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Siraj Syed


Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 

 

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Captain Marvel, Review: Skrull duggery, the Kreeps, a charismatic cat and muddled memories

Captain Marvel, Review: Skrull duggery, the Kreeps, a charismatic cat and muddled memories

To many Indians, who grew up reading DC comics in the 50s, 60s and 70s, Captain Marvel is a man, and he acquires super-powers upon uttering the magical acronym, SHAZAM: genius of Solomon, strength of Hercules, unbreakable will of Atlas, lightning blasts of Zeus, power of Achilles and speed of Mercury. Named Billy Batson as a human, Captain Marvel’s powers comprised super strength, flight, invulnerability, super speed, super-human hearing, healing factor, intelligence and magic. He first appeared in 1940, under the Whiz Comics insignia. DC will release its own Marvel film under the title SHAZAM in a few weeks’ time. Meanwhile, meet Ms. Marvel, Marvel Comics’ play upon the same name, with a sex change and considerably fewer super powers. This one manages to keep its head above water, but just about, and many a fan on either side would be eagerly waiting for what’s in store, come April 5, to compare and contrast DC with AC (aka Marvel).

It’s different. This version is different. Different from the DC series (naturally), and different from Marvel’s own comic continuum (adapted for the screen from the comic characters created by Roy Thomas and Gene Colan). And it is set in the period 1989-95, the ‘pre-historic’, pre mobile phone, pre pen-drive eon. Although the word “marvel” is spoken many times in this film, and the spelling is specified as mar-vell on almost each occasion, Carol Danvers is called Vers, never referred to as Captain Marvel and is not as yet part of S.H.I.E.L.D.S. or Avengers. She is plagued with dreams and fragmented memories that torment her, and she knows pretty little about who she really is.

In 1995, on the Kree Empire's capital planet of Hala, warrior and Starforce member Vers is warned by Yon-Rogg, her mentor and trainer, to control her powers, while the Supreme Intelligence, an organic artificial intelligence who acts as the Kree's ruler, urges her to keep her emotions in check. Working with Kree official Ronan, the Accuser, to rescue an undercover Kree agent who is held by inimical Skrulls (alien shape-shifters with whom the Kree are at war), Vers is abducted and subjected to a memory investigation. She escapes in a spacecraft, and crash-lands on Earth, known as C53 to the aliens.

Her presence attracts the attention of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Nicholas J. Fury and Phil Coulson, whose interrogation of Vers is interrupted by a Skrull attack. In the ensuing chase, Vers recovers a crystal containing her extracted memories, and Fury kills a Skrull impersonating as Coulson. Fury later meets and agrees to work with Vers, escorting her to NASA, while Skrull commander Talos disguises himself as S.H.I.E.L.D. operative Keller, who is summoned by Fury on his two-way pager to arrest Vers.

Using Fury's security clearance, Vers delves into the NASA archives and learns she was a pilot who is presumed to have died six years earlier, while testing an experimental light-speed engine, designed by scientist Wendy Lawson, who she recognises as the woman from her nightmares. The two escape after "Keller" confronts them, with Lawson's charismatic cat Goose (an alien that can thrust out tentacles from her mouth, like an octopus) stowing away, and hijack a small cargo jet to Louisiana, to meet fellow pilot Maria Rambeau (sounds Rambo on the sound-track). Rambeau and her young daughter Monica reveal that Vers' real name is Carol Danvers.

Complications continue in the plot that can be reduced to a simplistic, skeletal narrative that goes: In a war between two planetary factions, Kree and Skrull, a half Skrull-half earthling makes the difference. Add to that beams and glows galore, spaceships and shape-shifters by the dozen, hideous looking aliens and a cat that is not a cat, three different hero/superhero entities—S.H.I.E.L.D., Danvers and Avengers, the surround sound and surround imagery, several significant female characters—two pilots, a two-timing inventor and the most popular female superhero, according to a rating agency, and you have Captain Marvel.

Cleverly, the writers (Nicole Perlman, Meg LeFauve, Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, Geneva Robertson-Dworet) have realised that the film would alienate (pun intended) a lot of its viewers if a significant part of the action did not take place on terra firma, and have shifted focus in the second half to the US of the mid-90s, with a Radio Shack, video rentals, metro underground tube chases, alpha-numeric pagers and computer downloads that take forever—to the utter disbelief and dismissive delight of viewers in their teens and twenties. Perlman is known for her work on Guardians of the Galaxy, LeFauve wrote the Oscar nominated Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur. While their gag about Fury’s name/surname isn’t really funny, the writers do strike a chord by references to Brad Pitt and Hannibal Lecter. The cat called Goose, who is neither a goose nor a cat, might endear itself to the layman by its sheer presence and the fact that it terrifies Talos, but its only real functions are to sweep away some enemy personnel, and swallow an invaluable object and store it for later retrieval. Much fun is made of how Fury came to lose one eye, part of it in very poor taste, sure to irritate eyeballs of discerning viewers.

Anna Boden is the first woman to (co) direct a Marvel Studios film and Captain Marvel is the first Marvel Comics franchise to star a woman in the lead role. This is the director/writer duo’s big break, after the 2015 indie, Mississippi Grind. Their pitch was based on a woman’s self-discovery, and there’s plenty of self-discovery in the movie, not to mention gradual restoration of memory. Along with Ryan Fleck, her co-director who was at the helm in the 2006 made Half Nelson, which the duo wrote, Anna uses Danvers’ eyes and forearms to telling effect, perhaps a bit repetitively so. So much of light radiates from her orbs and so much force emanates from her arms that there are few other choreographed manoeuvers that stay in our memory. Yes, the missile bending act, nevertheless, is a tour de force. Following a Hollywood superhero movie tradition, we have a set of fellows/entities that appear good but are bad, a few chappies who appear good and are really the good guys, and some folk who appear bad but turn-out to be victims.

Brie Larson (Room, Short Term 12, The Spectacular Now; real name Brianne Sidonie Desaulniers; height 170 cm/5’7”) goes through the motions (well-trained; a lot of the time it is kicks and flicks; one scene has her hanging upside down) and emotions (vulnerable, confused, lost, no love interest or familial moments). She cannot rise above the script, and most superheroes really cannot. Samuel L. Jackson is Nick Fury, the war veteran cum veteran spy, who loses an eye before the film is over, and is helped by technology to look 25 years younger. In a better-written scenario, he could have contributed more. Ben Mendelsohn is never seen as himself, being the chief shape-shifter, alternating his accents between a Donald Rumsfeld and native Australian. Blame the lack of emoting on the mask.

Annette Bening gets to do deliver some potent dialogue with flair, in the dual capacities of Dr. Wendy Lawson and the Supreme Intelligence. Jude Law as Yon-Rogg is the being driven by his goal, never facing a moral dilemma. He suits the meaty role physically and enacts some tough fighting moves with his mentee, Vers. Playing the black pilot Rambeau, Danvers’ pal/rival, is Lashana Lynch, an important role that reminds us of another coloured Marvel Comics Universe (MCU) character, the Black Panther, though only the African-American origins are common. Her daughter Monica, at two different ages, is effectively played by Akira Akbar and Azari Akbar. Called Chewie in the Danvers’ comic-book, the ‘cat’ begets some loose laughs. Also in the 124 minute film are Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo and Don Cheadle. Where, when, what or who? I’m not telling you. What about Stan Lee? Must you ask?

Fans are always excited about prequels and new heroes entering the superheroes galaxy, and Captain Marvel works well on that plane. That the 'hero' is a woman this time, and a blue-blooded half-alien at that, is a hero-ine thing. Adrenaline gushes, in the shape of epic battles, are more tempered in this edition, as a dense fog of muddled memories and the phased self-discovery take precedence. Young women and younger women might like the film more than men, for these factors. And Marvel have not even introduced Danvers’ family yet. In the DC version, Captain Marvel is an orphan, while Marvel Comics have given Carol Danvers a full family, plus a boy-friend.

A little cat meows in my ears that although it has crossed 20 films last year, the MCU is in no hurry whatsoever to End Game. Vell, vell…few are complaining.

Rating: ***

Trailer: https://youtu.be/0LHxvxdRnYc

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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.


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