being less the start of a bold new era, instead settling in as merely the bridge between Infinity War and Endgame.

There is a lot to like about Captain Marvel. Brie Larson stars as Carol Danvers, an Air Force pilot who somehow ended up in space, with amnesia working to the Kree as the superpowered Vers. After a mission goes awry and she ends up stranded on Earth, her attempts to complete her mission are derailed by her discovering her past. Larson makes the movie work, showing both Carol’s natural headstrong exuberance and the more subdued persona she is urged to take on with the Kree. She manages to be both vulnerable and a super strong badass. Likewise, Samuel L Jackson appears to be having an enormous amount of fun playing a digitally de-aged version of Nick Fury. The two of them make a great combo and it is fun to see Jackson’s usual intimidating persona become essentially the comic relief. The action is solid as well, both the more grounded stuff and the superpowered fights closer to the end. Nothing mind-blowing or really anything you haven’t seen in other movies, but it is executed well enough.

It also has some flaws. The ones that stand out are how it uses the 90’s period setting. All of the events in the movie happen in the mid-90s. The movie uses this for window dressing, with Radio Shacks and Blockbusters around, along with some 90’s fashion and music. Some have complained about the soundtrack not being exactly period appropriate, but it is not as if the music is diegetic, so that is a nonsense complaint. My problem is that the 90’s setting doesn’t seem to inform any part of the movie. It is just a ploy for nostalgia. That in itself is not that big of a problem, but it feels like a wasted opportunity. Also, the movie spends a lot of time trying to plaster over cracks, real, imagined or created by this movie, in the Marvel Cinematic backstory. Do you want to know how Fury lost an eye? Why they are called Avengers? Any of another half dozen pointless questions? This movie has answers. Not interesting answers, but answers nonetheless.

Captain Marvel does not reach the heights of Thor: Ragnarok or Black Panther. It never does manage to carve out its own identity, like even movies like Ant-Man or Spider-Man: Homecoming do. Its various ingredients do not blend into a solid of a whole as it could have. It just feels like a Marvel movie. I feel like I’ve been very negative in this review, when my thoughts on the movie are largely positive. I guess I do think Captain Marvel is a bit of a missed opportunity, but only because it is very good and not quite great.

****

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Thor Ragnarok

If I am being honest, I am probably on the high side when it comes to Marvel’s first two Thor movies. On my pointless big list I’ve got the first one ranked as the fourth best Marvel movie and I’ve got the second one above Age of Ultron in the middle of the list. Still, Ragnarok is easily the best of the three. It is overtly a comedy and despite its constant undercutting any sense of gravity in the situations, it still gets the characters right. I’ve complained before, repeatedly, about Marvel movies feeling empty, and Thor Ragnarok might be the most purely cotton candy sweet and empty of any of them, but since it is in a much more comedy centric context, the jokes themselves become the substance of the movie. And this movie is really funny.

There are things that I don’t like about the movie, and I’ll get them out of the way first. [spoilers for the first 20 or so minutes] The movie kills off the Warriors Three with little fanfare or pretense. It does very little to show what is going on in Asgard, even when it is important to the plot. The last scene on the Bifrost is poorly laid out. These are all problems, but they pale in the neon drenched wonder that is the rest of the movie.

I’ve waited a few days to write my review to see if my initially very positive feelings held. The further we get away from Guardians of the Galaxy 2, the less I seem to like it. And Ragnarok is in many ways the kind of movie I just don’t like. It takes characters and settings I like and treats them as a complete joke. That sort of thing usually annoys me, but in this case I thought it worked. Maybe it is because this movie is expressly a comedy; maybe it is because the movie still got the heart of the central characters (Thor, Loki, Odin & Hulk) right. Either way, the complete irreverence of this movie didn’t raise my hackles the way things like this sometimes can. Some have compared this movie to Flash Gordon, which is the trouble I am describing here; because while the colors of this movie are much like Flash Gordon, the tone is complete opposite. That movie was knowingly campy but not overtly a comedy. It was silly because the setting is silly, the movie was not making jokes about the setting. Thor Ragnarok can’t stop making jokes at its own expense. But still, it works, I think because it also delivers the thrills that made these comics (Specifically Walt Simonson’s Thor) so enjoyable.

This movie makes Thor the goofball that was hiding at the edges of the last two Thor movies and prominent in extra material. He is serious about the bigger problems, but he is also having a blast going on adventures. He is joined by a talking Hulk, which is fun, and a lost Asgardian Valkyrie. Loki, still the best Marvel villain, goes through some changes himself while not abandoning his central nature. The characters are making jokes, but they mostly stay true to themselves. The movie also delivers the action, starting with a solo Thor fantasy-ish fight and moving to battles with spaceships in the trash planet Sakaar before ending with the Hulk fighting a giant wolf in Asgard. It delivers the action.

Something needs to be said about Cate Blanchett as the villain; Blanchett is great, but she doesn’t really get enough time to be more than a force of nature. I don’t know that she needed to be more.

The movie mostly delivers in the promise of the trailers. It is big and fun and grand and colorful. Digging too deep into it risks spoiling the plot (who cares) and the jokes (much worse). I don’t know how I’ll feel about this movie in a year or so, but right now I want to put it near the top of the Marvel pile.

****1/2

Spider-Man Homecoming

This is going to end up being a fairly negative sounding review. I know that as I start to write it, because while I came out of Spider-Man Homecoming having enjoyed it the more I thought about it as started to write this review the more it seemed to fall apart.  Spider-Man Homecoming is not a bad film.  It has that slickly produced Disney/Marvel sheen, solid performances from its starring trio and a lot of good ideas in its foundation.  The movie also fails to build up to anything or follow through on any of its thematic ideas.

It starts with Michael Keaton’s Adrian Toomes having his clean up job taken by company owned by Stark in the wake of the first Avenger’s movie.  Upset about losing his job to the person who made the mess, Toomes and his employees keep some of the alien salvage they already had and try to figure out how it works. Starting with this is a smart move, doing for an origin story for the villain rather than the hero.  We don’t need to Spider-Man’s origin again.  Unfortunately, after the set up the movie gives the viewer precious little about Toomes, who becomes the Vulture. It makes him rather sympathetic, except when he suddenly decided he’s okay with killing people.

After the opening the film focuses on Peter and his desire, after helping out in Civil War, to join the Avengers.  He uses the supersuit that Iron Man gave him and solves local crimes while being ignored by Iron Man, who has pawned him off on Happy Hogan who also ignores him. I don’t really get the arc they were trying to give Peter in this movie. The lesson, I guess, is that he needs to focus more on living his life than joining the Avengers, but his actions in the movie don’t reflect him ever learning that lesson.  He does the same thing the whole time and other than this movie making him shitty at being a superhero he seems to be trying to do the right thing.  His experiences don’t lead up to any change, though the movie makes one happen at the end anyway.

That is my big problem with the movie.  It starts with some good ideas and ends in places those ideas could have lead, but the movie in between doesn’t actually connect them.  This is in spite of solid performances by Keaton, Robert Downey Jr. and Tom Holland.  It is fun to spend time with these characters, I just wish I could do so in a better movie.  Peter fails as a hero, but suffers no consequence and learns no lessons.  Iron Man, and/trough Happy, tells him stay small and close to home while focusing on his schooling, but the movie doesn’t show him do that.  He bails on his class mates and they aren’t particularly bothered by it.  And the action scene escalate while Spider-Man does a better job handling them.  He succeeds at what he was told not to do and that somehow teaches him not to do it.

The school stuff is fun, but it is also very undercooked.  The videos of the school news team and Captain America PSA’s are the best part of the movie, hands down.  While it sets up some John Hughes like high school drama, the movie never really does anything with it.  It is a good idea that is handled in an unsatisfying way.  The worst part is a stupid line at the end for one of the characters that left me flabbergasted at what they were going for.

Spider-Man Homecoming is pleasant to watch. That is more than enough to buoy the viewer while watching it.  Upon reflection it is a jumble of ideas that don’t coalesce into a real story and the spectacle is never really that spectacular, though that last part might be the fault of the too dark theater I saw it in.  I liked the movie. It is easily the better than the two Amazing Spider-Man movies.  Unfortunately for Homecoming, this year has been a very good year for superhero movies and with Logan and Wonder Woman in recent memory, it is hard to get excited for a film that is merely okay.

***1/2

A Question of Character: Hank Pym

I’m going to kick off my grand (ehh?) new monthly–hopefully–blog series, A Question of Character, with a study of a Marvel hero that it appears that only I like: Dr. Hank Pym, also known as Ant-Man, Giant-Man, Goliath, Yellow jacket and The Wasp. With A Question of Character, I intend to post an examination and explanation of some comic book character or another every month. I’m willing to take requests, but I’m going to start with my favorites as well as somewhat lesser known characters. Like Pym, an original Avenger who has almost no pop culture penetration.

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