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.

LION KING 2019 TAKES ITS RIGHTFUL PLACE ON THE THRONE

AUDIO PODCAST OPTION OF LION KING 2019 TAKES ITS RIGHTFUL PLACE ON THE THRONE

SHORT TAKE:

Put this in the column of WELL done, and astonishingly realistic, live action remakes of a classic Disney animated movie.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Anyone – though, for a kid movie, the subjects of fratricide, murderous hyenas, and fights to the death might (and did in the showing I went to) upset the younger kids. That’s going to have to be a parental call on a kid by kid basis. There were certainly scenes in this one which were even harder to watch than in the animated movie because of the VERY life-like CGI.

LONG TAKE:

SPOILERS BUT ONLY FOR THOSE 3 OR 4 PEOPLE IN THE SOLAR SYSTEM OVER 10 WHO HAVE NOT SEEN THE ORIGINAL ANIMATED VERSION

Chalk another one up for The Mouse. Before I launch into my review, I’ll say it right now, the CGI IS ASTONISHING. It’s actually just a teensy bit frightening how authentically film makers can now manufacture real life. The animals seem very very life-like.

Aside from allowing the animals to speak, the director, Jon Favreau has had the animators keep the facial and body movement as close as possible to the authentic musculature of real animals, including, of course, their limitations. Real animals don’t smile. Real animals can’t manipulate things which require an opposable digit — unless they have an opposable digit. Real animals don’t dance or pull hula skirts out of thin air. Favreau’s team respects these natural and inherent limitations, bringing an added reality to the characters which was different from the animated version. Audiences generally allow an extra layer of suspension of disbelief not usually afforded a live action and Favreau’s team obviously kept that in mind – creatively working within those limits, making the almost athletically energetic vocals of the human actors all that more important to achieve. And achieve those goals they do.

Despite the early reviews which did not have a lot of love for the (then) upcoming 2019 Lion King, this one deserved all the (literal) applause it got during the credits. I’ll admit to some trepidation, as while Aladdin was well done, Dumbo was an overblown flop. And as Lion King is one of their most enduring and intelligently created stories, I had some reservations. But from the opening scenes I was enchanted.

The entire original animated story is there, as this live action tracks about 90% of the original animated version scene for scene and image for image, notable from the opening sequence as the animals gather to welcome the newly born Prince Simba. The only notable differences throughout the 2019 version were that some of the quips were missing and some of the more ridiculous slapstick was excised. For example, and in keeping with the aforementioned recognition of the natural limitations of real animals: Zazu was not left under a pile of rhinoceroses as cubs Simba and Nala escape his watchful eye, and Timon did not don a hula skirt as a distraction for the hyenas just before the climactic battle. (Do I know the original well? With 6 kids, I have probably seen this movie over a dozen times, so yes.)

Only one scene, in my analysis, suffered slightly from lack of (if you’ll excuse the pun) impact in a diversion from the original. When Rafiki counsels Simba to return to his pride, in the original animated version Rafiki whacks Simba on the head with his club to make the point that: Yes, some history is painful, but once endured, it is then in the past and must be overcome in order to move forward. I can think of some stupid PC reasons why they did not include this part of Rafiki’s argument, but maybe they had a legit plot consideration. In any event this scene is not used in Rafiki’s counsel to Simba in the 2019 version.

Along with why this scene and some of the more memorable quotes were not included, another thing the film makers do not explain is their casting choices. Of the main cast: James Earl Jones who majestically voiced Mufasa, Matthew Broderick who played Simba, Madge Sinclair who voiced Sarabi, Robert Guillame who charmingly gave life to Rafiki, Jeremy Irons who chillingly voiced Scar, Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella, who stole every scene they were in as the comic duo of Timon and Pumbaa, Cheech Marin and Whoopi Goldberg who lent their comic talents to the hyenas, and Rowen Atkinson whose brilliant dry wit was conveyed into Zazu, Jones was the only actor asked back.

There was some ink spilled in the media effusing about how Jones links the movie back to the traditional version and I, personally, was delighted to have him revisit the voice of Mufasa. He has all the timbre of the majestic leader plus his age adds a wonderful, almost foreboding to his character. But I could find very little info on why they did not call the entire cast back. Aside from the tragic death of Guillame, taken by cancer in 2017, and Madge Sinclair who passed away from leukemia not long after The Lion King came out, all of the performers are not only still alive but still active and have ongoing projects. And, aside from the child actor voices from whom replacement by JD McCrary and Shahadi Wright Joseph is understandable, as they now will obviously sound too old for those roles, when acting the adult characters, the ages are irrelevant since they are all doing vocal performances.

The only info I could get on the casting issue was in an interview with Jeremy Irons. When asked why he did not reprise his role as Scar in the new version all he could say was: They didn’t ask me. He then, graciously and diplomatically went on to praise the choice of Chiwetel Ejiofor .

There is NOTHING wrong with the performances in the movie, and had they been the first ones I heard doing these roles I could have been quite content. BUT having heard Broderick, Atkinson, Irons, etc in their respective roles, it was a constant distraction to actively miss the original cast, especially when Jones’ terrific performance was a continuous reminder that the others were not there.

But don’t let my complaints dissuade you from the movie. Despite the differences, I thought this a very well done version. I am merely expressing an, admitted, bias for the details about the one our kids grew up with. I understand some of the changes omitting the more obvious cartoonish slapstick but while I do not understand some of the other choices, can accept them as not being in this version’s vision.

Chiwetel Ejiofor (2012, Dr. Strange and Children of Men) takes on Scar. Donald Glover (The Martian, Solo and Spider-Man : Homecoming) takes over for Simba. John Oliver voices Zazu. Alfre Woodard (Star Trek: First Contact, Captain America: Civil War) speaks for Sarabi. Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner carry Pumbaa and Timon on their respective vocal backs, for which director Favreau wisely arranged for extended improv sessions, much like what was allowed for Lane and Sabella by directors Rogers Allers, and Rob Minkoff for the original, some of which lines were added to the final script.

The Lion King, is heavily influenced by the story of Hamlet. For those not familiar with that theatrical acme, Hamlet is a young prince who must overcome his own insecurities, immaturity and indecisiveness when faced with the prospect of leading his people, after his uncle secretly kills his father, making it appear to be an accident, and marries his mother. (Plug here: BEST Hamlet ever – and ONLY one, to date filmed in its entirety – best of my knowledge – is Branagh’s which you can buy or rent from Amazon – HERE.)

A couple of decisions brings the newer version closer to the 500 year old play. As an example, the original Lion King defined Uncle Scar as grasping only for the crown. This 2019 interpretation hits a bit closer to the Shakespearean home, referring to a past wherein  Scar fought to take Sarabi as his queen and lost to Mufasa. But, unlike Hamlet’s mother, Sarabi has a bit more sense and turns Scar down. This interaction adds more texture to the plot and depth to the character of Scar.

Jon Favreau takes on the daunting task of bringing to life a new version of a beloved classic. Favreau is a very gifted and talented film maker. Favreau is responsible as a director for Iron Man 1 and 2, Jungle Book live action 1 and (the future) 2, an Orville episode, Cowboys and Aliens, Chef, and Zathura: A Space Adventure. He was producer for, among others, Avengers: Endgame and Infinity War. And his long list of acting credits include: creating the adorable sidekick to Iron Man, Happy Hogan, whose character arc has matured with the Avengers movies, as well as playing the titular character in the movie he both wrote and directed in Chef.

As a short digression, and in a lovely taste of poetic symmetry, Favreau, as Happy Hogan, plays his own kind of Rafiki to Tom Holland’s Peter Parker in Spider-Man: Far From Home, counseling the young “Prince” to assume the mantle left for him by his de facto father, Stark, just the way Rafiki counsels Simba in Lion King.

Hans Zimmer returns to refresh the soundtrack he composed for the original Lion King. There are also a couple of additional songs, one of which is performed by Beyonce (who voices Nala) called “Spirit”. While the Shakesperean influence in Lion King, as I have already explained,  is obvious, this 2019 versions also draws from the Biblical story of Moses, who went into exile, crossing the desert to spend years away, only to be called back to bring his people out of bondage. Similarly, Simba crosses the desert that separates his kingdom from the idyllic forest into which he is adopted, until, like Moses, upon his coming to maturity, is called to overcome his own fears and doubts and return – again back across the very Biblically symbolic desert – to free his people from the slavery of Scar and his hyenas. Emphasizing this connection is lyrics from Beyonce’s “Spirit” which includes the line: “So go into that far off land, and be one with the Great I Am, I Am….” The reference to God, the Great I Am, is unmistakably reverent to the Book of Genesis. This was an added depth to the story I hadn’t anticipated but admire about this new version very much.

So go see the new Lion King. But to be fair to this lovely outing, see it with the fresh eyes that Jon Favreau and company have given it.

 

SPOILER-FREE – ENDGAME REVIEW

SHORT TAKE:

Follow up to 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Early teens and up due to some language, brutal fight scenes and somber plot topics.

LONG TAKE:

First off let me repeat – the following review will be spoiler free – unlike the BAZILLION Youtubes, reviews, “explanations,” trailers and headlines I quickly flicked away from, which started appearing about 5 minutes after midnight of its opening. I’m NOT even using pics from Endgame but relying on images from the plethora of previous movies.

If you would NOT like spoilers let me advise you do the same – don’t watch trailers or even scan the titles to Youtubes if you would prefer to be plot-wrecking-free when you go see Endgame.

Endgame, scripted by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, and directed by the brothers Anthony and Joe Russo, is a terrific and worthy bookend to the 22 Marvel films now referred to as the Infinity Saga, starting with Iron Man in 2008. While you certainly could wait until it comes out on DVD, as is a surprise to no one, the cinematic spectacular is best viewed on the big screen.

The visuals are eye shockingly spectacular. I grew up when Forbidden Planet was considered an accomplishment in 1956 and around when Star Wars knocked the socks off astonished cinema goers in 1977. So, to me, the almost infinite (excuse the pun) variety of cinematic visual tricks are amazing, gorgeous, frightening, almost overwhelming and worth the price of admission for even the three or four film attendees in the solar system I have met who are not particularly interested in the Marvel super hero plotlines.

Endgame is also a DARK movie. Not just visually in places, but, as you can imagine with a follow up to the ending of Infinity War, there are: brutal fights, grim topics and emotionally wrenching scenes which may upset smaller children (and did in the screening I was in). This is no light semi-parody Ragnarok with its tongue planted firmly in cheek. While the comeradic banter amongst the players is there, Endgame is obviously a sequel to the gut-wrenching, sucker-punch storyline from the previous movie, and so one must be aware of the somber and anxious overall tone.

In addition, and much to my disapproval, there was more off color language in Endgame than in the majority of the previous Marvel movies. Though no where near the Dead Pool level, I thought it unnecessary for a film with a demographic which should reach most age groups.

And even though there’s ZERO hanky panky, all in all, please take the PG-13 rating seriously.

The characters in the movie continue to wear the skins of their alter egos with the same enthusiasm, affection, and insight as when we first met them.

The soundtrack by Alan Silvestri carries more variety than most Marvel movies and is a pleasure.

SO – that’s about all I can or am willing to say right now. When the time has come that the vast majority of people who want to see it HAVE seen it, I plan on a more in depth review addressing specifics. But until then – GO SEE AVENGERS: ENDGAME THE UNIQUE CULMINATION OF 11 YEARS IN THE MAKING OF OVER 40 SOLID HOURS OF 21 PREVIOUS MOVIES!!! BRAVO TO ALL OF THE CREATIVE TALENT WHO MADE THIS POSSIBLE AND A SPECIAL THANK YOU TO THE LATE STAN LEE.  GOD BLESS.