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Non-Review Review: Captain Marvel

The biggest problem with Captain Marvel is one of spoiler culture.

“Spoiler culture” is a fascinating cultural phenomenon, and one that is interesting as a facet of cultural consumption that arose parallel with the internet. It is perhaps a logical extension of the manner in which information flows these days. Information travels instantly and in all directions, quickly consumed and quick disseminated. In the nineties, it was easy (or easier) to avoid spoilers to films like The Usual Suspects or The Sixth Sense. After all, there was no Twitter or Facebook to share information. If somebody had already seen the film, they had to be physically talking to somebody else to discuss it, and it was posisble to establish the ground rules for the flows of information before the conversation progressed.

In an era where simply being on the internet exposes a person to torrents of information, the advent of “spoiler culture” seems logical and rational. People want to be surprised. People don’t want to know the finer points of a story before witnessing it first hand. People do not want the easter eggs given out or the finer details dissected. This is an understandable response. Having an experience described is no match for actually having that experience first-hand. So a culture has grown up online about preserving surprise and controlling the flow of information. This is fine. This is healthy. This is good. Mostly “spoiler culture” is just common courtesy and common sense. A reviewer should not reveal anything to a reader that they themselves would not want to know.

As with any philosophy, there is a tendency to take things too far. Sometimes “spoiler culture” descends into self-parody. Reviewers were famously told not to reveal any information about the plot of Blade Runner 2049, which ironically made it very hard to sell the movie to a potential audience. Some more extreme adherents felt betrayed when Sony released a trailer for Spider-Man: Far From Home before Avengers: Endgame, as if the fact that Sony was making another Spider-Man movie would give away the resolution to the cliffhanger from Avengers: Infinity War. Naturally, Infinity War came with its own massive spoiler-warning from the studio, with reviewers told that “Thanos demands [their] silence.” This despite the fact the ending was lifted directly from a comic.

Captain Marvel embodies the worst impulses of “spoiler culture” because it confuses a logical and organic narrative development for a big twist. There is a reveal that comes around the half-way mark of the two-hour film which fundamentally changes the nature of the story being told. It plays against the story that had been set up to that point, and is positioned as a game-changer. It is a “twist.” It is a “big” moment. It is the kind of development for which Thanos would demand silence. Except it’s not really. It is not an actual twist. It is a plot point. It is a story beat. It is a part of the story that makes a great deal of sense in the context of the story as it is being told. However, Captain Marvel decides to play this game-changing story beat as a revelation.

There are a couple of big issues here. Most obviously, the actual narrative development is quite literally the only way that Captain Marvel could go without becoming something completely and irredeemably monstrous, so it is entirely predictable. (The twist is only a surprise to audience members who genuinely believe that Marvel’s first female-led superhero movie is likely to play out as extreme white nationalist propaganda.) More than that, though, it creates a larger problem with the flow of the story. The decision to play this story beat as a twist means the film has to conceal its hand for the first hour and fifteen minutes. This means that Captain Marvel is almost half-way over before any member of the cast gets any real character development.

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Non-Review Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy hits a few bumps along the way, but it works very well.

The key to this would seem to be James Gunn. Like the best of the Marvel comic adaptations, Guardians of the Galaxy is a film that manages to find its own unique authorial voice amid the cross-pollination of Marvel’s vast cinematic universe. Like Shane Black on Iron Man 3, Kenneth Branagh on Thor or Jon Favreau on Iron Man, James Gunn manages to put his own unique stamp on Guardians of the Galaxy – a film that remains compellingly personal amid the apocalyptic 9/11 imagery.

Lighting the way...

Lighting the way…

While the film suffers from some of the structural weaknesses that are typical of Marvel’s blockbusters, its strengths come from the director and co-writer. Although set in a vast universe with epic stakes and impossible odds, Guardians of the Galaxy works best when it focuses on its characters, whether the human Peter Quill (with his “outlaw name” Star Lord), the killing machine Drax, the sentient and sensitive tree Groot, the racoon named Rocket or the prodigal daughter named Gamora.

Guardians of the Galaxy is a film that introduces itself to the image of Peter Quill dancing beneath the logo, to the tune of Fooled Around and Fell In Love by Elvin Bishop, playing from a cassette labelled “Awesome Mix, Vol. 1.” That is all you need to know.

Gotta dance...

Gotta dance…

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Realm of Kings (Review/Retrospective)

This is the fifteenth in a series of comic book reviews that will look at the direction of Marvel’s shared universe (particularly their “Avengers” franchise) over the past five or so years, as they’ve been attempting to position the property at the heart of their fictional universe. With The Avengers planned for a cinematic release in 2012, I thought I’d bring myself up to speed by taking a look at Marvel’s tangled web of continuity.

Realm of Kings is a strange little chapter in the cosmic saga that Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning have been drafting. It seems to exist not really as a story in its own terms (although it does contain some interesting narratives) but rather as a bridge between War of Kings and The Thanos Imperative. It’s essentially the story of an attempt to find stability in a radically warped universe, one turned upside down by recent events. It feels somewhat smaller in scope than the other events that the pair have produced, not that there’s anything wrong with that. In fact, it’s nice to see a series exploring the consequences and aftermath of what has occurred, rather than simply pushing on right into the next big thing. While Realm of Kings does focus on “the Fault” opened at the climax of War of Kings that will become a galactic threat in The Thanos Imperative, the three miniseries are at their best when they explore the consequences of the political instability that the intergalactic war has produced.

That's gonna be Thor tomorrow...

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War of Kings (Review/Retrospective)

This is the twelfth in a series of comic book reviews that will look at the direction of Marvel’s shared universe (particularly their “Avengers” franchise) over the past five or so years, as they’ve been attempting to position the property at the heart of their fictional universe. With The Avengers planned for a cinematic release in 2012, I thought I’d bring myself up to speed by taking a look at Marvel’s tangled web of continuity.

War of Kings is perhaps the best thing to come out of Secret Invasion. In fact, the miniseries went out of its way to highlight its links to the Marvel comics mega-event, with the story even kicking off in a Secret Invasion: War of Kings special (note the order there, it isn’t War of Kings: Secret Invasion). However, not withstanding the attempts to tie the series back to the high-selling mainstream events that Marvel was consistently churning out, War of Kings is essentially an epic space opera, the story of an interstellar war and alien politics, told with the wit and charm that writer Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning have made the cosmic line famous for. Tying it into Secret Invasion only serves to highlight the deficiencies with that event, as the writers here attempt the same sort of story with the same sort of themes, but with more skill and grace than the bigger event could off.

Now is the time...

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Annihilation – Vol. 1-3 (Hardcover) (Review/Retrospective)

This is the fifth in a series of comic book reviews that will look at the direction of Marvel’s mainstream shared universe over the past five or so years – primarily with a focus on The Avengers as they’ve been attempting to position the property at the heart of their fictional universe. With The Avengers planned for a cinematic release in 2012, I thought I’d bring myself up to speed by taking a look at Marvel’s tangled web of continuity. This is more of a tangential entry, though, as we’re going into space with marvel’s “cosmic” titles. But still, sometimes you need to go away to come back.

When people think of the Marvel crossover events of the past decade, they’ll name ones like Civil War or Secret Invasion or House of M. Very few will mention Annihilation, Marvel’s first big cosmic crossover event of the past ten years, but those few will generally speak quite highly of it.

The Silver Surfer goes for gold...

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