Monthly Archives: March 2019

Fanboy Movie Review #13 — Captain Marvel

[Note: I do not consider myself a movie critic. What follows is just one fanboy’s opinion based off of a single viewing of the film. Oh, and there are SPOILERS ahead, so take heed.]

Captain Marvel, the latest feature film from Marvel, debuted three weeks ago. Sure, there have been other comic book movies featuring a female lead, even one set in the Marvel universe, but this is the first time we’ve had one in the MCU proper. It’s also a sort of prequel that’s largely set in the late ’80s and mid-’90s.

Title Card

Yaaaas Queen!

One thing real quick.

Yes, it’s tempting to compare this movie to 2017’s Wonder Woman, since both are female superhero adventure films, and speak directly to things like the perception of womens’ roles, inspirational female empowerment, and breaking societal molds. Still, they are two different movies, emerging from two different continuities. Wonder Woman was a gem that came out of nowhere from the chaotic mess that is the DCEU. In contrast, the MCU has far more entries and is much more consistent in terms of tone, direction, and writing.

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Perhaps one day when Disney owns everything we’ll  finally get this mighty team up. 

Truth be told, I had always hoped that Marvel would get to this point first (*cough* Black Widow *cough*), but I am glad that Wonder Woman came out first. For one, it gave DC a much-needed win, but it also allowed Captain Marvel to do its own thing, since it also had to be more aligned with Marvel’s metaplot and serve as the set up for Avengers 4.

First Impressions: Carol Danvers is a fantastic character in the comics. She’s a military officer, a leader, a fearless combatant, and practically a one-woman army. When it comes to the upper tier of powerful heroes, she is easily up there with Thor, the Silver Surfer, and the Hulk. And considering the poor state of the Avengers at the end of Infinity War, they desperately need new allies. Adding Captain Marvel to the battleline is one helluva reinforcement. The MCU has a pretty slick track record for transitioning heroes from the page to the screen, so count me in.

What I LIKED:

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Over 9,000!!!

THAT STAN LEE TRIBUTE! I thought there might be a Stan Lee tribute in this movie since Captain Marvel is the first release since he passed away. I was not prepared for this. I’m tearing up just thinking about it. The Mallrats cameo was also very touching. Excelsior…

The Captain Herself – There was a lot of talk about how wooden Brie Larson is in this role. I disagree. She might be poker-faced, but that’s perfectly in keeping with the character she’s playing. She’s a soldier, a fighter pilot, and essentially a member of Kree special forces. She’s a storm contained in human form, but one who decides where and when to focus that power. That level of stillness (almost Zen) and determination in the face of the enemy is exactly what I would expect. I think her performance is much more nuanced than is being recognized.

Captain-marvel

I see you. 

Nick Fury – What movie can’t be made better with the addition of Samuel L. Jackson, huh? What I like about this is that he is playing a proto-Fury, a less experienced, less hard-edged version of himself. He’s not at the top of his game yet, and while he is moving up the ranks of SHIELD, he’s not the master spy we see in later films. I love being able to look into this period of the character’s life. That leads me to my next point.

Agent Friggin’ Coulson – Coulson was the common thread that brought together a diverse array of heroes into the Avengers, and his death cemented their resolve. I was overjoyed when he returned in Agents of SHIELD, even though he is remains the ‘unsung’ hero of the continuity. Seeing him as the new guy at SHIELD was great. It goes a long way to explain why Coulson is so loyal to Director Fury later on. Of course, I wish he had a larger role, but I was glad to see him at all. Thanks, Phil.

Talos – Ben Mendelsohn is a fantastic actor. He’s played the villain in a few high-profile films in the last few years, from Nolan Sorento in Ready Player One, to Orson Krennic in Rogue One. When he shows up on screen, I sort of expect him to be evil, which is why his casting for the role of Talos is so inspired. It’s a meta bait-and-switch to find out that, no, Talos is actually a sympathetic character who is fighting to ensure the safety of his family. Brilliant. If Ben’s game for it, I would love to see Talos appear in future installments.

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“Mind if I have a drink of your tasty beverage to wash this down?”

GOOSE – I love the running joke that everyone in the know is instantly terrified when they find out Goose is a Flerken. The big reveal that Goose is hyper lethal when he wants to be is a great moment of the film. The only downside is that I think they played the Goose card a bit too much in the last part of the movie.

Carol “Avenger” Danvers – I’ve heard that some folks didn’t care for the reveal of how the Avengers Initiative got its name. I thought it was a nice touch, especially since the alternate name “Protector” was more accurate for the idea Fury had, but was bland. Giving Carol the credit for naming the program is a nice way to include her in the growing mythology of the movies. Maybe that’s just me.

mon

Perhaps we’ll get a Photon/Pulsar on screen in the future, or even a second Captain Marvel. 

Lieutenant Trouble – Actress Akira Akbar plays a young Monica Rambeau, a character who grows up (in the comics) to take the mantle of Captain Marvel for a time. Her mother’s callsign of “Photon” was also fun, as Monica takes that as her superhero name later on. Since we are fast-forwarding back to the present in Endgame, perhaps we will get to see Monica grown upon Carol’s return, perhaps even following her mother’s example and joining the military.

Where’s Fury? –  That post credit sequence was intense. I certainly wouldn’t want to be the one to explain the situation to her. Yikes.

What I DIDN’T Like:

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Good thing she was right. 

The “Light Speed Engine” – The central MacGuffin of the film, which also serves to give Captain Marvel her powers, doesn’t fit. We are told time and time again that it will end the war. How? When you have the ability to travel from the Kree capital to Earth by opening a single hexagonal wormhole, an engine that goes the speed of light would be unimaginably slower. It would take you 4 years and some change to reach Proxima Centauri. Reaching another galaxy would take millions of years, relatively speaking. So how would that affect the course of the war? If there was a piece of dialogue to explain this, I didn’t catch it.

Pacing – The first part of the film starts off slow, and could have used some tightening up. I will give them credit for framing a large part of the early exposition as Talos and company scanning through Carol’s memories. “No, no, let me drive.”

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Wait…wut?

Nick Fury’s Eye – If I recall correctly, the Ultimates Nick Fury lost his eye in a duel with Wolverine, thus the three visible scars across his ruined eye. Since Marvel Studios didn’t have the rights to the X-Men when the character first appeared at the end of Iron Man, we were left with the mystery of how the world’s foremost super-spy lost an eye. In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Fury tells Cap, “The last time I trusted someone, I lost an eye.” Now we know it was Goose, who paws at his eye for no apparent reason. This is the MCU equivalent of finding out that Han Solo’s last name comes from some guy at starport customs. It’s underwhelming, and Fury himself doesn’t seem too upset about it. Almost any other explanation would have been better than this one. Ugh.

Nick Fury’s Retcon – It’s established in the early MCU that Nick Fury worked with Howard Stark. He even tells Tony in Iron Man 2 that he knew Howard better than his own son. Unless a senior member of the SHIELD’s steering committee, (who died a few years before the events of Captain Marvel, at the hands of the Winter Solider) took a very rookie agent under this wing, this doesn’t bear out. It also seems to contradict some of the back and forth between Fury and Robert Redford’s Alexander Pierce in Winter Soldier. I have to wonder if anyone at Marvel Studios acts as a sort of ‘line editor’ for the movies just to get these little bits of continuity right. Yeah, yeah, I know—it’s a fanboy nitpick, but consistency is the glue of any great continuity. It’s making sure that if the aliens attacked on a Tuesday in one place, they aren’t referenced as attacking on Saturday somewhere else. 

“I’m Just A Girl” – I’m all for ’90s music, which this movie has in spades. I’m also down for Gwen Stefani and No Doubt…just maybe not during a serious combat sequence. I get the message the song is sending, and it’s good one. Still, I like to imagine that when Captain Marvel steps foot on the battlefield that it’s like the rush of an oncoming storm. Something like Carmina Burana should start playing, or something rousing. Pinar Toprak delivered a wonderful score, one with remarkable depth and subtlety. Why not let her drive home the importance of this fight with an inspirational battle theme that’s uniquely Carol’s? Having the fight play out to “I’m Just A Girl” made it seem gimmicky and cheapened the moment.

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A bit anticlimactic. 

“I Don’t Need To Prove Anything To You” – A funny moment in the film to be sure, but one that seemed like a cop out. Earlier in the story we see Carol and Yon-Rogg sparing. I thought this would be the Chekhov’s Gun for later in the movie when they square off again. I wanted to see Carol defeat her previous mentor by outclassing him, and not just because she used her powers. Again. The most telling moments in Black Panther were when T’Challa didn’t have his powers, and still had to fight for Wakanda. I know why it played out this way, but I think it was a missed opportunity to show that Carol could be a badass even without her powers.

The Science Guy – Poor unnamed Skrull “Science Guy.” I’m not sure why he was left behind in the first place. Surely Carol didn’t think that he could stand up under Yon-Rogg’s professional scrutiny (smoking out Skrull infiltrators is kinda his job). Krill Vye the Science Guy seemed nice, if maybe a little bumbling and out of his scope. Too bad his allies left him to die like that. Tragic.

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Round 1…FIGHT!

Unresolved Questions:

There’s the usual stuff about why Fury didn’t use the pager during the Chitauri Invasion, which was led by a renegade Asgardian deity, or when a maniacal AI decided to build a vibranium mass driver. But I suppose we already have the answer to that in a real life sense.

Apart from that, it appears that Captain Marvel’s powers are derived from the Tesseract/Space Stone itself. Is it possible that Thanos might be able to take her powers away since he controls the blue stone? Or might it be the other way around and grant her some measure of immunity from that stone in particular?

As a fan, the real question I’m asking is: How will Captain Marvel interact with the surviving Avengers once she’s returned to Earth? What role will she play in the events ahead, and in whatever victory is to come out of all that. She will be joining a team that already has an existing dynamic and established leader, so how will that work out? I’m looking forward to finding out.

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See you in Endgame, Avenger.

Conclusions:

It’s strange that we are 11 years into the MCU and they are still producing “origin story” movies. And yet, they have it down to a science because I think Captain Marvel definitely works. The vibe inside the theatre was electric, and I could see wide smiles on the many young girls in the audience. For those little ones who wanted a sterling example of superheroism up on the screen, they definitely found it.

The best part was the energy in the lobby as I left the theatre. There were bunches of people all standing around discussing it, laughing, and recapping their favorite moments and quotes. Not even Infinity War had that kind of effect. (Maybe that was because we were all in shocked silence.) At any rate, the movie has its share of flaws and missteps, but so has practically every movie that Marvel has every released. Ultimately, I think that Captain Marvel is a welcome addition to the MCU, and a fantastic character to add to the existing dramatis personae.

Thanos should be worried.

And that’s the way this fanboy sees it.


Magic and Its Effects on Fantasy Society

Have you ever been reading your favorite high-fantasy sword & sorcery epic and thought something along the lines of: “Wait, these people have been living in a medieval state of technology for thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of years? What gives? Why haven’t they advanced in all that time?”

You would think that the Elves with their long lifespans and high education might eventually build airplanes to get around. Why don’t Dwarves, with their knowledge of engineering and access to so much mineral wealth, at some point build tanks to ride into battle? Why must everyone continue on as though it were 12th century indefinitely?

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You have 8,000 years of recorded history, do you?

Part of this is just the trappings of the genre. We expect Elves in fantasy stories to fight with bows instead of gauss rifles. And it’s much more dramatic to have Gandalf riding into Helm’s Deep astride Shadowfax than on Kaneda’s motorcycle. (And before anyone brings ups Warhammer, Shadowrun, or the like, we’re talking high fantasy here.)

But there’s another answer to this question, and one that sits in plain sight: Magic. Arthur C. Clarke famously said that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Great as that quote is, I don’t entirely agree. It might appear on the surface that magic and technology are the same literary trope, just repackaged to fit their respective genres. Certainly they do fulfill a similar function. They both allow characters to do extraordinary things that we can’t do in our world, and both serve to create magical MacGuffins, whether it’s the One Ring or the Genesis device.

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Still one of my favorites after all this time.

Both are methods of achieving some of the same things, but the two are not the same. Technology is derived through science and observation of nature, whereas magic (as it is defined by fantasy) is supernatural. It’s a fine distinction, but one that manifests itself on society in very different ways when you run the permutations. Here are a few examples and thought experiments for you. For our purposes, wizardly magic and divine/priestly magic are lumped together.

1.) Health and Well-Being

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“Close one this time, Olaf. Be more careful tomorrow, yeah?”

A medieval society with magic will fare better (in the short term) than a medieval society without it. Duh, right? But the presence of magic potentially has an immediate, positive effect on the population. Let’s say that you have a small group of practitioners of magic in your kingdom who can heal wounds and/or cure any disease. Your population will immediately have an advantage over its muggle counterpart. If the bubonic plague strikes your realm, you have an instant answer to it. Not only could your healers eventually eradicate the disease completely (depending on how often they can perform this miraculous feat), but they could presumably cure themselves if contact with the plague victims means they contract the disease themselves. An outbreak that might annihilate a real medieval kingdom might be downgraded to more of an inconvenience if those resources are brought to bear early enough.

If you can magically heal wounds, that means that a farmer accidentally cutting himself on an old plow, or a soldier cut by a rusty blade might make a full recovery, where they might die of tetanus otherwise. Infant mortality would likewise go down, along with the instances of mothers dying in childbirth. If you can lay on hands or just a drink a magic potion to mitigate, or even reverse, bodily ailments and harm, you have just leaped well beyond the scope of the grim realities of the real 12th century. In fact, with that alone, your ability to see to the health and well-being of your people is far beyond we have in real life today, or likely to have for many centuries to come.

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“Honey, I’m stopping by the apothecary on the way home. We need anything?”

Consequently, your kingdom’s military could expect to lose fewer people in armed conflict as those who might die of mortals wounds might be spared and in time make a full recovery. Soldiers might then be willing to take more risks in battle that only the most fanatical or stalwart would in real life.

All these factors would mean that your kingdom would potentially have a larger population than its historical equivalent, with fewer lost to disease and war, and your people would likely be more healthy on the whole. Even small amounts of magical healing opens that up for you. The more healers you have, and the more robust their ability to perform their magic, the greater these advantages are realized.

2.) Stunted Development

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Even if it won’t lead to splitting the atom, I still want it.

You don’t learn as much when you can wave a magic wand to fix a problem. That’s the downside to magic. In most interpretations of magic in fiction, the practitioner may not know how to fix the problem without magic’s intercession. The caster may need to know a lot about the powers they are channeling, maybe the alignment of the planets or ley lines, but the answer to the problem is not always required to fix what’s wrong.

Let’s take our example above and look a little closer. If you can perform a ritual and Poof! an ailment goes away, you don’t necessarily need to develop the germ theory of disease, or realize that you need to wash your hands before treating a wound. You probably wouldn’t need to learn much about surgery, either, or anesthetic. If you can purify water with a wave of your hand, you don’t have to learn about proper filtration methods or bacterial water testing. And if you can cast a spell and take flight like a bird, or simply teleport to a destination, why would you go through all the trouble of designing and building an airplane?

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This one, too.

This is the trade-off with magic—you don’t necessarily have to learn about a problem or its root causes to solve it. In so doing, you greatly hinder your ability to increase your understanding of the world around you, as many of the stresses that force a society to advance are alleviated or eliminated altogether.

This stunted development is further fueled by the lack of people who can wield this problem-solving power. Rarely in fantasy are wizards or empowered priests as common as cobblers or farmers. No, wielders of magic are usually rare, and take years of study and devotion to achieve any mastery of power. Unless they imbue this power into objects, such as magic swords or invisibility rings that a layperson can use, the utility of this power will forever remain in the hands of a few, and rarely achieve any widespread usage. So, there might be an answer for many of society’s ills, but only as far as the wielders or rulers directing its power will allow.

3.) Warfare

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“Eat glowing crystal, foul beast!”

War adapts (eventually). Armed conflict is just as prevalent in fantasy worlds and stories as it was in the actual 12th century. When you add any level of magic to the mix, however, the people actually waging the war will have to change how they go about it.

Let’s say that magic on the battlefield is restricted to just magical weapons and armor. That still means that tactics would have to change if one side finds itself the have-nots in this situation. Perhaps surprise attacks become the norm to catch such magic-clad soldiers unaware, rendering their advantages null. Or perhaps feints and subterfuge have to be employed to trick empowered forces out of position, so that their magical advantage can’t be utilized at the point of conflict.

Now, let’s open it up a bit more and say that there are battlemages that can summon flame without flint or tinder. Tims, we’ll call them (for purely fanboy reasons). If a Tim can point a finger at a formation of pikemen or line of charging cavalry and reduce them to ash with a few spoken words, no one would assemble forces like that.

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“You know my name.”

Let’s remember just how incredibly expensive it is for a medieval lord to field an army. You need to equip them with weapons and armor, train them, and keep them fed and maintained, along with any number of horses and support animals. Even if individual knights are expected to pay their own way, whole campaigns have been abandoned because the leading lord’s coffers ran dry. And when you think of how much coin and effort it takes to bring a medieval army to the battlefield, no lord who isn’t crazy or desperate would be willing to put his troops in a nice, neat ‘fireball formation.’ A single Tim radically changes the calculus of war.

Even if both sides have a Tim of their own, that wizard had better watch his back. Almost certainly, there would be assassins sent after him on the eve of any conflict since his presence, or lack thereof, would prove decisive. Lords might choose to settle their differences with smaller scale engagements, or dueling champions, perhaps even a one-on-one bout between the Tims in question. The point being that once you start flinging spells in war, war itself changes.

Conclusions:

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Breathtaking.

Let’s circle back to the question I raised at the beginning of this post. Why do fantasy societies eternally exist in the Middle Ages, or something similar? Why don’t we have Elven airplanes or Dwarven tanks? Besides the author just wishing it to remain that way, it’s my belief that magic is the chief reason. It accomplishes many of the same things as science and technology, and does so without industrialization, but the solutions it gives you are hollow and less accessible. Fantasy peasants will almost never enjoy the fruits of magic the way you and I can flip on a light switch, or turn on a heater.

And the advantages of magic are ultimately off-set by how it undermines learning and advancement. Society will rarely continue to look for an answer once it has found one. If a court wizard can reliably use magic to send messages to far off lands or holdings, there’s not much pressure to invent the telephone.

Ultimately, how different a fantasy society varies from its historical counterpart will depend on how magic is defined and how well all the interrelationships are maintained. The best fantasy stories and worlds are those that really seek to understand what it means to inject the power of magic into a Middle Ages-esque society, and reflect that in the story.

So that will just about wrap it up here, folks. If you have any thoughts on this topic, feel free to leave them in comments section. I may revisit this topic every once in a while, since even a long post can barely scratch the surface of the subject.

Thanks for reading!