Review: Captain Marvel


Something didn’t feel right while watching the first Marvel movie to center on a superheroine. No, it wasn’t the fact the protagonist was female. But it is hard to ignore the vitriol that has come with the release of Captain Marvel. A certain section of the film-watching community has been very strident with Marvel Studios producing its first movie where the principal hero is a woman. Dissent was so strong that ratings aggregator Rotten Tomatoes had to suspend its section devoted to audience reviews when visitors started writing malicious comments. Just imagine if the public had the Internet and social media at their disposal in the 1980s, would they post the same about Helen Slater and Supergirl as they have about Brie Larson and Captain Marvel?

Okay, maybe not the best comparison. Though when this becomes part of the narrative leading up to the release it is a nuisance, like a headline from the Springfield Shopper of Abe Simpson yelling at a cloud. Producer Kevin Feige and his hive at Marvel Studios have never veered far from the blueprint when presenting new characters and their origins to the masses. Captain Marvel gives us a 1995-set prequel to the Avengers being assembled just so everyone knows who Carol Danvers is before she says “Hi” to the superhero team and gives a few photon-packed knuckle sandwiches to Thanos. Since we know what the future has in store, we also know that whatever occurs in Captain Marvel is not of grave importance. The deflation starts to tingle more than Spider-Man’s sixth sense.

The movie is window dressing for what is to come. That’s not a knock against filmmakers Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, whose previous indie dramas Half Nelson and Mississippi Grind centered on characters trying to control their vices. They clearly understand and identify Danvers, and that a woman unable to control her emotions can be a strength, not a weakness. However, Boden/Fleck only get to venture so far into the sandbox before recess is over.

The phrase “game-changer” is one that gets thrown around as much as “visionary” when lamenting a film or director. Now if this movie had been released in the year when the story takes place it would have been game-changing. (Can you imagine Captain Marvel and Tank Girl opening in theaters just a few weeks apart from one another in March ‘95?)

Aside from an opening act on the planet Hala, which establishes Carol (Brie Larson), her mentor Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), and that Talos (Ben Mendelsohn) is the leader of a race of shape-shifting aliens known as the Skrull, most of the movie is on small sets and locations. Once Carol escapes the clutches of the Skrull and crashes on Earth, circa 1995, it becomes like Thor, only Carol has shorter blonde hair. She is an amnesiac with fragmented memories that may not even be hers. Investigating the crash-landing is S.H.I.E.L.D. operative Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) along with agent Coulson (Clark Gregg), the second looking like he should be sharing an office with Fox Mulder and Dana Scully.

Even though Carol Danvers doesn’t have a real transformative arc – an early sparring session with Yon-Rogg pretty much foreshadows that she will not be submissive and will gain a measure of superiority when the final act arrives – the character works because of Brie Larson’s charisma. That and the chemistry she and Jackson have together. Comparisons to The Long Kiss Goodnight with Jackson helping another amnesiac, Geena Davis (Jason Bourne as a housewife), are valid.

Charisma and chemistry help to overshadow Captain Marvel‘s story flaws. The narrative moves between tones like people going through turnstiles. When the screenplay has four writing credits (with Boden and Fleck as the last names listed) one would think the script would be the least of worries. Nope. At face value, the driving purpose is to establish Captain Marvel and the Kree (seen previously in Guardians of the Galaxy), and introduce the Skrull. But then there’s other machinations that aren’t entirely concrete, some serving as fictional representations to real events and situations. And it wouldn’t be a Marvel movie without a little bit of decit and misdirection. The universe has been built on it ever since Obadiah Stone (Jeff Bridges) stole Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey Jr.) miniature arc reactor in Iron Man.

All that notwithstanding, Larson succeeds as a sarcastic, Nine Inch Nails t-shirt wearing smart-ass. The moments with her and Jackson together are gold, and help us stomach some wordy exposition as to have a clearer idea of just what the hell is going on. Sadly, Jude Law is wasted in his role as is Annette Bening, who plays a small part that is a crucial puzzle piece in solving Carol Danvers’ backstory. Ben Mendelsohn under a ton of facial prosthetics is the bad guy, but can the lead Skrull be so bad if he takes the time to sip a soda on Earth while in the presence of Danvers?

The way Captain Marvel moves and feels, it doesn’t act like today’s Hollywood blockbuster. It feels as if the intent was to have it be like an action movie from the 1990s. From the moment Carol crashes through the ceiling of a Blockbuster Video store and shoots a cardboard standee of a tuxedoed Arnold Schwarzenegger next to Jamie Lee Curtis (True Lies) to a having a killer soundtrack consisting of Garbage, No Doubt, Salt-N-Pepa (did Deadpool do uncredited work as the Music Supervisor?) you know that we are in the age of dial-up Internet and Sony Discmans. So the movie is a jumble of Thor and early ’90s action cinema with a bit of “Today’s Teens Won’t Know the Struggle…” visual cues.

I respect that Danvers excels at becoming the best version of herself because of herself. Self-reliance and the struggle to maintain such autonomy is how it should be. Little girls that see this will latch onto the character like they have with Wonder Woman and Rey from the new Star Wars sequels. This in mind go see Captain Marvel to see Captain Marvel, just don’t expect a 2019 game-changer.

Oh, I totally forgot. Goose! The great feline sidekick and a major scene-stealer. He’s the only creature that can make Nick Fury go from tough guy to total marshmallow in three seconds flat.

Rated PG-13, 124 minutes
Director: Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck
Cast: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Jude Law, Annette Bening, Lashana Lynch, Clark Gregg, Rune Tempte, Gemma Chan, Djimon Hounsou, Lee Pace

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