Uncollected Thoughts: Captain Marvel

One point for…

I usually go to a Marvel film expecting an entertaining time without anything exceptional on top and, for the most part, that’s what I get. And for Captain Marvel had not merely the generally good reviews the film has had but the specifically good words the film has had from my colleagues who have already been to see it. It was like that when I went to see Thor: Ragnarok, except that I wasn’t anything like as impressed with that film as everyone else. Hey, guess what?

It’s been a pretty crappy week personally, as I’ve been bordering on ill, and completely drained of energy every day, and I’m like that now. I had a morning appointment in Manchester for which I had to keep my wits about me, and it took a bit of willpower to go outside again, even if it was to enjoy myself. The seats at The Light cinema (screen 4 instead of 10 this time, nothing like as far to walk) are wide and comfortable and they slide out enough that you can practically lie-down in them. Which was not a wise thing to do because I was close enough to going to sleep as it was.

I was irritated to discover that the four trailers to which we were treated were all comic book films, three superhero, one Japanese manga. Ironically, the first of these was DC’s Shazam! which, as any veteran comics fan could tell you, stars Captain Marvel, the original Captain Marvel, that it. It looked good, I think it will prove to be good, and as a purist I hold the original in much higher regard than any of Maarvel Comics’ various trademark grabbers (though that’s a battle long-since won by Marvel, as well as being one DC have no moral right to win.)

Eventually, the big picture started. It was big and flashy, starting on Hala, home world of the Kree, noble space warriors, engaged in a long-standing war with the shapeshifting nasties, the Skrulls. Vers (our Captain Marvel) is a Kree warrior one of a six-person team under Yan-Rogg (Jude Law), possessed of the power to fire photon blasts from her hands, but hampered by her emotional issues, including her complete lack of memory of her past.

Vers and her team set out to rescue a Kree underground agent, but are led into a trap by the underhanded Skrulls. Vers (this is so contrived a name, not to mention one that had to be said a dozen times over before you could hear what it was supposed to be) gets captured, busts out in a long, running fight down spaceship corridors and winds up on Earth, wwhere S.H.I.E.L.D. (in the form of digitally de-aged Agents Fury and Coulson) try to apprehend her.

It’s only at this point, abut twenty minutes in, that the film decides to stop jerking its audience around with a confusing jumble of events lacking structure and starts piecing the actual story together. It’s a viable, indeed admirable story-structure, but paradoxically, this kind of chaotic approach needs to be carefully ordered if it is to hook and intrigue its audience into wanting to find out how the fuck it all fits together and not, as it did one member of the audience this afternoon, bounce them into the state of who the fuck cares how it all fits together?

By that point, the film had lost me and it was never going to get me back.

There’s nothing to be gained by expecting Marvel’s Film Universe to mirror the Comics Universe, nor should it. But after lining up the Skrulls as irredeemable baddies, the way they’ve been in the comics since they were introduced over fifty years ago, then to shift them into being the good guys, the innocents, was a step beyond credibility. There was also a tendency to overload the film with misshaped Easter Eggs, such as Dr Wendy Lawson, Earth scientist (Annette Bening) turning out to be a renegade Kree named Mar-Vell (Marvel’s first trademark securing CM, but a male), Carol’s best pilot buddy being Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch), mother of eleven year old spunky girl Monica (Marvel’s second trademark securing CM, but an adult), and Carol’s full name being Carol Dan vers, with her Kree name deriving from a broken USAF pilot’s dog-tags: so ‘clever’ yet so predictable.

As for the acting, none of it particularly impressed me, Brie Larson looked good and hot in her Kree uniform/Captain Marvel colours, though she’s not very convincing when she has to run. Emotionally, to quote Dorothy Parker, she ran the gamut from A to B, and whilst she was mostly better off underplaying as she did, it left an absence not a presence in the centre of the film, and undercut those moments whe she tried to shift into an emotional higher gear.

And the film, like so many others, lost it in the ending by not knowing when to stop, just one conflict after another until they stopped meaning much of anything.

So, I’d give it a B-, most of which being made up of Larson in her leathers, and if the implication for the sequel is that it is about taking the war back to the Kree homeworld, I’ll take the proverbial rain-check. I think I’ll have a lot more fun with Captain Marvel than I did with Captain Marvel, even if I’m only allowed to call him that in my head. I’m preconditioned that way.

Uncollected Thoughts: Doctor Strange

The Drugs better work cos the Voice doesn’t.

From the moment the first reports leaking from filming got anywhere that I could read them, there’s been  a good vibe about the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s latest offering, the introduction of Magic in Phase 3, Benedict Cumberbatch’s first – but definitely not last – outing as Doctor Stephen Strange.

And the good vibes kept mounting, up to the reviews of recent days, which have been universally favourable, except, that is, for the one coming from a comics-oriented site, which did not like it, and which slated Cumberbatch as the worst possible choice for the good Doctor.

Which did concern me a little, given that it was the only one from the comic book insider’s perception and you know that, preference for DC or not, that’s my standpoint. Was it only going to go down well with the audience that didn’t know what it was talking about? I am old enough to have encountered Doctor Strange when all was fresh and new, and very very Steve Ditko.

Rest assured however that, after this afternoon’s visit to Grand Central, Stockport, you will indeed enjoy this latest expansion of the MCU, that Benedict Cumberbatch is indeed very fitting as Stephen Strange, arrogant neurosurgeon and potential Sorceror Supreme, and if you are old enough, you too will find yourself playing air guitar in your seat as the introduction to Pink Floyd’s ‘Interstellar Overdrive’ booms onto the soundtrack.

Yes, psychedelic is the way.

Whilst it isn’t free from some tampering with the original story, Doctor Strange is a pretty comprehensive and pretty faithful effort. We have the classic story, updated into the Twenty-First Century, of Stephen Strange, gifted surgeon and all-round selfish arsehole, losing the ability to operate after damaging his hands in a car crash, unable to repair the damage by western, scientific medicine and heading east for a miracle cure that he doesn’t believe in but which has been proven effective.

We have Katmandu, and The Ancient One – controversially not the aged Tibetan of the series but instead Tilda Swinton with a shaved head, who gets referred to once, fleetingly, as a Celt and that’s it – and Wong, the Eye of Agamotto, Dormammu and Mordo. In one form or another, we get practically everything bar the Crimson Bands of Cytorrak, and not the least mention (that I could hear) of Hoggoth, let alone its Hoary Hordes.

You would expect Mordo to be the bad guy, but not so. Instead, the film has called up the obscure sorceror and minion of Baron Mordo, Kaecilius, playing a very Mordo-esque role as chief antagonist under the aegis of Dormammu, whilst the film’s Mordo, a Master not a Baron, is a trusted aide to The Ancient One. On the other hand, he did turn his back in disgust with everybody at the end, for breaking the Laws of Nature to ensure Earth wasn’t subsumed into the Dark Dimension under Dormammu’s rule for ever. Apparently, it’s not enough to save the world, you’ve got to do it in a regulation manner, so expect Mordo to be up for it as a Baddie in Doctor Strange 2.

(Which is planned,Cumberbatch having signed up for at least one more, but has no schedule, which is good because, despite being keen on seeing another film like this, I am even more keen on seeing Sherlock series 4).

These departures from the original were part of the process of de-racial-stereotyping the Doctor Strange set-up, and they were carefully and well-handled throughout. To be honest, what gave me more problems was Cumberbatch’s accent as Doctor Strange. I am no expert on English actors doing American accents but, no matter how accurate he may have been, it will take longer than this film lasted before I look at Benedict Cumberbatch and not expect to hear Sherlock Holmes.

I have to say that, for once, the CGI was one of the best things about this movie. I don’t usually go in for giving the SFX that much credit, and I subscribe to the opinion that any film that lets its CGI play a bigger part than its actors is doing the wrong job, but the opening scene, where The as-yet-unidentified Ancient One pursues Kercilius and his henches to London and starts rolling up the buildings, turning gravity on its side and interlocking old-fashioned and ornate frontages into themselves had my eyes popping out, but when it came to New York, later in the film, London got off easily.

I’m sorry not to be so energetic and articulate as I usually am at such things, not being at my best just now, but trust me on this one, Doctor Strange is well worth your time. Choose the 3D option, seriously, and if the cinema don’t do 3D screens, go to one that does.

And play yourself some Pink Floyd in advance. The early stuff, the Syd Barratt stuff. Get yourself in the mood. Groovy baby.

Uncollected Thoughts: Captain America – Civil War

As you should know by now, I am a lifelong DC Comics fan, in large part by my formative comics experiences in a part of Manchester where Marvel’s titles weren’t distributed, but also because by temperament I am not fully in sympathy with Marvel’s standard tone of screaming hysteria.

Of course, when it comes to the two company’s Cinematic Universe, there’s even less of  a contrast: Marvel have it sewn up and as long as Zack Snyder is allowed to even buy DC Comics, that’s the way it will sell.

I’ve already expressed my opinion of Batman vs Superman, which is overwhelmingly the worst film starring DC characters ever made (and I speak as one who has seen the 1990 Justice League of America TV film. Seriously, even that was better).

I shalln’t waste time re-enumerating Batman vs Superman‘s faults, which I’ve had to argue with colleagues at work who held contradictory opinions. Suffice to say that this film was everything I wished a DC film starring the two most iconic characters in the world had been.

It was fast-paced, properly balanced between light and dark, properly grounded, well thought-through and not afraid for a second to have it’s characters going out during the day. It didn’t bore the arse off me, it progressed logically from stage to stage, it was joyful fun in large measures, and it managed a large cast far better than Snyder managed a cast of two.

Although it said Captain America on the shingle, forget that. This was an Avengers movie, whatever the official billing. It was about the Avengers from start to finish and whilst it used Bucky Barnes, the Winter Soldier, as its focus point, demanding a leading role from Chris Evans, it was the ensemble that carried everything through.

Though I thoroughly enjoyed the film, and it didn’t feel like two and a half hours plus, I find myself with nothing in particular to say about it. It was good fun, an entertaining way of passing several hours, and I had a whale of a time during the Avenger vs Avenger sequence at Leipzig Airport (my word, Marvel got Spider-Man absolutely perfectly though I am one with the entire Marvel fandom in finding the concept of a fanciable Aunt May as alien beyond belief), but there wasn’t much of it that was of significance. Sometimes, you don’t actually need that to have fun. Even me.

Couple of points: I haven’t read the original Civil War series but it was a little disappointing that the film didn’t try harder to set up a genuine opposition to Cap’s instinctive adherence to freedom. Tony Stark was far too easily convinced by one angry mother’s denouncement of the Avengers for one dead son in the midst of saving the Earth from being destroyed. Nor was there any principled solution to the genuine moral dilemma posed, though between the weak motivation and Cap’s escape  with ‘his’ Avengers, the film declared its position.

It reminded me very much of the 1986 DC crossover series, Legends, in which a demagogue supposedly turns America against its superheroes, a story fatally weakened by the fact that no-one connected with the production of the series could actually conceive of superheroes as anything but an absolute good, and consequently couldn’t provide a single half-decent argument for the demagogue’s case. No-one connected with the film could come up with anything they really believed in.

Never mind. Such pretensions were better sidelined and the overall fun aspect of the film made it easy to do so. Good fun was had, and I’d watch this one again if anyone was interested in taking me.