“Captain Marvel” Film Review

Written by guest contributor and one of the hosts of the Minorities Report Podcast The Raul Navedo

We’ve all, at least once in our lives, crushed on someone much like Carol Danvers. Someone cool, fun, has a good sense of humor that’s easy on the eyes, and is a total bad ass that can shoot photon lasers from their arms… Brie Larson’s Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel has all of these in spades. Likable from the jump, Carol yearns to be the best Kree “Noble Warrior Hero” in all of Hala. The only problem is that she can’t shake the dreams that haunt her. Dreams of a past she can’t be sure is her own; and furthermore, slow her progress to becoming a true Kree.

The hate is real, people! Critics are coming after this delightful performance by Larson viciously, and without reason. Don’t get me wrong, Captain Marvel has many flaws; but very few, if any, can be blamed on our star. I was as concerned as anyone when I heard Larson was casted as our glowing heroine whom would be flying freely through space, and whom would be kicking some serious Skrull ass. After Room,I was convinced that she was a great actress, but being a superhero doesn’t require incredible acting chops as much as it requires a certain charisma that I just couldn’t see in her. If you recall, though our superstar Avengers cast is beloved NOW, there were some serious concerns after most of them had their debut films (RDJ being the exception). Most of them had to grow into their respective roles, so it wasn’t until the second films that they became the heroes they were working to portray in our hearts. Not the case with Larson’s CM. She is fun, complex and dynamic, spanning the spectrum of emotions in a single scene.

Let me tell you guys something, a character being likable/unlikable does not a great/bad movie make. Harley Quinn is extremely likable in Suicide Squad and yet… And our lead in Manchester by the Sea is unlikeable and yet it is an incredible film. The art of writing real and complex characters is the ability to write them as they truly are. Angry, funny, sad, charismatic, annoying, reclusive, broken. Stop bashing films because YOU didn’t understand the characters as they were depicted. The Kree train their “noble warrior heroes” to think and not feel. Emotions are the enemy of sound thinking and are therefore a detriment to being a great warrior. Carol wants so badly to be this way–to prove she is a true Kree, but it is against her nature so she is conflicted. Her desire to not feel makes her unlikable because people without emotions are sociopaths, are un-relatable and therefore are not likable! She was written this way, people. And it is her inability to follow through with this Kree “noble warrior hero” prerequisite that makes her so damn likable!

But enough about her. I believe that what truly hurts this film is the same thing that hurt me when I was a young lad in the throws of passion for the very first time. Lack of experience. Our directing duo, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, have worked together on a number of projects that pale in comparison to the endeavor that is an MCU film. The writing suffered from poor dialogue and pacing at times. There were lines that just didn’t need to be there that provided information that the audience had already gathered. Action sequences that felt rushed because the rest of the script wasn’t as tight as it should be. Carol’s very first mission is so oddly paced and executed that you can’t enjoy it.

It takes a trained mind to know what needs to be trimmed and what needs to be expanded, whether in the script or in the editing room. It takes a trained ear to hear a line during a table read or on set that you know needs to be changed or taken out. These are things that not all audience members can catch or express but that most can feel. Some might just say it wasn’t good. Some might say it was fun but lacked heart. I say it was a great effort that lacked refinement. Wonder Woman had many flaws but most people were able to overlook it because it had so much heart it was tangible. It wasn’t just because Gal Gadot did a great job, it’s because Patty Jenkins has developed her skills over the years to make her a very gifted storyteller. We can forgive flat cinematography and lighting. We’ve been doing it for years with many of these MCU films who’s visuals lack depth. We can forgive a great many things that contribute to making great film. What we cannot forgive is lack of heart and emotional depth. Captain Marvel has all the building blocks, but it fell just short of being great. Fleck and Boden are well on their way there and I am excited to see their next project.

Don’t get me wrong, I am sure the blame does not solely land on their shoulders but as a great director once said “When a film does very poorly the director gets all of the blame and when a it does exceptionally well the director gets too much credit.” It comes with the territory, unfortunately.

I still highly recommend that people go see Captain Marvel. Just lower your expectations a bit and you’ll definitely enjoy it!

(From Ryan)

I hope you enjoyed this review from Raul. He is one of my longest and best friends, and spends much time watching and talking about movies as he manages a high traffic AMC Movie Theatre in North Carolina. Follow him on Twitter!

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter!

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“Fantastic Beasts: the Crimes of Grindelwald” review

Fantastic Beasts: the crimes of screenwriting. I am still not entirely sure what I watched last night. J.K. Rowling’s plot for the second film in the Fantastic Beasts is all over the place, goes in every direction except intentionally forward. When the Harry Potter spinoff franchise needed an Empire Strikes Back, it gets an Attack of the Clones. Referencing a hyperbolic statement from J.K. that made its way around Twitter, I am totally in belief that she did, in fact, write the screenplay in 25mins. From pacing issues to odd tonal shifts and a lack of focus, the screenplay suffers from a case of sequelitis. The Crimes of Grindelwald appears to rely on technical marvel and spectacle more so than a compelling narrative. The movie is full of new and familiar characters (plus some Harry Potter cameos), fantastical beasts, and explosive sequences of events, but ultimately loses air ad runs flat. Much in the same way that the first movie felt like the preface to a book, this one feels that it too has the goal to simply setup the next chapter. Moreover, the movie feels like too little plot stretched over too much runtime. Which is a shame, because there is clearly an attempt to provide an escapist allegory for primarily racism and, to a lesser extent, sexuality. Subtext of heavy psycho-social and moralistic themes is nothing new to the Rowling-verse, but Grindelwald simply gets lost on its journey to deliver a powerful thought-provoking story paired with high-flying adventure. This sequel is certainly darker than its predecessor, but fails to provide a well-developed plot that will drive the remaining films forward.

In an effort to thwart Grindelwald’s plans of raising pure-blood wizards to rule over all non-magical beings, Albus Dumbledore enlists his former student Newt Scamander, who agrees to help, unaware of the dangers that lie ahead. Lines are drawn as love and loyalty are tested, even among the truest friends and family, in an increasingly divided wizarding world (IMDb).

Many movies have A, B, and C stories. The A story is the central plot that focusses on the central and opposition character’s external goal; and the B and C stories are typically the subplots that focus on character development, internal needs, and/or supporting character stories. The problem with this movie is that it randomly switches focus, tone, and direction arbitrarily without any rhyme or reason. Each of the A, B, C, D….in short, there are too many stories (plots) in this movie…plots–individually–are interesting. And stacked in an effective manner, could provide quite a bit of meat in this sandwich. Unfortunately, the focus of the layers and ingredients is on the arrangement or presentation of the sandwich more so than allowing the famished to sink their teeth into the otherwise delicious sandwich. Or think of it as the shifting staircases in Hogwarts; you could ascend and descend the staircases for hours and still not make any real progress toward your destination. Structurally, the movie suffers from a shifty foundation. So convoluted is the plot, that it continually introduces new information and elements just for surprise, shock, or brief entertainment value rather than setting up the story in the first act, throwing the characters into crisis mode in the second act, then providing solid resolution or realization in the third. It’s like one really long first act and a rushed second and third acts. As I warn my screenwriting students about science-fiction or fantasy writing, often times, these screenwriters are so wrapped up in world-building that the plot and characters suffer. Perhaps the characters in Grindelwald are complex enough (but truly debatable) but the plot is far from simple. After two movies, it appears that J.K.’s talent for writing novels is not as evident in screenwriting. Hence why many parts of this movie feel better suited to a novel than movie.

I could go on and on about the plot holes and pacing problems, but I feel I’ve made my evaluation sufficiently enough. So, now I want to switch gears to discussing what IS interesting about the movie. There are elements and attempts at themes (and subtext) that almost worked. Had more attention been paid to the logistics of screenwriting, then these would have been thought-provoking or at least meaningful. Upon my initial watch (and full disclosure, I plan to watch it again b/c I’ve heard it’s better on the second screening), the themes of racism, ethics, and sexuality are clearly present. Instead of a classic approach that features two differing ethnic races, the two races are the magical and no-mag (or muggles), skin color or country of origin do not factor into the equation. Grindelwald seeks to elevate the magical above the no-mag because he feels that the magical race is superior to the no-mag and can prevent the world from plunging into war. Ironically, his views insight mass violence and death. Furthermore, he wants the no-mag to serve the magical because the no-mag are disposable. Clearly, there are parallels between the American Civil War and Wold War II. Moreover, Grindelwald’s determined for the magical to stop hiding from the rest of the world and should come out to show the regular humans that they are the superior race–the super race, if you will.

Speaking of “not hiding,” the film also touches on sexuality in the wizarding world. For the first time, a character’s sexuality is pivotal to the plot and thus affords J.K. and WarnerMedia to comment on that in the story. Not a spoiler since J.K. stated it in a tweet, Dumbledore was in a romantic relationship with Grindelwald when they were much younger. It was always rumored that Dumbledore was gay, but this film puts those rumors to rest by addressing his past. Unlike a film that would simply add this character trait to the plot for the sake of inclusivity, Grindelwald allows for this to be an important part to the plot because Dumbledore and Grindelwald made a pact when they were in love never to fight each other directly. This theme of being free to love whom you will is also witnessed in the relationship between Jacob and Queenie. According to the present laws, Jacob and Queenie are not permitted to marry because a magical individual cannot engage in a romantic relationship with a non-mag. Queenie could wind up in the Ministry of Magic’s prison. In the end, Queenie couldn’t live with the divide between her and Jacob that the Ministry created, so she chooses a new future for herself. Although only directly touched on in one scene, there is also some commentary on ethics. At one point, Dumbledore tells Scamander that he appreciates that Scamander always does what is right, not what will best suit him or support a particular side of a conflict. He is concerned with only engaging in decisions that are ethically sound regardless of the personal benefit.

Even more than its predecessor, Fantastic Beasts: the Crimes of Grindelwald works diligently to convince you that these movies belong in the same universe as the original Harry Potter movies. The return to Hogwarts and a few familiar character appearances work to connect this film to the rest of the Wizarding World, but at times feel incredibly forced. You will also learn more about Dumbledore’s long lost, secret brother, the origin of Voldemort’s pet snake, and the lineage of Bellatrix Lestrange. With three more movies to go, there is still time to turn this franchise around for the better, but that will largely hinge on the next movie.

Ryan is a screenwriting professor at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog!

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