GIRL POWER: Captain Marvel

Of all the characters that have appeared in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Captain Marvel is probably the one that I knew the least about beforehand. I’m a huge comics nerd and have read several thousand pages of Marvel comics, but I don’t think Captain Marvel appeared in any of the ones I’ve read.

The name “Captain Marvel” is also more than a little confusing. Marvel and DC both have characters named Captain Marvel. Marvel’s Captain Marvel is a woman and DC’s Captain Marvel is a man, who will be appearing in his own movie later this year. That movie is called Shazam and I wonder if they called it that to avoid confusion with Marvel’s Captain Marvel.

So yeah, it’s all pretty confusing. Fortunately, Marvel’s just-released Captain Marvel film is quite a bit of fun. It’s certainly not perfect and I wouldn’t consider it to be a top-tier Marvel movie, but it’s enjoyable nonetheless.

Images: Marvel/Disney

Brie Larson plays the titular character, a fighter pilot whose real name is Carol Danvers. She becomes embroiled in an intergalactic war between two alien races: the Kree and the Skrulls. Carol doesn’t remember her past or even her name (her name isn’t revealed until later in the film) and struggles to control her photon-blasting abilities. She is a member of Starforce, which as far as I could tell was sort of like Kree Special Forces.

The Skrulls are a race of shape-shifting green aliens who resemble the sort of orcs or goblins that would appear in a Lord of the Rings movie. They have the ability to camouflage themselves to look exactly like anyone they see, and part of the fun of the movie is in guessing and discovering who is a Skrull in disguise. The movie doesn’t really get into the politics of the Kree/Skrull conflict, and it was never quite clear to me why they were fighting in the first place. Ultimately it doesn’t make too much of a difference because the movie’s plot is still easy to follow, but it could have benefited from adding a bit more depth to the underlying conflict between the two alien races.

There are several surprises in the plot that I didn’t see coming, but I thought they were well-executed and made sense, and weren’t there just to mess with the viewer. If that seems vague it’s because I don’t want to spoil anything, and so I’ll just leave it at that.

Brie Larson is a very appealing and likable lead, she’s tough and badass with a somewhat wry sense of humor that I found very appealing. This is the first Marvel Cinematic Universe film with a female lead, and Larson is a welcome addition to the MCU. This is also the first MCU movie to be directed (or in this case co-directed) by a woman. The film was directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, a filmmaking duo who made some very well-received indie movies that I haven’t seen but are well-regarded.

The movie is a lot of fun, and nicely balances action and spectacle with heart and a lot of very funny humor. Much of the humor comes courtesy of a cat named Goose (I suspect his name is a reference to Tom Cruise’s co-pilot in Top Gun), an adorable orange tabby who the end credits reveal was played by four feline thespians, who collectively should win an award for animal acting. And you should keep an eye on Goose, since he may or may not actually be a creature called a Flerken, which… well, I’ll let you find out for yourself. It’s amazing.

The movie is also a prequel, and takes place in the mid-90’s. As such, there are some very funny bits of 90’s nostalgia. Remember how slow computers used to be? This movie does. Some of the song choices are also quite funny, with one climactic fight scene being set to a song by No Doubt. The movie’s use of that song is very funny, but OH MY GOD I HATE THAT NO DOUBT SONG. Sorry, I just had to put that out there.

One area where the movie comes up a bit short in comparison to other MCU movies is the visuals. The special effects are fine but the movie doesn’t have the same creative visuals boasted by other MCU films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange or Thor Ragnarok. The movie doesn’t look bad, it just doesn’t look as good as its contemporaries. I found the interiors of the various spaceships in particular to be quite drab, and thought they lacked the lived-in feel of the spacecraft in the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, for example.

But despite the occasional visual blandness, the movie still offers up the requisite amount of slam-bang superhero action, and Carol really gets a chance to show off how powerful she is during the film’s action-packed climax. Carol will be an important part of the next Avengers movie, and I can’t wait to see how she will fit in to the larger story.

One area in which the visuals absolutely excel are in the uncanny de-aging effects used on Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury and Clark Gregg as everyone’s favorite dearly-departed SHIELD field agent, Phil Coulson. Remember, this movie takes place in the 90’s so Fury and Coulson are quite a bit younger and Fury is not yet the director of SHIELD. I don’t know how they do it, but the de-aging effects on Jackson and Gregg are so good that you don’t notice them at all, which of course is exactly the point.

Marvel has succeeded yet again in taking characters with which I had little familiarity and making a fun and engaging movie with them. It’s not a perfect movie by any means, its plot isn’t terribly original and its visuals are occasionally bland, and it does feel at times like there’s some table-setting for subsequent movies. But its action sequences are fun, its performances are great (the chemistry between Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson is one of the film’s best aspects) and it brings a fun character into Marvel’s box-office-dominating film series that I am looking forward to seeing in future films. Can’t ask for much more than that.

The movie also opens with a lovely tribute to the late, great Stan Lee, with the opening Marvel Studios logo set to a montage of his various MCU cameo appearances, and the words “Thank You Stan” appearing on the screen. A touching tribute to a legendary creator. In the immortal words of Stan himself…

…’Nuff said.

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Thor Gets Thunderstruck in THOR: RAGNAROK

Marvel is on a roll this year. They’ve released three new installments in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Thor: Ragnarok), as well as Logan, Hugh Jackman’s poignant final appearance as Wolverine.

And I loved all four of those movies.

The latest is THOR: RAGNAROK, which is absolute loads of fun.


Image: Marvel/Disney

The standalone Thor films are generally regarded as some of the weaker entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or MCU. They’re not terrible by any means, but they’re not as good as the Captain America or Avengers films, for example. Ragnarok is by far the best solo Thor movie and one of the best MCU movies in general.

The movie was directed by a New Zealander named Taika Waititi, previously known for two well-received independent films, What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople. I haven’t seen either of those films, but I’ve heard lots of great things about them. Ragnarok is Waititi’s first foray into big-budget blockbuster filmmaking, and he nails it. He perfectly captures the humor, beautiful visuals, and exciting action scenes that MCU movies have become known for. His style is the perfect fit for Thor.

Ragnarok is a surprisingly hilarious movie, and is right up there with Spider-Man: Homecoming and the Guardians of the Galaxy films as one of the funniest Marvel movies. The cast has great chemistry and there are more funny lines and moments than I can even remember off the top of my head as I’m writing this. Waititi has said that much of the dialogue was improvised, which shows how good the actors are together.

Chief among them are Chris Hemsworth as the heroic Thor and Tom Hiddleston as his mischievous adopted brother Loki. Both actors have been playing these roles since 2011, and they’re both fantastic. Their relationship is consistently interesting and funny, and it’s so much fun to watch the two actors bounce off each other. Even though they’ve been playing these characters for more than half a decade, the tempestuous relationship between the brothers doesn’t feel stale, and is one of the best things about the movie.

I’m not going to go into too much detail about the plot, since the film is still brand new. Suffice to say that Thor and his pals have got their hands full this time around, since the film’s villain is easily one of my favorite villains of the year.

Her name is Hela.

She is the goddess of death.

She is played by Cate Blanchett.

She’s awesome.

Image: Marvel/Disney

“Oh, I’ve missed this,” she purrs, after making short work of Asgard’s armies. She is a force to be reckoned with, and Blanchett plays her perfectly. She reminded me a bit of Cruella de Ville, although perhaps Maleficent would be a better comparison. Either way, she’s fantastic, and Blanchett looks like she’s having a great time playing her. Hela is easily one of the best MCU villains, and just might be my number-one villain of 2017.

The movie is a joy to look at. The different settings in which the movie takes place all look gorgeous, as do the denizens that populate them. The movie is full of eye candy and the visual effects are among the best I’ve ever seen. Between Doctor Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Thor: Ragnarok, Marvel movies have been killing it with cutting-edge visual effects that are wondrous to behold.

The action scenes are exciting and will really get your blood pumping, and the movie contains two excellent uses of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song,” which was also used to great effect in the film’s trailers. “Immigrant Song” includes the lyric “Valhalla, I am coming,” so it’s perfect for Thor. And everyone knows that Thor is the God of Thunder, but in Ragnarok we get to see him cut loose with his thunder and lightning powers in ways we haven’t seen onscreen before. The results are fun and badass, which is everything Thor needs to be.

Image: Marvel/Disney

And let us not forget the green elephant in the room. That of course would be the HULK, who hasn’t been seen onscreen since 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron. He’s played once again by Mark Ruffalo, who perfectly embodies Bruce Banner’s absolute bafflement in finding himself on an alien planet with no idea how he got there. The Hulk is a very fun character and it’s great to see him portrayed so well, after Marvel’s first two Hulk movies (2003’s Hulk and 2008’s The Incredible Hulk) met with mixed results.

The film’s trailers, posters, and other marketing material heavily promoted Hulk’s role in the film, which does somewhat lessen the impact of his initial appearance in the movie. There’s quite a lot of buildup to the not-so-jolly green giant’s big introduction, but if you’ve seen any of the movie’s posters or trailers, you already know what’s coming, so the moment doesn’t resonate as strongly as it would have if Hulk’s involvement had been less highly publicized.

Image: Marvel/Disney

Still, it’s hard to fault Marvel for promoting Hulk’s involvement, not to mention it would have been very difficult in this modern smartphone era to keep it a secret. It’s a bit of a missed opportunity though, since if Hulk had appeared with no one having had any idea he was going to be in the film, minds would have been blown. Mind you, I’m not criticizing Hulk’s inclusion in the movie, merely the way Marvel chose to promote it. Hulk fits right in to the story, and the scenes with Thor and Hulk are hilarious and give parts of the film a buddy-comedy vibe.


Image: Marvel/Disney

There are some new characters, such as the hard-drinking badass Valkyrie played by Tessa Thompson (of Creed and Westworld fame) and the Grandmaster, played by Jeff Goldblum at his most Jeff Goldblum-iest. These characters are a lot of fun, and I look forward to hopefully seeing more of them in future movies. There’s also Skurge, played by Karl Urban. Skurge is the only character who felt unnecessary to me. I like Karl Urban a lot but his character seemed like a bit of an afterthought.

There’s also Korg, played by Taika Waititi himself, although you’d never realize it because Korg is some kind of rock monster. He’s a very funny and likable rock monster though, and proves to be a strong ally for Thor and his pals. Anthony Hopkins returns as Odin and Idris Elba as Heimdall, and it’s fun to see both of them again. There’s also a brief but fun cameo from a certain Sorcerer Supreme, as well as the expected cameo from Stan Lee.

Thor: Ragnarok is a film that succeeds on every level. It’s quirky and weird and hilarious and beautiful and exciting and absolute tons of fun. If you weren’t impressed by previous Thor films, give this one a try. It just might change your mind.

On November 17, another big superhero movie lands in theaters. That movie is Justice League, and it’s got a lot to live up to after four excellent Marvel movies and the also-excellent Wonder Woman. We’ll have to wait and see if it can live up to the high standard of those movies, but in the meantime there’s another reason to head to the theater this weekend. It’s Murder on the Orient Express, and we’ll be talking about it next week.