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Recollection

The film opens with a potent, abstract depiction of Danvers’ dilemma. Having been fed misinformation, her mind contorts her memory to include an evil Skrull where the devious Yon-Rogg (now her friendly commander) should be.

Danvers’ initial discovery of her life on Earth is shot with verve; these flashes exist in her external vicinity, like a tangible history waiting to be touched or danced with. But after the first time Danvers experiences this, upon entering her old bar, this vivid sensation of recalling the past never returns. The film then ceases to depict memory in a manner visually befitting its story — or any visual manner at all. The result is dramatic confusion.  

When Danvers does regain her memories (or parts of them; how much she actually recalls is unclear), the film only ever communicates these re-discoveries through dialogue. Danvers tells her friend Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch) that she needs to piece things together, but rare are the moments when she acts like it; her renewed understanding, what she sees of herself and more importantly how she sees it, is never the focus. When Rambeau tells Danvers who she is (or was), the emotional resonance is limited to the two friends embracing. A sweet moment, no doubt — female friendships are largely lacking in the MCU — but it’s a moment that, if excised, would subtract little from Danvers’ arc.

Flashbacks of Danvers falling and being taunted by male authority figures help colour her Earth-bound past. But while she alludes to these memories in conversation, they don’t seem to pound against the walls of her subconscious (let alone bother her), nor do they impede her actions or decisions in the slightest. Her own memories feel like mere curiosities to her; they’re neither vital parts of herself that she needs to chase, nor do they stir something within her when she finally finds them. There’s no desperation, no hunger at the heart of Carol Danvers that drives her journey, and thus, no real dramatic change for Larson to externalize.

The tidbits Danvers discovers about herself are just that; pieces of factual information, with little emotional payoff. They alter neither how she interacts with people (even those she once knew), nor how she fights, or moves, or speaks, or approaches conflict, even once that conflict is radically changed thanks to what she now believes. There’s nothing delineating “Vers” from Carol Danvers, aspects to her identity separated by fundamental outlook. In a story about new information changing one’s core (or at the very least, one’s perspective), this is a significant failing.

Despite the film’s stellar introduction to memory (it occupies physical space at first, making it feel both lived and within reach), how much of Danvers’ memory returns, and what impact this has on her, is left entirely vague. Until Talos (Ben Mendelsohn) reveals the truth about Yon-Rogg, nothing Danvers learns of her past informs her emotions or helps her overcome obstacles; her search merely takes her from place to place, the mystery of her old life could have been solved by someone else entirely.

Danvers’ breezy dynamic with Fury is delightful, but how her story is told begs several questions: Who are these people? What do they learn from one another? Who is Carol Danvers, outside of another Marvel hero for whom change is far too easy (and yet, non-existent), and for whom levity is a more important function than her own vital re-discovery?

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The Skrulls

Captain Marvel hinges on change in perspective. While this change is never prompted by Danvers’ arc — the Kree’s actual ideology is barely touched upon— the shift in narrative P.O.V. pertains to our own perception of the film’s apparent antagonists, the diabolical-looking Skrulls.

The Skrulls have been a largely ruthless, villainous species ever since there has been a Marvel universe. They debuted all the way back in Fantastic Four #2 in 1961, but even without foreknowledge of the comics, the Skrulls’ visual framing sets them apart and plays on audience expectations.

While the Kree are discernably human (with variations in pigment), the Skrulls are distinctly the “other.” They have a sickly green tinge, Vulcan ears and facial grooves. Their method of impersonating people — ripping apart and re-stitching their own flesh — is intentionally stomach-turning. Everything about them aligns with Hollywood’s typically “alien” coding. So, it’s all the more surprising when we’re told that these apparent “terrorists” are actually a persecuted people in search of refuge.

Ben Mendelsohn’s charisma as Talos is used to terrific effect. Upon re-watch, his playful deviousness carries a weight and desperation, which we may have been conditioned to miss. The Skrulls only come off as villains insomuch as this is what we’re told of them. In fact, the first time we actually see a Skrull on-screen, he takes the form of Kree fighter Att-Lass (Algenis Perez Soto) in order to stop Minn-Erva (Gemma Chan) from gunning down innocent, starving tribesmen.

The reveal of Talos’ hidden family is particularly touching. High above the clouds, on Mar-Vell’s spacecraft, he summons them with a guttural chant, as if calling to prayer and manifesting a sacred reunion. Though the slow-motion beat where his daughter sees him killing Kree soldiers goes nowhere in particular. Shortly after Talos mentions his hands being filthy from war, he tells his wife to shield his daughter’s eyes, but she witnesses this harsh reality anyway. And yet, there’s no sense of how this moment actually affects her. The film simply cuts away to Danvers’ fight with Yon-Rogg, and never returns to this question.

In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, war and death seem to have few long-lasting consequences. Talos’ admission has little impact on Danvers, despite providing elbow-room to reflect on her loyalties. In fact, this introspective element is largely absent from her story, whether concerning the Skrulls she killed in earlier scenes, or her time in the U.S. Air Force.

After all, Captain Marvel is a Marvel Studios film with significant ties to the U.S. military. While it’s nominally critical of war, its hands are filthy with government propaganda.

***

In Part 2, we look at the film’s framing of war, its dissolution of tension, and the problem with Mar-Vell.

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