Thursday, March 14, 2019

Captain Marvel and Short Takes on The Tattooist

Yeah, She’s a Marvel … But Not Quite a Wonder

Review by Ken Burke
Captain Marvel (Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck) rated PG-13
“Executive Summary” (no spoilers): A nice touch to begin this movie is the opening MARVEL graphic filled with images of the late Stan Lee, so crucial as a leader over the years at Marvel Comics as well as having constant cameo-appearance in these Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) movies.  Nevertheless, from there we’re thrown into a quite-confusing-at-times-introduction to our main character, Vers, a female warrior on the distant Kree planet in combat with her sworn enemies, the Skrull.  Unless you’re already familiar with her backstory* or have watched the trailer just below more recently than I have, it may take you some time (along with our hero herself) to understand Vers is actually an Earthling jet pilot, Carol Danvers, who’s not only relocated to join in with the Kree but has also gained extraordinary powers in the process.  Once some of that needed information comes hesitantly into place as she finds herself on Earth, Carol’s determined to find out more about her memory-erased-past-life as she joins with Nick Fury, an emerging agent in the S.H.I.E.L.D. security force.  The more she learns, the more she finds herself in combat with just about everyone else she’s previously known or met (except Fury), with all the needed details finally coming into place to allow some overblown battles in the rest of this narrative which I can’t reveal to you in this spoiler-free-section.  If you’re not one of the millions who’ve already seen this latest MCU/Disney box-office-gold-mine (or will be soon, if you couldn’t get in last weekend) you can either wait to learn the concluding specifics yourself or read the rest of my exploration of this narrative below.  This certainly isn’t the best of the MCU stories so far (but not because it features a female superhero, apparently provoking the ire of a host of idiotic trollers unwilling to see a woman protagonist in this type of story, whom I hope I provoked by seeing it on International Women's Day), although it’s crucial to get this version of Captain Marvel (there’ve been many over the years, including another one opening soon in Shazam!) on screen as prelude to the long-awaited-finale of the current crisis in the gang’s-all-here-version of the Avengers saga, also set for upcoming release.

*If not, this video can help catch you up on how previous adventures of Captain Marvel—who wasn’t always Carol Danvers—lead up to this present story, based somewhat on the print sources.

Here’s the trailer:  (Use the full screen button in the image’s lower right to enlarge it; activate that same button on the full screen’s lower right or your “esc” keyboard key to return to normal size.)

If you can abide plot spoilers read on, but as this blog’s intended for those who’ve seen the film—or want to save some bucks—to help any of you who want to learn more details yet avoid important plot-reveals I’ll identify any give-away sentences/sentence-clusters like this: 
⇒The first and last words will be noted with arrows and red.⇐ OK, now continue on if you prefer.
What Happens: In 1995 we’re on planet Hala, capitol of the far-distant Kree Empire where Vers (Brie Larson), a member of the Starforce security squad run by Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), suffers from recurrent nightmares, so in her now-sleepless-state she calls on her commander for additional combat training after which she’s sent to a meeting with the Kree Supreme Intelligence, an A.I. program derived from the race’s finest minds, appearing to anyone it converses with as a personage intended to be important to the interviewee—in this case an older woman (Annette Bening) Vers doesn’t recognize (but, then, she’s been told she arrived there 6 years ago with no memory of her previous life).  Ms. Supreme tells Vers to keep her emotions in check,* a tough task when her squad heads out to rescue their spy embedded with an enemy species, the Skrulls (doubly-difficult to fight, given their shape-shifting-abilities so they can be hiding right beside you in the guise of a friend or comrade); battle naturally occurs (there’s lots of it in this movie, as you might expect for the fantasy superhero genre, although not graphically-grotesque in the many deaths), resulting in Vers being captured, then subjected to a memory-probe by Skrull leader Talos (Ben Mendelsohn)—allowing us to see various scenes from her earlier life, including one with the woman whose form was taken on by the Supreme Intelligence—until she fights her way out of captivity (she’s got the ability to fire blasts of energy from her hands), escapes the Skrull ship in a pod, crash lands on Earth (through the roof of a Los Angeles Blockbuster video store, closed for the night, providing some quick sight gags including a VHS tape of The Right Stuff [Philip Kaufman, 1983; just happily watched it again via Netflix], about some much-more-limited-atmospheric/space travelers).  This loud neighborhood interruption draws the attention of lower-grade S.H.I.E.L.D. (crucial in later Avengers-based-MCU-movies) agents Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), interrupted by a Vers-seeking-Skrull-squad already shaped-shifted into human form (which the Kree look like naturally, with all these aliens conveniently speaking English even on their home planets, but the true look of the Skrulls is more like the Creature from the Black Lagoon [Jack Arnold, 1954]).

*Useful advice in my life too, both for me personally where I’ve been trying to keep a lid on useless flare-ups for decades (maybe getting better?) and for my local Golden State Warriors basketballers where the temperaments of superstars Draymond Green, Kevin Durant, DeMarcus Cousins, and even coach Steve Kerr could use some dialing back if they ever hope to repeat as the NBA champs.

 Vers has a prolonged battle with a Skrull on a commuter-train (she’s not really beating up an old woman, as it appears in the trailer) while Fury manages to kill another one disguised as Coulson.  As Fury leaves the autopsy as the dead alien’s dissected, the body’s drawn the attention of S.H.I.E.L.D. director Keller (also Mendelsohn, in more recognizable form) who (somehow) becomes copied by Talos, using his fake identity to pursue Fury and Vers as they attempt to research her background after she finds she was an Air Force pilot (later revealed as Carol Danvers), presumed dead in the crash that killed Dr. Wendy Lawson (Bening) in 1989.  More of the usual chaos ensues until Danvers, Fury, and a cat (Goose)—she joined in along the way—steal an airplane, fly to Louisiana to find Danver’s former pilot-buddy, Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch), trying to make sense of it all.  Talos tracks them, revealing major lies on the part of the Kree, especially Yon-Rogg; the Skrulls just want peace in a new home away from the Kree’s violent demonization; Dr. Lawson was a renegade Kree (Mar-Vell) relocated to Earth (C-53 in Kree nomenclature) where she attempted to develop a light-speed-craft Danvers was testing with her when they were shot down by Yon-Rogg, attempting to keep Mar-Vell from aiding the Skrull.  Danvers now remembers all this, including Lawson’s plea for Carol to destroy the plane’s mechanism so its technology wouldn’t be taken by the Kree; she does, but the resulting explosion implants this stupendous power source into her, wiping out her memory in the process, so Yon-Rogg took her to Hala, implanted a hidden control device in the back of her neck, then trained her to use those abilities for Kree purposes while restraining her full capabilities without her awareness.  Back in the present from these flashbacks, Talos takes Danvers, Fury, Rambeau, and Goose to Lawson’s cloaked ship still orbiting Earth where a group of Skrulls (including his family) have been in hiding for years, watching over the powerful little cube called the Tesseract,* which previously powered Lawson’s experimental vehicle.

*We’re fairly early on the MCU timeline (except for ancient happenings in/around Thor’s planet of Asgard, followed much later by WW II actions of Captain America) so this is one of the first Tesseract manifestations (it contains the Space Infinity Stone [scroll way down for Other Media: Film], 1 of 6 components of Thanos’ Infinity Gauntlet, causing all the havoc in Avengers: Infinity War  [Anthony and Joe Russo, 2018; reviewed in our May 3, 2018 posting]); if you need to know how it figured into previous MCU movies this video helps explain, better informing you for … Marvel as well as for the upcoming Avengers: Endgame (Russos) where Captain Marvel plays a crucial part.

 ⇒From this point, essentially all hell breaks loose as the Starforce squad overpowers Danvers, then takes her again to the Supreme Intelligence who tells her she’s under the command of the Kree; however, Carol fights back, rips out the control device, takes on the Starforce commandos while Goose is revealed to be a cat-appearing-alien, a Flerken, who has a hidden dimension inside her body so she swallows the Tesseract (later, for no reason I could understand, she scratches out Fury’s left eye, leading to the eyepatch he wears later in the MCU storylines); Goose also can manifest some fierce tentacles from her mouth, which helps in the latest battle.  We see Yon-Rogg has some extraordinary energy-bolt-powers like Danvers (?; he also says something at some point about transfusing some of his blood into her, although that flew past me pretty fast); ultimately, he proves no match for the fury of Danvers yet the battle’s not over as Kree honcho Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) shows up with a space force, firing ballistic missiles at Earth which Carol stops in mid-air, then destroys as her powers are seemingly becoming limitless.  The other Kree depart, Danvers overpowers Yon-Rogg for good before sending him back to Hala with a warning to stop victimizing the Skrull, although she’ll end this narrative by flying back there herself (under her own power, no spaceship needed) to stop this intergalactic war.  Before she leaves, Fury’s decided to keep Goose as a pet along with convincing Carol to call herself Captain Marvel, inheriting Dr. Lawson’s true name with a new pronunciation (an aspect of a lot of the silliness intended to just zip by us quickly in this movie); she also gives him a pager to use only in a dire emergency.  After she leaves, he notes in an old photo her pilot nickname was “Avenger,” so he uses this as the proposal for S.H.I.E.L.D. to recruit other enhanced-beings for Earth’s protection now he knows aliens truly exist.  In a mid-credits-scene (never leave an MCU movie until the lights come on) we see surviving Avengers Capt. America, Black Widow, The Hulk (in Bruce Banner mode), and War Machine trying to decide how to retaliate against Thanos’ elimination of half the population of the universe at the end of … Infinity War as Capt. Marvel shows up (looking no older than she did almost 25 years ago [another superpower?]) in response to the signal Fury sent her just before he disintegrated at the end of  … Infinity War.  A second mid-credits-scene has Goose (1995) coughing up the Tesseract so it can go its merry way in future movies.  (Why didn’t she keep it hidden?  Who knows?  Not me.)

So What? As has been the case in recent weeks, I’ve only had time to watch a single new option for review this time, but at least I’m offering something readily available (Captain Marvel’s playing in 4,310 domestic [U.S.-Canada] theaters so you can hardly miss it if you try) instead of the more obscure fare I’ve seen lately.  You’re to be easily forgiven if (like me) when you hear the name “Captain Marvel” you immediately think of a hulking guy in a red superhero costume with a yellow lightning bolt across his chest; he does exist, traced all the back to the 1940s when his comic books rivaled those of Superman for market dominance.  However, due to a successful copyright-infringement-suit by DC Comics (now part of the WarnerMedia empire) the character (and his various spinoffs) was acquired by DC, brought into their comics realm, is poised for a big-screen-debut very soon (noted in the next section below); confusingly, though, this male character’s name in the DC world has been changed to Shazam, the word that teenage Billy Batson speaks (it’s the name of a powerful wizard) transforming him into an adult with a multitude of superpowers because Marvel Comics somehow ended up with claim to the guy’s name of Captain Marvel so they developed their own comics line with several variations on some concept of a similar character until in recent years they came up with the Carol Danvers storyline, first in comics called Ms. Marvel, then back to the original name, with this current movie based in general terms on the complex continuity of those publications.  (Fans of any comic-book-superhero invariably have complaints about how their champion’s backstory’s been “corrupted” by movie scripts, but, honestly, there’s just too much to account for in years/decades of these original stories especially when a popular print character spawns several comic books of her/his own as well as making guest appearances in several others, so go here [Wikipedia editors want more citations, but it seems to be to have plenty] if you want to know more about the extensive history of Carol Danvers, the newest Captain Marvel.)

 One of the fascinating aspects of this movie is seeing results of the digital technology used to trim about 25 years off the faces of Jackson and Gregg (the latter's almost unrecognizable in some shots), so great care’s been taken to properly integrate this movie’s events into the overall timeline of MCU stories beginning with Iron Man (Jon Favreau, 2008) but having their true genesis (as noted above) in various aspects of Thor and Captain America continuities of this overall collection which are consciously, intricately woven together, providing a great sense of interaction for those who remember or at least remind themselves of all that’s occurred before (e.g. the Tesseract pops up early-on within MSU chronology in Captain America: The First Avenger [Joe Johnson, 2011], Ronan the Accuser and Starforce commando Korath [Djimon Hounsou] appeared before in Guardians of the Galaxy [James Gunn, 2014; review in our August 7, 2014 posting], although without a reference to my own review of the latter, I’d never have remembered seeing them earlier, so I’m clearly no master of my own domain of MCU commentary in case anyone wishes to remind me of other relevant connections within this narrative web I may have likewise forgotten).  Still, questions have been raised as to why Nick Fury didn’t call Captain Marvel to return to Earth during the Avengers previous challenges to life as we know it, with implications from Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige that either this former S.H.I.E.L.D. commander was confident enough his ever-growing-team of superheroes was up to the tasks they’d faced therefore they didn’t need her help, or maybe she has been back on Earth since 1995 but we weren’t aware of whatever clandestine actions she may have been involved in (sort of like how Wonder Woman remained hidden for centuries before getting involved in WW I, apparently in a manner so unbelievable to soldiers of the time she was dismissed as a fantasy, then continued keeping a low profile until publically revealing herself in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice [Zack Snyder, 2016; review in our April 1, 2016 posting]), so like the promise of new semi-secret Wonder Woman movies in the years before becoming a 21st century-public persona, there may also be some follow-up Captain Marvel movies (focused on unknown actions by Ms. Danvers) taking place prior to … Endgame events.  Any of that may depend entirely on how many of the current Avengers actors—including Brie Larson—care to keep putting on these costumes, as they take note of the many on-screen-incarnations we’ve had of Superman and Batman over past decades, while the Marvel actors have embedded themselves in these roles in ways the Man of Steel, the Dark Knight (and even James Bond) haven’t had to face in terms of audience expectations of continuity (but for me, narrative continuity was what was off-putting for about half of Captain Marvel, where I felt like I was watching a sequel to a movie I hadn’t seen yet).

Bottom Line Final Comments: Despite a split in critics’ response to Captain Marvel—Rotten Tomatoes gave it 80% positive assessments while Metacritic offered only a 64% average score (more details in the Related Links section below)—as well as enough anti-female-superhero-trolling to cause RT to change its viewer pre-release rating policy (preventing the general public from reviewing a film before it opens, in hopes of undercutting snarky campaigns intended to depress ticket sales [although official critics’ comments are still tallied as soon as they’re available]), this latest addition to the MCU had a smashingly-successful-opening of $490 million worldwide ($164.4 of it domestically, #1 for 2019 so far [although with quite a ways to go to top current MCU leader, Avengers: Infinity War at $2.48 billion worldwide]).  You can tell from my 3-stars-rating, I’m not particularly overwhelmed with … Marvel’s storyline (maybe if I’d followed her exploits in the comics I’d have a different opinion), yet I certainly don’t care the character’s morphed from male to female over the decades in this latest incarnation (with an interesting twist upcoming as the folks at DC Films/Warner Bros. will release their more-traditional-male-version of Captain Marvel on April 5, 2019 with Shazam! [David Sandberg], so we’ll see how that box-office-battle plays out).  Unlike in Wonder Woman (Patty Jenkins, 2017; review in our June 8, 2017 posting), Carol Danvers’ story here feels more like a pragmatic attempt to situate her into the MCU prior to those needed superpowers put to use against Thanos in that upcoming Avengers movie rather than something that stands solidly on its own, despite some delightfully-surprising-scenes with Goose (renamed here for the Tom Cruise/Kelly McGillis/Val Kilmer Top Gun’s [Tony Scott, 1986] flyboy, Nick “Goose” Bradshaw [Anthony Edwards] rather than the Captain Marvel comics cat, Chewie [a tribute to Star Wars’ Chewbacca; not sure why this matters as Disney now owns both Marvel and Lucas franchises, but maybe that’s about the fanboys' "sensitivities" too]), along with a constant sense of confidence from Danvers even when meeting unanticipated challenges.  Overall, though, I think it was more effective to piqué our interest with Wonder Woman by having her suddenly erupt into public action against Doomsday in Batman v Superman …, then give her a full backstory movie with no connection at that point to the rest of the DC universe before bringing her into full-scale-superhero-team-combat in Justice League (Snyder, 2017; review in our November 23, 2017 posting), whereas Captain Marvel’s yet-another-hodgepodge of canonical-connections to MCU plotlines, which may delight Marvel-trivia-buffs but it easily gets a bit overwhelming—if not tiresome—for the rest of us.

 Actually, though, Goose gives me an insight for my choice of a Musical Metaphor to bring these comments to a close (as I hope to do with any review, using some chosen song to give one last look at the subject under review, then send us off either into other regions of cyberspace or—if not too radical a thought—the world beyond our media screens; you know, that increasingly-unknown-region called our “real lives”)—partly because (honestly) I couldn’t think of anything else of relevance here, partly because there’s kind of a chain of connections with my chosen Metaphor that allows me to ramble a bit beyond necessity (as I love to do), given once again other interests limited my in-theater-viewing to just 1 feature this week.  So, because I think when all the unnecessary “concern” about Captain Marvel—a woman!—emerging as probably the most powerful of all the MCU superheroes (Thor may be able to match her in shooting out blasts of energy, even without his formerly-trusty hammer, Mjolnir [destroyed in Thor: Ragnarok {Taika Waititi, 2017; review in our November 15, 2017 posting}] but even he doesn’t seem to be capable of flying through space on his own power; I’ll admit, though, I’m not sure exactly what Doctor Strange’s [Scott Derrickson, 2016; review in our November 10, 2016 posting] full capacities are) will dissipate once her abilities aid in the necessary conquest of Thanos (?) after ... Endgame roars into theaters on April 26, 2019, leaving us with the most-striking-memories of Captain Marvel being those scenes where Goose swallows the Tesseract (later spits it up) or unleashes his octopus-like-combat-legs, so in acknowledgement of the not-always-serious, not-always-rational aspects of Captain Marvel my chosen Metaphor is Al Stewart’s “Year of the Cat” (from his 1976 album of the same name) at (a 1979 live performance, celebrating those big-hair-days), a Casablanca* (Michael Curtiz, 1942)-inspired-tune (a tourist wanders a North African market, suddenly encounters a woman for a romantic adventure, leaving him to stay with her after missing his bus the next day), written during the Vietnamese Year of the Cat (parallel to Year of the Rabbit in the Chinese zodiac; born in 1947, I’m part of the current Chinese Year of the Pig—no need to comment, I’ve heard plenty already), a song with little direct connection to the events of Captain Marvel, although the constant challenges Carol faces likely leave her thinking “These days, she says, I feel my life Just like a river running through The year of the cat [… with her ongoing presence on screen this spring forcing even trollish-detractors to admit, against their ornery intentions] You know sometime you’re bound to leave her But for now you’re going to stay in the year of the cat.”

*I'll even provide another fine Musical Metaphor for you, this one about the pain of unresolved love found in the plot of that classic movie (sadly, this clip’s a little darker than it should be), fitting in that our newly-revealed, feisty -warrior, Captain Marvel, gets through the events of her entire story without even the hint of a desired romance (unlike what we see in Wonder Woman’s WW I love-and-war-saga, where her leading man sacrifices himself for the good of the Allied cause), causing me to go further astray in these remarks with this encouragement for you to take a look at an hilarious re-imaging of Casablanca's trailer (be patient; it begins and ends with 10 sec. of video black) using shots from 2 of the Star Wars middle trilogy (still no Chewbacca, though).  What’s that?  You think none of this diversionary stuff has any place in a properly-conceived Captain Marvel review?  Well, then, I’ll just let The Rock respond on my behalf.

The Tattooist (Michael Wong, 2018) 

Here’s the trailer/micro short:                 Click Here          (Sorry, but I can't do a direct Vimeo link)

 Back in 2016 I reviewed, at the director’s request (he’s Malaysian now living in Beijing)a service Film Reviews from Two Guys in the Dark attempts to provide when time allowsWong’s short film, The Story of 90 Coins (2015).  He’s back again with what he calls a micro short (a trailer for a [so far] non-existent feature movie, but one he’d like to make) being shown, according to him, in the “horror film festival circuit,” winning various awards; you can go to IMDb for more info if you like on all the wins and nominations, as well as click on the link for External Reviews (plus scroll the site for User Reviews) to find a good numbers of explorations there, and, of course, there's also a Facebook page (now that Zuckerberg's Folly is up and running again).  Unlike some of those folks, though, I’m not going to offer a star-or-number-based-rating because I reserve those for actual contained narratives, not a precursor to such, intriguing as it may be in its cinematography and disturbing-story-implications.  For me that would be like nominating a TV commercial for a Short Film Oscar (intended for full cinematic stories of non-feature-length) rather than a Clio (intended for various approaches to advertising, where a message needs to be short, impactful, alluring for the product; they do have a Clio Entertainment category that seems to accept movie trailers so maybe The Tattooist should be in competition there).  Anyway, this brief look into the erotic as well as the deadly aspects of body art, implying the sort of cinematic challenge I’d likely shy away from but seems to contain the potential for a most effective psychological horror film for those who enjoy those grisly types of stories, is quick to watch (1:20), well-shot, intentionally-disturbing, another example of this filmmaker’s many talents.  Watch out for him regarding additional accomplishments.
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
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Here’s more information about Captain Marvel: (10:04 video on Easter Eggs and secrets in this movie)

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By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.  But wherever the rest of my body may be my heart’s always with my longtime-companion, lover, and wife, Nina Kindblad, so here’s our favorite shared song—Neil Young’s "Harvest Moon"
—from the performance we saw at the Desert Trip concerts in Indio, CA on October 15, 2016 (as a full moon was rising over the stadium) because “I’m still in love with you,” my dearest, a never-changing-reality even as the moon waxes and wanes over the months/years to come.
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