Congratulations are in order. The Marvel Cinematic Universe, the most financially successful movie franchise in this or any other timeline, brings another child into the world – and this time, finally, it’s a girl!
This isn’t to imply there aren’t women – amazing women – in the MCU. There’s Scarlett Johansson, there’s Natalie Portman, there’s Gwyneth Paltrow, there’s Danai Guria, but they’ve yet to headline a film. For 20 damn movies in a row.
I don’t care to what extent comic books are associated with “young boys,” this is ridiculous and outdated. (Outdated, in part, because of the success of this franchise.) But at film number 21, the streak has ended.
Enough about the past: Let’s talk about the present and the future by focusing on this movie, set 20 years ago (work with me, here). It’s important to note that this “Captain Marvel” has nothing to do with the famous Captain Marvel (also known as Shazam!), which is a different movie come from DC Films. (What did I say about working with me? Please continue to do so, comic books are confusing.)
The titular character in this “Captain Marvel” is a blonde woman from outer space who can blast a hole in you from photons that come out of her fists. (So be nice!)
The movie is directed by the husband and wife team of Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden. Boden is Jewish so, by halachic law, that means their film is Jewish, too. Mazel tov!
It is righteous for this couple to break a gender barrier, and there’s no harm in making a tremendous profit while doing so. “Captain Marvel” is expected to clean up at the box office, and this one has the extra oomph of giving a little nod to girls in the audience. Plus, there is an adorable cat (technically a “Flerkin”) and the tie-in toys are going to fly off the shelf.
The film stars Brie Larson (who won the Oscar for the very depressing movie “Room”) as a “Bourne Identity”-type super soldier, part of “Starforce” on the Kree homeworld of Hala, fighting in the unending war against the Skrulls. She’s suffering from amnesia, so while she retains her warrior’s instinct, she can only recall moments from her past in flashes.
A battle against the baddies sends her to Earth (the Earth of the 1990s, so cue the R.E.M. and No Doubt on the soundtrack) and, as she teams up with Nick Fury (a computerized de-aged Samuel L. Jackson), she begins to learn more about those hidden memories.
As is usually the way with these movies, there’s a big switcheroo, and what you think is up at first is actually down. This will only count as a shocker to devotees of the comics, but in this iteration the devious, shapeshifting Skrulls are actually the good guys. The Kree aren’t protectors of liberty, they are nasty jerks who are driving Skrulls from their homes.
Considering Boden’s background (and the fact that there are many dull patches in this movie, affording my mind time to wander a bit) I conceived of a large scale Jewish metaphor for the Skrulls. The race of misunderstood, mistreated outsiders are possibly a symbol for the Jewish people. Their primary superpower, the ability to transform their physical appearance to that of anyone they see, was commentary on how our people have needed to assimilate among the nations to survive over the centuries. Perhaps it’s even a play on old stereotypes – the deceptive “rootless cosmopolitan” that can never have a proper allegiance to its host nation. While there isn’t any talk of an ancestral homeland, the beleaguered leader, played by Ben Mendelsohn, has a tender moment when he turns to our hero and says “we’re just looking for a place to live.”
In a recent interview, Boden said that she hoped her film would be considered more of a “humanist” movie than just a feminist movie. I’d say she’s pulled it off, as there isn’t much in the movie that feels like political grandstanding. There are scenes that play off of common tropes (like a dirtbag dude pestering a woman and telling her to smile) but Brie Larson’s reaction is as a character, not as a bumper sticker. Granted, she’s an amnesiac space alien caught in the 1990s, but it’s still not as a blank symbol for all Womanhood.
In that same interview, Boden mentions working closely with Jonathan Schwartz, an increasingly important producer in the Marvel machine. He began as the assistant to Kevin Feige, the overlord of all things Marvel since “Iron Man.” But as the upcoming “Avengers: Endgame” movie suggests that some old faces will be leaving the franchise, perhaps it means Mr. Schwartz will become the Chief Rabbi of the most lucrative film series? Only Doctor Strange could know.
“Captain Marvel” is the first MCU movie to come out since the death of Stan Lee, the Jewish-American pillar of modern comic books. The opening logo has been altered to honor and thank him. Even the crowd of jaded New York City critics applauded when they saw that.
There was the typical Stan Lee cameo, which, unfortunately, was one of the dumber ones. Never fear, though, word is that they already shot one for “Endgame” before he passed, his last. For that, his superpower will finally be revealed: The ability to get a room full of dark strangers to leak water from their eyes.