Captain Marvel (2019) – Movie Review

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There’s been a lot of excitement surrounding the release of this movie with one side wanting it to do well to support their camp, and the other side wanting it to fail to support theirs.

I don’t care about that either way (but I will take this opportunity to be a little provocative and use an OG Captain Marvel image on this post instead of the current movie poster). I just want to be entertained by a good superhero movie which continues the story that Marvel has been telling for the last 10 years. Unfortunately, this isn’t one of the better ones. I found it to be very mediocre and forgettable. And that’s really as charitable as I can be with this movie.

Brie Larson certainly looks the part, but based upon her performance it seems like she was miscast in the role. Her time on screen is spent vacillating between looking indifferent and an unidentifiable expression, which many have attributed to smugness, for most of the movie. Personally I found it to be a bit off-putting and not only was the Carol Danvers character unlikable as a result, it also kept pushing me out of the movie by making it hard to suspend my disbelief.

Unfortunately, it goes downhill from here.

The underlying subtext of the movie is female empowerment, which is fine. Comic books are allegories, and always have been, at least when it comes to Marvel Comics. It’s one of the (many) things I love about comics, but there’s a fine line when creating these kinds of stories. They still have to be relatable and engaging, and ultimately entertaining, which is something that the comic book industry does quite well (for the most part). If you lean a little too far towards the underlying subtext then it looks a little ham-fisted and people perceive it as propaganda. And that’s what happens here; it’s so busy trying to be a feminist film that it forgets to be a superhero movie.

It’s clear that Marvel (and ultimately Disney) is trying to capitalise on the current zeitgeist, which is a bit of a departure for them. Past efforts have been focused more on telling entertaining stories which remained reasonably faithful to the source material. This movie doesn’t do that and as such has a different look and feel than its predecessors. So much so that it doesn’t really feel like a Marvel movie at all.

An unfortunate side effect of this are the changes made to existing characters, both from the source material and the MCU itself. In this movie Nick Fury doesn’t resemble the character we’ve seen over the course of his appearances in 11 of the MCU movies. His character is not bad within the context of the narrative they’re trying to support, but his actions are not congruent with what we’ve seen and know about that character. On the back of that, having him lose his eye to a cat is a disservice to the character and shows that the filmmakers don’t really have any respect for the source material or, I would argue, the fans.

It’s the casual fan base which underwrites the financial viability of these movies, not the fringe elements. When you dogmatically service these elements specifically, on one side or the other, you risk marginalizing the culture we love by forcing out this casual fan base.

Personally, I enjoyed Alita: Battle Angel much more as a female empowerment movie. These two films essentially have the same plot, but the execution of the story, of the allegory, is done more competently in Alita with characters that are more fully formed, coupled with superior performances from the actors. It’s a superior movie in every way and I recommend seeing this one instead and giving Captain Marvel a miss.

 

1 out of 5 stars

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The Avengers (2012) – Movie Review

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A colossal wave of fevered anticipation preceded the arrival of ‘Marvel’s The Avengers’, the culmination of five incredibly successful standalone films. Not only has helmer Joss Whedon weathered the immense scrutiny, he has amazingly managed to surpass the loftiest expectations with a movie that towers over the rest that have come before it, combining jaw-dropping action, tongue-in-cheek humour and poignant drama into a dazzling piece of summer blockbuster entertainment.

Proving that the whole can be so much more than the sum of its parts, Wheedon has distilled the best elements of each of the preceding movies into this assembly of Marvel superheroes- Iron Man is wiry and snarky as ever; Thor is just as Godly in his might but human in his compassion; and Captain America is still appealingly old-school. The Hulk, or Bruce Banner in his human form, is quite something else altogether though (being the only character to have a change of actor from the previous films) and all the better for it.

It shouldn’t come as any surprise that the one movie which ‘Avengers’ is most intimately associated with is ‘Thor’, given that both share the same villain- Thor’s adopted brother and fellow Asgardian Loki (Tom Hiddleston)- and that Wheedon did shoot the post-credits scene with Loki and S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Opening with a recurring character from that movie, Dr Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) is now assisting with experiments on the Tessaract which has quite unexpectedly displayed a life of its own.

Turns out that the fallen Loki has been drafted by an alien race to lead its invasion of Earth, using the same Tessaract as a portal to cross over from their universe to ours- and his arrival not only leads to the decimation of the S.H.I.E.L.D. base, but also the takeover of Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Dr Selvig to do his bidding. With the fate of the world in the balance, Fury activates his ‘Avengers’ initiative to gather this group of heroes, including two S.H.I.E.L.D. operatives – the Black Widow and Hawkeye.

From the outset it’s clear that there is relative poetry in Wheedon’s storytelling as he expertly weaves together the recruiting exercise by Fury and his trusted agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg). The best he saves for last, so even though Thor only first appears half an hour into the movie, his is a spectacular entrance befitting a God, crossing paths with Iron Man for a thunderous one-on-one clash in the middle of the woods.

True to the spirit of the books, the assembly of these superheroes begins on a fractious note- chiefly due to Stark’s distrust of Fury and disdain for the star-and-stripes outfitted Captain America. Instead, Stark teams up with the only person he deigns as his intellectual equal- Bruce Banner- to locate the Tessaract and uncover what dirty secrets Fury has been keeping from the rest of them. The answer to the latter isn’t all too unexpected, but kudos to Wheedon for tying this little detail nicely with the events in ‘Thor’.

It will take a colossal event to bring these disparate heroes together, resulting in the first of two action set pieces in the movie that will undoubtedly qualify amongst some of the most spectacularly thrilling stuff you’ll ever see on the big screen. And just when you think it couldn’t get any better, Wheedon tops it with an even grander and absolutely breathtaking climax set in the heart of New York City.

The reason why the finale works so brilliantly is that Wheedon loves and respects each and every superhero character just as much. Wheedon gets the action pitch-perfect through reinforcing the individual powers of each one of the superheroes before uniting their strengths to form an even mightier coalition. It is nothing less than pure ecstasy when they join forces as a team, and you’ll find it difficult to resist getting up from your seat and cheering for them at various points throughout the remarkable finish.

This review however won’t be complete without a special shout-out for the Hulk, many fans of whom have been disappointed by both the Lee Ang and the later Louis Leterrier iteration of it. Here, Wheedon has finally gotten it right, blending both the character’s brains and brawn to crowd pleasing effect- even more so through some clever plotting that ensures Banner’s eventual transformation from man to beast is as rewarding as it should be.

Calling it the perfect summer blockbuster is probably not enough to do justice to just how brilliant it is, and it certainly ranks as one of the most- if not the most- entertaining and exhilarating experiences you’ll have at the movies.

 

9 out of 10 stars

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