Can I do it? can I talk about this 1941 serial without having to go into the long explanation about the legal hoo-ha with Captain Marvel? You know what, you look it up. You’re using the internet you can google why this character isn’t a woman and owned by a completely different company.
There is something nice about Serials, how each episode is like a mini movie. How Indiana Jones and Star Wars were both inspired by them, that’s why the movies both start with an adventure already happening. So, with trailers out for the next Shazam movie it seems appropriate and fun to look into a serial about Captain Marvel.
Adventures of Captain Marvel is the first super hero adaptation by Republic Pictures. We talked about them before with the Undersea Kingdom.
Starting in Siam we must first deal with the problematic issue of white people playing nonwhite roles, BEFORE we then deal with the fact that our heroes are openly committing tomb robbing from indigenous people yet are portrayed as the good guys while the rightfully angry natives are portrayed as bad, oh the march of time.
What we are presented with is an alternative origin to Captain Marvel, as Billy Batson is accompanying the archaeological team. After their guide and only nonwhite member of the team (yet played by a white man John Davidson) Tal Chotali manages to negotiate with the natives to stop their attack, the team enter the tomb. In a surprising display of cultural sensitivity for the age, Billy refuses to enter pointing out it would be desecrating a tomb. Thanks to this when the others (except Tal who followed Billy’s lead) enter the tomb and it’s sealed off, the wizard Shazam appears before Billy and appoints him Captain Marvel who transforms and saves the desecrators, I mean archaeologist.
There is that level of, you have to put aside changes in attitudes when watching this, it was a different time (doesn’t mean you can’t make fun of it). I am able to get past that as, I’ve seen A LOT worse, the main issue was the whole lack of respect to the wishes of indigenous people, and that’s the plot of every mummy movie. The Nerd in me more had an issue with rather than using the pre-packaged villain of Dr Shivana who appeared in the very first issue of Captain Marvel, they instead made some cloaked villain called The Scorpion… who looked just like the villain from the Batman serial The Wizard and beginning to wonder if cloaked villains in super hero serials was just their go to?
So far, I’ve only seen the first part of this serial and just hope Tal doesn’t turn out to be The Scorpion cause then it turns from something I’ve put up with in other films, to the only nonwhite member of the team (though as said played by a white guy) betraying them and that becomes much more awkward collar pulling problematic. Still, I do recommend if you can set aside these issues, serials are a fun window into old types of storytelling we just don’t get nowadays.
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