Thoughts on ‘Captain Marvel’

Past entries:
Iron Man
The Incredible Hulk
Iron Man 2
Captain America: The First Avenger

The Avengers
Iron Man 3
Thor: The Dark World
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Guardians of the Galaxy
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Captain America: Civil War
Doctor Strange
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Spider-Man: Homecoming
Thor: Ragnarok

Black Panther
Avengers: Infinity War

Ant-Man and the Wasp

You know those scenes where a beloved character tosses out a confident quip in the middle of a battle and then gets shot or impaled or something, and there’s a dramatic slow motion scene of them falling down dead while everyone screams in horror?

Captain Marvel is basically an entire film version of that. It’s two hours of watching one of the strongest film franchises of modern cinema being gut-shot before our eyes.

On the home world of the Kree Empire, a human woman named ‘Veers’ wakes up from a dream and asks her commanding officer, Yon-Rorg, for a sparring match. She can’t beat him, so she loses her temper and hits him with an energy beam. We learn that she has amnesia, to the point that she remembers nothing of her past life, or even who the “person she most respects” is (the Supreme Intelligence – the ruling Kree Supercomputer – takes this form when it communicates with her). The Kree are at war with the Skrull, shape-shifting aliens that conquer planets by infiltrating and replacing the most important figures, they taking over the rest of the planet. But on an away mission, Veers is separated from her team and captured by the Skrulls, who use a machine to read her memory, zooming back and forth between her at the ages of eight and thirty until they lad on a particular woman whom they seem interested in. But before they can find out more, she escapes blows up their ship, and crash lands on Earth in the 1990s. Having had some of her memories triggered and knowing the answers both to her past and the Skrulls’ plans are on this planet, she sets out to try to find them while the remaining Skrulls pursue her and Yon-Rorg and her team make their way there. Meanwhile, she meets a young, two-eyed Nick Fury, who joins up with her to combat the coming alien invasion.

Okay, let’s…let’s see what we can do with this one.

So the first thing to note about this film is that it’s a prequel to the main MCU, taking place in the 1990s and featuring, among other things, a young Nick Fury. Also, it’s coming at the extreme tail end of the series, after twenty other films, meaning that the state of the world is fairly well established. So, over the course of this film, several advanced alien ships crash on Earth or explode in the atmosphere, the US government gets their hands on at least one alien corpse, and a shape-shifting one at that. So, according to this film, SHIELD has had their hands on extremely advanced alien technology since the 90s, as well as knowing full well that there are aliens out there.

Do you remember how, in Homecoming, the application of salvaged alien tech resulted in massive advancements in technology and was beginning to have a huge impact on society? Well, according to this film, the US government had their hands on huge amount of debris and (apparently) whole alien ships for at least a decade by the time of the first Iron Man. There was a massive alien ship that blew up in Earth’s atmosphere, several other crashed ships, and a number of alien escape pods.

This, as we know, had no apparent effect on human technology or society. Not to mention that Nick Fury somehow forgot about the existence of aliens between now and the first Thor, since they state in The Avengers that Thor’s arrival was their first contact with alien life, and Black Widow explicitly says that they were never trained to deal with aliens and alien tech. Nor has the discovery of the dead Skrull apparently had any kind of impact on human science.

I bring all that up here, right at the start, to point out the fact that this film makes absolutely no effort to fit into the continuity of the franchise as a whole. This is part of the general contempt, or at least disinterest the writers show to the MCU, as if they’re saying “this is our universe now, and we’ll change it to fit however we like.” It’s as if they are tacking on a Black Panther-style moronic backstory to the entire franchise at the extreme last second. But we’ll tackle more of that later. Oh, yes, we will.

For now, let’s just discuss some things about the story of this film itself. Veers, or Carol (though she’s never called Captain Marvel at any point) crash-lands on Earth after escaping the Skrull warship. Her wrist communicator is broken, so she proceeds to use parts from a Radio Shack to rig up a system where she can use a payphone to boost the signal and speak to her comrades in space light years away. No, I’m not kidding. Then a young, smiling Nick Fury finds her and she proceeds to sneer at him for asking questions like “who are you?” and “What are you doing here?” and expressing skepticism that she is an alien hunting other aliens. Those seem like pretty reasonable questions to me: did she not expect to run into such questions after crash landing on a strange planet? Actually, just landing anywhere that isn’t immediately connected to her?

This is part and parcel of her so-called personality, by the way, but we’ll save that for now.

This is followed by one of the Skrulls taking a shot at her, then her pursuing it to a train where it takes the form of a little old lady. So our heroine punches an old lady. The Skrull then flips out and they have a big fight with the old lady Skrull doing all kinds of acrobatics and feats of superhuman speed and strength before ducking into the divide between cares to adopt another form…which it helpfully stands up to do just so that Carol and every other person on the train car can see it.

The film proceeds to act as if no one saw this, despite the fact that they’re clearly looking right at the thing. Not to mention why would the Skrull do that in the first place? Why not keep out of sight instead of deliberately showing itself just to give a jump scare?

On another note, when it was disguised as the old lady, why didn’t it just…continue to act like an old lady and let the rest of the train dog-pile on Carol after she started punching it? Wouldn’t that have been much more interesting, not to mention be a learning experience for Carol that she can’t just brute-force her way through everything, as well as symbolically fitting with what we later learn about the Skrulls…oh, the heck with it. These shapeshifters, who use their power as a major part of their strategy, apparently have absolutely no skill at actually staying under cover.

(By the way, this fight was preceded by Stan Lee’s cameo. The film also opened with the usual Marvel Logo replaced by images of Stan and a title saying “thank you.” This is by far the best part of the film and a genuinely respectful tribute).

Then there’s a bit not long after where Carol tests whether Fury is a Skrull by asking him key details. Only the film seems to forget that she has no way of knowing whether he’s telling the truth or not, since not only does she not know him, she doesn’t even know if any of the places his is listing are even real, since she has no memories of Earth. This is literally a scenario that My Little Pony has used for a joke, except that Rainbow Dash had the sense to realize the flaw in her plan (also, My Little Pony is smart, funny, and features admirable heroines, none of which apply to this film).

Then Carol proves she’s not a Skrull by blasting a jukebox with her energy powers. Which she then explains Skrulls can’t do. She fails to mention that neither can the Kree, or that, as far as she knows at this point, that ability comes from the doo-dad in her neck. Not to mention that, again, she could easily be lying. Meaning that either or both of them might be Skrulls at this point, and Carol’s a complete idiot.

Now, in a smart film she might have tested his Skrullness by asking him to work some of the unfamiliar machinery around the bar: turn on the jukebox, work the cash register, or something of that kind: knowledge that the Skrulls legitimately would not possess and a human would. But this, as should be clear by now, is not a smart film. Plot holes and just general stupidity abound. Why are Fury and Carol detained upon going to the top secret base? If they weren’t going to let them in, why not stop them at the gate? Why leave them alone in the lobby? Fury gets past the thumb pad with a strip of tape: guess Scott Lang wasted a lot of time making a resin impression for the same scenario in Ant-Man. He then tries to unfold the tape to use it again; does super-spy Nick Fury not realize the mark would be smudged to heck by now? Maybe he wasn’t thinking clearly because the cute cat distracted him.

Yes, that’s right; sneaking around the top secret government facility, Nick Fury gets distracted petting a cute cat. Though the more important question is, why is this cat wandering around this top-secret government facility? Especially given that it’s actually not a cat, but a Lovecraftian alien monstrosity with the ability to swallow four or five men at once if it ever gets annoyed and with sufficient power to contain an Infinity Stone in its stomach. The cat then happens onboard the plane they use to escape later, and they proceed to bring it with them everywhere just so that Fury can coo over it non-stop, apparently.

Also, in this scene Fury calls for backup, only for one of them to be a Skrull. Both he and Carol act like this represents a lapse in judgment or even betrayal on his part, but it seems like a perfectly reasonable thing to do. I mean, how was he supposed to know that?

God, I hate this stupid movie.

Okay, enough listing individual plot holes: suffice to say, there are a lot. Let’s just tackle a few big issues.

Part way through the film, there is a ‘twist’ that the Skrull are actually the good guys; innocent, oppressed victims being pursued by the Kree because they resisted their rule and on the verge of extinction.

So…there are certain issues with this development.

From a franchise perspective, it’s kind of insulting to the Marvel universe to turn one of their chief villains into oppressed victims. It also kills multiply future storyline potentials, Ragnarok style (and for much less payoff); there goes Super Skrull. There goes the Secret Invasion arc. There goes…well, just any story you could think of involving hostile shapeshifting aliens.

From a mythological perspective, shapeshifters really don’t work as innocent victims. Shapeshifting connotes deception, infiltration, lies, and betrayal. You can arbitrarily declare them to be the good guys if you want, but thematically, it doesn’t go anywhere. Their abilities don’t blend with their position.

But you might not care about those points, and I don’t think I can call them objective issues as such. However, the next point is.

The idea is that that Skrulls are innocent victims of the Kree, and they need Carol’s memory in order to find the secret base where a Kree named Mar-Vel was keeping their women and children safe for them while working undercover in the Air Force and making them a lightspeed engine so they could escape the KRee. They’ve been looking for this base for years so that they could get the engine, gather their remaining people, and flee the Kree Empire to find a new home.

Setting aside the backstory (which makes the one in Black Panther look subtly brilliant) for now, let’s just consider how this fits with what we see in this film. The Skrulls lay ambushes for the Kree military, costing many of their lives. They capture Carol and study her memory, which fits, but they also don’t try to explain anything to her, despite the fact that they appear to know what the Kree have done to her, and the Skrulls need her on their side. When she breaks out and comes face-to-face with the Skrull leader, he doesn’t try to explain himself or ask her to calm down or tell her that they need her help; he just taunts her. Which results in their capital ship being blow to pieces, killing who knows how many Skrulls and leaving a force of four to search the Earth. With those four, they repeatedly try to kill Carol (shooting at her with a sniper-rifle, ordering SHIELD to take her dead or alive, shooting at her as takes off, etc.), then…then when they find her at the Rambeau’s house, then he asks to be able to explain and convinces her that they’re on the same side.

What we have here appears to be a Frozen situation: where the writers came up with a twist part-way through production and then failed to go back and work the twist into the scenes they had already written. Except that in Frozen, it’s a matter of one or two actions and a general attitude that don’t fit the later revelation. Here, it’s practically everything the Skrulls do up until the second they’re declared to be innocent victims who only need help, meaning that they just got a huge number of their highly-endangered species killed and tried several times to straight-up kill the person who is supposedly their one hope and whom they wasted another huge number of people just to get hold of because her memory is just that important, all while never once even attempting to explain the situation to her, even when she is restrained or cornered or actually speaking to them.

Nor do the Skrulls ever lament the fact that she just snuffed out a few hundred of their extremely limited population. Not to mention…well, now let’s talk about the backstory. Oh dear…

As the film reveals, Carol was working with Mar-Vel as one of her test pilots (which apparently is enough to make her ‘the person she most admires’ as that’s all we learn of their relationship), then one day they were pursued and shot down by a Kree ship, Mar-Vel was shot by Yong-Rog, and Carol destroyed the engine, absorbing the energy from the blast. She was knocked out in the process, so the Kree took her, put a power limited on her, altered her memories, and set her to working for them.

Why in God’s name would they do that? Why not just kill her when she’s unconscious? She’s no one special; just a human officer, whom they probably regard as a glorified monkey. If they want to get at her power, well, kill her and do an autopsy. Or keep her sedated and do an autopsy. Or keep her under restraints. But what could possibly possess them to put her in the military? They don’t need her; the Kree are ultra powerful already, and they don’t even let her use most of her powers. Basically, she saves them from having to manufacture another rifle and that’s it. Unless they ever lose control of her, or her memories ever come back, or she decides to take off the power limiter, which apparently she can do anytime she wants but just didn’t think of for six years.

Her presence in the Kree makes no sense. They have no reason to use her as a soldier and every reason to either kill her or keep her carefully sedated and restrained.

Another thing; she’s talking about her memories and how she dreams about the crash every night, but no one seems about worried about that. Nor has she been in any way conditioned or programmed or placed under control; she’s just treated like a normal soldier when they know that if they ever lose control of her she’d basically be unstoppable.

Which means that the technology already in use on Earth to control the Winter Soldier was superior to what this galaxy-spanning alien empire had access to, or thought worth using to control the most powerful person in the galaxy.

While we’re on the topic, did nobody on Earth notice the alien ship flying around and shooting at the experimental jet? Did Carol not call for help? Didn’t the government pick up anything on radar or satellite? And whether they did or not, why didn’t the Kree just invade or bombard the planet? They know the Skrulls are there and we know they have no compunction about destroying worlds in mass bombardments. In fact, they plan to do just that at the end of the film, so why didn’t they do so before?

Then there’s the Skrull situation. The revelation is that the Skrulls are refugees, and that Mar-Vel was trying to help them escape the Kree, find their scattered population, and settle down somewhere safe. As part of this, she put up some of the refugees in a space station above Earth. The Skrulls detected Carol’s energy signature, realized it was similar to what Mar-Vel used, and so decided she might be able to lead them to the secret base where their people reside. To do this, they staged an ambush (losing many soldiers), ran her through a memory machine, lost a major ship, killing hundreds more, and chased her around the country, shooting at her, until finally asking for her help, whereupon she found the base was in space, which hadn’t occurred to this advanced space-faring species.

This rather than just taking all those Skrulls – several hundred at least between the ship and the ambush – heading to Earth, infiltrating the government and intelligence organizations (as they in fact do during the course of the film while hunting Carol), finding the information they need, and then leaving. Or, failing that, not even getting involved with Mar-Vel and the lightspeed engine in the first place, but simply taking all their ‘refugees’ and traveling away from the Kree Empire using their (actually much more efficient) ‘jump-point’ tech, rather than hanging around in refugee colonies inside the Kree ‘border’ (that’s what they call it), ambushing anyone who comes their way while waiting to be bombed into oblivion by Ronan.

And on that subject, just how was Mar-Vel able to infiltrate SHIELD and the Air Force to the point where they let her work on the Tesseract? She has no background on Earth, and the film makes a point of claiming that women struggled to get decent jobs in the Air Force at the time, and this when she can’t take a blood test without blowing her cover (yet while she is working closely with a race of shapeshifters. Who wrote this thing?!).

By the way, Mar-Vel was a man in the comics, and Carol accidentally received his powers in some kind of energy blast. That would have made a lot more sense than what happens here – it would have established that her powers aren’t completely unique among the Kree, as well as providing a potential doomed romance to add a modicum of human emotion to the story – but apparently that didn’t fit the film’s agenda.

Absolutely nothing about this story works; both the Kree and the Skrulls act like complete idiots, doing things they have no reason whatsoever to do and ignoring much better options to get what they want, all for the sake of making Carol important somehow. Which means that the protagonist is only involved in the film’s plot because of a series of plot holes.

Which means that now is time to talk about our protagonist.

The first thing we see Carol do is wake up her commanding officer, challenge him to a sparring match, and then lose her temper and blast him with her energy beams when she can’t land a hit on him. Then comes their mission, where she argues with her CO, threatening to disobey orders if they don’t do things her way…which gets her captured (the Skrulls set up the whole thing to get to her, by the way, which means their whole plan depended on her being an idiot).

Carol is hostile, belligerent, painfully arrogant (again, look at the way she sneers at Fury for asking perfectly reasonable questions), and generally an idiot. At one point she steals a man’s motorcycle just because he asked her to smile, and she thinks nothing about destroying other people’s property just for fun. At the end of the film, after beating Yon-Rogg, she proceeds to humiliate him by dragging him through the dust, because our heroine has no concept of honor or dignity. Even when she still believes herself to be allied with the Kree, she never shows any concern for her teammates, or any comradery with them (instead mocking one of them for describing how terrifying it was to meet a Skrull disguised as himself).

Yet the film wants to play her as a smart, funny, emotional person who always does the right thing: an aspirational paragon. Her character arc is literally just learning that she’s actually a wonderful person and coming to believe in herself…which she already did in the beginning, only she does it more and so breaks out of her restraining bolt and becomes unstoppable.

Her great challenge throughout the film is that people keep telling her what she can’t do: ‘don’t go so fast.’ ‘Don’t play baseball.’ ‘Don’t be a pilot.’ ‘Don’t shoot your friend with energy blasts during a friendly sparring session that you asked for.’ Half the time she actually can’t or shouldn’t be doing that (she crashes her go-kart when she’s ten because she decided to speed up going around a curve just because someone told her not to. Again, she’s an idiot). The rest of the time I got the impression it was less a matter of misogyny than that people just hated her for the very good reason that she is a hateful person. But the thing is, the whole is that it never stopped her anyway, so she has no progression or development; at the end she is exactly the same person as she was in the beginning, only she’s figured out how her powers work.

All of this while be brought to life in what is by far the worst performance in the MCU. Throughout the film, Brie Larson wears this blank, half-asleep expression as though she could not care less about what was going on, periodically trending toward the arrogant side whenever she interacts with another character. But the script calls for her to be a joker, so she periodically just tosses off a quip, but the jokes are completely at odds with her character as a whole, so it just feels jarring.

In short, Carol is one of the worst protagonists I’ve ever seen in a superhero film. She’s so bad that she would singlehandedly have sunk the movie even without the plot holes. Yet the whole film is about artificially cheerleading her, as if the film is desperately trying to tell the audience ‘no, you need to like this person. You need to love her, admire her, want to be her.’

But it gets so much worse.

At the end, it’s revealed that the Avengers were named after Carol Danvers’ call-sign, and that the only reason they were formed was because she wasn’t available.

Let’s be clear: after twenty films, you do not get to just artificially declare that this brand new character is really the heart of it all. You wouldn’t get to do that even if she were a genuinely heroic, admirable figure. This is a terrible, terrible decision.

I mean, what an insult to the series; those character we’ve been fighting with, struggling with, and cheering for all those years? Well, if Captain Marvel were there, they wouldn’t even be necessary. All those adventures, all those moments of sacrifice, courage, and devotion, the were all really in the name of Fury not having to bother Carol, on whose legacy (not that of Captain America) they all truly rest and in whose shadow they stand.

Do you know what this is? This is the exact problem that the Justice League film had with Superman: that the team only exists because he’s not there, and once he shows up everyone else becomes extraneous. They’ve retroactively added on the problems of Justice League to the Avengers!

And let’s be clear; she didn’t earn this position at all. Her big life-changing moment was literally a moment; a split-second decision to do what her friend had just been trying to do, with no idea what it meant or what the consequences would be, and when it was arguably the only practical option. Everything else was just her doing things because she wanted to and because other people told her she couldn’t.

Contrast that with Steve Rogers standing up to bullies he can’t hope to defeat in order to get them to show respect to the men fighting overseas, then doggedly going through training despite his weak, asthmatic body without once complaining before volunteering for a procedure that he knows might kill him and which is extremely painful to undergo (and which, remember, he could have backed out of at any time). Steven earned his place as the leader of the Avengers; he earned his status as a hero. Carol didn’t; she got accidentally infused with insanely overwhelming power, and her story arc is realizing that she doesn’t have to control it.

And that’s the thing; her character arc is learning that she was right all along and that she doesn’t have to control her emotions or her powers.

The trouble with that is that, one, it’s not a very interesting character arc. It potentially could be, but not with this character. If you are going to tell a vindication story, the hero needs to be humbler, kinder, more selfless. It would be one thing if she were on the shy and awkward side, or if she were just a soldier looking to do her duty, not for her own glory but because it needed to be done. Instead, it’s all about her, and the moral of the story is that she learns to ignore other people trying to restrain her.

Not to mention that having the Avengers named simply in honor of her kills a lot of the nuance and meaning behind the name; ‘Avengers’ is a Biblical name (often rendered as ‘judges’), referring to vindication of the right. But no: it’s all about how special Carol Danvers is, just like everything else in this piece of crap!

Then there are the further insults done to the franchise. Remember how Spider-Man: Homecoming, Iron Man 3, and certain other films in the series ended up wasting potentially strong, dramatic scenarios for cheap jokes?

Well, Captain Marvel does that not only with some of its own plotlines, but with plotlines that were already touched on in better films. The Tesseract is on the space station (how the heck did that happen? How did SHIELD let it out of their sight?), and Carol just picks it up and starts playing with it, then its gets eaten by the cat. Nick Fury is on hand purely as comic relief and to make Carol look better (e.g. wheezing and gasping while they’re running, reacting with comical amazement to her powers, and so on). And we learn how he lost his eye; a cat scratched it out.

I hate this stupid movie so, so much.

So, is there anything positive about it? Well, Agent Coulson is on hand, and we do have a good moment where he helps Fury, showing why the two of them were so close later on. Uh, some of the moments with the little girl were charming: Carol reaches her closest approximation to basic likability when interacting with her. The Skrulls, despite everything, are mildly amusing just because Ben Mendelsohn is such a good actor. Samuel L. Jackson is likewise too good to not be entertaining, despite the insult done to his character.

But that’s it. The Kree home world is thoroughly generic and ugly. The story is boring as heck, the action is route and lazy, not to mention that for the final quarter hour or so we’re just watching Carol effortlessly smash her way through completely outclassed enemies, so there’s no stakes or tension in the least.

I never thought it would happen, but Captain Marvel beats Iron Man 3 by a country mile; it’s by far the worst film the MCU, not only because it’s terrible in itself, but because it proceeds to singlehandedly devastate the franchise continuity, re-contextualizing classic scenes to mean something completely different, and all in the name of artificially elevating a thoroughly repulsive character to a status she doesn’t deserve.

I hate this movie.

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