On a number of levels, Marvel’s most recent entry succeeds as a solid superhero flick—even when it is slowed down by some storytelling miscues and weak character development. All in all, Captain Marvel offers a fun, cheesy, and entertaining origin story which delivers a powerful narrative of the life of the MCU’s newest hero.
Vers (Brie Larson) is a noble warrior hero in training on the Kree home-planet of Hala, sternly supervised by Yon-Rogg (Jude Law). She suffers from a peculiar case of amnesia, one that makes its way into the movie in fits and spurts. She and her squad hunt down the Skrulls—a foreign species with whom they are at war. After one mission goes terribly awry and Vers is captured by enemy forces, she manages to escape to Planet C-53, our Earth. It is here that she uncovers the secrets of her past life on Earth, reunites with old friend and co-pilot Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch), and forms a new partnership with SHIELD agent, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). It is throughout and, at times, by way of, these encounters that Carol Danvers contextualizes anew the Kree-Skrull conflict and her role in the war.
Like Ant-Man and the Wasp before it, Captain Marvel feels like a step back and maybe departure from Infinity War. It is not a comedy strictly speaking, but rarely does the film take itself too seriously. In fact, I’d say it does so only in the third act, wherein the audience learns about the true suffering of Talos (Ben Mendelsohn) and his Skrull people. This is due in large part to the way screenwriters Boden, Fleck, and Robertson-Dworet construct Carol Danvers. She comes off as a strange combination of Stoic duty-bound and dry/snarky wit. Her relationship with Fury brings both characteristics to the fore and in my estimation their time together is one of the film’s greatest strengths. Furthermore, the movie strikes a sharp balance between the outlandish and the ordinary, a balance which both contributes to and benefits from its rather campy character.
Jackson (boosted heavily by incredible de-aging technology) and Larson both do standout jobs in their roles. Contrary to what seems to be popular opinion, I appreciate Larson’s subtle facial gestures and posture throughout. Clark Gregg’s time on-screen as Agent Phil Coulson warms one’s heart immensely, and Mendelsohn charms regularly. Not to be underestimated is Lynch’s performance, capstoned by her powerful speech to Danvers during the movie’s central crisis, in which she reminds her best friend of her humanity and their love for one another. As my good friend notes, the scenes at Rambeau’s house in Captain Marvel echo closely the events on Barton Ranch in Avengers: Age of Ultron. In my mind, anytime filmmakers look to learn from Joss Whedon about character unfolding, they will produce strong results and here is no exception.
Occasionally, the structure and filming of the movie can be off putting. For example, the fight on the metro is broken and difficult to follow. More significantly, the amnesia plaguing Danvers plays a pivotal role in her story, and yet its disparate elements make for some fractures visually and narratively that can be hard to piece together. In this way, Captain Marvel is experimental and novel. Such an approach does add a fresh feel and challenge to this story. The most critical mistake which this movie makes concerns the big twist regarding the Kree-Skrull conflict. How am I supposed to believe that the Kree are these war-mongering tyrants when I have spent next to no time with them or their civilization? It’s as if the movie asks us to accept this fact on faith without offering much insight into this aspect of the world nor into the characters themselves. That is in part why I consider Jude Law’s role less than impressive.
There are two especially high moments to note in the movie. One is the fight between Cpt. Marvel and the Kree’s Supreme Intelligence (Annette Benning). Abstractly considered, much of the movie revolves around the tension between mind and heart. And this fight personifies these ideas and has them fight head-on. While the conflict presented lacks subtlety and nuance, the drama is empowering and resonates emotionally. The other moment is when Danvers finally confronts Yon-Rogg and puts him down. Many people read both of these scenes as politically charged and saturated, but often overlook the particulars of the situations. Frankly, in many of the reviews I have watched or read, critics altogether miss the mind-heart conflict. A huge point Danvers makes here is that it is her heart which has unlocked her potential and it is her heart that Yon-Rogg pierced with his lies and betrayal. That’s why she has nothing to prove to him. Again, the movie does not treat this tension adequately by any stretch, but such a question is remarkable and provocative.
The music, scenery, and popular culture which help constitute Captain Marvel will surely please any member of the audience longing nostalgically for the 1990s. Some of the shots in the first act capture the Southern Californian landscape beautifully, especially in the desert; and again later in Louisiana on Rambeau’s homestead, or during Danvers’s formative plane crash. Personally, I find that “Just a Girl” by No Doubt fits thematically, but does not play well either dramatically or audibly during the climactic fight scene. But Nirvana’s “Come as You Are” made me crack a smile and had me singing along. The directors certainly have good tastes.
Captain Marvel presents a solid albeit flawed origin story and opens the door to a new dimension of the Marvel universe. The movie raises questions which I hope further installments will explore with more clarity and precision. I am happy to welcome Brie Larson to the ever-growing cast and look forward to seeing where Captain Marvel goes from here. Rating: 7/10
P.S. Spoiler Alert: The twist around how Nick Fury loses his eye is great. Marvel Studios knows how to play well with our expectations as members of the audience and long-standing fans of the franchise both (e.g., Thanos’s victory, Zemo’s plan, the Mandarin, etc.). Here, the writers manage to incorporate a bit of a nesting Russian doll subplot. We know that Fury has to lose his eye and as he tells Cap in Winter Soldier: “The last time I trusted someone, I lost an eye.” Initially, we’re certain that this happens during the most tense scene of the first act, namely, between Coulson and Fury. In the end however, Fury’s accident is more fun and cheeky than that. I appreciate when screenwriters decide to mess with the fans (see Cap’s end-credits scene in Homecoming). Naturally then, I find that Goose the cat’s betrayal is a good touch.