Captain Marvel

Release: Friday, March 8, 2019

→Theater

Written by: Anna Boden; Ryan Fleck; Geneva Robertson-Dworet

Directed by: Anna Boden; Ryan Fleck

Captain Marvel figures to be a significant piece in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, acting as both a standalone origins story and a precursor to Jon Favreau’s standard-setting Iron Man; ipso facto it predates the entire MCU. That’s a pretty bold decision considering how much we are preoccupied with the present and the future of our favorite characters. Unfortunately the story this film tells isn’t quite so bold, the awkward way it ties into the overarching saga arguably a distraction more than it is an exciting talking point. Yet by force of personality Captain Marvel overcomes its weaknesses, and there is no denying the Avengers will be adding another nuke to their already impressive arsenal.

Unbeknownst to me, Captain Marvel is a generic name that actually refers to several characters, the very first appearing in 1967 as Captain Mar-Vell, a male (albeit an alien) military officer sent to our humble corner of the universe to spy on us and who, having grown sympathetic to the plight of mankind, ultimately switched allegiances, becoming a protector of Earth and a traitor to his own race. Multiple incarnations followed, with the character’s gender constantly changing (e.g. Phyla-Vell was female while Khn’nr and others were male) — justified by the episodic nature of comics and their need and ability to adapt.

That brings us to Carol Danvers, a half-human, half-alien super-being whose specific powers — supersonic flight, incredible strength, an ability to control and manipulate energy forms — identify her as one of the most powerful figures in the Marvel realm. As such, she wins the lottery to become the first female subject of a Marvel movie, its 21st overall. Captain Marvel is a reliably entertaining chapter that balances humor with heartache, becoming just as much about the struggle to find her real identity as it is about her discovering her powers and how she decides to wield them. It may not be winning many points in the original storytelling department, but it does have a winning cast of characters, fronted by Brie Larson and a digitally de-aged Samuel L. Jackson and Clark Gregg and provided depth by the likes of Ben Mendelsohn, British actress Lashana Lynch . . . and one Hala of a cat.

Directing duo Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, known heretofore for indie fare like It’s Kind of a Funny Story and Sugar, keep their story pretty earthbound with only a few signature scenes sending us beyond our atmosphere. In terms of scale, it’s surely a bigger deal than Ant-Man, but if Guardians of the Galaxy gave us a tour of the cosmic town, Captain Marvel barely introduces us to our next-door neighbors. The relative intimacy certainly feels appropriate since the human side of the story manifests as a journey inward, into the heart and mind of a character unsure of herself. The superhero plot meanwhile draws elements from the Kree-Skrull War comic book storyline, setting up an intergalactic war between two alien races wherein we innocent earthlings get caught in the middle and need Captain Marvel to come to our defense.

Captain Marvel opens on an alien world known as Hala, the galactic capital of the Kree Empire. A young woman named Vers is awakening from a nightmare involving some older woman who looks a lot like Annette Bening, but that’s impossible since this kind of material is several fathoms beneath an actress of her caliber. But upon closer inspection I confirmed it is indeed Bening, playing a mystical figure referred to as the Supreme Intelligence, to whom Vers is sent at the behest of her mentor Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), who is concerned about Vers’ inability to control her emotions. The Supreme Intelligence doubles down on that cautionary advice before sending the pair on a dangerous mission to rescue an undercover operative on a distant planet overrun by the enemy Skrulls. Naturally the mission goes awry when the team gets ambushed and Vers becomes separated from Yon-Rogg and her other Starforce colleagues, the former crash-landing on some scrap pile known as C-53 (a.k.a. Earth). Even worse, she’s a fish out of water in mid-90s L.A. and if fashion is anything to go by, it isn’t exactly our species’ finest hour (luckily she didn’t crash land a decade earlier).

Vers is soon intercepted by a couple of serious-looking, suit-wearing gentlemen who work for an agency whose name should never have been provided in this film for continuity’s sake. A two-eyed Nick Fury and a Just For Men advocate in young Phil Coulson witness something extraordinary when a Skrull invader crashes the scene. Because the Skrulls have this ability to change their appearance, identifying friend from foe becomes problematic, with a notable alien named Talos taking the form of Fury’s higher-up and S.H.I.E.L.D. director Keller (Mendelsohn) and another impersonating Agent Coulson. After shaking this shape-shifting shit off Fury, at the direction of Talos the predictable script, leads Vers to a U.S. Air Force Base place of thematic relevance where she finds clues to her past life — photographic evidence of her as a pilot and news clippings presuming her dead after a disastrous testing of an experimental new engine designed by a Dr. Wendy Lawson (played by Spoiler Spoilerson).

She also learns she had a close friend in Maria Rambeau (Lynch), an important link in the ole’ jogging-the-memory chain (not to mention in the realm of the MCU at large — her daughter Monica, played by an instantly lovable Akira Akbar, ostensibly set to play yet another version of Captain Marvel in the sequel — Ms. Marvel, perhaps?). The scene at the house in Louisiana is among the film’s best, the emotion that comes pouring out here no doubt a result of the indie flavor the directing tandem have brought to this much bigger project. Whether it is Lynch describing what it feels like to see her bestie return from the dead — hence the longevity of the MCU,  the human cost of being in the superhero biz has always been handled in an interesting way — or Mendelsohn getting a really juicy character whose intentions are not what they first seem, Captain Marvel soars in these more grounded moments.

Even as the action takes a turn for the surprisingly cooperative, the character work is ultimately what saves Captain Marvel from its own Negative Zone of mediocrity. While the action sequences are worthy of the big screen treatment they aren’t as integral to the personality of the film as Larson is in the title role. At one time considered too young to play the part of an Air Force pilot (this was before the filmmakers double-checked with members of the American Air Force who confirmed it is possible for a 26-year-old to be so accomplished), Larson acquits herself with the utmost confidence, maturing from reckless and unpredictable to every bit the noble warrior hero she so advertises her people as to her de facto partner in Agent Fury.

Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers is by far Larson’s most high-profile role to date and while the plight of the superhero is unfamiliar territory for someone who has developed herself through such intimate human dramas as Room and Short Term 12, you wouldn’t know it based on her confidence and how much fun she’s having here. And sorry to break it to the basement dwelling trolls who review-bombed her new movie, a perma-smile does not for a natural performance make. I personally don’t need to see someone smiling through every damn frame of the movie to know they’re enjoying themselves, or to know what this material and this role means to them.

What is this thing called The Oregon Trail?

Recommendation: While I didn’t think Captain Marvel is a game-changer — save for the first earthly encounter with the Skrulls the action scenes are pretty forgettable — it certainly has its strengths, namely the lead character and the friends she ends up making along the way. It might go without saying for most of these Important Marvel Movies but considering the way this one was seemingly preordained to fail by insecure men before it even opened, it really seems that ignoring the internet has never been more crucial in allowing you to experience the film on your own terms. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 124 mins.

Quoted: “You know anything about a lady blowing up a Blockbuster? Witnesses say she was dressed for laser tag.”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

15 thoughts on “Captain Marvel

      • It’s okay Mark, pig Latin is always welcomed here. 😜

        And yes, while I really enjoyed Brie Larson in the lead Ben Mendelsohn gets a very nice arc and it plays to his strengths. I’m looking forward to seeing how this ties in to Endgame in a couple of weeks.

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  1. I’ve been out of the loop pretty bad- I hadn’t heard about any boycott or backlash against the film, I guess that’s what I get for avoiding spoilers (i.e. avoiding most references to the film). So it looks like the world is crazier than I thought (and considering what counts for news these days here in the UK, that’s saying something).

    Unfortunately it looks like this film will have to be a disc purchase as I doubt I’ll get around to seeing it at the cinema, just too much going on. I just hope that missing it won’t spoil Avengers Endgame because no way am I missing that one.

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    • The controversies surrounding Larson and the film just make me sick. A surprising number of people have vocalized how they despise her typical white Hollywood privilege, and that by her speaking up for minorities in press coverage it rings false. I really don’t know what people fucking want. Personally, I’m glad to see an individual taking advantage of their public platform to promote growth and change for the better.

      As for the movie, it’s nothing I dont think you’ll regret seeing on a decent sized TV, the visual effects are certainly not optimized in this one.

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  4. I finally saw this yesterday after promising me kids I would wait till they were over their illnesses. I think we land in pretty much the same place. I will say that the MCU deserves a ton of credit. I was telling someone else that I keep waiting for the wheels to fall off but the consistently deliver quality. Obviously some better than others but rarely a stinker.

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    • Captain Marvel was a blast! Me being predisposed to liking Brie Larson no doubt helped. The movie didn’t really have to sell anything to me lol.

      Now, when you say ‘rarely a stinker,’ . . . is this a nod to Thor: The Dark World, by any chance? In my mind that’s the only entry thus far that kinda qualifies. That wasn’t so good . . . 😉

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    • Thanks very much Cindy, I really enjoyed the movie. Too bad there was all this other . . . stuff . . . surrounding its release. I made a conscientious effort not to introduce all the gender politics in the film but apparently the last paragraph saw me kind of lose my focus a little and go into rant-mode lol. C’est la vie.

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  5. Although (obviously) happy that another female lead superhero film made it onto the market, I keep hesitating to go see this in cinema. I likely will because it all matters for Endgame, and there is no way in hell I am missing that!

    And dungeon trolls saying she should smile more.. considered me triggered with a straight, unsmiling face.

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    • Oh goodness. Yeah the blowback from the film seems to be a mixture of people A) being patently against the idea of a female-led superhero film — just absurd to me — and B) being predisposed to being anti-Brie Larson, following the comments she made LAST YEAR about the way Ava Duvernay’s A Wrinkle in Time was received. I think the quote was, “I don’t need a 40 year old white dude to tell me what didn’t work for them [re: A Wrinke in Time].” She took flak for that and then for making the sin of advocating for more diversity in the media/press tour as far as racial diversity. I really hate the way the internet gets sometimes. Its really out of control these days.

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      • Seems like they are mad because a woman had an opinion haha. Keyboard warriors are the bane of my existence. It is SO easy to be blunt and cruel when you don’t have to face people, and yet none of them would be able to do it in real life.

        Saw this over the weekend (must still review), and thought it was so much fun.

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