Tuesday, April 30, 2019


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *cosmological, sociological*

Though George Pal's TIME MACHINE appeared in theaters at the beginning of the 1960s, I would argue that it is, in essence, the last great SF-films of the 1950s. I'm not talking about the base fact that some of the movie's scenes were filmed in 1959. Rather, it's more to do with my perception that the 1950s, no matter how many bad SF-films may have appeared, still evinces American cinema's first true investment in the SF-genre's concept of "thought experiments." In contrast, the early 1960s show marked a waning enthusiasm for such experiments, though arguably the genre made a comeback in 1966 with FAHRENHEIT 451 and recovered somewhat with recognized masterworks like PLANET OF THE APES and 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, both in 1968.

To date, no other filmmaker has managed to craft an adaptation of the Wells novel that has rivaled that of producer-director Pal and writer David Duncan-- which is quite an accomplishment, given that Pal and Duncan change so much of the source material.

As I pointed out in this essay, Wells is so devoted to his theme of cosmic degeneracy that he devotes scarcely any time to having his Traveler play about with his time-hopping machine, but instead has the character vault into a future thousands of years distant from his own. Duncan, however, is extremely concerned with having his traveler, name of George (from Wells' middle name), interact with 20th-century developments. Of course, Duncan had an advantage of hindsight that Wells did not have, but there's also a concerted attempt in the script to make Wells' future reflect the priorities of 1960s culture. Thus George (supposedly an Englishman, though Rod Taylor plays him as a practical-minded Yankee) makes his first temporal forays into World War I, World World II, and a 1960s atom-bomb war, the last of these playing to contemporary fears that such a conflict was practically right around the corner.

Improbably, despite the many thousands of years that ensue between the 1960s and what I'll call "Morlock-Earth," the patterns of the 1960s become indelible templates for the future. Duncan is basically true to the sociological patterns suggested by the Eloi and the Morlocks, but he adds in the contemporary reference of bomb shelters, which are loosely responsible for the divergence between the two species of humankind. The Morlocks are still the "engineer-types" who chose to remain underground even after the bombs stopped falling, but now the Eloi, the descendants of people who ventured back to the surface, have unaccountably lost all ability to think rationally. The movie-Eloi even have, unlike Wells' version, access to fallen cities that come complete with recording-devices that reveal to George (in English!) the circumstances of civilization's fall.

Perhaps because these Eloi are no longer covalent with "the idle rich" of earlier civilizations, Duncan stumps for the idea that the fragile flowers of the future are not beyond redemption. As in the novel, the Eloi seem blandly indifferent to one another's fates, even when one female, Weena, almost drowns in a river, only to be rescued by the Traveler. However, in the film George's heroic action provides a model for redemption. In the novel, Weena is described as child-like, and there's no sense of a budding romance between her and her savior. As played by Yvette Mimeux, though, Weena is ineluctably a mature female, and her association with George marks her slow journey to maturation (characterized by her desire to compete with the women of George's time-frame).

As in the novel, George's time-device is stolen by the Morlocks, forcing the hero to descend into the metaphorical underworld and fight these cannibalistic "devils." Unlike Wells' Traveler, who doesn't appear to fight very well but manages to stave off his foes with the help of an iron bar, Taylor's George is seen as a good brawler, and his actions cause at least some of the male Eloi (but not the female ones!) to fight their long-time oppressors. George returns to his own time, but the coda suggests that he will return to the Morlock-Earth and use the knowledge of his time to reform the fallen world.

Even before Pal's adaptation, though, it might be argued that Wells' scenario was broadly adapted in the 1956 film WORLD WITHOUT END, which simply re-arranged matters so that the people in the underworld became the helpless wimps and the people on the outside mutated into horrendous barbarians.

Friday, April 26, 2019


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *cosmological, sociological*

My initial reaction to GODZILLA VS. MEGALON was about the same as that of most critics. I thought it a terrible exemplar of the "kiddie Godzilla" films of the last Showa years. particularly withe respect to having the Big G team up with a giant-robot superhero named Jet Jaguar.

However, in my more recent viewings, I found MEGALON somewhat appealing on the purely kinetic level. Though it was made by roughly the same team that executed the previous film in the series-- GODZILLA ON MONSTER ISLAND, execrable for its grating use of stock footage-- and was also shot on a rapid schedule, director Fukuda turned out what may be the best of the "cotton candy" Godzillas.

The action may be marginally better this time because MEGALON wasn't conceived as a Godzilla film, but as a pilot for the robot-hero Jet Jaguar. Thus on some level the filmmakers started out with the idea of doing a lively kids'-action film, rather than just churning out another routine entry in the Godzilla series. Thus, even after the bigwigs had ordered the inclusion of the Big G to make MEGALON more marketable, Fukuda and company had already thought out the project in terms of the "giant robot" subgenre.

The principal human actors are an inventor, his nephew and his buddy, all involved in testing Jet Jaguar (who varies between being human-sized and gigantic). As characters they're negligible, but Fukuda puts them through some decent action-sequences, in marked contrast to the stultifying antics from MONSTER ISLAND. As for the big monster-battle, Gigan, also improbably recycled from MONSTER ISLAND, is as boring as before, and Godzilla seems out of place in this world. However, Jet Jaguar and the beetle-like Megalon have some OK moves in some scenes, and so the monster fights are slightly better than those of MONSTER ISLAND-- even if MEGALON does include a much-derided scene in which Godzilla launches a "flying kick"-- twice!-- at one of his opponents.

The Seatopians are the monster-unleashing villains this time. They're a race of humans who dwell in a sunken city and take exception to the nuclear tests on the surface, and they unleash Megalon to quell impudent humanity. They're also a marginal improvement on the villains of MONSTER ISLAND, but only just.

This is one of the few Godzilla films of the Showa period with no significant female characters.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*

Here's a truly lame episode, with none of the thought-experiment elements found in the much-maligned "Spock's Brain." Only the commitment of the performers keeps "Spectre" from being an utter waste of time.

The episode begins by using rickety logic. Kirk is told to contact a reserved alien race, the Melkotians. The Enterprise's access to Melkotian space is blocked by a space-buoy that warns them to keep away, and though the Federation representatives don't precisely destroy the buoy, they help bring about its destruction. 

This bit of "gunboat diplomacy" doesn't work out as well as it did in the real world. The Melkotians retaliate by spiriting five crewmen of the Enterprise-- Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scott and Chekhov-- to an illusory world that slightly resembles Dodge City of the 1880s. No reason is given as to why the aliens chose these five crewmen out of the two hundred-plus on the ship. The city looks like no more than a series of incomplete movie-set constructs, which of course it was in reality, and Spock's best explanation for this anomaly is that the Melkotians may have left the town incomplete because they can't fully access human memories for the simulation. Yet the aliens seem able to make most of the important historical connections pretty well, for once the crewmen interact with the "people" in this simulated town, Kirk and company realize that they've been cast as the "Clanton gang." Kirk rather pointlessly tries to persuade the townspeople-- including the Clantons' enemies, Wyatt Earp and his two brothers-- that Kirk and his men are really officers from a space-navy, but everyone is convinced that the Clantons are doomed to be gunned down by the Earps, just as history relates.

Though the director manages to put a great deal of tension into Gene Coon's weak script, he can't overcome some of the absurdities. One might think that when Kirk finds himself in a town that looks made-up out of odds and ends, the first thing he would do would be to try to get away. Instead, this is about the third or fourth thing Kirk does, only to find, predictably, that an alien power restrains the guests from leaving. They dope out that the whole exercise is an attempt to punish them for their transgressions. Yet, even after seeing the incomplete simulation of Dodge, the five crewmen-- at one point minus Chekhov, who apparently "dies"-- can't seem to work out that the whole thing's an illusion. The heroes have to see a particular physical law transgressed before they figure out how to escape the fate of being killed at the "gunfight at the OK Corral."

The only strong scene in this mishmash is a funny moment when Scotty finds an excuse to do a little tippling in the line of duty.

Monday, April 22, 2019

X-MEN (2000)

PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *cosmological, psychological*

The Bryan Singer X-MEN, though no more than a solid formula-film, remains noteworthy for launching a new age in superhero movies.

True, neither director/ co-writer Singer nor any of the talents on subsequent films were ever able to cope with the comic-series' principal appeal: that of the intense soap-opera developments in the lives of "young mutants in love (and sometimes hate)." But then, serial movie-franchises are simply not structured to follow many varied character-arcs over the course of time. Singer thus chose to favor certain characters over others, with the result that X-MEN devotes a lot of time to Wolverine, Magneto and Professor X, a moderate amount to Cyclops, Mystique and Jean Grey, and very little to Storm, Sabre-Tooth, and the Toad. But Singer is faithful to the perceived principal theme of the comics-series: that mutant superheroes provide a new form of alienation, based not in race or religion but in their trans-racial ability to display powers "far beyond those of ordinary mortals."

Almost twenty years later, the film's opening, in which Singer aligns the future sufferings of his fantasy-mutants with the Holocaust, still retains its power to impress all but the most doctrinaire superhero-haters. Thankfully, after that visceral evocation of humankind's penchant for bigotry, the script does not harangue viewers with its political agenda, as do many current superhero films. It's true that from first to last the script signals its appeal to American inclusiveness, referencing emigrants early in the story and winding up with a big battle at the Statue of Liberty, but all of this, though transparent, is far from strident. Like the 1960s comics-version of the X-franchise, Professor X and his students align with the politics of accomodation, while villain Magneto and his henchpersons followed the path of extremist rebellion. Magneto's master plan might be termed an inversion of the Nazi "final solution:" instead of seeking, like the Nazis, to slay everyone of a different ethnicity, Magneto seeks to make everyone the same, turning all normal humans-- the source of anti-mutant xenophobia-- into mutants.

Admittedly, the script does make some minor attempts to build up its less emphasized members. Cyclops (James Marsden), though given fewer strong lines than Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), does have an affecting moment when the eye-blasting hero swears to the Professor that he'll carry on the mutant-hero tradition if his mentor can't do so. Halle Berry's Storm gets the true short end of the stick, particularly given that she was one of the better developed regulars in the comics. Yet I must admit that Halle Berry, despite her popularity at the time, probably would not have been able to pull off Storm even with the best Storm-script conceivable. Nevertheless, every time Jackman or Ian McKellen get on screen, those actors suck away all the "air" in the room.

Given the current domination of CGI in modern superhero films, it's astonishing to see how little appears in this turning-point film. Six years later, Singer would show his regard for the 1978 SUPERMAN by directing the follow-up SUPERMAN RETURNS, but even in 2000, it would seem that Singer was seeking in X-MEN to duplicate the 1978 film's success, using mostly wirework and non-CGI visual effects to project the illusion of beings with fabulous super-powers. The fact that Richard Donner was an executive producer on this film (and one other X-film later) may have influenced Singer in this regard, though to be sure, later X-films made increasing use of CGI, and all of the X-films from 20th-Century Fox were under the aegis, not of Donner personally, but of the production company that Donner formed with his wife.


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *cosmological, psychological*

After seeing a YouTube rip of THE POWER WITHIN, I hastened to check out the credits of the TV-film's writers and director. Although none of them had worked on THE INCREDIBLE HULK teleseries when it debuted the year before this failed pilot, I speculate that someone behind the series did a quick read of the comic-book origin of the Hulk, and decided to use elements of that story-- which the HULK TV-show largely ignored-- for a brand-new TV-superhero.

This indebtedness isn't obvious at the start. Young free-spirit Chris Darrow (Art Hindle) and his buddy Bill run a shoestring flight-school operation, with Darrow acting as the daredevil pilot who brings in the customers. Then one night, as he's driving home in the midst of a lightning-storm, his car blows a tire (paging Bill Bixby) and as Darrow gets out to fix it, he's struck by lightning. Instead of being killed, he survives and learns that he has the ability to fling bolts of lightning from his fingers.

So far, the resemblance shows influence only from the TV show. However, the first thing Darrow does is to seek help from his estranged father, General Tom Darrow. As it happens, the General's research department just happens to be working on a device that synchronizes with Darrow's current predicament. The  military's analysis shows that Darrow now needs to recharge himself at regular intervals, or he'll die, though the army's new tech can help him with his self-regulation. This situation forces Darrow, the free spirit rebel, to work with his by-the-book old man. To be sure, neither of them expect a cell of local spies to mistake Darrow as a test subject for their new research, but the spies try to kidnap Darrow, and continue to cause the new hero grief for the remainder of the movie. The coda establishes that the General may call upon his supercharged offspring for missions at times, and that Darrow himself, having tasted the spying life, isn't totally averse to a new series of adventures.

There are only a couple of action-scenes wherein Darrow demonstrates his bolt-tossing powers, as well as a degree of super-strength, but the script, while nothing special, does keep a steady stream of incidents to avert tedium. POWER WITHIN is nothing special-- the father-son, authority/rebel conflict is certainly banal-- but it boasts a cast of familiar actors and proves livelier than most failed pilots.

Saturday, April 20, 2019


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *metaphysical, psychological*

Of all the horror-serials spawned during the 70s and 80s, almost nothing beats the AMITYVILLE series for sheer tedium. I can enjoy a good haunted-house tale as much as anyone, but the first film in this series-- based on a book relating the purportedly real experiences of the Lutz family-- has almost nothing going for it, beyond a solid performance by James Brolin.

Not having read anything about the book beyond a brief synopsis, I can't speak to the film's accuracy as an adaptation. It does seem likely that the screenplay beefed up the action in which George Lutz seems to be infected with the house's supernatural residents.

As for what the critters are, and what they're doing in the house, the script gives three separate potential explanations for the weirdness-- that the house was a site of devil worship by a Puritan-era witch, that the Indians who lived there once kept crazy people on the house-site until they died, and that there's some sort of well that functions as a "gate to hell." No single explanation is ever confirmed and the story ends in one of the most anticlimactic ways seen in a 70s horror film.

AMITYVILLE II, directed by Damiano Damiani, is at least a more tolerable spookfest. The prequel relates the events in which the family that owned the house before the Lutzes was mostly killed by the family's teenaged son. Damiani at least plays every scene with ghastly brio, though he elects to mix together elements of ghosts, demons, and evil Indian spirits. But at least, in contrast to the first film, the natural tensions of the victim-family don't come out of nowhere, but are exacerbated by the demon-like inhabitants. The son who eventually commits the murder suffers from some Oedipal demons against his tyrannical father, though they seem directed not at his mother but at his sister. Workmanlike though the film is, it's probably the best of the AMITYVILLE entries.


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*

You've got to hand it to Cecil B. De Mille. In his religious epics, he might have messed with the scriptures of both Jews and Christians, but he knew how to make the Bible into good cinematic entertainment. In contrast, even watching just the "Noah" portion of this John Huston 1966 film is likely to make any viewer think he just wasted 40 days and 40 nights so doing.

In most cases, director Huston was also a master of good entertainment, but the material of the Christian Bible's first 22 chapters is totally beyond his depth. I suspect that he was for the most part a hired gun on this project, given some anecdotes to the effect that his producer, Dino de Laurentis, originally had thoughts of making a ten-hour film of the entire Bible. At some point the decision was made to adapt most of the significant stories from the creation of the world to the near-sacrifice of Isaac. This could have worked as a study in contrast between the constant disobedience of God's chosen people-- the eating of the apple, the Tower of Babel, Sodom and Gomorrah-- and the one time when one chosen patriarch, Abraham got it right.

I'm not familiar with the plays of Christopher Fry, but I would suspect that he might've been signed on to this project thanks to an uncredited writing contribution on 1959's BEN HUR and a credited contribution to 1961's BARABBAS. Both are decent examples of religious epic, but both are also based on mainstream literary novels about matters Christian. Fry's script gives no sense of understanding any of the cultural or metaphysical meanings behind the various Biblical tales, but seems content to dole out familiar passages to satisfy anyone who might be parsing things to see if he got it right-- which is ironic, given that the film leaves out a lot of stuff. (It seems particularly strange that the script is forthright about having Lot invite the citizens of Sodom to "know" his own daughters rather than assault the angels of the Lord-- yet the film shrinks from showing the conclusion of Lot's story, in which his daughters, believing the world in chaos, get their father drunk and have sex with him, presumably with designs of repopulation.)

But it hardly matters at this late date whether the greatest burden of blame for this abomination of incredible dullness, be it Fry, Huston, or deLaurentis. Many famous actors are on display, but the only one who has a grasp of the material is George C. Scott, who plays Abraham with all the flinty gusto of a true Hebrew patriarch.

Thursday, April 18, 2019


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *cosmological, psychological*

Who says that fictions only and false hair 
Become a verse? Is there in truth no beauty? 
Is all good structure in a winding stair? 
May no lines pass, except they do their duty 
Not to a true, but painted chair? -- George Herbert, JORDAN.

MIRANDA: O, wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world, That has such people in't! 
PROSPERO: 'Tis new to thee.

I don't imagine "Truth" makes very many "top-ten Classic Trek" lists. Like the first-season "Conscience of the King," "Truth" is largely a drama about internal conflict, with only a few gestures toward external peril for the crew of the Enterprise. Yet the story ought to be resonably popular with feminists, however, since it's one of the few TREK scripts in which a woman enjoys an independence from men-- or at least, men of the human species.

At the episode's opening, a Shatner voiceover informs the viewer that the ship is transporting a unique ambassador back home after what one presumes are some ambassadorial duties. Kollos-- whose name bears a striking resemblance to "kalos," the archaic Greek word for beauty-- belongs to a race that has evolved into a formless state. This formlessness is just as shocking to humans of the future as lack of proper form was to the ancient Greeks, and in accordance these aliens have been dubbed "Medusans," since Medusa had the power to petrify with her ugliness. Kollos can only travel inside a container that may remind one of anything from the Ark of the Covenant to the box of Pandora, and even when the container's being beamed onto the Enterprise, humans cannot be present, apparently since they might catch sight of the Medusan in his atomized state. Only Spock can be present when Kollos comes on board, and even the half-human Vulcan must wear a visor to cover his eyes and dull any possible exposure to the ambassador.

But Kollos does not come alone. As Medusans are the galaxy's pre-eminent masters of space navigation, there are plans to retrofit starships in order to incorporate Medusan insights. Kollos is preceded by Larry Marvik, a technician who worked on designing the Enterprise, and when the Medusan comes on board, the creature is accompanied by a human doctor of psychology, Miranda Jones. (A quotation from Shakespeare's TEMPEST later in the episode attests to the writer's main reason for choosing the name "Miranda," beyond its base meaning of "worthy of admiration.') This Miranda, though, is part of the Federation hierarchy rather than an unschooled innocent. The navigation-project can only be implemented if a humanoid can form a "mind-link" with a Medusan like Kollos.

Though Spock and Miranda work in tandem to bring the dangerous Medusan to his ship-quarters, Miranda reveals her awareness that Spock was invited to assume the role intended for he. Spock observes her barely concealed jealousy, even as she fails to glean his true feelings for the project by using her birth-given telepathic gifts.

While Kollos resides in his container, Miranda and Marvik are feted by the ship's senior officers: Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Scott. McCoy rather than Kirk takes on the role of the somewhat paternalistic male who cannot understand a beautiful woman binding herself to a creature of reputed ugliness. Miranda aptly refutes him, and Spock dismisses the "outmoded notion, promulgated by your ancient Greeks, that what is good must also be beautiful." The polite badinage gives way to alarm when Miranda claims that she perceives someone in the room contemplating murder. She leaves, with McCoy remarking that he finds her both "vulnerable" and "disturbing."

Marvik appears at Miranda's quarters, importuning her to bind herself to him rather than to Kollos. As on previous occasions, Miranda rejects his suit, and he makes a not-unfamiliar attempt to denigrate her for her unwomanly status as "the great psychologist," saying. "Why don't you try being a woman?" Miranda is less concerned with his gender politics than with the discovery that Marvik is the source of the murderous thoughts she sensed. He leaves, and attempts to use a phaser on Ambassador Kollos. The Medusan exposes his unknowable nature to the scientist, who is promptly infected with a growing madness. Unfortunately for the Enterprise, the mania doesn't consume Marvik before he sets the ship he designed on a wild ride into an unfamiliar continuum. Then Marvik perishes, cursing Miranda for the insidious allure of her beauty.

The senior officers soon determine that the only way to navigate their way back to their galaxy is to form a mind-link between Spock and Kollos. Though Kirk has the right to initiate this procedure, he seems curiously unwilling to lock horns with Miranda, who guards Kollos jealously. Kirk invites Miranda to an arboretum, and if he isn't trying to seduce her as such, he does seek to sway her from her chosen path, telling her she ought to seek the bliss of marriage. Miranda will have none of it. In her early years she experienced great torments from being telepathically vulnerable to the chaos of other minds, and now that training on Vulcan has given her some measure of protection, she wants only to become a figurative "bride of Kollos" rather than being a part of the brawling human race. She also sees through Kirk's charade and tries to prevent Spock's appeal to Kollos. McCoy, who has apparently had time at some point to learn her full medical history, reveals that she is ill-equipped to perform the navigation because Miranda is literally blind, and that her appearance otherwise has been feigned with the use of technology. Miranda is then obliged to ask Kollos to choose whom he will mind-link. Kollos chooses Spock and Miranda's equanimity is shattered as she screams in frustration.

The mind-link results in a "double entity" that is essentially Kollos' mind in Spock's body. The merged being easily returns the ship to normal space, but when Spock goes to rejoin Kollos' mind to the Medusan's formless body, he forgets to don the visor, and goes insane.

The culmination of the psychological conflict then takes center-stage. Spock is in danger of dying as Marvik did, and Miranda claims she cannot help him with her telepathic talents. Kirk, desperate to save Spock, reasons that Miranda subconsciously wants her rival dead. He badgers her, accusing her of having subliminally influenced Spock, of desiring his death. However, nothing motivates Miranda more than Kirk's insight that "you can't lie to Kollos." Whether or not Miranda conspired to cause Spock's death remains unknown, but she knows that she must exert herself to the utmost in saving Spock, or Kollos will know of it. The result is that the two rivals undergo what might be called a sci-fi version of a Jungian katabasis, journeying into the realm of death before coming out alive.

The ending shows a different Miranda, no longer prickly or harried by her personal demons. The broad implication is that she has entered a new communion with Kollos, and purged herself of all the "violent passions" that she held in her own heart, making it possible for her to join the alien in his world.

A likely reason as to why the lead female of "Truth" is not embroiled in any passionate connection is that she is, in essence, a science-fiction version of a nun, turning away from ordinary life to pursue a higher calling. The poet Herbert asks his readers why they cannot find beauty in common, ordinary "true" things, rather than the elaborations of "the winding stair." But the writer of "Truth" uses Herbert to elaborate the opposite meaning: Miranda does turn away from ordinary life in favor of binding herself to a complex and inhuman being. For that matter, the script also reverses the fate of Miranda's namesake. The heroine of THE TEMPEST goes from a fairy-tale existence to the world of real life, and Miranda takes the opposite course. Indeed, in the colloquy she has with the joined Kollos-Spock, it is he who speaks the optimistic "brave new world" line, while Miranda utters Prospero's more cynical observation, "'Tis new to thee." After that, Kollos-Spock's last word on the subject is that she will soon enter his world in place of the one she knows-- and this, as the script presents things, is right and proper, but only once she has followed the precepts of Vulcan philosophy, purging herself of her lesser impulses.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *cosmological, psychological*

The opening of THE FLAME BARRIER-- a film which appeared in theaters in April 1958-- contains a potential mythic response to the discoveries of the Explorer 1 and 3 satellites launched by the U.S., respectively, in January and March of that year. Whether the filmmakers got their data from the satellite-findings or not, presumably someone in the scripting department caught on to the idea that the Earth was surrounded by zones of charged particles, eventually named the Van Allen radiation belts. Certainly some such speculation must've prompted writers Pat Fiedler and George Worthing Yates to imagine the Earth surrounded by a "flame barrier." The prologue spends no time analyzing what this mysterious barrier is made of, much less dropping any hints that the barrier apparently plays host to some form of non-human life. All the viewer knows is that a satellite containing a lab chimp is sent up into the Flame Barrier, and falls to Earth in a Mexican jungle, the victim of man's ambition to know the heavens.

Though the American experts believe the satellite destroyed, a businessman named Dahlmann braves the jungle in his belief that the satellite has survived the catastrophe. When Dahlmann doesn't return from his trek, his wife Carol goes looking for guides through the Mexican jungle. She finds two brothers, the affable but irresponsible Matt and the hard-bitten, driven Dave, who make fair embodiments of "pleasure principle" and "reality principle." Dave, the boss of the jungle-guide operation, doesn't want to go chasing missing husbands during Mexico's rainy season, but he lets himself be talked into the project by Carol's offer of a lot of money. The fact that Carol's a looker no doubt helps-- though brother Matt is the first one to flirt with her a little-- and maybe Dave, despite his rough exterior, senses some potential in a woman who may want to bury her rich husband more than she wants to rescue him.

Since the expedition can't reach the fallen satellite for many miles, the script has to throw in various encounters with beasts, as well as Dave heaping scorn on Carol for being a jungle-greenhorn. Naturally, though she expresses irritation, on some level Dave intrigues her for being a "hard get," in contrast to the more gentlemanly Matt. As the travelers proceed, they get inklings that both the local animals and the local tribes have been thrown into chaos by the falling of the satellite, though none of the principals know quite what to expect. The most intriguing detail is that the trio encounter a threesome of Indians, one of whom was the leader of his tribe and was set out in the jungle to die from poisonous ants. Possibly the ex-chief was blamed for the bad juju from the satellite, though the script doesn't say so, not specify the standing of his two buddies. The three tribesmen end up acting as bearers for the three travelers, though their main purpose is to be "red shirts."

By the time the expedition reaches the camp of the missing Dahlmann, Carol and Dave have fallen hard for each other, and Dave seems to want to find his rival in order to expunge his claim to Carol. It doesn't hurt that she's told him that her marriage was on the rocks thanks to Dahlmann's obsession with his business affairs and with his space-hobby-- which puts the absent husband in the same hubristic ballpark as all those pointy-headed space-scientists.

Happily for Dave, Dahlmann is sincerely dead, having been absorbed into a blobbish life-form that now inhabits the satellite. No one asks how this blob-thing existed up in Earth's statosphere; it might as well be one of Sinbad's colossal creatures for the backstory it gets. The blob emits a gradually expanding electrical field that's been playing havoc with the jungle-life, so Dave and Matt must figure out a way to destroy the spawn of the flame barrier. Unhappily, there has to be one more demise of one more "red shirt"-- and it just happens to be the only other person who even slightly looked Carol's way.

The film ends with a coda focusing on the space-race's continuing attempts to plumb the mysteries of space, but the wording makes the prospect far more enigmatic than anything audiences would've seen in the blithe assurances of, say, DESTINATION MOON.

Saturday, April 13, 2019


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*

While some of the plot-points of "And the Children Shall Lead" are rather muddled, this episode is reasonably successful at evoking the "Peter Pan" trope that informed the first-season episode "Miri."

The Enterprise responds to a distress call, sent by the leader of a scientific expedition on the planet Triacus. Once there, Kirk and company find almost all of the adult members of the party dead by apparent self-poisoning. One adult, the leader who sent the message, lives only long enough to utter an ambiguous warning. However, the five youngsters who came with their parents are all alive and seemingly healthy, though they show no reaction to the presence of their progenitors' dead bodies.

The children are taken aboard the Enterprise, but McCoy can find nothing anomalous with them, though he warns that the psychological consequences for such repression of reality may be dire. Once the viewer learns that the kids are being mentally controlled by an alien being, their behavior is somewhat more comprehensible, though one might've thought their controller would've made things a lot easier, had he told the kids to make a show of feigned grief. The only thing close to a rationale is that Kirk plans to drop the kids off at a starbase, and the controller wants his pawns to start a new movement on an inhabited world, full of many potential converts.

The kids, gifted by their benefactor with a variety of mind-altering powers, begin interfering with various crewmen in order to get what they want. One may argue that their course would've been simpler had they managed to mesmerize Kirk, since being able to command him would've paved their way to their desired destination. However, the script makes the point that the children's new powers depend in part on being able to bring out "the Beast" in adults, to make them imagine terrible things that they've repressed via adult reason-- in effect, reducing the adults to the status of nightmare-ridden kids. With the exception of their manipulation of Uhura-- who's made to see herself old and on the brink of death (also a consequence of adulthood)-- most of the nightmares are unimpressive.

The alien apparently can do nothing on his own, but can only work his will through the children by playing on basic resentments of their being subjected to adult control-- though they also use their status as kids to deflect suspicion. In one strong scene, the children frustrate Kirk's inquires but pretending to act like very "busy" bees, possibly parodying the way they felt about their parents' devotion to work over play, However, once Kirk is aware of the nature of the alien's power, he's able to exorcise the creature's control of the children, returning them to the status of normal kids and banishing their "demon."

The alien deserves a little discussion on his own. When the children summon their immaterial ally, they call him "the Angel," which is most probably meant to evoke the idea of Satan, fallen angel and tempter of innocents. In the episode's last segment, Kirk suddenly addresses the alien as "Gorgan," which name was evidently explained in some dropped portion of the script. Since Greek Gorgons were repulsive creatures, presumably this was conceived as a reference to the inner ugliness of Gorgan, revealed once the children turn from him. Spock provides some background, albeit of a legendary status, as to the long dead inhabitants of Triacus. They were, the legend says, a race of ruthless marauders, who oppressed other alien worlds but were almost wiped by those they had pirated. Supposedly only one Triacus native survived, though how anyone could've learned this fact and passed it into legend goes unanswered. Gorgan's influence is first felt (by Kirk) in a dark cave, which location might suggest in this context the status of being buried, both physically and as a repressed aspect of the human psyche. Since TREK's sci-fi universe would not admit of the survival of ghosts, much less actual devils, the basic idea may have been that Gorgan survived his natural death via some super-science method, though the script is silent on this point.


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*

"Paradise Syndrome" deserves all of those brickbats that are regularly doled out to "Spock's Brain."
 While not the first of the TREKs to recycle stock Hollywood costumes for extraterrestrials, "Syndrome" may be the least imaginative, outpacing even "Bread and Circuses." The episode also sports one of William Shatner's worst Kirk-performances, for all that the actor called it his favorite episode (probably because he was the center of attention). The story's so dull, even its politically incorrect themes (white man showing the heathen redskins the way) aren't any fun.

The TREK trio beam down to an Earth-like planet, marveling at its unsullied beauties, prompting McCoy to wonder if Kirk, suffering from the pressures of command, may be succumbing to the "Tahiti syndrome." (Thus the episode also recycles the basic concept that sorta-kinda began the TREK franchise, since this syndrome was the basis of the conflict in the first pilot, "The Cage.") The three explorers are aware that a giant asteroid is within days of crushing the planet, and they've descended to scope out the natives-- all clad in Native American garb, and compared by Spock to specific Earth-tribes-- before saving them. The three heroes also find a mysterious obelisk erected by some power far more advanced than any primitive tribe. Kirk accidentally falls through a trap door in the structure, losing his memory in consequence. Spock and McCoy must return to the ship to work on deflecting the asteroid, planning to return later and search further for Kirk.

While they're gone, trying and failing to impede the big rock, the amnesia-stricken Kirk wanders out of the obelisk. Soon almost all of the tribespeople believe Kirk has been sent to them by the gods, for they have a tradition about how the gods protect them in times of need. Kirk, though he doesn't remember who he is, impresses the faux-Indians with his knowledge of lamp-making and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. However, his personal charms work a special magic on the chief's daughter Miramanee, who feels it her bounden duty to wed the "god." However, one of the local swains resents having his potential mate stolen by an outsider, and by episode's end he challenges Kirk's godhood. Spock and McCoy return in time to rescue Kirk, but not Miramanee, and they figure out that the people who made the obelisk equipped it with an asteroid-deflection device.

"Syndrome"s" most interesting aspect is that it ignores the "law of parallel evolution" cited in "Bread and Circuses," and comes up with the idea of a mysterious group of beneficent aliens, "the Preservers," who have traveled about the galaxies seeding planets with human-like forms. The latter is a little better excuse than the former for the ubiquity of homo sapiens standing in for aliens, and for the recycling of Earth-style costumes-- but only a little.

Friday, April 12, 2019


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*

It's been bruited about, not least in David Gerrold's WORLD OF STAR TREK, that "Enterprise Incident" was meant to be scripter D.C. Fontana's version of the contemporaneous "U.S.S. Pueblo" event. The real-life occurrence may indeed have been Fontana's proximate inspiration. Yet, given STAR TREK's tendency to reproduce aspects of the Cold War, the content of "Incident" has a greater resemblance to an event from the 40s, when the Soviets began gathering intelligence on the Manhattan Project and other nuclear development sources.

"Incident" starts off by suggesting that Captain Kirk has gone around the bend by ordering the Enterprise into the Romulan Neutral Zone. Yet the pointed way in which the script works in the Romulans' acquisition of a brand-new weapon-- a cloaking device that makes it easy for them to approach enemy ships without warning-- rather telegraphs that Kirk and company are on a "Mission Impossible" to gain intelligence on the new Romulan tech (which ironically puts the Earth-organization in the position of the Soviets' atomic spies).

The actual mechanics of the Enterprise spy-plot don't track all that well. If the Federation can use plastic surgery to give humans the appearance of Romulans, why wouldn't they send some crewman lest recognizable than Kirk to perform the tech-theft? Of course, the scripters wouldn't have wanted to create some new throwaway character, since Shatner's Kirk was the principal star of the show.

Far more interesting is the restrained dalliance between Spock and the unnamed Romulan commander, whose high military status contrasts rather dramatically with the Federation's masculinist exclusion of women from positions of command. While Spock is clearly seen to be playing a spy game, it should not be overlooked that the Commander's attempt to literally seduce the Vulcan to her cause may not be merely an expression of her personal tastes. Their exchanges make clear that the Commander can deliver the undamaged Enterprise to her superiors for analysis, that will be a feather in her cap. Thus her attempt to suborn Spock-- particularly when she suggests that Spock's Federation career may be compromised by the Federation's pro-human bias-- may be primarily motivated by her desire for prestige among other Romulans. Joanne Linville delivers a nuanced performance that allows for expression of her femininity without losing a sense of her capacity for command.


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *cosmological, sociological*

Not many critics have used the word "good" to describe any aspect of STAR TREK's third-season opener, "Spock's Brain." I will note that I use the term to describe only the episode's mythic discourse, which is in my mind a thing apart from such loony lines as:

"Brain and brain! What is brain?"

Structually speaking, "Brain" is one of the strongest episodes by Gene L. Coon (writing under the name of Lee Cronin). What kills the episode is not its structure but its verisimilitude: the moment the viewer learns that the story is all about Mister Spock's brain being literally removed from his head by a sexy girl alien, the episode loses any and all claim to being taken seriously. It's one thing to see a brain removed, stuck in a jar, and exerting mental control over people, a la DONOVAN'S BRAIN. It's quite another thing to have Kirk and other Enterprise go on a "search for Spock's brain," a line from the episode which coincidentally resembles Nimoy's later TV-effort IN SEARCH OF. But even if that show had never existed, there's just something incredibly comical about a brain being pulled out of someone's head and being put in some other body or machine.

I sometimes wonder if "Brain" would be so poorly regarded had the brain-thieves in the story not taken Spock's literal brain, but some energy-matrix associated with his intellect, like the so-called "katra" that incarnates Spock's spirit in STAR TREK: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK. Had Coon not chosen to make the brain-drain literal, viewers might have been less inclined to laugh at the sight of the Enterprise's resident Vulcan literally walking around without a brain in his head.

Had Coon opted for an approach more spiritual than visceral, critics might better appreciate how the episode plays upon common Roddenberry themes, even during Roddenberry's absence from the producer's chair. Then the emphasis would have been upon the story's interesting bifurcation of gender. Thanks to one of TREK's many ancient designers of alien worlds, on Sigma Draconis an ice age separates the female gender, called "Eymorg" from the male gender, the "Morg." The latter live on the planet's surface like dispossessed Morlocks, while the women are like a gang of Eloi who live underground and control all the technology of the hyper-advanced ancestors. Though the script makes clear that the separated sexes still conjoin to some extent-- the Morg call the Eymorg "the givers of pain and delight"-- Coon remains silent on the subject of how they propagate, though something along the line of the old Amazon solution may have been contemplated (i.e., male babies are sent to the surface, female ones are raised underground). When Kirk and company first show up on Sigma Draconis in pursuit of the brain-thieves, the star-sailors are regarded as being a little too feminine to be guys, given their less than brutish size and their lack of facial hair.

Given how often the masculinist Roddenberry pictures men as being naturally more assertive and dominant toward women, it's interesting to see Coon portraying a society in which women have been dominant for a really long time, using super-weapons to give them the advantage over male muscles. However, because the technology needs one good brain to run it, Kirk's recovery of the Vulcan cerebrum spells the end of the bifurcated society. When one of the Eymorg wails at having to leave their technological Eden to join the men in the cold cruel world on the surface, Kirk helpfully informs her that he thinks they'll find other ways to bend men to their will, heh heh.

Even with a flawed concept, no one was Coon's equal in creating genuinely funny dialogue for the Classic Trek characters, and "Spock's Brain" manages some humorous moments in which the audience is laughing with the characters, rather than at them.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *cosmological, sociological*

As derivative as BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS is, at least one has to give producer Roger Corman and his co-workers props for ringing in a few changes on the "Seven Samurai/Magnificent Seven" set of tropes, in marked contrast to a deadly-dull flick like THE SEVEN MAGNIFICENT GLADIATORS, made just three years later. Since I think John Sturges' MAGNIFICENT SEVEN was the primary influence on BATTLE, I'll eschew further references to the Kurosawa film.

Though Jimmy Murikami's direction is workmanlike, John Sayles' script gets some simple fun out of crossbreeding SEVEN with STAR WARS. For unexplained reasons, space-warlord Sador (John Saxon) decides that he wants to plunder a humble farming-world, where the inhabitants, rather than being downtrodden by poverty, believe in non-violence. Sador very considerately gives the farmers time to consider their options, and so young Lu-- I mean, Shad (Richard Thomas)-- has the chance to race off looking for mercenaries to battle Sador.

Though Sayles has clearly worked in some STAR WARS motifs, it's arguable that BATTLE uses more tropes of scientific space-opera than does George Lucas's space-fantasy. Lucas's original trilogy shows very little interest in how aliens and creatures operate in a biological sense. Sayles uses the "seven mercenaries" trope, at least on a couple of occasions, to explore odd biological forms, such as the Nestor, five clones who share a telepathic consciousness, and the Kelvins, who communicate through radiant heat. (I notice that IMDB does not use the character-names applied to them, "Umin" and "Thummin," which is a cute though meaningless reference to two ceremonial objects mentioned in the Old Testament.)

Shad's method of picking up his allies is also pleasingly un-programmatic. He finds his "Leia" in spunky Nannella (Darlanne Fleugel), who shows a little more interest in sex than one generally finds in George Lucas (this is probably the influence of Corman more than Sayles' personal choice). George Peppard as "Cowboy" and Robert Vaughn as "Gelt" give only fair performances, but Morgan Woodward, heavily made up as the reptilian "Cayman," conveys considerable intensity, while Sybil Danning's Amazonian "St. Exmin" proved to be the role that made the actress famous in the annals of genre-films.

Effects are limited, both in terms of budget and talent, and so the battle-scenes are never more than tolerable. But it's one flick where being derivative isn't entirely a bad thing. At least Sayles knows what worked in the original, and strives to give his own touches to the reprise.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*

Before seeing this film posted to Youtube, I'd heard it said that novelty-comedienne Judy Canova only had one metaphenomenal film, and that one's eligibility, CAROLINA CANNONBALL, might be something of a judgment call. However, there's no question that the goofy-titled SINGIN' IN THE CORN falls into the marvelous domain.

Judy McCoy (Canova) starts out as a carnival fortune-teller whose career is managed by her shifty-looking mentor Glen (Allen Jenkins). Despite some legal hassles, Judy proves that she's the real thing, able to receive oracles from a whisky-jug owned by her grandpa. No sooner is she cleared of charges than she learns that Grandpa has passed away and she's inherited property out west. Judy (decked out in ridiculous cowgirl-gear) and Glen race out to claim this benefit, but it's a desolate ghost town. Grandpa's will stipulates that he wants the property turned over to a local Indian tribe who originally owned the land, and Judy seems quite pleased to surrender her bequest. However, the Indians don't want the land, because for some time some owlhoots, who do want the bequest, have been scaring them off with phony ghost-acts.

Judy tries, without much success, to talk the superstitious Native Americans into taking over the town. She only lucks out when the ghost of her grandpa descends from a fleecy Heaven to help her out a little.

There are a handful of decent sight-gags, but not enough, even for a movie running barely over an hour. Canova, not one of the world's great beauties, sometimes got handsome leading-men, but this time her only swain is a big lummox working for the bad guys. The Indians are largely stereotypes, though there is one "Minnie-hotcha" who speaks regular English. Perhaps the film's most winsome charm is the presence of familiar Hollywood faces, particularly Jenkins, who has decent chemistry with Canova.


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *cosmological, sociological*

While I would never claim that THE IMMORTALIZER is a good film, I seem to be in the minority of viewers who found it at least a decent time-killer.

There's nothing remotely new about the pedestrian plot. Some knockabout college-kids are kidnapped by monstrous musclemen, who take the teens to a health resort out in the country. There the teens are to be used in body-swapping experiments by the ironically named Doctor Divine (Ron Ray) and his small staff of feral physicians. It seems the bad doctor came up with a serum that made body-swapping more viable for old people wanting young bodies, but the serum sometimes makes monsters, so it didn't get approval by the AMA-- hence, this unsanctioned operation. One teen escapes Divine and tries, without much success, to alert the law to this inhospitable hospital. There's a lot of running around, fighting, and backbiting, particularly when the aged Divine decides he might like to keep one of the young girls for himself. His nurse, though, has a thing going with both Divine and a younger doctor, so she wants the younger girl's body for herself.

Director Joel Bender, who started out as a film editor, keeps things more lively than the average no-name-cast DTV flick, and went on to slightly better things with 1993's MIDNIGHT KISS. The only principal actor with some "TVQ cred" is Melody Patterson (playing the nurse), best known to film-fans as "Wrangler Jane" from F TROOP and as the main character from the very underrated BLOOD AND LACE. (IMMORTALIZER was her last film before her passing in 2015.)


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*

Just to get the phenomenality question out of the way: most of what transpires in CIRCLE OF IRON falls into the realm of the uncanny, but given the presence of a tribe of apparently real "monkey-men," this boosts the film into the realm of the marvelous.

I don't know how far the revised 1978 CIRCLE script is from the version scripted in part by Bruce Lee circa 1970. However, Lee knew on what side his spring-roll was buttered, and throughout his career he was known for tossing out psuedo-Oriental bits of wisdom. In the early days these pearls were presumably provided by TV-writers raised on Charlie Chan, but I suspect that over time Lee worked such aphorisms into his verbal routine as a means of selling himself in Hollywood. Even classic action-films like ENTER THE DRAGON and RETURN OF THE DRAGON are littered with all manner of alleged Asian profundities.

CIRCLE stars a character named Cord, who would have been played by Lee himself had the actor not passed away in 1973. The hero is a thoroughly arrogant young fellow who embarks upon a journey to find a great kung-fu priest named Zetan, in order to challenge him for the ownership of a great Book of Wisdom. During his search for Zetan, Cord continually encounters enigmatic presences, all of whom fill his head with confusing advice, apparently with the aim of blowing his mind Zen-style. David Carradine plays four of these characters, and he's the only saving grace of the film, as he obviously reveled in the opportunity to play so many distinct parts in the same film. True, his blind flute-player has strong overtones of Carradine's classic hero Kwai Chang Caine from the KUNG FU series. Other renowned actors, such as Chris Lee and Roddy MacDowall, have small roles in CIRCLE, but for the most part the emphasis is on Cord interacting with the Carradine characters.

The best I can say for main actor Jeff Cooper is that he tries to undertake his role with conviction, though his fighting-scenes are underwhelming and his big-haired, surfer-dude appearance makes his earnest character entirely risible. Of course, the endless flow of phony-baloney aphorisms would have made Bruce Lee himself sound stupid, and the film achieves a certain "so bad it's good" form of reverse-entertainment.

I don't know how well-read Bruce Lee was in either Zen or general Asian mythology, but it does seem that he adapts, very freely, various Asian tropes. Particularly odd is a sequence in which Cord encounters "the Man of Oil" (Eli Wallach), an ascetic fellow sitting out in some desert in a pot full of oil, slowly allowing the oil to bake away his legs and genitalia. This sounds like it could've been borrowed from Hindu stories describing how sadhus could reach enlightenment by mortifying the flesh, but as presented, the scene only succeeds in mortifying the viewer's sense of credulity. Cord's climactic meeting with Zetan (Lee) suggests another Hindu myth, that of the Chakravartin who seeks to hoodwink another victim to take over his earthly burden. The fact that someone involved in the scripting is the only reason I give CIRCLE a fair mythicity-rating.

INVASION U.S.A. (1985)

PHENOMENALITY: *naturalistic*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*

I only re-screened this lowbrow piece of "Cannon fodder" (bet that's not the first time someone made that pun to put down a Cannon Films release) because its concept bears some resemblance to that of the previous year's RED DAWN. I stated that I deemed the world of DAWN to be an "alternate world" portraying "a United States that can be easily invaded by ground forces armed with no artillery greater than helicopters with rocket launchers." INVASION's star and co-scripter Chuck Norris asserted that he made the film in response to articles about terrorists running wild in the U.S, and it's certainly possible that he never saw RED DAWN, though it was the 20th high-grossing films of 1984.

Certainly nothing about the script follows the beats of DAWN's plot. There's no sense that a major war has broken out; it's just evil Russian Rostov (Richard Lynch) abetting various crazed terrorists to attack Florida. If there was a stated point to the invasion, I must have missed it.

Ex-CIA agent Matt Hunter (Norris) happens to be working in the Everglades. and you would think that all this terrorist activity would affect him like a fire-engine bell to a retired fire-horse. But Hunter ignores the situation until the dirty Commies kill one of his friends. The setup would've perfect for the line "This time it's personal," but sadly, this immortal phrase wouldn't be coined until JAWS THE REVENGE came out two years later.

The action is much more workmanlike than Norris's Cannon film from the previous year, MISSING IN ACTION, which enjoyed the same director, Joseph Zito. This may be a consequence of the script's emphasis on guns and rocket-launchers rather than Norris's signature martial-arts moves, and if one had never seen a Norris film before, that viewer would never think he was any sort of kung-fu actor. Lynch makes an eminently hate-able villain, but Norris, after easily wiping out most of the terrorists, vanquishes the Big Bad much too easily. Norris, though never known for even decent performances, gives one of his most robotic renditions up to that point.

Melissa Prophet plays a spunky American reporter who looks like, but does not become, a romantic interest for Hunter.

Thursday, April 4, 2019


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*

Given all the advance animosity directed at CAPTAIN MARVEL-- that it's "anti-male" or a "Mary Sue" film-- I was surprised that its feminist politics were much more restrained than the racial politics of other MCU films, ranging from BLACK PANTHER to IRON MAN 3. I had expected a more aggressive approach, since MCU's version of the Marvel character has been designed to challenge the far greater fame of DC's Wonder Woman and her recent successful DCEU film.

It's possible that the MCU chose not to emphasize a "hard feminist" approach for any number of reasons. It could be because at least one franchise-film to take such an approach, 2016's GHOSTBUSTERS, bombed at the box office. In addition, it's been rumored that future MCU films will start to "phase out" some characters, such as Iron Man and Captain America, and seek to build up new ones for future audiences. But by choosing to follow Marvel Comics' lead-- that of applying the "legacy name" of Captain Marvel to the character formerly known as Carol Danvers /Ms. Marvel-- the MCU people had to deal with the fact that this particular character has never been quite as well-constructed as long-time favorites like Tony Stark and Steve Rogers.

Some background on the character and my knowledge of her: she began as a supporting-character in the late 1960s series CAPTAIN MARVEL. This character, a Kree warrior who assumed the identity of an Earth-superhero, represented Marvel Comics' first utilization of the then-unclaimed name of the famed Golden Age hero. The Kree hero remained in publication through 1979, and that may have encouraged the company to launch a female version of the Captain. I should mention, though, that the initial idea of a "Ms. Marvel" was to launch X-MEN's Marvel Girl in her own series, during the period when the X-franchise was in limbo. Instead editors decided to take support-character Danvers and postulate that, because she'd been exposed to a Kree radiation-device in an earlier story, she transformed into a character with powers that mostly (though not entirely) resembled those of Captain Marvel. Somewhat later, the first "Marvel Captain Marvel" died and Ms. Marvel's first series was cancelled. It wasn't her last series, but she had somewhat better visibility as a long-term member of The Avengers. Meanwhile two other characters utilized the name Captain Marvel, though neither of them was any more successful than the first one. In 2012, Marvel made the decision to give Danvers a shot at being the newest Captain Marvel. This is the only period of the character's history with which I'm unfamiliar, though I should add that Danvers does not seem to be much more financially successful than any earlier "Marvel Captain Marvel."

During all of this time, Carol Danvers never really caught fire as a character, either in her own feature or in The Avengers. For that reason, because her status as an "accidental Kree" was the most remarkable thing about her, I speculate that the movie CAPTAIN MARVEL chose to focus on this idea, in much the same way that GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY riffed on the idea of the five comics-characters to re-invent them for film.

The re-invention here bears some similarity to the spy-series known as the "Bourne movies." The movie introduces a character named "Vers" (pronounced "Veers"), who lives as a soldier on the Kree homeworld Hala. She's an amnesiac who can remember nothing about her early history, but she has innate skills as a soldier, and has been schooled in upgrading her skills by her commander Yon-Rogg (old Marvel fans will recognize this as an old villain's name). She believes herself to be a loyal Kree, devoted to saving her people's worlds from incursions by the evil shapeshifting Skrulls. However, the script tosses in a few allusions that suggest that the Kree military is oppressive rather than noble, rather along the lines of the 1997 STARSHIP TROOPERS and its critique of miliarism.

Now, once one finds that Vers is really an amnesiac Carol Danvers-- an Earthwoman given special powers by an event on Earth-- the plot largely falls apart. The Kree are trying to figure out how to tap Carol's powers, so do they put under lock and key for endless analysis? No, they send her out on military missions, which leads to her getting captured by Skrulls and very conveniently transported to her birth-world by said shapeshifters, who have absolutely no reason to do so. But once Vers is on Earth, she continues to benefit from tons of good luck, from meeting a young version of Nick Fury to finding out that her Skrull enemies are not all they seemed to be. (One of these is that the Skrull leader Talos has an immutable British accent, apparently on the theory that one can't have a modern superhero film without a Brit villain.)

While the script is nonsense, I applaud directors Boden and Fleck-- who also collaborated on the script-- for keeping the action fast and furious, the better to obscure the plot holes. (BLACK PANTHER could have used more action and less genuflection to racial politics.) On the minus side, the humor is not as strong as it is in the average MCU film. Since the film's action takes place in 1995, there are some expected touchstones, as with a still functioning Blockbuster store, and a delightful moment in which the late Stan Lee, playing a commuter, is seen rehearsing his line for the 1995 film MALLRATS. I enjoyed how the script worked in a shout-out to Monica Rambeau, who became the "second Marvel Captain Marvel," and I wasn't even fond of that character. Yet the scenes in which young Monica bonds with the believed-to-be-dead Carol Danvers show Brie Larson's limitations. In this role, at least, Larson isn't able to convey more than the most basic emotions of confusion or anger. Her more numerous scenes with Young Nick Fury are similarly bereft of good chemistry, and the design of her costume is also unimpressive.

Returning to the subject of the movie's feminism message, it is present, particularly given that an older female character (Annette Bening) takes roughly the same place that the Kree Mar-Vell did, and who is thus indirectly responsible for Carol's transformation. Still, I can imagine ways in which CAPTAIN MARVEL could have been far, far more "woke" and thus far more aggravating. As with the GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY films, this is just a moderately entertaining superhero flick, never interested in re-inventing the wheel. But there's something to be said for formulaic conservatism, particularly when one regards how badly it turns out when creators' reach utterly exceeds their grasp (ct. the MCU's abysmal handling of the THOR franchise).