Captain Marvel is good but less than marvelous.

I caught the latest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Captain Marvel, this weekend. It runs along the same quality as most of the origin stories: not terrible but not as great as Thor or Iron-man. What disappointed me most in the flick was that Brie Larson, who played Carol Danvers, failed to live up the feminist film hero. Since this movie was one of very few female superhero-based ideas, the story should have equated her with Wonder Woman in terms of icon status. It did not.Cap Marvel

The movie starts on a distant planet where the Kree rule. Carol Danvers, simply known as Vers at this time, wakes from an Earth-related dream and deals with it by training with her Kree mentor (Jude Law). He teaches her to fight and control (i.e. suppress) her abilities. Her power comes from energy jets that blast from her fists, but she is also mastering martial arts so she can fight without using her special ability. As the movie progresses, we learn that Vers, who considers herself an amnesiac Kree, is really an Earthling survivor of an incredible energy explosion. Hence the origin of her power.

The Plot

The story was engaging. We saw the amnesiac go through the emotional discovery of her past as the real Carol Danvers emerges. Several wicked plot twists have her questioning everything she knew. In the end, she learns her closest companions have lied to her for six years. She alone must learn the truth of who is the enemy and the victims. One of the best feminist scenes in the film was when her male enemy is yelling “come on! Let’s fight! No powers!” (not a direct quote). She pops a power blast into him that sends him spiraling across a field and into a rock. When she stands over him, she states, “I don’t have to prove anything to you.” Something most women should say to men who challenge their worth.

Part of the disconnect for me was in the setting. I thought I was going to see an Earth-hero movie. When the movie started and stayed for a while in the Guardians of the Galaxy setting, I then had expected some of the lighthearted banter that Guardians had perfected. Not in this film. The audience saw familiar faces and strong enough references to know this was set before the first Guardians film. Even though the director added some of the same pop-music feel, it didn’t come off successfully. This movie was simply a dark view of the galaxy.

The Characters

In addition, Brie Larson never took Vers’ or Captain Marvel’s emotions out of grim fuming mode. We saw fuming-but-unsure and fuming-but-confident but very little else. For example, when she was at the crisis point of the plot, fighting for her life, we saw no strain or focused emotional depth to show us that she was maturing from doubtful soldier to rebel powerhouse. I suspect this is a director’s decision and not the actress’s doing, yet it made the character less likeable. Although her best friend states that Carol Danvers is “funny”, the director never proved it to us. This is unfortunate since the plot had plenty of opportunities for small comic highlights for her.

In addition, she didn’t come off as heroesque and certainly not as a “defender of the Earth.” What I mean is that Larson doesn’t have the physical look that audiences (or at least that I) have come to associate with comic book movies. After all, Captain America, Wolverine (yes, I know he isn’t part of the MCU), Thor, Iron-Man in his suit, Superman, and even Wonder Woman all come off as visually larger than life. Even Black Widow, though average size, carries an aura of more-than-everyday-hero attitude. These heroic proportions are at the very heart of comic book art. True, Spider-Man and the Flash aren’t necessarily tall and brawny, but their characters and powers  dictate they be young and wiry, rather than beefy. Larson is shorter than many people in the movie and even in costume doesn’t look all that heroic without her glow.

Other Origin Stories

Captain Marvel is also a thin origin tale for Nick Fury, played by Samuel Jackson with a computer-enhanced young-looking face. We learn about his early days in S.H.I.E.L.D. and where the idea of the Avengers Initiative comes from. Jackson’s ability to deliver great lines and infuse humor is one of the best aspects of this movie. The one problem with young Nick Fury is that, although he looks in his early thirties, the body’s use in action scenes still screams a 71-year-old man. I love Sammy, but his ability to move swiftly and deal with fighting looked off.

Ladies, check it out.

Despite the negative review, I suggest fans of the Avenger comic movies go see Captain Marvel for completeness. She will figure prominently in Avengers: Endgame as indicated by the sneak preview at the end of the Captain Marvel movie. In fact, that is the only reason I think this movie was made. The resolution of the Thanos problem should not look like a cheap magician’s hat trick. Plus, I want ladies to see it to encourage more use of women in top hero roles. The days of the damsel in distress are over. They flocked to Wonder Woman for that reason. Captain Marvel, even flawed, should inspire the same rallying cry.

One final note. The producers or director had fun putting in light references to other great movies. Just for fun, see how many other films and comic books shout-outs you can catch. The producers created a wonderful homage to Stan Lee in the opening credits, and they dropped in some other nods to great movies as well. Here are some hints: References to previous versions of the captain, Men in Black, Independence Day, and Top Gun.

The Thirteenth Dr. Who

The powers that be in the BBC universe announced that Jodie Whittaker would take over the role of Doctor Who from Peter Capaldi. This caused some fervor because the new Doctor is a (Gasp! Shock! Horror!) woman. The media seems to be whipping this up into a controversial frenzy but I don’t see why. With any major changes to a longstanding series, the audience should consider a few questions before making a judgement on whether it is terrible or not.

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The Doctors (trend.mynet.com)

Does it fit the established universe?

Many articles have pointed out that the Dr. Who universe included gender switching before, with the most notable example being the Master becoming Missy. I love Missy and find her much more chaotically evil than any other Master portrayal. She also adds a flirtatious aspect to the role that the men did not supply.

What will the companions be like?

Why does it matter? Male doctors over the decades took on companions of both genders, some likeable, some not. It’s true that the guys tended towards female friends, but the reason is simple. TV audiences love hints of deeper feelings and love, even when those emotions are unrequited. Most of the audience identifies more readily to a strong male getting emotionally attached to a female, but nothing says it can’t go the other way.

Many (but not all) of the companions featured young, extremely pretty woman. Another no brainer. Beautiful women make for better TV ratings. The same is true for handsome males. If you doubt that, then consider shows like the 2015 Poldark and how often the lead man, delicious Aidan Turner, takes his shirt off in a society where any show of skin, even bare arms, was rare. Similarly, think about how much Wolverine goes around shirtless in the X-Men and Wolverine movies.

So, does that mean the Whittaker Doctor should have hot, young male companions? I hope not, at least not much. First of all, women can travel together without getting all weird and falling in love. I assume men can too, but you don’t see it as often in television. Secondly the companions should be chosen on basis of intelligence, adaptability, and charm, not sex appeal. None of the pretty companions, to my knowledge, actually dressed up in sexy gear and strutted around like models. They weren’t there for the sex game. Having a woman at the helm should not change that. Therefore, male companions should definitely keep their shirts on.

Can the TV Audience take a strong female Doctor?

Even asking this question seems like an insult to viewers. I know Dr. Who is a British product gone global, but I’m concerned with what’s going on in the US. Under a president that devalues and denigrates women and a political party that thinks women can’t make choices about their own bodies, progress for humanity is taking a giant back step into stupidity. Women, who have fought for decades for equality in voting rights, the workplace, and the battlefield, are never going back to being only housewives and baby makers. We demand control of our bodies and our destinies. Cinema reflects that fact in movies such as Wonder Woman and strong female characters such as Alien‘s Ripley, Star Trek‘s Janeway, the rebooted Battlestar Galactica’s Starbuck, and Star War’s Rey and Leia. Dr. Who by these standards is dragging behind the times. If you can’t handle a strong female doctor, then stop watching the show and crawl back into your man cave. The time for a doctor revolution is now.

On that note, I’m also delighted that Ms. Whittaker, although attractive, does not have the super model body or a make-up enhanced face that could launch a thousand ships. She is an experienced woman with a no-nonsense appearance. As she travels through Earth’s time, she’ll have to fight harder to be taken seriously in those decades where women are told to shut up and sit down. That adds twists and turns. The plot turns open up and can evolve from the normal get-into-trouble-then-save-the-day routine.

And that is what makes good television. I for one can’t wait to see what she will do.

For more information and discussion, I recommend checking out “A Female ‘Doctor Who’ Is Exactly What the Franchise Needed by Ross Ruediger.