Captain Marvel

Release: Friday, March 8, 2019

→Theater

Written by: Anna Boden; Ryan Fleck; Geneva Robertson-Dworet

Directed by: Anna Boden; Ryan Fleck

Captain Marvel figures to be a significant piece in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, acting as both a standalone origins story and a precursor to Jon Favreau’s standard-setting Iron Man; ipso facto it predates the entire MCU. That’s a pretty bold decision considering how much we are preoccupied with the present and the future of our favorite characters. Unfortunately the story this film tells isn’t quite so bold, the awkward way it ties into the overarching saga arguably a distraction more than it is an exciting talking point. Yet by force of personality Captain Marvel overcomes its weaknesses, and there is no denying the Avengers will be adding another nuke to their already impressive arsenal.

Unbeknownst to me, Captain Marvel is a generic name that actually refers to several characters, the very first appearing in 1967 as Captain Mar-Vell, a male (albeit an alien) military officer sent to our humble corner of the universe to spy on us and who, having grown sympathetic to the plight of mankind, ultimately switched allegiances, becoming a protector of Earth and a traitor to his own race. Multiple incarnations followed, with the character’s gender constantly changing (e.g. Phyla-Vell was female while Khn’nr and others were male) — justified by the episodic nature of comics and their need and ability to adapt.

That brings us to Carol Danvers, a half-human, half-alien super-being whose specific powers — supersonic flight, incredible strength, an ability to control and manipulate energy forms — identify her as one of the most powerful figures in the Marvel realm. As such, she wins the lottery to become the first female subject of a Marvel movie, its 21st overall. Captain Marvel is a reliably entertaining chapter that balances humor with heartache, becoming just as much about the struggle to find her real identity as it is about her discovering her powers and how she decides to wield them. It may not be winning many points in the original storytelling department, but it does have a winning cast of characters, fronted by Brie Larson and a digitally de-aged Samuel L. Jackson and Clark Gregg and provided depth by the likes of Ben Mendelsohn, British actress Lashana Lynch . . . and one Hala of a cat.

Directing duo Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, known heretofore for indie fare like It’s Kind of a Funny Story and Sugar, keep their story pretty earthbound with only a few signature scenes sending us beyond our atmosphere. In terms of scale, it’s surely a bigger deal than Ant-Man, but if Guardians of the Galaxy gave us a tour of the cosmic town, Captain Marvel barely introduces us to our next-door neighbors. The relative intimacy certainly feels appropriate since the human side of the story manifests as a journey inward, into the heart and mind of a character unsure of herself. The superhero plot meanwhile draws elements from the Kree-Skrull War comic book storyline, setting up an intergalactic war between two alien races wherein we innocent earthlings get caught in the middle and need Captain Marvel to come to our defense.

Captain Marvel opens on an alien world known as Hala, the galactic capital of the Kree Empire. A young woman named Vers is awakening from a nightmare involving some older woman who looks a lot like Annette Bening, but that’s impossible since this kind of material is several fathoms beneath an actress of her caliber. But upon closer inspection I confirmed it is indeed Bening, playing a mystical figure referred to as the Supreme Intelligence, to whom Vers is sent at the behest of her mentor Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), who is concerned about Vers’ inability to control her emotions. The Supreme Intelligence doubles down on that cautionary advice before sending the pair on a dangerous mission to rescue an undercover operative on a distant planet overrun by the enemy Skrulls. Naturally the mission goes awry when the team gets ambushed and Vers becomes separated from Yon-Rogg and her other Starforce colleagues, the former crash-landing on some scrap pile known as C-53 (a.k.a. Earth). Even worse, she’s a fish out of water in mid-90s L.A. and if fashion is anything to go by, it isn’t exactly our species’ finest hour (luckily she didn’t crash land a decade earlier).

Vers is soon intercepted by a couple of serious-looking, suit-wearing gentlemen who work for an agency whose name should never have been provided in this film for continuity’s sake. A two-eyed Nick Fury and a Just For Men advocate in young Phil Coulson witness something extraordinary when a Skrull invader crashes the scene. Because the Skrulls have this ability to change their appearance, identifying friend from foe becomes problematic, with a notable alien named Talos taking the form of Fury’s higher-up and S.H.I.E.L.D. director Keller (Mendelsohn) and another impersonating Agent Coulson. After shaking this shape-shifting shit off Fury, at the direction of Talos the predictable script, leads Vers to a U.S. Air Force Base place of thematic relevance where she finds clues to her past life — photographic evidence of her as a pilot and news clippings presuming her dead after a disastrous testing of an experimental new engine designed by a Dr. Wendy Lawson (played by Spoiler Spoilerson).

She also learns she had a close friend in Maria Rambeau (Lynch), an important link in the ole’ jogging-the-memory chain (not to mention in the realm of the MCU at large — her daughter Monica, played by an instantly lovable Akira Akbar, ostensibly set to play yet another version of Captain Marvel in the sequel — Ms. Marvel, perhaps?). The scene at the house in Louisiana is among the film’s best, the emotion that comes pouring out here no doubt a result of the indie flavor the directing tandem have brought to this much bigger project. Whether it is Lynch describing what it feels like to see her bestie return from the dead — hence the longevity of the MCU,  the human cost of being in the superhero biz has always been handled in an interesting way — or Mendelsohn getting a really juicy character whose intentions are not what they first seem, Captain Marvel soars in these more grounded moments.

Even as the action takes a turn for the surprisingly cooperative, the character work is ultimately what saves Captain Marvel from its own Negative Zone of mediocrity. While the action sequences are worthy of the big screen treatment they aren’t as integral to the personality of the film as Larson is in the title role. At one time considered too young to play the part of an Air Force pilot (this was before the filmmakers double-checked with members of the American Air Force who confirmed it is possible for a 26-year-old to be so accomplished), Larson acquits herself with the utmost confidence, maturing from reckless and unpredictable to every bit the noble warrior hero she so advertises her people as to her de facto partner in Agent Fury.

Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers is by far Larson’s most high-profile role to date and while the plight of the superhero is unfamiliar territory for someone who has developed herself through such intimate human dramas as Room and Short Term 12, you wouldn’t know it based on her confidence and how much fun she’s having here. And sorry to break it to the basement dwelling trolls who review-bombed her new movie, a perma-smile does not for a natural performance make. I personally don’t need to see someone smiling through every damn frame of the movie to know they’re enjoying themselves, or to know what this material and this role means to them.

What is this thing called The Oregon Trail?

Recommendation: While I didn’t think Captain Marvel is a game-changer — save for the first earthly encounter with the Skrulls the action scenes are pretty forgettable — it certainly has its strengths, namely the lead character and the friends she ends up making along the way. It might go without saying for most of these Important Marvel Movies but considering the way this one was seemingly preordained to fail by insecure men before it even opened, it really seems that ignoring the internet has never been more crucial in allowing you to experience the film on your own terms. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 124 mins.

Quoted: “You know anything about a lady blowing up a Blockbuster? Witnesses say she was dressed for laser tag.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

Much Ado About Nothing

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Release: Friday, June 7, 2013 (limited)

[Theater]

From Marvel’s The Avengers to. . . . . . a Shakespearian play? Joss Whedon makes the jump in genres seem all the crazier when I tell you that I believe that his vision might be the one that tops Kenneth Branagh’s incredible 1993 film by the same name. And of course, these aren’t the only folks who have had their hand in reshaping one of the great playwright’s most beloved comedies. It’s also hard to imagine that the best version of Much Ado About Nothing will be anything besides the original, when it was played out on stage by the Lord Chamberlain’s men. Still, subsequent versions have proven worthwhile and immensely enjoyable experiences. Fortunately Whedon’s new project — one that won’t require so many popcorn bags to be purchased — does not buck the trend.

His camerawork in this is so unlike his ability to capture the epic and the iconic structures of the superhero world; indeed, the slight and whimsical storyline of Much Ado requires virtually the complete opposite treatment, which Whedon manages to great effect. This is a film that is both intimate and elegant in setting — it was shot in a total of 12 days, exclusively at Whedon’s Santa Monica residence — and has cinematography worthy of at least a nomination. It’s gorgeous and strengthens the presence of every character in the frame.

Some could find the visual contrasts a little jarring in the very beginning, admittedly. You first see these characters and if you are like me, you are caught off guard at first by just how they speak. The muted color saturations, coupled with Shakespearian prose is juxtaposed against the habits and customs of 21st Century living. Bottles of beer are being clanked together; fists are bumped rather than hands shaken; iPods now the sources of music at parties; Counts and Lords garbed in Giorgio Armani.

Dogberry spews his hilarious lapsus linguae to his small staff who have flat screen Dell computers.

But as the film unfolds it becomes easier to adjust. The more we see of the characters interacting, it’s all very natural and we are reminded once again of the genius in Shakespeare’s writing and romanticism. The atmosphere is light; the mood slightly silly but perpetually energetic. The cast, though not well-known, is definitely a strength. This time around we have Ami Acker as Beatrice, and Alexis Denisof plays Benedick, who make up the central romantic affair. Surrounding them are Fran Kranz as Claudio and Jillian Morgese as Hero; Clark Gregg goes from manning SHIELD to playing Hero’s father Leonato; and we have Reed Diamond playing Don Pedro, Sean Maher replacing Keanu Reeves as the Bastard Prince Don John; and Spencer Treat Clark taking on the role of Barachio. . . that sleaze-bag. Not Clark, but. . .well, you know what I mean.

As Dogberry, Nathan Fillion has an absolutely wonderful supporting role. He oversees a squad of semi-competent, but fully overzealous night watchers, of which two were actually successful in curtailing the plotting and scheming of the shadowy duo, Barachio and Conrade (here played by Riki Lindhome). The moments with them and Dogberry serve as the funniest moments in the film undoubtedly, but are also very well-acted and reproduced in a contemporary setting. That was the case with a lot of the material in this film.

The story may be well-known, but to bring everything and everyone up to speed. . . . Much Ado is the comparison of two love affairs — that of Beatrice and Benedick who essentially are lovers in denial who must endure a battle of wit and of carefully calculated ‘rejection;’ and the other is quiet but fierce love affair between young Claudio and Hero. Benedick and Beatrice are tricked into confessing their loves for one another by waves of gossip, while Claudio is tricked into thinking his soon-to-be-wife is not faithful and their relationship seems to trend the other way. But this all is found to be the scheming of the envious Don John, who seeks revenge on his brother Don Pedro. He instilled in Claudio the idea that he was wooing Hero secretly. Then Barachio commits an act before an open window in the presence of Claudio, convincing him to think that Hero really was cheating. The malcontents eventually receive their comeuppance thanks to The Watch and Claudio is reunited with Hero in the end after all truth is revealed. I won’t add more info than that, although it’s, again, well-known territory I’m skipping over here.

There’s also a very rich soundtrack flowing throughout the piece that ties both the romanticism of the Shakespearian era to the Messina we have portrayed here in the present-day. Party scenes are lavish and look very fun. The moments of darkness and drama, as light-hearted as this comedy is, are overhauled with the appropriate overture that seems to give as much life to the movie as the script and acting do.

Going into the film I really had no preconceived notion about how Whedon might be able to handle this material. I can’t remember the last time I did see the Branagh one, so I was unable to accurately have a picture in my head as I sat down (in an empty theater!) Frequent YouTube visits after the fact have jogged my memory and reminded me that it was indeed infectious and it was indeed endearing; Branagh’s was a fully-realized portrait of what Shakespeare was trying to say about the nature of pride and honor, of courage and conviction and speaking truthfully. Whedon, using the original text, is similarly successful in that he’s been able to adapt the story so as to not make a carbon copy. The title may suggest that there’s a lot of fuss being kicked up over nothing here, but there’s no shortage of reasons to go see this latest adaptation.

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4-0Recommendation: Joss Whedon has successfully created an undeniably accessible version of the famous comedy, and it plays out as breezily as you think it ought to. For anyone who is a fan of anything Shakespeare, this is a film you cannot miss. For fans of film in general, this is also going to be a high priority. It’s another Shakespeare play to fit our times, and will likely join the ranks of appreciated contemporary overhauls like Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet and certainly Branagh’s version, which was some 20 years ago now.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 109 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com