EPIPHANY – WHAT REALLY BUGS ME ABOUT CAPTAIN MARVEL

I finally figured out what bugs me about Captain Marvel. Not the movie, the character. The movie, as I pointed out in my post on Captain Marvel, is flawed but good and not really deserving of most of the negative hype it got. My problem is with the CHARACTER of Captain Marvel as it manifests itself, not just in the origin story, but in other movies as well – like Endgame.

It’s not the alleged anti-male bias in her origin story, which I mostly disabused in my post about Captain Marvel, that bothers me. It’s not Captain Marvel’s snarky attitude – I love  Rocket’s acerbic comments in Guardians of the Galaxy, the sarcasm of Tony Stark, the quips from Nick Fury and even the defensive banter from Marvel’s version of M.J.

It’s not the fact she is a woman in a lead action adventure role – even though her origin movie (while rather fun) is no where near as good as Wonder Woman was or Black Widow’s will be (OK I’m just a teensy bit biased but B.W. is SUCH a great character).

I don’t even mind arrogance if it is earned, as it is with Iron Man or Loki, especially when they occasionally allow themselves to be the butt of humor.

And yes, I DO mind that the character of Captain Marvel HAS no sense of humor. That takes a bit of edge off of every scene she is in. BUT that is NOT what really BUGS ME!

It suddenly occurred to me when lines of dialogue popped into my head from Avengers: Endgame which nailed her entire persona and shone a light on the major flaw with this character, which crops up in everything she does, everything she says and all of the relationships, or lack of them, she has with the other characters in this Marvel Universe. Danvers is talking to the group of grieving super hero survivors, and Rhodey, rightly, asks where she has been all this time (the last 5 years) and she replies: “There are a lot of other planets in the Universe. And unfortunately, they didn’t have you guys.”

OK, I can accept that and she’s right. It’s almost complimentary to the Avengers. But it’s what she DIDN’T say that rankles. Danvers is from Earth. She was born in America and used to be American military. So she understands loyalty. But her comment, or lack of it, reflects a (literal and disturbing) “universitality” to her mindset; a comment that speaks volumes in what is unspoken about where her allegiances lie. Sure, she was brainwashed, but she remembered her best friend Maria and Maria’s little girl, so her memories were and are resurfacing.

What she should have said, and did NOT say was: “I’m sorry. I wish I could have been here helping AT HOME, but you must understand that …..” Along with a grounding of Danvers’ place in the galaxy it would have afforded her a more three-dimensional personality, a vulnerability which every other character displays at one time or another – from Drax to Thor. But not ice queen Captain Marvel and without it she is a two-dimensional cardboard cut-out.

What she does reflect is a distance and sort of condescending entitlement attitude, wherein she will not deign to show up on Earth unless she determines we are worth the effort. There is no attachment, no sense of gratitude to the place of her birth, no expression of affiliation to the rest of her species even.

Instead, Earth to her is not the exceptional place of her birth, nor America the exception country of her upbringing, but just another rock in the cosmos with beings that need her help.

Well thanks loads and we’ll grovel later, but I’m sorry – maybe she should consider that without the nurturing she received on Earth, in America, there would not have BEEN a Carol Danvers. She is, after all, SUPPOSED to be human.

Superman, (D.C. but we’re talking creative writing and what works, not affiliation with a particular franchise), has endured (despite some admitted egregious mistakes) and is easy to like, in part because he has shown tremendous gratitude and affection to the species into which he was adopted. He’s not even FROM here and he protects Earth as owning a special place in his heart.

Dr. Who (again irrelevant to franchise or universe but only to the creation of character) has declared dozens of times that Earth is under his special protection – not just because he finds traits in humans that are noteworthy – our capability for great good, our resilience – but because we sheltered him in a time of need during the third doctor’s series.

In Star Trek (TOS) an empath described humans: “Your will to survive, your love of life, your passion to know … Everything that is truest and best in all species of beings has been revealed to you. Those are the qualities that make a civilization worthy to survive.” Lai the Vian, “The Empath”.

But there was NONE of that respect and affection for the human race reflected anywhere in the Captain Marvel movie or in her character in other movies, as it written by four women – Anna Boden, Geneva Robertson-Dworet, Nicole Perlman and Meg LeFauve –  and one man – Ryan Fleck. (Reminds me of the aphorism self-describing the flaws in an unchecked raw “democracy”: that it is four wolves and one lamb deciding what to have for dinner. Poor Ryan.)

I have a tough time imagining Marvel throwing herself between danger and a small child – rather she’d weigh the importance of the child against what she perceives as her own value and – well, good bye kid.

Apparently it was far more important to these writers to bow to a politically correct: “I am woman, hear me mewl”, than create a fully compelling story and hero. It is her lack of gratitude, absence of humility and vacuum of appreciation for her home planet that makes Captain Marvel the least of the Marvel heroes (or even anti-heroes) despite her amazing “powers”. As a result I find Groot, a talking tree with a rather limited English vocabulary, far more admirable and far more relatable, not to mention lovable, than li’l Miss C. Marvel.

STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI – IT’S…STAR WARS. WHAT MORE COULD YOU WANT???

 

Have you ever gone into your parents’ attic, rummaged around and found an old favorite toy – a Teddy bear, a plastic sword, a doll house or an old board game? Suddenly you are flooded with the warm fuzzy nostalgia of childhood and the uncomplicated excitement of an anticipated adventure with like minded companions.

In a slightly different scenario, but one which will tie in to the previous analogy, have you ever been to a foreign country which had a McDonald’s? Amidst all of the unfamiliar occasionally unidentifiable store front names, the Golden Arches stands out like a beacon. It doesn’t matter where in the world you go – if there is a McDonald’s, even with a variety of specials particular to the indigenous population, you will still be able to get the same Big Mac in Lesieux, France that you could get in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin or Lake Charles, Louisiana.

Sitting in a dark theater as the simple words “A long ago time ago in a galaxy far, far away” appeared on the screen in deliberate graphic print quality circa 1977 followed by the signature trumpet Star Wars fanfare I couldn’t help but laugh in delight. Now 58, when Star Wars first came out I was 18 years old. As I have repeated in my own cautionary refrain many times to my children – the only reason an 18 year old is now considered a legal adult is because of the Vietnam War. In short, when Star Wars premiered I was still a child.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi, arrived on the screen 40 years 6 months and 20 days after the premiere of Star Wars (later retitled Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope much to the confusion of many inasmuch as there was no Episode 1, 2 or 3 for many years to come) but who’s counting, right?

During that time we have watched Luke and Leia   be born, grow up, and grow old. Many of us have grown up and grown older right along with them.

How does this all tie in? Simply.   Star Wars doesn’t change. Despite the moderate improvements in special effects the world of Skywalker and Obi Wan Kenobi and Yoda and Darth Vader, Emperor Pallapatine and the Cantina on Tatooine is the same now as it was when we were all much much younger. A few of the trimmings might be tweaked but it’s still the same Star Wars I came to love fresh out of high school.

Like the dusty rediscovered Teddy Bear or the Big Mac purchased in Tokyo, the opening scenes of Star Wars: The Last Jedi are familiar territory to those of us who have tread these paths for 40 plus years of 7 movies, dozens of Halloween Vader masks, uncountable action figures, Youtube analyses, spoofs, comic books, Yoda backpacks, Millenium Falcon bed sheets, fanzines, shipping theories and both canon and non-canon books. This is not strictly speaking a negative thing. Nor is it a criticism, any more than someone who is fond of vanilla ice cream might note that there is a gallon or two of Blue Belle in the freezer.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi breaks very little new ground, does not further the conflict between the dark and light sides of the Force much, or do more than mildly massage the dynamics of the characters we have come to know and love. Even those coming later to the party like Rey (Daisy “Murder on the Orient Express” Ridley), Finn (John Boyega reprising his role from The Force Awakens) and Poe (Oscar Isaac – the only really good thing in Suburbicon) fall into step with their predecessors – Luke, Leia and Han.

MAJOR SPOILER FOR ANYONE WHO HAS NOT SEEN STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS

The entire gang is here minus the significantly notable (and I continue the debate with my kids as to whether or no it was entirely unnecessary) exception of Harrison Ford as Han Solo. Mark Hamill is the aging Luke Skywalker, Anthony Daniels is C3PO, Frank Oz voices Yoda, and Peter Mayhew continues as Chewbacca. Princess Leia, too, has a major role to play, even though, ironically, the actress who played her, Carrie Fisher, has in fact, actually passed away. (Hail the bizarre technology of CGI which enhanced Ms. Fisher’s last screen moments into a fully fleshed out part.)

The premise of Last Jedi is that Rey, the street urchin who discovered her powerful Force sensitivity in the previous Force Awakens, tries to get an extremely reluctant, jaded and worn out Luke to rejoin the fight against the Empire. At the same time the last remnants of the rebel forces attempt to escape the pursuing clutches of the Imperial Fleet directed by Emperor Snoke (Andy Serkis) and lead by General Hux (Domnhall Gleeson), in a caricature of evil Nazi-like officer. Hux seems to have, through a kind of Peter Principle, risen through the ranks to the limits of his capabilities, probably because of the attrition resulting from the execution of previous failed commanders. This is a source of mild amusement to the audience.

Which brings us to the one singular added refreshing ingredient to this familiar but very welcome recipe – the sense of humor which has been incorporated into the characters. There has always been an element of comedy – mostly the droids banter and the snarky comments from Han. But for the most part the other characters were straight men. Now, with a certain seasoning, they have allowed characters like Luke to include a few one liners and humorous moments. guardians-of-the-galaxy-vol-2-1366x768-guardians-of-the-galaxy-vol-2-6474It seems that Guardians of the Galaxy has set the Gold Standard of humor, converting the likes of the Thor franchise from an almost medieval melodramatic fraternal conflict to a sibling rivalry which occasionally plants tongue firmly in cheek and wisely no longer takes itself too seriously, throwing in moments which might otherwise be considered bloopers. Star Wars has reaped the benefits of this informant as well, levitating the mood in much needed relief from its darker more sinister moments.

All in all Star Wars: The Last Jedi shows there’s plenty of steam left in this railroad or should I say fluff in this Teddy bear.

In short Star Wars: The Last Jedi is………Star Wars. And I wouldn’t want them to change a thing.

STRANGER THINGS – BLAST FROM THE PAST

My sister and I just finished binge watching both seasons of Stranger Things over the last week. And if you gentically spliced together: Alien, Dean Koontz and……….Pretty in Pink – you would end up with this show. NOT that Stranger Things is derivative. By no means. S.T. is one of the most creatively original shows I’ve seen since Fringe. But it is POPULATED by and decorated with homages to practically every blockbuster movie of the 1980's and the early '90's.

At turns Stranger Things is funny, charming, whimsical, nostalgic, terrifying, grotesque, suspenseful, intriguing, and as addictive as Hershey bars.

The premise is that in a small Indiana town a group of three just pre-pubescent boys – Will (Noah Scnapp) Byers, Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) Henderson, and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) Sinclair bike home from the house of the fourth member of their group Mike (Finn "It" Wolfhard) Wheeler, after a game of D&D (Dungeons and Dragons – role playing, interactive board game involving mages, wizards and demigorgons). This is the ‘80's when there was a reasonable assumption that children could make their way at night safely this way. Like any other night the smallest – Will – bikes a shortcut through the private property of a local research center. Unfortunately his timing is astronomically and cataclysmically poor as on this same night "something" gets out of the research center’s secret lab at the same time a little girl dressed in a lab gown with a shaved head and supernatural powers, Eleven (MillieBobby Brown), runs into the boys on their forbidden venture to help find their missing friend.

The show revolves around the meaning and consequences of Will’s disappearance.

Without giving any but the smallest of spoilers: one of the things that makes this STRANGER things so watchable is the characters. The kids act like kids – they speak with the rhythm natural to kids – blunt, with a short cut language specific to their group. They spearhead the acceptance of the dangers they face with an openness born of a creative mind. The adults have flaws and blind spots like any other humans but they are caring, attentive and good people.

For example the Sheriff, Jim (David Harbour) Hopper, is a burnt out boozer suffering from a crushing past tragedy but is always there to do his job with judgement, calm and fairness and is both incredibly and recklessly brave.

Steve Harrington (Joe Keery), grows from narcissistic jealous jerky boyfriend to the best and worst babysitter ever and becomes one of the group’s big brother figures.

The parents of the other kids are distracted in their own ways but involved and generous with their time and attention, providing for their kids with a loving home.

The teachers genuinely care and are interested in their students' welfare and generously take time to help them when they can, especially Mr. Clarke who is always providing much needed expositional information, though he is not "in the know".

Even many of the smaller characters have memorable scenes – like Murray (Brett Gelman) Bauman the alcoholic snarky cynical investigative reporter who can see right into the heart of people. On for about 5 minutes but I wouldn’t mind if he popped up again in season three.

As most of the characters come from the same small town and grew up together, went to the same school and know each other they have a shared history reflected in their interactions which pull you into the story with a three dimensional feel that makes you a part of their group, just as Eleven is included in the group of nerdy boys.

And homages abound. The tribute references of situations, character personality traits or habits, items, set ups and visuals reads like a list of every iconic and blockbuster movie of the ‘80's and early ‘90's: Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Goonies, Poltergeist, Alien, Carrie, The Excorcist, Stand by Me, Firestarter, Jaws and……….Pretty in Pink. Bikes and hiding the unusual creature from your parents, empty creepy halls full of monsters and unseen terrors that yank people into the dark. Other dimensions and super powers. Pre-pubescent crushes and coming to manhood and responsibility teens.

The songs conjure up my early college days: "Heroes" as sung by Peter Gabriel, "I Melt With You" by Modern English, "Should I Stay or Should I Go" by the Clash, "Hazy Shade of Winter" as sung by the Bangles, "Sunglasses at Night" – Corey Hart.

Even some of the actors themselves are nostalgia incarnate:

 Winona (Heathers, Edward Scissor Hands and here she thought Beetlejuice was scary??!!) Ryder plays Joyce Byers, Will’s desperate mom and I thought her performance was painfully spot on. As a mother of six it was wrenching to watch her go from mild concern to terror fueled panic as she discovers her youngest child missing then MISSING.

Paul (Diner, Beverley Hills Cop I and II, Mad About You, Aliens) Reiser is Dr. Sam Owens the head of the research facility on season two who has murky motives.

Matthew (Full Metal Jacket, Birdy) Modine is Dr. Martin Brenner – pretty much…a mad scientist.

Sean (Rudy, Goonies, Toy Soldiers) Astin is Bob Newby, the Byers family friend.

Charles Heaton plays Will’s older brother Jonathan Byers, beaten down from having to shoulder the responsibility of the "father" figure in his abandoned home but is kind and gentle. While he does not have the historic pedigree connection to the ‘80's the older actors do, he looks so ridiculously much like a young Stephen King I thought it must have been one of the audition requirements.

Like a treasure hunt in a haunted house escape room, the writers have placed little scenes and moments lifted out of other movies and positioned like decorations all over the movie. One example and a very SMALL SPOILER: Paul Reiser appears in the second season and during one crucial moment watches a radar making a distinctive noise that I KNOW goosebumped the hair on every inch of him with some SERIOUS Deja Vu. There are secret labs with evil government henchmen, horrifying monsters, alternate universes and —– humor.

One of the biggest charms of the show is its unpredictability. The characters are funny – not like a comedy but in the way only people can be funny in their day to day decisions, mistakes and the way personalities bounce against each other with familiar interactions born of long acquaintance. The secretary who snatches a donut out of the hand of the Sheriff Jim Hopper (David Harbour) to replace it with a carrot. The clueless but well meaning and harmless deputies who come to useless conclusions. Eleven’s favorite food. The nicknames even the adults have for each other (Hop, Bob the Brain). The extreme adorable nerdiness of the boys. Dozens of moments defuse this otherwise very suspenseful show in healthy ways to create the ebb and flow necessary for a successfully scary watch. Otherwise the tension gets too much and you will numb up.

The kids are wonderful and adorable. The adults lend a relatable genuineness to their roles, not minding looking ugly or awkward if the moment requires it. People often either are not completely what they appear to be or genuinely learn and grow from their extreme experiences to become better people. Willingness to self sacrifice in many ways, generosity, loyalty, family/friend bonds are generously demonstrated by all but the most unredeemably evil characters. These are good, decent and plain old nice people – both adults and children – from a small town banding together to face the extremity of bizarre with courage and grace under pressure.

The show has some bad language and tastefully referenced teenaged intimacy. Much of the violence takes place off screen but you do see some aftermath, the suspense is intense and there are graphic scenes of characters being psychologically experimented upon, especially Eleven.

Obviously we are talking mid teens and up. Younger kids should NOT watch this show unless you want them sleeping in your room with the lights on until they move to college. But for those of you with even moderately stout hearts this is a show well worth your time – it's smart, scary, and surprisingly warm of heart.