Tag Archives: super hero movies

Let’s talk about Joker

Sean and I both saw Joker at TIFF last month, at back to back screenings. We met up for lunch afterward (I believe we had a slight pause before seeing the Harriet Tubman movie) because boy did I have thoughts, comments, and questions, which I tried not to yell too loudly because: spoilers.

Joaquin Phoenix plays Arthur Fleck in a totally new but not entirely unfamiliar way. He works as a professional clown (semi-professional, maybe? – he gets sent to hospitals or going out of business sales by a central booking agency that employs many other clowns besides) but dreams of becoming a stand-up comic. He’s not a great clown – he gets complaints a lot. Maybe it’s because he breaks clown rules with the way he does his makeup. Real clowns prefer to paint in large circles because pointy-ended makeup gives kids a subliminal fright. As you can see, Arthur paints both eyes and mouth with sharp ends, normally prohibited in the clown community. But there was another rule-breaker, historically. His name was John Wayne Gacy, and Joker’s makeup is likely a subtle nod toward this man, a serial killer who entertained kids on the side as Pogo the clown. He raped, tortured and murdered at least 33 teenage boys  during the 1970s.

Arthur has a complicated relationship with his mother (Frances Conroy), with whom he lives. She’s not well, and depends on his support, meager as it is. She may be somewhat delusional because she writes long-winded letters about her poor living conditions to one-time employer Thomas Wayne, hoping his outrage will be enough to improve their circumstances. Until such a time, mother and son alleviate their suffering by cuddling up every night to watch their favourite late night talk show, Murray Franklin (Robert DeNiro).

Arthur is dangerously thin, but people aren’t just uncomfortable about his physical self. There’s also the laughing. He laughs often, and inappropriately. It’s a neurological condition, and he hands out cards to strangers to ease their discomfort when his laughing goes on just a little too long. Still, it gets him into trouble. Joker’s laugh is iconic, and Phoenix taps into something so deranged, so haunting, it’ll nail your feet to the floor. The laugh alone justifies casting him. It is at distinctive, different, perfect. Unforgettable. Scary as hell. It sounds almost painful for Phoenix and it sent shivers down my spine.

Meanwhile, Gotham City is a total shit show. Garbage is piling up everywhere, home to super rats that terrorize the city. It’s never explicitly stated, but I’m guessing it’s 1981. The clothes are very late 70s/early 80s, you can still smoke indoors, and both Blow Out and Zorro The Gay Blade are playing at the movies. People are starting to agitate. The city’s becoming increasingly dangerous. There’s an undercurrent of discontent. It isn’t safe. Arthur gets robbed, jumped, beaten. There’s a certain electricity in the air. We all know Joker to be a villain, but the way things are going, these people may see him as more of a hero. Kill the rich – that’s their slogan. Not a great time to be the Wayne family. But is Joker the symbol this rebellion needs?

Arthur Fleck is nobody’s idea of a hero. He’s a mentally unstable man. He’s been in psych wards. He takes 7 different kinds of meds but still feels bad all the time. He keeps a joke diary filled with suicidal thoughts. “The worst part of having a mental illness,” he writes, “is people expect you to behave as if you don’t.” I’ve lost count of how many Jokers we’ve seen on screen now (feel free to help me out in the comments section if you can), but it truly feels like Phoenix doesn’t fuck with any of them. Truly, he and writers Todd Phillips and Scott Silver have created Arthur/Joker from the ground up. He is an amalgam of childhood trauma, torment, debasement. You really get the sense that if anything had gone even just a fraction differently, you’d end up with a different guy. Arthur’s natural reaction to the world isn’t insanity or violence or evil. He genuinely seems to want to bring joy to the world. He wants to make the people laugh. He is searching for a way in. He is searching, I suppose, for identity. For something that makes him real, makes him feel like there’s a reason why he exists. But for one reason or another, this guy just keeps slipping through the cracks. There’s nobody to help him. If one person had reached out when he needed it, this would be a very different story. And I suppose that’s why this movie is so good. It doesn’t feel like a comic book movie, it feels more like Taxi Driver. It’s a character study. This man feels unpredictable, and yet we know his ending. There is a surprising amount of tension for a movie that can really only end one way. But director Todd Phillips creates this constant sense of swirling stress and anxiety, this emotional tautness by repeatedly having Arthur reach out. He doesn’t want to be a weirdo, or a loner. He wants that same connection that we all do. But society is keeping its distance. He’s isolated. He’s forgotten and ignored. We have countless opportunities to save the world from the Joker but we never do – we fail Arthur Fleck. Does the film show empathy toward him? I suppose it does, in many ways. Or at least to people who fall through the cracks, who get left behind. Personally, I had a hard time feeling empathy toward his first victims. Arthur is a complex man living in some complex times. There is no single reason that tips him over into villainy. There are just an awful lot of cracks in the pavement. A chasm is bound to open up, which is maybe the scariest way to look at it. There is no vat of acid. Joker’s descent into madness, or crime, or evil, or whatever you want to call it – it’s grounded in reality.

Comic books and super hero movies tend to deal in quite general archetypes of good and evil. This makes the characters instantly recognizable as hero or villain, but it also serves to put a distance between audience and character because there is little to relate to. Todd Phillips’ Joker is much more layered, which means at times you’ll root for him, and other times you’ll be disgusted by him. It’s a push-pull that few actors could pull off, and it’s why Joaquin Phoenix, already one of this generation’s biggest and truest talents, deserves an Oscar nomination, and as of right now, I’d say even the win.

Joker, however, is not just a great performance. It’s a wonderful, thoughtful film, a send up to gritty character studies of another era. Todd Phillips has said “The goal was never to introduce Joaquin Phoenix into the comic book movie universe. The goal was to introduce comic book movies into the Joaquin Phoenix universe.” Goddamn I love that quote. I think it shows great appreciation for Phoenix’s body of work. This isn’t just another origin story, this is a deep dive into a man’s psyche. Phoenix tends to gravitate toward the broken and tormented, but they’re not one-dimensional. They are faceted individuals. Different actors have interpreted Joker in many ways: a fiend, a terrorist, a thug, a psychopath. But Joaquin Phoenix goes with something else: human.

 Edit:

So I wrote all of that last month, after seeing Joker at TIFF. Since then, certain media outlets have tried to whip up a story about possible violence at Joker screenings and whether this movie sends a terrible message. I have wondered whether I should contribute to that noise at all but find that I do have something to say about it. Feel free to debate.

  1. Does the movie treat the Joker too sympathetically? In a word: no. This is not the Joker from Batman comics. That Joker doesn’t exist yet. Arthur Fleck is a sad man with mental health problems. When he kills, he has a reason. None that justify the violence of course, but it’s not senseless or diabolical or insane.
  2. Is Joker gratuitously violent? Actually, no. There is some violence, of course, but compared to other films, relatively little – in fact, probably relatively little even compared to other Batman movies. This is primarily a character study, so a lot of the interesting stuff is introspective, in his head, as his character transforms.
  3. Is the film inviting violence from incels? Of course not. An incel, if you haven’t heard, is a man who believes himself to be INvoluntarily CELibate – ie, no one will sleep with him, and he blames it on some big female conspiracy. Incels have found each other in chat rooms and encourage each other to be nasty and wrong and gross, and angry toward women generally, and perhaps even violent toward them. They somehow think they are owed sex and even more confusingly, plot revenge for all the sex they aren’t getting. And somehow no one stops to think: this is why. This is why no one wants to date me. I am a creep. Women get a creep vibe from me, and they stay away because they sense I am an angry, dangerous dude. Maybe I should try…being nice? But the situation in the Joker movie doesn’t apply. There’s a woman he fixates on but even a criminally insane Arthur Fleck doesn’t blame her for his failures. He’s not an incel and I don’t think they even tread into that territory, so people trying to associate that with the movie are just being deliberately inflammatory.
  4. Let’s remember that this movie is only the Joker’s birth. He’s a Joker fetus. He isn’t a criminal mastermind. There is no Batman yet; Bruce is still just a boy and Arthur is just a man finding his identity on the dark side. Where society has rejected him, the underbelly accepts him and raises him up. Of course it’s intoxicating. And of course it’s wrong. But if we’re talking body count, he’s responsible for only a fraction of Blade, or The Bride, or Rambo, or Walter White’s. And if we don’t protest every instance of violence, why are we targeting Joker? Especially when we could instead read it as a plea for early intervention, as a workbook for reaching out to the Arthur Flecks instead of merely condemning the Jokers.

Advertisements

TIFF19: Joker

As any comic book fan knows, Marvel Comics has more interesting heroes than DC, because Stan Lee’s storytelling focus was as much on the hero’s day-to-day life as on the showdown with that month’s villain.  DC’s heroes have never had the same issues, because they are either literal gods (Wonder Woman), aliens who are stronger than most gods (Superman), or humans with seemingly unlimited physical, mental and financial resources (Batman).  But because DC’s heroes are so powerful, DC’s villains have always had the edge on Marvel’s, and the Joker is at the very top of the list of DC’s best villains.

jokerDC’s latest movie, Joker, tells the origin story of the iconic villain.  Well, it tells an origin story for Joker, one that to my knowledge doesn’t line up with anything in the comics.  It is a fitting origin that has some nice touches, including a subplot that casts Gotham’s beloved Wayne family in a very interesting new light.

We’ve seen the Joker on screen before.  Jack Nicholson was suitably over-the-top and cartoonish, but still maintained a dark centre, in Tim Burton’s Batman (1989).  Heath Ledger was a flat-out monster in The Dark Knight, delivering an all-time great performance that gave a new level of legitimacy to comic book films.  Jared Leto’s gangster Joker was almost an afterthought in Suicide Squad, and it probably would have been better for Joker not to have made an appearance in that film at all.

Now, in Joker, Joaquin Phoenix takes on the role, and he’s phenomenal.  Phoenix’s Joker feels different enough from Ledger’s to be original, but borrows smartly from Ledger’s mannerisms to give Joker the manic energy that makes him the clown prince of crime.  Seeing Joker emerge from the man formerly known as Arthur Fleck is a riveting process.  Director Todd Phillips rightly describes Joker as a slow burn and the pace of the movie creates significant tension.  We know Fleck is going to snap, and we can almost understand why, but we don’t know when or how.

Joker is worth watching for Phoenix’s performance, which, like Ledger before him, should get serious Oscar consideration (this time, for Best Actor, as Ledger won Best Supporting Actor for his Joker in 2009).  Joker might be up for other awards as well, and the awards buzz is well-deserved.  There is more than one way to make a comic book movie, caped crusaders are not always needed, and when the villain is this mesmerizing, it’s okay for the bad guy to win.

Spider-Man: Far From Home

Things have really changed for Peter Parker, our friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man (Tom Holland). He went to space, fought Thanos, vanished for five years, returned from the dead, fought Thanos again, and lost his mentor. But now, after all that, he’s back in high school, and he’s headed to Europe with his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), his crush MJ (Zendaya), his rival Flash (Tony Revolori) and the rest of the science club. All that’s on his to-do list is to tell MJ how he feels about her. Unfortunately, as always happens to Peter, Spidey-stuff keeps getting in the way of his best-laid plans.

Just like Homecoming, Far From Home gets Spider-Man right. He’s best as a high schooler, trying to balance his hero responsibilities with his studies and social life. He’s also best as a small-scale hero who’s thrown into Avengers-sized problems. Far From Home gives us lots of both, as Peter’s trip happens to coincide with a major attack on Venice by a water elemental. Naturally, Peter dives into the city defence with gusto and in doing so teams up with a fishbowl-wearing hero named Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) and an eyepatch-wearing ray of sunshine named Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Both need Spidey’s help to save the world.

Things are not as simple as they seem, of course, and even a casual Spider-Man fan will know basically where things are headed from the trailers alone. But in getting to the climax, the movie has almost too many twists and turns, because at times the script struggles to make sense of the on-screen events (and the post-credits “solution” seems like a cop-out even as it raises some interesting questions).

As a fanboy, I have no problem at all overlooking those minor flaws. Far From Home is just so damn entertaining and Tom Holland is a fantastic Spider-Man and a better Peter Parker. Still, as a critic, I hope the next live-action Spider-Man movie takes a few more cues from Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which stands as the best Spider-Man movie ever because the action never stops AND the script never stops making sense. Despite being chock-full of Spidey goodness, Far From Home doesn’t bring everything together into a cohesive whole like Spider-Verse did, but Far From Home’s can-do attitude and wacky humour still make for a really fun movie that Spidey’s fans are going to love.

The Avengers Have Day Jobs

When The Avengers aren’t fighting crime on screen, they’re often teaming up to do other movies. Here, a totally non-exhaustive list, so feel free to contribute your own in the comments.

Zodiac: Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) and Tony Stark (RDJ) hunt a serial killer, with future Spider-man villain Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal). Tsk tsk.

Wind River: Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Oslen) risk frostbite in this thriller.

I Saw The Light: Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) get their
cowboy boots on in this country-western send-up to Hank Williams.

Infinitely Polar Bear: I totally recommend this film about how a bipolar diagnosis affects a family, starring The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana).giphy

Men In Black 4: This one is not technically out yet, but could we be more excited to see a movie starring Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson)???

Her: This is a super cerebral movie about a man falling in love with the voice of an operating system (Scarlett Johansson) – look carefully and you’ll also see Star-Lord himself (Chris Pratt).

Sunshine: Danny Boyle assembles a team of astronauts to save the dying sun, among them Captain America (Chris Evans), Guardians Vol. 2’s Aleta Ogord (Michelle Yeoh), Endgame’s Akihiko (Hiroyuki Sanada), and Doctor’s Strange’s right hand man, Wong (Benedict Wong).

American Hustle: David O. Russell recruits the voice of Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and Ant-Man’s best pal Luis (Michael Pena).

Traffic: This is a really interesting and complicated movie about the war on drugs, by Steven Soderbergh, and just wait til you hear how it criss-crosses the MCU: Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and The Collector (Benicio Del Toro) star, with War Machine
(Don Cheadle) making an appearance also. Bonus level: Miguel Ferrer, Iron Man 3’s Vice President Rodriguez.

Chef: Beloved Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) plays the eponymous Chef, and is joined onscreen by pals Ironman (Downey Jr.), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Antman’s daughter’s stepdad, Paxton (Bobby Cannavale).

Creed: Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) met his fate in Black Panther, but Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) gets to snuggle up in Creed.

sourceSherlock Holmes (TV): Although they never teamed up in the MCU, Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) teams up with Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) is this addictive detective series.

Sherlock Holmes (movie): On film, Sherlock is played by none other than Ironman (Robert Downey Jr.), and his faithful Watson by evil Kree Yon-Rogg (Jude Law). What an odd pairing!

Unicorn Store: Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) are reunited and it feels so good. And this time they’re getting a unicorn! Yes, a real one. Jackson’s wardrobe is cotton candy for the soul, complete with tinsel-weaved wigs. Must see, currently streaming on Netflix.

Marshall: Black Panther himself (Chadwick Boseman) plays Thurgood Marshall alongside N’jobu, Killmonger’s slain father from the same film (Sterling K. Brown).

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World: Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) and Captain America tumblr_nb04u6MGrq1te1cwfo2_500(Chris Evans) use their powers for evil instead of good – Larson playing rock star Envy Adams, Scott’s ex-girlfriend, and Evans playing action star Lucas Lee, one of Ramona’s seven evil exes. This is a fun one to re-visit, as it is written and directed by Edgar Wright, who also wrote the screenplay to Ant-Man.

Wonder Boys: Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Ironman (Downey Jr.) make an uneasy alliance in this Michael Chabon adaptation.

13 Going On 30: The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) was surprised to learn that Captain Marvel (Larson) makes an appearance in this film as a mean girl in high school!

In the Heart of the Sea: Thor (Chris Hemsworth) takes Spidey (Tom Holland) under his wing in this Moby Dick retelling.

Isle of Dogs: Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) gets her voice on in this Wes Anderson animated film, alongside GrandMaster Flash (Jeff Goldblum) and The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton).

The MCU is super incestuous. I bet you can think of many more!

Thor’s Endgame

First: if you haven’t seen the movie, feel free to read Sean’s spoiler-free review. What follows below is filled with spoilers and you should stay the heck away.

As many of you know, I am generally not a big fan of super hero movies. I think they contribute to the dumbing-down of culture. That movies and comic books meant for boys are being consumed by men. That some of these men turn positively vitriolic over the most trivial deviations, which often represent change in the world that they themselves are not comfortable with and don’t want to see reflected in their little comic book bubbles. And now the extreme serialization of the MCU is shouldering independent cinema out of theatres and onto Netflix, which feels like a loss.

But Marvel has also given us something to feel passionate about. In a world that often chastises men for expressing excitement, glee, and attachment, Marvel’s shared universe has given them something that they can vocally and publicly acclaim. Which is not to say that women aren’t also fans of the MCU, just that it’s always been more socially acceptable for them to cry at a screening of Titanic than it has been for men.

But for the most part, it just wasn’t for me. And that’s okay. I still see every single one of them because I’m married to a little boy trapped inside a handsome, strapping body. He read this stuff as a kid and it’s fully exciting for him to see it come to life on the big screen (Spider-man in particular, it seems) – and then to share it with his brother and nephews, who are discovering it for themselves. And I dutifully fill in the seat beside him, very occasionally surprising myself by liking one of them (Black Panther. That’s the one. I also really liked Wonder Woman, but I do know that’s not Marvel, thankyouverymuch. Both these movies were cultural touchstones that transcended the comics. Both studios were careful to do things right, to get exactly the right actors and the right script and the right directors – to serve more than just the fans. Perhaps even to serve history).

Until: Taika Waititi. Waititi has been my favourite director for as long as he’s been directing movies. When I met Sean about a decade ago, I made him watch Eagle vs. Shark as a litmus test: was he cool enough and funny enough and subversive enough? He was. Barely. But he has a big penis so I let it slide.

63Zy

As you may know, Taika Waititi came on board to direct Thor: Ragnarok and is largely responsible for turning an arrogant god into a thoughtful and affable leader. Thor was transformed. Thor is fun! Plus Waititi gave Thor a haircut and suddenly I was thinking: Thor is hot?

ypfdzx4qney01

So Thor has since been my favourite character, which is why I was so sad to see his trajectory in Endgame. Thor is suffering from (is it too much to say?) PTSD. He’s been at constant war for years and has somehow internalized the Snap, blaming himself for failing to “aim for the head,” taking responsibility for Thanos’ humanity-shearing snap. Five years later, the movie finds Thor hidden away with his Ragnarok friends Korg and Miek, playing video games and inciting trolls, drinking too much and letting himself go. His physical self reflects his internal turmoil: he isn’t caring for himself anymore. Which is really sad, and surprisingly realistic for Marvel, but then they ruin the whole thing by playing it for a laugh. As Thor walks into the room, the camera goes to his beer-bloated belly. The audience laughs. He is shirtless so we can see the extent of his mortification. This man is hurting and Marvel wants us to laugh.

tumblr_osdb03aJGC1tx5jamo3_250

So it dilutes the very worthy and valid message about mental health and how we all struggle with it. If we took away the fat suit punch line, we’re left with a deeply conflicted man who is really suffering. He lost his family twice now – The Avengers were his family, and not only are half of them turned to dust, but he has exiled himself from the rest. And when he finally does rejoin them, Tony Stark doesn’t ask him how he’s doing, he makes a joke about his appearance (he calls him Lebowski). True enough: often even our close friends and family miss the signs of depression. And who would think of it of such a strong man? And yet we are all fallible. Pain and trauma are the great equalizers of men.

Let’s remember for a moment that Thor’s other family, his real family, are also dead, but every single one of them – mother, father, brother Loki, that pesky half-sister Hela, even his best pal Heimdall – died before the Snap. So they’re not coming back no matter what happens in Endgame. And he’s lost his home, Asgard literally blown to smithereens, along with much of the population, which is then halved again during the Snap, which also took Valkyrie, his one remaining link to home and past.

tenor

So it’s nice that Thor gets a moment with his mother, who immediately knows that she is being blessed with a visit from a future-version of her son. She doesn’t waste time asking about his appearance or about her own safety, she wants to know about his pain. They talk about the true nature of a hero. She gives him strength. He begins to heal.

Chris Hemsworth brings a lot to a role that he’s had to stretch and adapt over the 8 years that he’s played him. You wouldn’t expect a comic book hero to be the role that shows an actor’s versatility, and yet here we are. Hemsworth has compassion for Thor. Even while the audience is invited to laugh on him, Hemsworth doesn’t want to make him the joke. Thor puts on a show for his friends, unwilling to let the mask slip and show his true vulnerability. But we see it. Sometimes just in the pain the flashes across his eyes, or the defeated slump of his shoulders, formally so square and erect.

Avengers-Endgame-2019-dir-Anthony-Russo-Joe-Russo-the-avengers-41776663-540-320.gif

This is a movie, so Thor’s arc movies quickly, as it must. But it’s not shown to be a quick fix, nor complete. These wounds take time to heal but they can heal, even if Thor will never be the cocky god we knew before. Not that we’d want him to be. This new Thor may be fat, but he’s also grown so much. He knows that other people’s worthiness does not take away from his own. He can share in the heroics comfortably, and even pass the torch. And that’s why I liked the scene as he’s preparing to fight Thanos: he calls on the  gods to ready him for battle. They do, but not by restoring him to his former glory. They outfit his new body. They braid his unkempt beard. It is THIS Thor who defeats Thanos when the old one could not, so let’s not laugh at his body, let’s celebrate his accomplishments, let’s shore up his mental health, let’s rejoice in his triumphs and share in his loss. He is finding his way through trauma. Thor is a god, but he’s having a very human response, and I wish ours in turn could be just a little more humane.

Howard The Duck

Last month I struggled to rein myself in after watching a forgotten Tom Hanks movie from 1986 called Nothing In Common. I consoled myself by reciting other, better movies that were released that year. Reasons why the year didn’t suck completely. Some of you contributed: Labyrinth, from Widdershins, was a particularly good one; it’s a darkly wonderful movie that I loved before I even knew who David Bowie was. Imagine growing up knowing Bowie as that guy from the weird Muppets movie. And realizing years later that that’s a young Jennifer Connelly starring alongside him. I still know all the words by heart. Not just the songs: ALL the words. But one of you has a delightful cruel streak that I can’t help but admire. One of you, not naming any names, suggested that Sean and I watch Howard The Duck. Howard The Duck! Also from the garbage year 1986, it’s a movie I’d never seen and never wanted to – not when he made a brief appearance at the end of a Guardians movie, and not even when Sean’s buddy contributed to his comic book revival.

Anyway, somewhere in this or another galaxy (not too sure about the geography – another dimension, maybe?), Duckworld is a planet where intelligent life evolved from waterfowl. Duckword is a lot like Earth; the ducks are humanoid, they walk on two feet and speak English and they’ve made movies like Splashdance and Breeders of the Lost Stork.

Anyway, one day Howard gets home and sits back in his lazy-boy with a beer and a cigar when a hole rips through the galaxy and swallows him up, depositing him on Earth where he meets a surprisingly amenable punk rocker named Beverly (Lea MV5BZjM2NzA2NTYtNTkwYy00MzY0LWIwOTQtZTgzMjQ1NDZjNGI1XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzc5NjM0NA@@._V1_Thompson). I mean, her look is early Madonna but her name is Beverly, which implies Mom jeans and shapeless sweaters, and her sound is more 80s power ballad, and she’s played by Lea Thompson, and it’s hard to sit here in 2019 and see how exactly she was ever considered an It Girl. Beautiful? Hot? She’s mousy and thin-lipped and mostly whiny. But anyway, let’s pretend she’s a hot as shit punk rock girl who somehow befriends a duck – and finds him sexually attractive.

Howard’s main concern is getting back home but the few scientists who could help him generally don’t. In fact, when they come close to opening that hole in the universe back up, Dr. Jenning (played by the creepy principal from Ferris Bueller, Jeffrey Jones, who turns out to be an actual sex offender and child pornographer in real life) accidentally infects himself with Evil Overlord. Which, you know, is not good. And quite sweaty. Not quite as repugnant as his real-life situation, but close.

In short, the movie’s a real shit show. If Howard The Ducks is fun at all in the comics, he’s a chore in the movies – it’s easier to imagine Lea Thompson being a sexpot than Howard T. Duck being at all interesting or fun to read about. Howard is a little person in a 2 million dollar duck suit walking around in an otherwise very CGI-heavy movie and none of it looks good, not now in 2019 and I bet not in 1986 either. At some point, near the end of the movie, I turned to Sean and said “Doesn’t this guy remind you a bit of Tim Robbins?” Apparently it was Tim Robbins, and had been the whole time. Apparently I am not familiar with 1986 Tim Robbins. He’s doughier and pastier than I would have guessed. I’m surprised he was able to defibrillate his career after this.

George Lucas has just finished building Skywalker Ranch to the tune of 50 MILLION DOLLARS and counted on this film to get him solvent again. Needless to say: it didn’t. Poor guy had to start selling off assets in order to not go belly up. Apple CEO Steve Jobs bought LucasFilm’s CGI animation division for a hefty sum, and so I guess two good things came out of Howard The Duck: what would eventually become Pixar, and also that every other Marvel movie from 1987 until time immemorial would positively glow in comparison.

…You’re welcome?

Captain Marvel

Mar-Vell! Shazam! Mar-Vell! Shazam! There is a long and interesting legal saga surrounding the Captain Marvel name (though if you are not a law geek it’s probably much more long than interesting). Basically, the red and white Captain Marvel (a.k.a. Shazam) came first as a blatant Superman rip-off. DC sued, put the creators out of business, bought Shazam for cheap and quickly forgot they owned him. Meanwhile, Marvel captain-marvel-mar-vell-shazam-differences-header-1108262-1280x0Comics decided that if any comic publisher should have a Captain Marvel, it should be them, so Marvel threw together a half-baked story about an alien named Mar-Vell to secure a trademark for the Captain Marvel name, won a lawsuit against DC and others, then gave Mar-Vell cancer and made him the only comic character in history to stay dead.

Given that history, I don’t think it is a coincidence that DC’s Shazam will follow within a month of Captain Marvel’s debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  If there’s a lesson here, and there may not be, it’s that “legal reasons” give birth to a lot of strange things (and don’t even get me started on the 90s Captain America and Fantastic Four films).

Incidentally. Marvel’s Captain Marvel is not a resurrection of the alien who died from cancer. Marvel revamped the character through a whole other convoluted saga, and she’s primed to be the first female hero to get her own MCU movie.

Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) is a space-faring Kree soldier with memory problems, a self-described noble warrior hero fighting a war against the shape-shifting Skrulls. After captain-marvel-international-poster-top-1200x675a Skrull ambush, she crash-lands on mid-90s Earth (smashing through the roof of a Blockbuster Video, as probability would dictate) and realizes that she’s been on this planet before. Teaming up with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Marvel chases after the Skrulls who came to Earth along with her (led by Ben Mendelsohn) while also trying to uncover her forgotten past.

In many ways, Captain Marvel is a standard solo origin story, which at this point they can crank out with no effort at all. But this film still feels like a necessary addition to the MCU. Captain Marvel is a worthy star and the galactic stakes are high enough here to make this film stand on its own. A great deal of those positive feelings are due to Larsen, who does a great job of keeping us invested in the character even before we (and she) know who she really is: the cosmic-powered superstar who is going to undo all the bad stuff that Thanos got away with last time (as you probably can guess, I’m still mad that he turned Spidey into dust). And the icing on the cake is the 90s nostalgia reminding us that no matter how bad your internet is during a snowstorm, things used to be much worse.

Aside from Shazam (which is almost certain to be terrible), Captain Marvel is bound to be compared to Wonder Woman, and for the only time ever, DC’s entry is the better one. Captain Marvel does not have the same crossover appeal as Wonder Woman does, but Captain Marvel is a really fun superhero movie on its own merits, as well as a great lead-in for the new Avengers film next month.