Maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m getting old and set in my ways. Of course, I’m getting crotchety over all the wrong things.
I am a Marvel fan going far back, and I am happy to see the heroes I grew up with on the big screen and done right. The effects, the story, the casting (somewhat…I would rather watch Robert Downey, Jr. as Dr. Strange, but that’s just me) are magnificent. I love the continuity and the “phases” that start and begin an arc. I’m as gleeful as a four year-old in a room full of puppies.
I have an issue with the Skrulls, but the root of this is post-modernist villains.
Here come the spoilers. If you have not seen Captain Marvel and/or Spider-Man: Far from Home, leave now and see those films. Right now. The blog will still be here, I promise – mostly because I’m paid through to November. I can entertain myself while you’re gone.
Back? Cool. Here we go.
When I was reading comics – Claremont was writing X-Men, including my favorite God Loves, Man Kills, and the Skrulls were utterly merciless. They were black hatted, dark hearted villains who thirsted after the enslavement of Earth and the utter destruction of the Kree. They were shapeshifters, cunning and perfect. The old man staring you down? Skrull. That over-friendly cashier? Skrull. Your parents? One of them could be a Skrull. You’d never know.
I think I might have found the root of my cheerful paranoia. Moving on.
The Skrulls in the movies are…squishy, soda-drinking, post-modern villains and I hate it.
Let me explain.
One hallmark of post-modern villainy is the humanizing of the villain. We meet the Skrulls in Captain Marvel and we’re told that the Skrulls are cunning, amoral and savage infiltrators. They aren’t dropping through the atmosphere with guns a-blazin‘. They steal in, take your face, uniform, memories and your life. Their first appearance was in 1962, so you can make the case that the Skrulls were the sci-fi face of the Red Menace.
The scene with Talos calmly sipping on a soda (a subtle shout-out to Tarantino) and explaining what they were about:
[Vers walks out of Maria’s office after listening to the Black Box recording and realizing that Yon-Rogg abducted her in 1989]
Carol Danvers: He lied to me. Everything that I knew was a lie.
Talos: Now, you understand.
Carol Danvers: What? What do I understand now?
Talos: Yon-Rogg killed Mar-Vell. He killed her… ’cause she found out that she was on the wrong side of an unjust war.
Carol Danvers: No. Your people are terrorists. They kill innocents. I saw the ruins on Torfa.
Talos: Ruins that the Accusers are responsible for. My people lived as refugees on Torfa. Homeless, ever since we resisted Kree rule and they destroyed our planet. And the handful of us that are left… will be slaughtered next, unless you help me finish what Mar-Vell started. The core that she found would have powered a light-speed ship capable of carrying us to safety. A new home… where the Kree can’t reach us.
Maria Rambeau: Lawson always told us that our work at Pegasus wasn’t to fight wars, but to end them.
Talos: She wanted you to help us find the core.
Carol Danvers: Well, I already destroyed it.
Talos: No, you destroyed the engine. The core that powered it is in a remote location. If you help us decode those coordinates, we can find it.
Carol Danvers: You’ll use it to destroy us.
Talos: [sighing] We just want a home. You and I lost everything at the hands of the Kree. Can’t you see it now? You’re not one of them.
See? It’s not the Skrull’s fault. They’re just victims of the Kree antagonism. How are the Kree portrayed? Cold, emotionless and unified – marching in lockstep towards a bright, blue destiny. I wonder if they’re going to bring in the Kree Civil War? The original Captain Marvel (or Mar-Vell if you want to be accurate) was a pink-skinned Kree, which was the minority on the planet. I don’t see that being brought up, since MCU is heading in a certain direction as far as the Kree.
Supreme Intelligence: You did good, Ace.
[Supreme Intelligence grabs the Tesseract]
Supreme Intelligence: Thanks to you, those insidious shapeshifters will threaten our borders no more.
Carol Danvers: I used to believe your lies, but the Skrulls are just fighting for a home. You’re talking about destroying them because they won’t submit to your rule. And neither will I.
Supreme Intelligence: We found you. We embraced you as our own.
Carol Danvers: You stole me. From my home, my family, my friends.
[Supreme Intelligence sighs. Carol charges and punches her in the face, but her fist is stuck in her face before she is thrown to an invisible wall]
Supreme Intelligence: It’s cute how hard you try. But remember, without us…
[Carol is absorbed through the wall, which projects images of her memories]
Supreme Intelligence: …You’re weak.
[Carol continues to watches flashbacks of her crashing in races and failing in physical activities]
Supreme Intelligence: You’re flawed. Helpless. We saved you.
[Carol falls back in the room]
Supreme Intelligence: Without us, you’re only human.
Carol Danvers: You’re right. I’m only human.
[Carol starts remembering every time she got up from a fall]
Supreme Intelligence: On Hala, you were reborn. Vers.
[Carol holds a fragment of her dog tag that reads “Vers“]
Carol Danvers: My name is Carol.
Post-modernism looks to muddy the waters, making the villain a little more tolerable, but at the cost of making the heroes a little less sterling. The Skrulls (at least these) are weary, fellow travelers just looking for a home free from Kree tyranny. The Kree take what they want because they are unchallenged by an unsuspecting Earth, but they do these things for their greater good. My problem is not with the representation of Skrulls, nor with the Kree or Captain Marvel – who I can’t wait to see how they treat her run-in with Rogue now that Disney owns Fox, which owns the X-Men. My problem is with post-modernist villains.
It was good ten years, or even twenty years ago. Not now. Not for comic book movies. Not for movies. It’s not daring, hip, new storytelling. It’s safe. It’s cliched. It’s tired. We need something new in villainy. What is it? I have no idea. Maybe we can go back to the white hat / black hat. Let’s dust that concept off. I’m not advocating moustache twirling villainy, but I’m no longer a fan of telling myself, “He’s got a point”.
“But, Mr. Apathy!” I can hear you screaming at the screen. “The world isn’t like that!”
I know. I know that people are complicated little things. That’s why I love writing about them. Maybe in my inky fumblings I can figure them out. I know that people do things for reasons that only makes sense to them. I’m just saying that your villain can be complex and engaging, but we don’t have to sympathize with them.
As I write this, I know I am going to have to try to clarify my argument as I speed towards the deadline of before Thursday night. This might be as good as it gets. I’m going to try to expand on it later on. Right now, I am not completely caffeinated. More than likely I’m going to read this and wonder what was I thinking.
Feel free to chime in through the comments, also check out the books on the right written by talented, good and charming people. Have a good day, and just remember: your boss is a Skrull.