Messy, Marvelous Fun

Captain Marvel directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck

In 1982, a comics company hired a young British writer, Alan Moore, to revamp a half-forgotten character named Marvelman. This character was himself a knockoff of the Fawcett Comics hero Captain Marvel, who was himself (according to DC Comics, mostly angry at being outsold) a ripoff of Superman. The Captain Marvel name had been used in the meantime by two other unrelated superheroes from other companies. Moore responded to all this confusion – in a stirringly dark re-envisioning of Marvelman that turned out to be the first of several masterpieces from Moore’s pen – by redoing Marvelman’s origin story. His ‘50s adventures turn out to be implanted memories covering up something far uglier. 

The same turns out to be true for the Captain Marvel of the current Marvel Comics movie. (She is one of the “unrelated superheroes” mentioned above.) She remembers becoming a space warrior, but it turns out this memory is implanted. It comes off like a superhero version of the film-noir trope of a beautiful woman with amnesia. This woman can, however, shoot lasers from her fists, so she requires no detective. 

The film is tonally all over the place, and some of the intended funny/poignant moments are played so tentatively that they don’t really land. But it’s a fun movie that turns out to have a pro-refugee, anti-war message. At the beginning you can see an ad for the upcoming DC Shazam! movie, based on the original Captain Marvel, and the movie features shapeshifting aliens called Skrulls, as if to say “Nobody knows who’s who or who came from where, so let’s be nice.” If only Disney, the owner of Marvel Comics, understood intellectual property this way.  


  • Phil Christman writes and teaches in Ann Arbor, Mich. He is the editor of the Michigan Review of Prisoner Creative Writing.

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