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

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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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How The Captain Marvel Movie Could Actually Fail

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I hope everyone has had a chance to catch their breath after the release of the “Captain Marveltrailer. I certainly needed a day or two. It was one of those experiences in which it takes time to process every wondrous detail. I don’t know how many times I watched it. I just know that March 8, 2019 cannot get here fast enough.

The response to the trailer has been overwhelmingly positive, which has become the norm for all things affiliated with Marvel Studios. The bar for this movie is high, but matching and exceeding high bars is exactly what Carol Danvers does. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is already on an unprecedented win streak, both in terms of acclaim and box office. By all accounts, “Captain Marvel” is poised to continue that streak.

If I had to bet on it, I would place a hefty wager on “Captain Marvel” succeeding. Marvel Studios is riding such a huge wave of hype after “Avengers: Infinity War” that the idea of one of their movies failing seems unthinkable. However, it wasn’t that long ago that people felt the same way about “Star Wars.” Then, “Solo: A Star Wars Story” came along and shattered that notion with the force of a thousand Death Stars.

Like it or not, the law of averages dictates that Marvel Studios will fail at some point. Whether or not that happens with “Captain Marvel” remains to be seen. For the moment, that doesn’t seem likely, but the possibility is definitely there. I would go so far as to say that “Captain Marvel” is more vulnerable than previous Marvel movies and not just because the bar for success is so ridiculously high.

Kevin Feige, the President of Marvel Studios, has gone on record as saying that Captain Marvel will be one of the most powerful characters in the MCU. Her presence will be a game-changer for the immediate and distant future. That means the margin for error is ridiculously small. Marvel Studios literally cannot afford for “Captain Marvel” to fail. That may end up being what makes this movie so vulnerable.

As a lifelong fan of superhero comics and a Captain Marvel fan, I feel like it’s worth contemplating this most distressing possibility. Never mind the implications for Marvel, Disney, and the entire superhero genre that may unfold in the event that “Captain Marvel” fails. How could a movie with so much going for it and an Oscar-winning actress in Brie Larson end up failing in the first place?

After watching the new trailer multiple times, reading multiple articles, and contemplating my previous comments on this movie, I’ve surmised a handful of concerns that I believe could derail this movie. Some of these concerns assume certain details that may very well be dead wrong by the time the movie comes out. I have no insight beyond the trailers I’ve seen and the details that have been made public.

I don’t expect everyone to share these concerns. Some may even have entirely difference concerns and I’d be happy to discuss them in the comics. For now, this is just me, as a fan of both Carol Danvers and superhero comics, contemplating what could go wrong for a movie that aspires to do so much.


Reason #1: Limiting The Extent Of Carol’s Agency (Inadvertently)

One of the biggest revelations from the second trailer had to do with an important plot point that was ripped directly from the comics. In the first minute, we find out that Carol’s memory has been erased and she’s caught up in the agenda of the Kree. Given how the only notable Kree character in the MCU to date has been Ronan the Accuser, this does not bode well for her.

This is a critical detail because in the comics, Carol lost both her memories and her powers at one point and had to effectively rebuild herself. That struggle helped establish how resilient she was, as a character. It also helped build her appeal. More importantly, though, it emphasized her struggle to regain her sense of agency.

Being mind-wiped is always a tricky plot point, as was nicely demonstrated in “Captain America: Civil War.” The biggest problem is being mind-wiped really hinders a character’s ability to make weighty choices. For Bucky Barnes, that isn’t too controversial. For Carol Danvers, a female hero in an era where female heroes have become fodder for identity politics, it could be an issue.

If, from the get-go, Carol is just a puppet of the Kree and her entire story revolves around her escaping their control, then that doesn’t just narrow the plot. It limits her agency because it makes her choices predictable. If, at any point in the story, she’s faced with a choice to follow the agenda of the Kree or go against them, it’s not going to surprise anyone when she chooses to go against the aliens trying to use her.

By making too much of the story about Carol re-asserting her agency, it makes the movie less about her fighting shape-shifting aliens and more about her regaining her independence. While that too can be a compelling story, and one in line with her history in the comics, it hinders the plot by making every choice obvious. When none of the choices in a story seem difficult, it can get boring fast.


Reason #2: Not Allowing Carol To Be Wrong

This is another factor that could make “Captain Marvel” too predictable and boring. Marvel Studios has made it clear that they want Carol Danvers to be the future of the MCU. Like Captain America, she’s poised to become the face of Marvel and their Disney overlords. For that very reason, it’s important that they allow her to be wrong.

To understand why, think back to “Wonder Woman,” the movie that set the gold standard for female superhero movies. In this movie, Wonder Woman doesn’t just make a fateful choice when she leaves Paradise Island. She also ends up being dead wrong about the identity of Ares. It made for a powerful moment that genuinely surprised me.

That moment didn’t just establish that Wonder Woman was fallible, despite being this overpowered badass warrior princess. It humanized her in a critical way. You could argue that this trait is more integral to Marvel’s heroes because they end up being wrong in a wide variety of ways. Tony Stark’s journey to becoming Iron Man started with him being wrong about something.

My concern for Carol is that making her this overpowered female hero who can defeat Thanos will take priority over everything else. The story won’t even give her a chance to be wrong or make a bad decision. That won’t just make the plot predictable and boring. It could earn Carol Danvers the dreaded “Mary Sue” label that has plagued characters like Rey.

That, more than anything, could derail Carol’s ascension to the upper echelons of the MCU. If she becomes a joke more than an icon, then she won’t be able to do carry out the bold plans that Marvel Studios has laid out for her. Part of what makes characters like Iron Man and Wonder Woman so popular is that they’re so easy to cheer for. Cheering for an annoyingly flawless character who is never wrong is much harder.


Reason #3: Not Effectively Explaining Carol’s Absence From The MCU

This is more a logistical concern than anything else. Before the first trailer ever dropped, it was established that “Captain Marvel” was going to take place in the 1990s. As a result, it would unfold within a world before the Avengers ever assembled and before superheroes ever became mainstream. It would also explore the origin of pre-eye patch Nick Fury, something that “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” only hinted at.

That’s an intriguing idea that digs into an unexplored aspect of the MCU. At the same time, it does raise a major question. If Carol has been Captain Marvel since the 1990s, where has she been? Why wasn’t she available when Loki or Ultron attacked? While it makes sense outside the movies in that a “Captain Marvel” movie wasn’t even scheduled before 2012, those questions are still relevant in the story.

The end of “Avengers: Infinity War” somewhat compounds this issue because Nick Fury reveals that he has had a way of contacting Carol all this time. A tie-in comic also hints at his past dealings with Carol, but is vague on why he chose not to summon her. Chances are “Captain Marvel” will try to answer that question more in depth, but that answer might not be adequate.

It’s not a trivial detail that can be glossed over. If Carol doesn’t have a good reason for not being on Earth during invasions from aliens and genocidal robots, then that makes it harder to get behind her as the most powerful hero in the MCU. It can’t come off as an excuse because Marvel Studios hadn’t planned that far ahead. Without a good reason, Carol just wouldn’t come off as heroic.


Reason #4: Making Her A Female Superhero BEFORE Making Her A Great Female Characters

This is where the stakes for “Captain Marvel” get frustratingly political. I’ve mentioned before how creating quality female characters has become mired in identity politics. This movie has already been affected somewhat by those corruptive forces. “Wonder Woman” managed to avoid it from a plot perspective and that’s the most “Captain Marvel” can do.

This means that before Carol Danvers becomes the super-powerful, high-flying badass we saw in the trailer, she needs to establish herself as a character, first. This is something I’ve seen movies, comics, and TV shows get completely backwards in recent years. There’s such an emphasis on making someone a “strong female character” that they forget the part where they’re a compelling character.

Carol Danvers has decades of character development in the comics. She’s someone who has deal with upheavals in her personal life, her superhero life, and everything in between. It’s hard to fit all of that into a two-and-a-half hour movie, but both “Wonder Woman” and “Captain America: The First Avenger” showed that it’s possible.

I can easily imagine Marvel Studios feeling tempted to make “Captain Marvel” the kind of cosmic spectacle we saw in “Guardians of the Galaxy.” I wouldn’t blame them for taking that approach, but having that without establishing the depths behind Carol Danvers would only be half a movie. Visual spectacles are great, but without quality characters, it’s just flashy images and nothing else.


Reason #5: Trying Too Hard To Make Carol Too Powerful

This issue is part logistics and part agenda. The events of “Avengers: Infinity War” were astonishing in terms of scope and scale. In the end, the collective might of dozens of Avengers could not stop Thanos. He was stronger than Thor, the Hulk, and the entire army of Wakanda. By default, taking him down requires a new level of power.

Carol Danvers promises to wield such power. Before the movie finished shooting, Kevin Feige dubbed her the most powerful Avengers in the MCU. That power may be necessary to defeat Thanos, but getting Carol that power could be tricky. Her power levels are already pretty extreme in the comics, but the MCU deals with different circumstances and scales.

The second trailer offers some clues as to how Carol gets her powers. Like the comics, they’re tied to her biology getting mixed up with that of the Kree. Beyond that, the scope and extent of her powers are vague. It’s not clear whether there’s something unique about her or the process that gives her so much power. At some point, she’ll have to level up and expanding powers in superhero media is always tricky.

When powers don’t have defined limits or are left vague, they tend to resolve every story in the spirit of a Deus Ex Machina trope. In short, there’s a supremely powerful threat. Then, by some contrived happenstance, the good guys gain access to power at or greater than the threat. It’s simple, but contrived. A DC movie may get a pass, but the bar for Marvel Studios is higher.


Again, I believe that “Captain Marvel” will be a great movie. Most of these concerns are just a byproduct of only knowing the movie through a couple of trailers. None of these reasons are inescapable. Given the impressive track record of Marvel Studios, there’s no reason to believe they won’t find a way to make it work and raise the bar even more.

One way or another, “Captain Marvel” is set to be a major turning point for the MCU. Whether it succeeds or fails, it will have a significant impact on the overall genre. However, it’s in the best interest for the MCU, Marvel, and superhero media, in general, that this movie succeeds.

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