dir: Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck
It was always going to be this great. I don’t know how I knew it, but there was always going to be something glorious about bringing this character to the big screen. She might not be as well-known as many other prominent female superheroes that all seem to be coming to the fore these days, now that Marvel and DC feel like the human cinema-going population of the world is suitably obedient and docile such that female or African-American leads aren’t seen as too much of a financial risk at the box office, but she’s definitely the one that gives the least fucks (being exactly zero, by film’s end), and that’s got to count for something.
Wonder Woman, for all her virtues as a character and as great as the film was, is still a problematic character, to some extent. The truly visionary and strange William Moulton Marston who, along with his wife Elizabeth and their girlfriend (!) Olive created Wonder Woman, very much wanted a character that was immensely strong, immensely powerful, but also an object of masturbatory bondage fetishism at the same time. It’s sort of like the idea that's plagued a lot of movies over the last 100 years that, whether a woman in a role is ‘empowered’ or completely downtrodden, the important thing is whether women wish they looked like her and men jerked off at the Betty Page-like cheesecake imagery.
Well, we’ve come too far for that bullshit now. None of Captain Marvel’s story arc, or representation, or purpose in this film has anything to do with achieving any of her desires while simultaneously conforming to the needs of her passive but needy hierarchy. She doesn’t have anything to prove to us. She is powerful, and she just has to accept it, and do what she needs to do without being hobbled and hampered by the controlling shitbirds in her life.
Like most women. I’m sure many of them can relate, I think, or at least close to 4 billion of them, considering how much this has earned thus far.
In that, this is something unique in terms of these here Marvel flicks, in that while it ties in effectively with the overall superstructure (leading, inevitably, into the position of being an explanation as to how and why she is going to turn up in Avengers: Endgame even though she’s not been mentioned in all of the other 2,021 Marvel movies). I care not about any of that. I love, utterly love Black Panther, and could not care less what eventually comes down the Disney pipe because I really, really enjoyed that film. Captain Marvel, I can honestly say, I loved (despite the 90s setting) regardless of what role she plays in Endgame, because it’s plenty good enough on its own.
As such, this is the unique Marvel superhero flick where the villain isn’t an alien, or a god, or a robot, or a titan, or a tyrant, or a greedy industrialist, or hubris or a shady group of white supremacists; the villain is patriarchy. Right at the beginning, Kree hero Vers is shown training with Jude Law, or at least a character Jude Law is pretending to play instead of just being a stand in for that soft-spoken, measured kind of misogyny which tut tuts at the excesses of the open misogynists and sexists, but still votes against women’s reproductive health in government or undermines them in the guise of supporting them, which is truly highest quality gaslighting, no question.
He’s like the physical embodiment of the entirety of the lyrics of the great Camp Cope song The Opener, but especially, for me –
“You worked so hard but we were just lucky
To ride those coat-tails into infinity
And all my success has got nothing to do with me”
A woman, being constantly told that her power is not her own, that it is owed to someone else (being Yon-Rogg, who says it literally to her, multiple times), and that she herself isn’t really capable enough to control this power, and as such just do what we say and everything else will be right, there there condescending pat on the head.
Vers is told all this crap not only by her alleged mentor, but by the Supreme Intelligence, an AI that runs Kree society, whatever Kree society is, as if we’re supposed to know. I am an absolute nerd and I have no idea what they’re talking about. Whenever Vers has to spend time being criticised and gaslit by this AI, it appears in the form of Annette Benning.
Now, I love Annette Benning, and am now, as I’ve always been, in awe of her talent and a little bit afraid of her, so if she appeared to me, I’d probably do what she says. She appears to Vers because the Supreme Intelligence picks the form of a person the individual respects the most, but Vers doesn’t remember who she is, and why she would respect her.
Like so many people with amnesia, Vers has great powers but virtually no responsibility, and a gaping wound in her memory and sense of self. Something happened to her a bunch of years ago, but she doesn’t know what or why, or how it gave her some nifty powers that she can use a bit until an implant on her neck gives her, I dunno, an electric shock or a negative set of comments about her appearance, whatever.
Maybe every time she wants to use her powers it tells her that she should smile more *grinds teeth*.
The Kree, as far as I can tell, look pretty much like humans, except they have green blood. Other kinds of races from presumably other planets (some with blue skin, some with bright pink skin) live with them, but there’s pretty much meant to be Americans. Intergalactic Americans. Can you imagine anything more terrifying?
Their mortal enemy, apparently, are the Skrulls, who kinda look like goblins in their natural state, but have the terrifying ability to replicate people’s DNA and mimic their appearance down to even being able to absorb their short term memories and pass tests that would otherwise prove they ain’t who they appear to be. They infiltrate various planets, mimic their, I dunno, rulers or ice cream salespeople and then, boom, destroy everything. Or at least that’s what Vers has been told, that there is no greater threat than an Other who you can’t even detect until it’s too late.
Skrulls may be terrible, they may be wonderful, we have no idea. We only ever get to meet one of them. And it’s unlikely we’re ever going to meet any others that we get , not to spoil anything, but the thing is, even if we do, it’s unlikely we’re ever going to meet any that are as menacing and memorable as the leader played by Ben Mendelsohn.
I love our Ben Mendelsohn. I’ve watched virtually everything he’s ever been in, both the exclusively Aussie stuff he did decades ago, and all the recent villainy he keeps being called upon to deliver. Like when Hugo Weaving was appearing in a whole bunch of movies as a villain back when the world was peak Matrixing, Ben has played the or at least a villain in everything from Dark Knight Rises to Rogue One: the Star Wars movie about the architects and plumbers that put together the Death Star, to a sexually ambiguous governor in biblical epic Exodus: Gods and Kings, to the Sheriff of Nottingham in the most recent Robin fucking Hood movie by Guy Ritchie and I honestly don’t care: I’ll watch him in anything and everything. Ben is compelling and compulsive / compulsory viewing in anything he’s in, with menace, malice and mirth enough for any role that anyone thus far has ever written. Is this the best role for his talents? Possibly not, but he does great both in and out of make-up, convincing us both as a villain and as a potential ally in the same breath. I have to admit that his character becomes somewhat less compelling after a certain point, but we can’t all get what we want all the time.
The funniest thing for me is that when Ben plays Talos, the leader of the Skrulls whilst he’s pretending to be someone human, he puts on an American accent. When he’s in his ‘natural’ state, with the goblin make-up / mask on, he uses his natural Aussie accent, and I think that’s hilarious. If the Kree are Americans in space, the Asgardians are Brits, and the Skrulls must be Aussies, shapeshifting their way across the universe.
Vers is forced to come to a lowly, backward planet in order to search for the Skrulls and for a thing that they’re after, and, as far as she knows, it’s the first time she’s ever been to this place, upon which there are Blockbuster Video stores and dial-up modems. Yet it’s obvious to us as it isn’t to her that she’s obviously from this planet and specifically from America. The clues are: She speaks American, she knows how to use their technology and such, from phones to motorbikes, and everything is familiar even if she doesn’t remember it.
A much younger Nick Fury (Samuel L.) initially pursues her because she’s a crazy person, then because he thinks she’s an alien, then they’re somehow best buddies on a road trip and chatting like old friends. He helps her out as best he can, but, you know and I know, she doesn’t really need him that much, but it’s good to have someone to chat with when you're on the road of self-discovery.
Meanwhile, Vers’s old crew of Kree psychopaths led by Yonn-Rogg (Jude Law) are on their way to Earth in order to… I honestly can’t remember what the reason was but it’s meant to increase the tension – Vers has to discover who she really is and what she can really do before Yonn-Rogg comes and mansplains her back into her docile state.
So Vers, whose real name is Carol Danvers, finds out she has friends (Maria ‘Monica’ Rambeau and her daughter Lieutenant Trouble), finds out who Annette Benning really is, and why she glows occasionally and can shoot stuff with her hands. But what she can’t find out through being told something or reading a file, is why she always stands up despite being told eternally, by every man in her life whether she remembers them or not, to stay down.
After every fall, after every crash, she stands up. Beyond the tech explanation for her gifts, beyond the backstory / origin story that we probably understand is there less for its own sake and more to explain why she’s going to be in Avengers: Endgame, her essence is that she always wanted to do more than the people around her would allow, and that her very essence is the motto: Higher, Further, Faster, Better. And she’s all those things and more.
I cannot begin to say how much I love the performance and the character that she brings to the screen here. I love the fact that, by film’s end, she gives zero fucks what any man or female-appearing AI says she should or shouldn’t do, and no longer allows for any limitations on herself or anything else. I love the fact that she, as Carol Danvers, doesn’t have to do any of the pandering that made Wonder Women somewhat problematic. There is no concession to a love interest or defining the character in relation to another male character, beyond the obvious camaraderie she has with Fury or the deep friendship with Maria (Lashana Lynch), and they do none of the tedious handholding of reassuring us that she’s still super feminine by having her wear revealing clothing or profess a love of babies and chocolate.
Whether the rest of the plot really hangs together or makes that much sense, I really don’t care. Frankly I would have been happy enough if the entire film was just her deadpan responses to dumb questions, montages of her standing up, and her destroying her enemies with her cosmic scale powers. Plots are overrated. Oh yeah, and her beating up Skrulls who look like old women, that never gets old.
As for the 1990s as depicted, in terms of this being like a period piece, well, it was to depicting the 1990s what The Simpsons was to depicting Australia in its infamous episode which was all Fosters beer and people talking about knives and spoons – embarrassing in its obviousness and clicheness. I guess it was cheaper to do it this way, because I guess there are large swathes of America that haven’t really changed that much in 30 years, but, honestly, there was barely any real sense of time or place. Not that it matters.
Be that as it may, I very much enjoyed this flick. I love stories about women standing up and not having to spend their time explaining why it's okay or necessary for them to stand up. I don't want to have to watch them explaining patiently why they should be allowed to stand up, or why you, yes, you, shouldn't feel too threatened and be okay with them standing up, I just want them to stand, and the people around them to be able to stand up as well, and not have to listen to fuckheads telling us that it's all well and good for women to maybe stand up, but that it shouldn't be at the expense of the people already standing, like the prime minister of a goddamn country recently said/vomited in public.
It's kind of a simple thing. Being thrilled about women discovering their power enlivens and enriches all of us, not just Captain Marvel or Wonder Woman or whatever fictional creation we need to watch to allow us to entertain the prospect in our personal lives. It helps us all. Captain Marvel's not just here to save herself; she rises, we all get to rise.,
9 times I'm kind of glad they resisted the impulse to play Two Princes or Tubthumpin' on the soundtrack, but I gotta say, the actual choices were pretty lame out of 10 (though No Doubt's Just a Girl was kinda brilliant)
"I have nothing to prove to you." - I can't say why, but this is, from now on, one of the single greatest rejoinders in human and Kree history - Captain Marvel