This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Arielrocks5’s review published on Letterboxd :
This review may contain spoilers.
I wanna talk about something kinda random. I wanna talk about "Russian Doll".
For those of you who don't know, "Russian Doll" is a Netflix show spearheaded by the minds of Natasha Lyonne, Amy Poehler, and Leslye Headland, who also write and direct most of the eight episodes currently up on the service. On the surface, it looks like another riff on "Groundhog Day" with sprinkles of "Happy Death Day"'s black comedy, but underneath is something a lot more meaningful, innovative, and moving than any other piece of media I've seen so far this year.
Yet, what I loved most about it, above anything else, was how it showed the value of a female voice in the writing room and not rely on male writers to write their vision (there isn't a single male writer on any episode of "Russian Doll"). There are things done with "Russian Doll" that I doubt many male writers would've thought of doing, and done in ways that don't feel like things we've seen before.
As much as we yell for more female directors, we undervalue the importance of a female writer at the helm of these stories, even ones that don't specifically center around typical feminine traits. "You Were Never Really Here" may showcase Lynne Ramsay's vision, but it also showcases how much her writing helped turned what could've been a generic "Taxi Driver" knock off into something a lot more memorable and special.
But even without a female writer, a female director working on her own can create images and sequences that many other male eyes wouldn't think of. Best example I can think of at the moment would be Karyn Kusama's work on "The Invitation", and how she seamlessly blends the anxieties of grief with the horror of a more dire situation surrounding it, and how she does this without ever making it a specifically female centered story, and creates some images that still haunt me as I type this.
Hell, I doubt "Wayne's World" would nearly as funny as it is if it wasn't for Penelope Spheeris' vision and ability to create focused and incredibly sharp witted jokes.
My point is, Marvel had a chance to do something like that with this. They could've pushed things forward for their first female lead film (which should've likely been a "Black Widow" film either after "Iron Man 2" or "The Avengers" and not sometime later in the next couple of years), but instead, they decide to get a male and female duo best know for indie comedies and dramas to handle it (which doesn't fair out as well as they'd hoped).
They could've hired Karyn Kusama. They could've hired Crystal Moselle. They could've hired Sophia Takal. Hell, they could've even hired "Russian Doll"'s own Leslye Headland, but no, they went with the guys who made that mediocre road trip gambling movie from 2015. Wonderful.....
I was hoping to be proven wrong in some way by them handling something like this, but all I ended up getting was exactly what I expected from both them and the studio backing them. Even though they have a female director as a writer on this, with another female writer (edit: my mistake previously, I only caught both Ryan and Anna's name credits and didn't make out the third one in time, and to my eyes it appeared to be a male one so that's why I assumed. my apologies) co-writers, and over five (!!!!!!!!) credited story writers (most of them male), all it does is add salt to the wound of what could've been something so much more....
And that something more is already out there. For as much as people are sick of the two comparisons, and I know even my own followers are sick of me talking about it, I wanna briefly touch upon something that this has in common with Rodriguez's "Alita Battle Angel".
Alita suffers from the same sorta scenario that Carol does; losing their memory and trying to figure out who they were. The difference is, Alita is about who she is, not who she was. Both Cameron and Rodriguez understood that what mattered most with this character was that we know who they are now and have their journey of self discovery be less about becoming that same person again, but learning what your goal was originally, why you ended up in the place you were, and most importantly of all, what you stood for.
For as much as this film delves into Carol's past, both literally and metaphorically, we may learn who she was (well....barely, but I'll get to that later), but we never learn who she is. What makes her the way she is. What her desires are. What her dreams are. What makes her tick. What makes her so special that Fury had to page her as he was fading into thin air in order to save the world. Walking away from this, all I got was that she's a girl who always got back up, and was shot with some space engine that was powered by the Tesseract and that's why she's so powerful and why she'll defeat Thanos. Oh, and that's she's a snarky lady that feels like she would've been played by Sarah Michelle Gellar in the early 2000s in a film written by Joss Whedon and directed by some schmuck who would later on go on to do nothing (cribbing Whedon is something these post "Avengers" films seem to have a undying obsession with, minus the "Guardians" films and "Ragnarok").
And for as much as this film loves to play up the fact that she's a fish out of water, aside from one sequence early on involving a cop and later on with her introduction to Fury, and one dial up internet gag as she's trying to search for a bar she used to hang out with, we never get the impression she's confused with our tech, our ways of living, our own families, or anything along those lines.
Hell, even her revisiting areas she used to visit before she lost her memory, we never learn what those places meant to her before all of these things happened. We never know her proper history, so we never even learn who she was, aside from one scene where it's revealed how she got her powers. We never learn who that guy at the bar was. We never learn why that specific bar meant so much to her. We don't even learn what exactly inspired her to join the Air Force.
We never get to know her. We only know her by what she does, not who she is. When she's beating up bad guys, it feels weightless and emotionless, because as much as we know as much as she does that these are the bad guys, the fact that they were former allies of her for apparently six years is never brought into play. They're just more nameless goons for her to beat up for the sake of empowering white cis women.
When Alita slams the head of a bounty hunter into the table, or kicked beer bottles into the faces of cyborg goons, it means something because she isn't just doing it because she's another female bad-ass. She's doing it for something. To make a point to these people around her that she's more powerful than they are, and that she's an ally, not an enemy, and if she was an enemy, she wouldn't hesitate ruining your day.
We know this because we know her. We know she's a part of this community because of her curiosity, her desire to learn, allowing us to grow along side her, so when she's eventually knocked down, and gets back up, we feel empowered because there's someone for us to latch onto.
Hell, for as much as I didn't like "Wonder Woman" (for the same reason of not allowing a female writer to write for Patty Jenkins and that she deserved better than two schmucks cribbing "The First Avenger" and "Thor"), it still had that sense that we knew who she was once she entered the battle field in the No Man's Land sequence. We knew who she was, and who she was fighting for.
We never know who Carol is, because at the end of the day, it doesn't matter who Carol is. It doesn't matter to Marvel who Carol is, what matters is that she's established as an overpowered means of writing themselves out of a corner they set themselves up with "Infinity War". We may learn who she is in "Endgame", but all we're left with this is what could've been Marvel's chance to shake things up, to push forward real change, but all they did was deliver the same shit they've been putting out since Phase 2 with the crutch of female empowerment to disguise it......
Some scattered notes before I wrap things up, these were just things I couldn't fit into this that would flow as well with the main point I'm trying to get across.
- I'm not sure if this is a problem with the cinema I saw this in, but there's a lot of points where this has action take place in dark areas and I couldn't make out what was supposed to be going on in some instances. I'm guessing this is a problem with the Regal I visit (as this happened with "Solo" a year back, although I don't think I personally experienced that, if memory serves me right), but it could also be because
- Marvel hired Indie directors to helm a Sci-Fi action film and they can't shoot action if their lives depended on it. Less the flying sequences and more so in the hand to hand stuff, which feels way too jumpy thanks to the cuts being placed in weird places and timed way too quickly during specific sequences (why do we need five different cuts of Carol swinging on a poll to hit someone!?!?!?).
- Even then, the more human stuff they're more well known for doesn't feel as fleshed out as it likely could've been, mostly because I doubt Disney would've allowed it, but it showed more promise than anything else in the film by far, and I wish it had more of that, especially once it's revealed who the real villains are.
- Speaking of, if you're going to do the whole "the company you're working for is actually evil and are using you!" thing for your big half way twist and use it as an analogy for America's obsession with keeping out immigrant....could you maybe, idk, ESTABLISH what exactly their goals are and WHY they feel the need to do this!? And here's a good idea, maybe DON'T make it incredibly obvious that's what's going on by having one of the supporters of this thing be THE VILLAIN of a previous entry!?!?!?!?!?
- Ben Mendelsohn proves to be one of the more underrated character actors we have at the moment with this, showing he can be intimidating, compassionate, and genuinely amusing without ever overplaying either one. I honestly wish we had more of him to work with but whatever.
- The deaging on Jackson is damn impressive, but all watching him run around with a woman with a secret (and apparently violent) history did was make me wish I was watching Black and Harlin's "The Long Kiss Goodnight" instead. That being said, this is probably my favorite version of Fury we've gotten in these movies yet, and proves once again that Sam Jackson is the man.
- Brie Larson is great in the role, with terrible material to work with, but I really wish she had a much more defined performance than just "strong action girl who's sarcastic" that we've gotten TOO MANY times.
- For as much as this plays up the 90s nostalgia, it doesn't really feel like a 90s action movie let alone a 90s Sci-Fi one. What people undervalue about both "Guardians Vols 1 and 2" was the fact that while they had modern visuals and actors, they felt like early Sci-Fi stories. Gunn had a very clear passion and affection for 80s and 70s era Sci-Fi (especially in comics) that resonated beautifully with both his writing and direction (something we'll likely never get to see concluded).
They missed a chance to bring in some ideas and techniques used in 90s Sci-Fi and Action, but instead decide to direct it the same way most of these films have been shot for the last couple of years now, which is a massive shame, but not surprising in the slightest.
- Speaking of Gunn, I can't believe Disney had the audacity to fire him and yet steal one of his jokes (the hallway gag in the original "Guardians") for this movie. Fuck you, royally.
- Marvel needs to start hiring actual action/sci-fi directors again and not just people with "talent" who made a couple of hit lower budget films a couple of years back.
- People have been overplaying how bad the reveal of how Fury lost his eye is. It's not exactly an unpredictable gag, but it's definitely an amusing one that made me chuckle.
- There's actually a few really funny jokes in this movie, but they only come every so often as a lot of the others are typical shit I expected from this series (less diet Whedon like I was dreading ((although it is still there, kinda)) and more diet Gunn, which again, FUCK YOU, DISNEY).
- The cat is adorable and I will protect him at all costs.
- As much as I love how this movie is empowering little girls around the world and giving them their own Superman to look up to, I really wish they were given something that respected them a lot more than this movie appears to....