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Shazam! Review: A Simple Formula For Maximum Fun

shazam

When a particular genre becomes over-saturated and overdone, it’s tempting to try and reinvent the concept in hopes of striking a new chord. It’s especially tempting when so many others have risen the bar to such an insane extent that success can only be measured in billions instead of millions.

It would’ve been easy for a movie like “Shazam” to give into such temptation. With the recent success of “Aquaman” and “Avengers Endgame” set to break all sorts of box office records, it seems like this movie has to do something extreme, just to stand out. How else would it succeed in such a crowded market in a golden age of superhero movies?

That was my greatest concern before I saw “Shazam.” As much as I loved the trailer, I was worried that this movie would try so hard to stand out that it would overlook the part of actually being a fun cinematic experience. That sort of oversight has been plaguing the DC Extended Universe since “Man of Steel.”

This picture sums up the issues nicely.

Well, having seen the movie, I’m happy to say that none of those concerns were founded. In fact, I’m elated to report that “Shazam” is another big win for DC Comics and superhero movies, as a whole. However, it didn’t win because it reinvented the genre or did something radically different. It won because it followed the basic formula for quality superhero movies and had fun along the way.

It helps that the core appeal of Shazam, as a character and superhero, is that it approaches heroics with a childlike playfulness. Billy Batson, the alter ego of the titular hero, is not some jaded adult like Batman. He’s not even a boy scout idealist like Superman. He’s just a kid and one who got dealt a bad hand, for that matter. Being both an orphan and a troublemaker, he sees the adult world through very different eyes.

That’s a novel perspective, to some extent. Every other superhero movie, even going back to the era of Richard Donner’s “Superman,” has framed the idea through an adult lens. It always starts out as something simple. An individual gets superpowers, they start carrying out simple acts of heroism, and those acts eventually get complicated, as often happens with adult issues.

With a character like Billy, things never get that complicated. Again, he’s a kid. Even in his heroic form, he sees conflict with a childlike simplicity and “Shazam” captures that simplicity perfectly. The movie doesn’t deviate much from the details and themes of the source material. Concepts like the Rock of Eternity and the Seven Enemies of Man are present and accurately portrayed.

Such details may not matter to those unfamiliar with the comics, but such accuracy is largely a bonus. What really makes this movie work is how it follows Billy’s journey and not just the one he undergoes as a hero. His evolution when he’s not a magically-endowed superhero is arguably the most meaningful aspect of the story.

When we first meet Billy, it’s hard to discern whether he has the spirit of a hero. He’s no upstanding boy scout. In fact, he’s very much a troublemaker who’s willing to thumb his nose at police, break the rules when it benefits him, and run away from anyone who tries to help him. However, he never comes close to crossing that might send him down a darker path.

It’s that trait that sets him apart from his villainous counterpart, Dr. Sivana. While he’s no Thanos, he demonstrates that he’s a lot like Billy in a few key aspects. He’s given a chance to become a hero, but is unable to refuse the temptation that often comes with immense power. That failure haunts him and pushes him down a darker path.

For a time, it seems as though Billy could walk a similar path. When he first gets his powers, he reacts in ways that most would expect of a 14-year-old boy. He tries to buy beer. He tries to make money. He even ventures into a strip club. It’s hilarious and cute, but it also establishes the perfect tone for a movie that avoids complicating the standard superhero narrative.

Within that narrative, there’s a hero who makes choices and learns from his mistakes. There’s also a villain who makes choices and refuses to learn from them. When they eventually clash, it’s a flashy spectacle with simple, understandable stakes. It’s no Battle of Wakanda, but it doesn’t have to be.

The look of someone who DIDN’T get to work with Josh Brolin.

From the moment he first gets his powers to the final showdown with Dr. Sivana, Billy develops into his own hero, but never loses his childlike mentality. He’s not forced to grow up too fast, nor does he have to abandon the civilian life he’s trying to establish. Whereas being Bruce Wayne is often an inconvenience for Batman, being Billy Batson is necessary for Shazam.

This shows in the seamless characterization provided by Asher Angel, who plays young Billy, and Zachary Levi, who plays Shazam. At no point does either manifestation feel like a different character. They both wield the same childlike charisma as they navigate their superhero journey. The same lovability that made Levi so great in shows like “Chuck” help him and Angel bring out the best in Billy Batson.

When the movie begins, it’s not clear that Billy has what it takes to be a competent hero. Trying to determine his worth is like trying to determine if some random 14-year-old will one day play in the NFL. The odds are against them, but the potential is still there. By the time the credits roll, the message is clear. Billy has the spirit that Shazam was looking for and you can’t help but root for him.

At its core, “Shazam” checks all the right boxes for the classic hero’s journey. Billy Batson is perfectly poised to take that journey and not just because he’s one of many orphans who become superheroes. The movie doesn’t try to subvert these tried and true tropes. If anything, it embraces them and dares to have a little fun along the way.

It’s easy to share in that fun. The humor is exactly what you would expect of a movie that involves 14-year-olds getting superpowers. It’s serious when it needs to be, but never too serious. Given the grim and gritty settings of other DC Extended Universe movies, it’s a breath of fresh air that the superhero genre badly needed.

It’s not without its flaws. Some details of Billy’s life are underdeveloped and glossed over. There were also inconsistencies with Dr. Sivana as well, but none were egregious to the point where they derailed the movie. It simply stuck to a simple formula, mixed in a few twists along the way, and made the most of what it had to work with.

If I had to score “Shazam,” I would give it an 8 out of 10. It didn’t reinvent superhero movies or raise the bar. It was simply a fun, entertaining movie that gave a character with little star power a chance to shine. It even managed to accomplish all this without trying too hard to make him like Batman. For a DC Comics movie, that alone is a major accomplishment.

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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: War Of The Realms #1

Every week, the world is in desperate need of something to make it just a little more fun. As such, every Wednesday brings us a fresh batch of comics that achieves just that and then some. With the anticipation of “Avengers Endgame” at unprecedented levels, we all need something to tide us over until we cram into theaters and send piles of money to our Disney overlords.

Thankfully, a comic like “War of the Realms #1” does plenty to scratch that superhero itch and it doesn’t require anyone to deal with crashing websites. While the big gathering in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is taking shape, these kinds of gatherings seem to occur every other Tuesday in the comics. Some are more awesome than others and the one that unfolds in “War of the Realms #1” definitely qualifies.

You don’t have to have followed to recent comics to appreciate it, although it certainly helps. The world of Marvel comics is always in flux with respect to the threats the heroes face and the situations in which they find themselves. “War of the Realms #1” is a confluence of compounding factors that started in Thor’s world of gods and mythical monsters. Now, it has erupted to a level that even comic book gods can appreciate.

If you thought Asgard was in a rough place after “Thor Ragnarok,” then you’ll be unpleasantly shocked at how much worse it can get in the comics. However, it’s not solely because of giant fiery monsters set to 70s rock music. It’s largely because Odin, in stark contrast to the charm exuded by Anthony Hopkins, is a divine prick in the comics.

It’s because of him that Asgard is in ruins, much of his fellow gods have abandoned him, and the realms are ripe for invasion. Despite being the All-Father of gods, he’s powerless to stop it and the heroes of Earth/Midgard are the ones who have to fight it. Prick or not, it still makes for a hell of a spectacle that brings out the best in Russell Dauterman’s artwork.

The mystical machinations of the war aren’t overly complex, nor do they need to be. Asgard isn’t a shining bastion of order and stability anymore. That means Frost Giants, Dark Elves, and Trolls are free to organize and invade other realms. Leading the pack is Malekith the Accursed and if you thought he was a push-over in “Thor: The Dark World,” this comic should help shatter that notion.

Far from being the bland throw-away villain in the movie, Malekith is a forced to be reckoned with in “War of the Realms #1.” He has united gods, monsters, and entire races into one massive army right out of J. R. R. Tolkein’s worst nightmare. Now, he leads them into a full-scale invasion of Midgard and the battle that ensues is as epic as anyone could hope for.

It’s not just Avengers who rush to the front lines. We see the likes of Spider-Man, Wolverine, Daredevil, and the Punisher join the chaos. This is not just a battle for the Avengers. This is something that will bring in players from all ends of the Marvel Universe.

Even with the recent Disney/Fox merger closing, this isn’t something we’re going to see in the Marvel Cinematic Universe anytime soon. “War of the Realms #1” offers a taste of just how much bigger the world of Marvel can be when all its iconic characters occupy the same world. Even for those who can barely contain their excitement over “Avengers Endgame,” this comic should give those same fans plenty of possibilities to contemplate.

The underlying plot to “War of the Realms #1” may be basic, but Jason Aaron, who has been the architect of both Thor and the Avengers for years, finds plenty of ways to bring depth to such a colorful clash. He even finds a way to squeeze in a joke about colonoscopies and kidney stones. I promise I’m not making that up.

Much like the movies, there bits of humor that keep things from getting too dire. However, “War of the Realms #1” never feels like a joke or an excuse to see Thor beat up frost giants. Jason Aaron has shown, throughout his run, that he can incorporate layers into mystical, hammer-wielding spectacles. Those layers are definitely there and poised to affect the battle.

How that battle plays out is just starting to unfold. Even though this comic is padded with extra pages to go along with the inflated price, it’s very much a prelude to a much larger conflict. That conflict already has Spider-Man making dirty jokes and Loki getting eaten by a frost giant. If you can’t find entertainment in that, then you’re just being difficult.

Beyond the entertainment value, “War of the Realms #1” offers the kind of high-stakes superhero crossover story that movie fans have only recently come to appreciate while comic fans have been enjoying it for years. While Malekith the Accursed will never be on the same level as Josh Brolin’s Thanos, there’s something to be said about a character who can wage a cosmic war on the entire Marvel Universe.

Whatever your feelings about Malekith, Odin, or Spider-Man’s brand toilet humor, “War of the Realms #1” has plenty to enjoy while also setting up a much larger conflict. It’s a story that gives the superheroes we love a chance to unite, kick ass, and break stuff. It’s stories like that which remind comic fans why New Comic Book Day is truly the best day of the week.

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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: Magnificent Ms. Marvel #1

Every Wednesday, a new batch of comics enters this chaotic world and makes it a little more tolerable. As someone who has come to appreciate this weekly injection of personal joy, I’ve taken it upon myself to single out one particular comic that helps make that Wednesday extra special in the hearts of comic fans.

This week had more going for it than most because “Magnificent Ms. Marvel #1” came out and for those still bathing in the afterglow of the “Captain Marvel” movie, this is a perfect desert. While it doesn’t feature Carol Danvers, it does focus on Kamala Khan, her biggest fan and the one who has been carrying on her mantle wonderfully since 2014.

I’ve already mentioned Kamala before, having singled her out as a case study in how to do young female superheroes right in an era where gender politics and internet trolls are determined to make everything go horribly wrong. Kamala has grown a great deal over the past several years and, with the success of “Captain Marvel,” seems destined to enter the MCU.

There’s so much about Kamala that makes her lovable, heroic, and compelling. If you need a reminder why, “Magnificent Ms. Marvel #1” is the perfect refresher. This series marks a transition of sorts. The previous writer for Ms. Marvel, G. Willow Wilson, has left the title. As the one who created Kamala Khan and did so much to make her so lovable, she set a very high bar.

Kamala’s new writer, Saladin Ahmed, does plenty to maintain the lovability that comic fans have come to expect from Ms. Marvel. In the earliest parts of the issue, he takes a page right out of Wilson’s creative playbook by focusing heavily on Kamala’s story when she’s not in costume.

It’s a major part of what makes Kamala so relatable. She’s an aspiring superhero, but she’s also a teenage girl with plenty of non-superhero issues to deal with. She has friends, parents, and bus schedules to deal with. Like a young Peter Parker, she has to balance her superhero life with her civilian life. Unlike Peter Parker, though, her life is subject to unique challenges that aren’t contingent upon dead uncles.

While Kamala does spend time in her Ms. Marvel costume fighting a couple villains, the biggest upheavals in “Magnificent Ms. Marvel #1” occur when she’s not in costume. I won’t drop too many spoilers. I’ll just say that her superhero life and her civilian life come at a sudden crossroads.

At first, it seems sudden. There doesn’t appear to be much of a build towards the drama. Then, Ahmed throws in an unexpected twist towards the end that completely changes the situation surrounding that drama. It suddenly becomes a mystery, one that may have greater consequences for Kamala down the road.

Every teenage superhero faces critical moments, at some point, that changes the course of their journey. Peter Parker often dealt with those moments by quitting for a while, but Kamala never gives the impression that she’s going to quit. Despite all the hardship and frustration that being Ms. Marvel brings her, she never uses that as an excuse to walk away. That, in and of itself, puts her ahead of the curve for most aspiring superheroes.

At the same time, it also makes her vulnerable. “Magnificent Ms. Marvel #1” puts her in a position where her life as Ms. Marvel and Kamala Khan undergo a major upheaval. She faces a new kind of threat that isn’t well-defined. However, it quickly establishes that it’s capable of attacking her on a very personal level.

It’s the worst kind of attack for a young hero undergoing heavy personal dramas. She basically has to fight her battles with a wounded spirit, but she still fights. That’s what makes her Ms. Marvel. That’s what makes her so easy to root for, both as a character and as a hero.

For years, G. Willow Wilson told Kamala’s story in a way that made her endearing in her own unique way. So far, Saladin Ahmed is moving that story forward in ways that make you want to root for Kamala even more. “Magnificent Ms. Marvel #1” doesn’t just tell the next phase of Ms. Marvel’s superhero journey. It raises the stakes, promising a new kind of challenge that will either break her heart or make it stronger.

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Five Reasons Why Marvel SHOULD Make An Avengers vs. X-Men Movie

avengers_vs._x-men_event

What can be said about the Marvel Cinematic Universe that hasn’t already been said, affirmed, or celebrated? I know I’ve said plenty about it, both in glowing terms and with real concern. Being a fan of superhero comics and the superhero genre, in general, I don’t think I can add much more to the near-cosmic status of this cinematic achievement.

The support of the fans and the billions made at the box office speaks for itself. Say what you will about Disney’s desire to exploit fandoms out of their money. They know how to give the people what they want. Between the recent success of “Captain Marvel” and the insane expectations surrounding “Avengers Endgame,” it’s hard to imagine this decade-spanning franchise ascending to greater heights.

I believe it will, though. I also believe that part of that ascension will involve pitting the Avengers against the X-Men in a clash that is sure to rock the foundations of the MCU. I know that’s somewhat of a reversal of my previous opinions, but recent events have led me to reconsider my position on the Avengers fighting the X-Men.

This isn’t just me, a passionate fan, speculating on what I think will happen once “Avengers Endgame” and the Disney/Fox merger is final. We already know that the X-Men and Fantastic Four are scheduled to arrive in the MCU at some point. It’s the impact they’ll have that’ll set the tone for the future of the MCU and there are already rumors about that impact swirling.

Now, all internet rumors should be taken with the smallest grains of salt, but according to We Got This Covered, a site with a mixed reputation at best, the top brass at Marvel Studios are already plotting a future Avengers vs. X-Men movie. If true, in whole or in part, it would be a bold move, even by the lofty standards of Marvel and their Disney overlords.

It would definitely be a gamble, that’s for sure. That’s because the Avengers and X-Men have clashed in the comics before. There was even a major crossover event entitled “Avengers vs. X-Men” back in 2012. While I won’t get into the specifics surrounding that event, I will go on record as saying that it’s not one of those iconic Marvel stories that fans hold dear.

In fact, “Avengers vs. X-Men” is probably the most controversial and divisive story Marvel has told in the past 15 years. It’s not just because it pitted two iconic superhero teams against one another for reasons that weren’t properly fleshed out. It marked the point where heroes fighting other heroes officially got old.

It doesn’t help that the MCU already had a major clash like that with “Captain America: Civil War.” It helps even less that “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” burned fans out even more on the topic. However, by the time Marvel and Disney get around to making an Avengers vs. X-Men movie, I believe the time will be right to tell this story.

Right now, the MCU is in a bit of a transition. “Avengers Endgame” is set to conclude the story that began with “Iron Man” back in 2008. The arrival of the X-Men and the Fantastic Four in the MCU hasn’t even begun yet and the powerful voices at Marvel Studios have already indicated that they’ll be starting from scratch.

Whatever form their arrival takes, it’s sure to take the MCU in new directions. However, I believe an Avengers vs. X-Men movie would unite the new aspects of the franchise with the old. It would act as a catalyst, of sorts, to connect the stories of the present to those in the past. If done right, it could carry the MCU to heights that Thanos himself couldn’t have achieved.

While I am not a fan of how the conflict played out in the comics, I believe the likes of Kevin Feige and Laura Shuler Donner could craft a superhero battle for the ages that will leave fans like me excited for another decade. What follows are my top five reasons why I believe Marvel and Disney should pursue Avengers vs. X-Men movie.

I concede there are many who don’t share my sentiments. I welcome any comments arguing to the contrary. For now, though, this is why I believe such a movie would fit perfectly into the cinematic marvel that is the MCU.


Reason #1: It Would Highlight (And Confront) The Discrepancies On How The World Approaches Superpowers

As soon as the X-Men arrive in the MCU, they’ll be faced with a frustrating double standard. Spider-Man has superpowers that he uses to swing around New York City, fight bad guys, and save the day. In general, he’s celebrated as a hero, along with most of the Avengers. The X-Men use their superpowers to do the same, but are labeled dangerous threats. What gives?

There are a lot of political and logistical reasons for this. Unlike other heroes, the X-Men are mutants. They were born with their powers. They’re part of an emerging sub-species that may or may not render homo sapiens extinct. That scares ordinary people more than some kid who just got superpowers in a random accident. How does society and established superhero teams deal with that?

It’s a relevant question and one the Inhumans failed miserably at addressing. Part of what made “Captain America: Civil War” such a compelling movie was that it didn’t avoid the complexities of this issue, acknowledging how difficult it is to hold people with superpowers accountable. That conflict was never fully resolved. In an Avengers vs. X-Men movie, the stakes would be even higher.

Unlike “Captain America: Civil War,” however, neither side can leave the conflict unresolved. Mutants will still emerge. People will superpowers will continue to exist. It puts iconic heroes in difficult positions that they can’t punch, stab, or smash their way out of and that often brings out the best and worst in these iconic characters.


Reason #2: It Would Raise The Stakes Surrounding Mutants In The MCU

In many ways, a clash with the Avengers would be the best way to show just how big an impact they’ve had on the MCU. Once the Avengers take notice, there’s no ignoring it anymore. Neither mutants nor the X-men would be able to operate in their own little niche of the MCU. They would have to play a larger part in a world that has already incurred a lot of damage from super-powered beings.

This sort of step is necessary in the overall narrative surrounding mutants in the MCU. It would be their coming out party, so to speak. It would show how far they’ve come and how much farther they have to go in terms of gaining legitimacy in the MCU. The X-Men, especially, have a lot to gain and a lot more to lose.

Unlike the Avengers, they can’t fall back on their reputation of having saved the world from Ultron or a Chitari invasion. They’ll be this upstart superhero team fighting to protect a group of vulnerable minorities who may or may not present a clear danger to those around them. It’ll be their chance to show that they belong on the same stage as the Avengers and the MCU will be better because of it.


Reason #3: It Would Intensify Rivalries And Ruin Friendships

There are plenty of rivalries in the comics that haven’t yet made their way into the MCU. Some are more prominent than others. The recent arrival of Captain Marvel lays the foundation for an especially big rivalry between her and Rogue, which would certainly add more personal stakes to an Avengers vs. X-men movie.

Beyond rivalries, the comics are full of friendships and connections that run quite deep. Wolverine had close personal ties to both Captain America and Black Widow in the comics. Storm has an extensive, albeit flawed, relationship with Black Panther. A number of X-Men have even been Avengers at some point.

Any clash between the Avengers and X-Men is sure to complicate every friendship and rivalry the two teams may have. Some of those connections will take time to develop. It’s very likely that the next phase of the MCU will probably focus on that in addition to integrating mutants into the MCU. An Avengers vs. X-men movie could simply act as a boiling point where it all comes to a head.


Reason #4: It Would Complicate What It Means To Be A Superhero (In A Good Way)

To some extent, the Avengers were lucky that Marvel Studios couldn’t use the X-Men in the early days of the MCU. In a world without mutants, being a superhero was less complicated. They just needed to use their powers and abilities in a heroic way. Then, they had to assemble and show that they could win wars against invading aliens.

The presence of an entire race of super-powered people, many of which are not inclined to be superheroes, adds a huge complication to the path towards heroism. The fact that mutants have powers presents them and non-mutant heroes with a conundrum.

Are mutants who don’t use their powers to be heroes irresponsible?

Are mutants who choose to use their powers for heroics on the same level as those who got their powers through another means?

These questions don’t have clear-cut answers. In a world where superpowers exist, mutants are a huge complication and the X-Men are on the front lines of it all. They try to inspire other mutants to do what they do while protecting those who choose a different path. They do so knowing that it only takes one mutant using their powers irresponsibility to do a lot of damage.

In an Avengers vs. X-Men movie, the very merits of being a superhero will suddenly be up for debate. That debate won’t likely be resolved with civil conversation and intelligent discourse. Whenever someone like Wolverine and the Hulk are involved, it’s a given there’s bound to be plenty of stabbing and smashing.


Reason #5: It Would Create New Opportunities For Better Villains (With Better Motivations)

Every clash between superheroes comes with a cost. “Captain America: Civil War” effectively divided the superhero community, which made them ill-prepared when Thanos arrived in “Avengers: Infinity War.” The comics followed a similar theme. After the original Civil War event, the entire world became vulnerable to a Skrull invasion.

A battle between the Avengers and X-Men will create a new host of vulnerabilities. For villains, it’s a golden opportunity to establish themselves in a world that is suddenly crowded with superheroes. While Thanos, Loki, and Killmonger all raised the bar for villainy, they couldn’t have emerged without the right opportunity.

With mutants, there aren’t just new opportunities. There are entirely new dynamics at work. It’s no longer a world in which superpowers are just complicated accidents. They can happen in individuals simply by being born. Within those dynamics, new kinds of villains with entirely new motivations can emerge.

Good villains are every bit as critical as good heroes, more so today than in previous eras. If the MCU is to continue to dominate, it needs to nurture the development of those villains while also creating vulnerabilities for them to exploit among heroes. An Avengers vs. X-Men movie would accomplish both.


There are probably other reasons I could list as to why I feel Marvel Studios should make this movie. There are probably plenty of other reasons why they shouldn’t. With the future of the MCU once again set to change after “Avengers Endgame,” the possibilities are vast. With the inclusion of the X-Men, and all the complications that come with them, it’s poised to evolve in bold new ways.

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Higher, Further, Faster, And Fun: A (Spoiler-Free) Review Of “Captain Marvel”

captain-marvel-costume-brie-larson-mcu-movie

Soaring to new heights, venturing into uncharted territory, and achieving greater things always requires a great deal of risk. If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll only get what you’ve always gotten and that’s just not enough for some people. For Marvel Studios, the gold standard by which all other movie studios are measured, it has to take those risks in order to expand its dominance into another decade.

A movie as big as “Avengers: Infinity War” or as diverse as “Black Panther” had high stakes on top of higher aspirations. They had to keep raising the bar that Marvel Studios had already raised to unprecedented heights. Those movies both succeeded and raked in record profits, but even those movies never faced challenges like the ones faced by “Captain Marvel.”

Without a doubt, this movie will go down as one of the riskiest movies Marvel Studios has ever made, which is saying something for the same studio that made an “Ant Man” movie. It’s not just because “Captain Marvel” is Marvel’s first female-led superhero movie, nor is it because DC set a pretty high bar with “Wonder Woman.”

Captain Marvel” arrives with more baggage than any other superhero movie not associated with Joel Shumacher. In some respects, it’s coming out at the worst possible time. This is an era where gender politics are on a hair-trigger and features an actress who has been outspoken on where her political affiliations lie. It’s like bringing a tank of gasoline to a growing wildfire.

The context of this movie and its politics are already well-documented and I’ve made my opinions on it known. Beyond the politics, the heated gender debates, and coordinated efforts to tank this movie, there’s still one critical question that overrides all the baggage and burdens.

Is “Captain Marvel” a good movie?

Having seen it at a midnight showing in which the theater was quite packed, I can say in my humble opinion that yes. It is a good, entertaining movie. It doesn’t deviate too far from the Marvel Studios tradition of making superhero movies that are fun, entertaining, and heartfelt. However, “Captain Marvel” ends up achieving much more than that.

Before I go any further, I want to make a few comments about the heated politics surrounding this movie. I’m not going to focus too much on them, but I’m not going to avoid them, either. I get that some people will go into this movie with certain expectations and look for any excuse to justify those expectations. This is my response to those specific individuals.

No, this movie is not laced with radical feminist undertones.

No, this movie does not denigrate men or a specific race of men.

No, this movie does not make overtly political statements.

No, Carol Danvers is not a Mary Sue who is never allowed to fail or be wrong.

Yes, the movie is entertaining and fun in the tradition of good superhero movies.

Yes, the movie is respectful of the history and personality of the character.

Having said all that, I understand that there are a number of people who may disagree with every one of those statements. However, after seeing the movie and having time to digest all its high-flying details, I believe that doing so requires a level of outright pettiness that obscures just how good this movie is.

 

This movie does not have the luxury of expanding on a character who was previously introduced. Unlike Black Panther, Carol has nothing to build on when the movie starts. However, things move quickly once the action gets going. We find out early on that Carol is in a difficult situation, but tenuous situation. In addition, that situation helps further the world-building that is so distinct of the MCU.

We learn more about the Kree in the first 20 minutes of this movie than we have in any other Marvel movie, to date. They’ve been mentioned before in “Guardians of the Galaxy,” but who they are and what they’re like is firmly established in “Captain Marvel.” Their iconic rivals, the Skrulls, are also introduced and it’s here where the movie really shines.

If you’re not familiar with the history of comics, it’s hard to overstate how critical the Kree/Skrull war is to the cosmic side of the Marvel universe. This massive war is something that Carol finds herself in the middle of and her role in it evolves over the course of the movie. Without getting too heavy into spoiler territory, it’s safe to say that this evolution is what helps make her Captain Marvel.

Carol’s story isn’t just about her seeking to fly higher, further, and faster. Through both flashbacks to her past and struggles in the present, her journey from being a loyal Kree warrior to Captain Marvel feels personal, even as it moves the story forward. At first, it feels like the story is on a predictable path. However, that changes, thanks largely to Carol’s the supporting cast.

This is where Samuel L. Jackson’s role as Nick Fury and Ben Mendelson’s role as Talos really complements the story. Their choices and their actions put Carol in a situation where she comes to some difficult realizations and has to make difficult decisions. In doing so, she becomes the hero that she needs to be, both for this movie and for the MCU.

It’s not unlike the evolution that other characters like Tony Stark and Thor have undergone. They start off with one particular outlook on their world. Then, they find themselves in a situation that undermines and even shatters what they thought was right and true. Rather than avoid the unpleasant implications, they confront them. That’s what heroes do and that’s what Carol Danvers does.

By the end of “Captain Marvel,” it’s easy to root for Carol. As she realizes her true power, she becomes the kind of hero that fits right in with the Avengers. The source of that power is not something she inherits or pursues. True to her comic book origins, her high-flying aspirations lead to an accident that comes close to destroying her. Also like the comics, it renders her vulnerable in unexpected ways.

Throughout the movie, Carol is guided and often frustrated by her limits. Some of those limits are things she puts on herself. Some are limits that others impose on her. Overcoming such limits, be they her own emotions or the actions of others, is the true strength of her character. It’s a strength that anyone, regardless of race, gender, or anything of the sort, can respect.

That’s not to say there aren’t flaws in that journey, along the way. In terms of a superhero origin movie, I would not put “Captain Marvel” above the ranks of “Batman Begins” or “Iron Man.” The movie does feel somewhat congested in several areas and the pacing, especially in the early parts of the movie, are a bit erratic.

There’s also an issue with villains in this movie, to the extent that they’re vague. Both the Skrulls and Jude Law’s, Yon-Rogg, aren’t going to give Thanos or Erik Killmonger a run for their money. Even the presence of a young Ronan the Accuser feels like a missed opportunity. While Carol has plenty of fights to pick in this movie, the lack of a major villain is somewhat glaring.

Let’s face it. Nobody was going to top THIS guy.

However, this doesn’t keep “Captain Marvel” from succeeding in the ways we’ve come to expect from Marvel Studios. The distinct bits of humor and tone are definitely there. The use of 90s nostalgia, from grunge rock to Blockbuster, works at every turn. The choice of music is spot on for every scene. Like “Captain America” and “Wonder Woman,” the time and place fits perfectly with the story.

By nearly every measure, “Captain Marvel” checks all the right boxes, in terms of a quality product from Marvel Studios. Again, it is possible for someone to single out certain scenes as proof that the movie is trying to make a political statement. However, I would argue that you could find similar scenes in movies like “Wonder Woman” and even “Deadpool.”

At the end of the day, if you’re really determined to hate this movie and label it as some sort of hit piece against a particular race or gender, you’ll find multiple excuses. However, it still requires a level of pettiness that requires someone to actively look for a reason to be offended and there’s already too much of that in this world.

If you watch “Captain Marvel” with the sole desire to be entertained and see the MCU evolve before your eyes, this movie will deliver in all the right ways. If I had to score this movie, I would give it a 4 out of 5. It’s a fun ride with a few bumps along the way, but is ultimately satisfying by the end. On top of that, the post-credits scene help further build the excitement for “Avengers: Endgame.”

Also, no matter your politics, the Stan Lee tribute at the beginning of the movie is beautiful.

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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: Meet The Skrulls #1

Every Wednesday is basically a holy day for comic book fans, minus the prayers, confessions, or itchy formal clothes. Like gifts from Heaven, a new batch of comics is bestowed upon this incredibly flawed world and, if only briefly, everything feels a little more awesome.

This week’s comics arrive under unique circumstances with the release of the “Captain Marvel” movie. Any new entry from the Marvel Cinematic Universe is bound to gain more attention, albeit for the wrong reasons, at times. However, in spite of and because of such circumstances, some comics stand out more than others.

In terms of comics that feel perfectly timed and beautifully relevant, “Meet The Skrulls #1” really raises the bar. It’s not a comic about superheroes or mundane family drama, either. It’s one of those books with a unique, but intriguing concept that involves shape-shifting aliens, teen melodrama, and catching politicians in compromising positions. That made it an easy choice for my weekly comic quick pick.

It may sound like a strange collection of plots, but that’s exactly what “Meet The Skrulls #1” delivers. It’s the first issue of a mini-series by Robbie Thompson and Niko Henrichon and it chronicles the mission of the Warner family. Part of that mission just happens to involve being a typical suburban family.

It almost seems too ideal for any mission involving the skrulls. The father, Carl, works at Stark Industries and has a front-row seat to Iron Man’s high-tech antics. The mother, Gloria, works for a congresswoman and specializes in making her opponents miserable. Their two daughters, Madison and Alice, are teenage girls attending high school, which gives them more incentive than most to hasten an alien invasion.

The concept is great, but not just because it involves shape-shifting aliens and teenage melodrama. “Meet The Skrulls #1” provides a rare, but meaningful opportunity to tell a story from the perspective of the villains. Throughout much of Marvel’s history, Skrulls have always either been outright villains or generally antagonistic to everyone on Earth and not just their heroes.

That behavior isn’t entirely contrived, though. The Skrulls are, by their nature, a very warlike race. Their society, their culture, and their very biology is driven by war, infiltration, and subversion. More than one major Marvel event has been built around it and it’s very possible they’ll bring major complications to the MCU.

However, this collection of Skrulls aren’t just some military unit with the same depth as the henchmen of a James Bond villain. The Warners are an actual family. The parents show concern for their children. The children find ways to frustrate their parents. They deal with personal, professional, and identity issues. It utilizes sentiments that resonates with everyone, regardless of whether they’re a shape-shifting alien.

Meet The Skrulls #1” does plenty to introduce the Warners and explain their mission. Compared to other Skrull missions, it doesn’t vary that much in terms of goals. They still seek to invade and take over Earth, but not just because the cries of tortured humans makes them happy. They’re actually trying to create a new home for themselves and the Warners, in many ways, are the first to experience that home.

That home is already subject to many challenges. While the Warners are carrying out their mission, there’s a looming threat that promises to undermine that mission and rip apart their family. The identity and extent of that threat is only hinted at, but it certainly raises the stakes for the family. It’s not just about completing a mission. Now, it’s about protecting one another.

They’re still not heroes, but they’re not entirely villains. Sure, they want to invade Earth and take it over, but they also want to build a home for themselves. They want to create a better life for their people and their children. Even though it puts them at odds with the Avengers and everyone else on Earth, their goals feel relatable and relevant.

On top of that, the teenage melodrama with Madison and Alice provides more complications, but in a good way. They’re still part of the mission, but they’re hardly on the same page. One is all too happy to manipulate humans to her own advantage. The other feels a kinship with them that worries her family.

There are so many conflicts brewing and “Meet The Skrulls #1” cultivates them without resorting to standard superhero spectacles. That, alone, makes this comic feel like a breath of fresh air. Not every comic book has to follow a superhero as they fight monsters and get caught up in terrible love triangles. There is room for new perspectives and new insights.

Thompson and Henrichon set up a lot, in terms of plot and potential. There’s only so much they’ll be able to realize in a five-issue mini-series, but that’s exactly what makes “Meet The Skrulls #1” so enjoyable. Every moment counts and with Skrulls about to have their big breakout on the big screen, the timing couldn’t be better.

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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: Captain Marvel: Braver & Mightier #1

Every week, a new collection of comics enters this world and makes it a just little more bearable. In these times of internet trolls, political divide, and terrible movie remakes, few things are as relaxing and rewarding as enjoying a good comic on a Wednesday morning. Once again, I’m here to single out one particular comic that helps make a good morning turn into a great day.

This week, along with a sizable chunk of 2019 thus far, is another great week to be a fan of all things Carol “Captain Marvel” Danvers. With her big debut movie coming out in just over a week, she’s about to achieve a rare status among comic book superheroes. That makes a comic like “Captain Marvel: Braver and Mightier #1” that much more special.

This comic isn’t actually part of Captain Marvel’s other ongoing series by Kelly Thompson, which I also highly recommend. This comic is a simple one-shot with a simple story that, in 23 short pages, highlights why Captain Marvel is a character deserving of the superhero A-list.

If you’re looking for a plot with some big, elaborate twist, you’re looking for too much here and you’re looking in the wrong place. If you’re just looking for a nice, simple summation of who Carol Danvers is and why she’s such a great hero, you’ll get everything you need and then some.

Writer, Jody Houser, puts Carol in a fairly simple setting. A fleet of mysterious aliens are threatening to invade Earth. It’s the sort of thing that happens at least once a week in the Marvel universe. It happens so often that it really doesn’t warrant assembling the Avengers. This sort of thing is right up Carol’s alley.

While this is going on, another smaller story unfolds back on Earth. At the Air and Space Museum back on the ground, Carol is being honored with her own little day of celebration. Having come from the United States Air Force and from NASA, it makes perfect sense that they would single her out as their preferred hero. Captain America already has the 4th of July and Tony Stark has a big enough ego.

As part of this celebration, some people in the press are looking for a chance to interview her. Among that press pool are a couple of local high school students who only got to attend because they’re local. They’re not exactly professional reports. They even admit that. However, they still have a chance to talk to Captain Marvel and they want to make the most of it.

They won’t get to ask her many questions. In fact, they need to figure out just one. All the while, they find out along with the rest of the world that Captain Marvel is fighting aliens on the same day when she’s supposed to be celebrated. It feels exactly like the sort of thing she would do, but these two plots complement each other in a way that really works in the end.

Without spoiling too much, Ms. Houser uses “Captain Marvel: Braver and Mightier #1” to demonstrate an issue that affects Captain Marvel more than most superheroes. As someone who is part human and part alien, she is often torn between worlds. Her desire to fly higher, further, and faster isn’t just about ambition. It reflects how her alien side often clashes with her human side.

Throughout her history, especially since she took the title of Captain Marvel in 2012, she often finds herself divided between confronting alien threats in Marvel’s vast cosmic landscape and defending the Earth with her fellow Avengers. As a result, it’s sometimes hard for her to relate to the people on Earth, as well as the aliens not trying to kill her.

Being able to relate to the people they’re saving is an important component for any hero, regardless of their origins or heritage. Superman is an alien and Wonder Woman is a demigod, but they still have strong connections to the world they protect. “Captain Marvel: Braver and Mightier #1” helps remind Carol of that connection.

In the end, Ms. Houser’s story and Simone Buonfantino’s artwork work together perfectly to demonstrate how far Carol Danvers has come and how much further she is poised to soar. It acknowledges the challenges she faced in the past and even noted some of her failures. However, Carol takes the good with the bad. That’s not just the mindset of a good superhero. That’s the mentality of a mature, understanding person.

The simplicity and humanity of “Captain Marvel: Braver and Mightier #1” makes it an excellent entry point for those curious about Captain Marvel beyond her upcoming movie. Again, it’s not too dense in terms of plot, but doesn’t need to be in order to work. It’s a good time to be a fan of all things Carol Danvers and this comic can only make those good times even greater.

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