Review: Captain Marvel
Captain Marvel is the 21st film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Last year’s Avengers: Infinity War and Black Panther were both groundbreaking in their own right; Infinity War was the biggest and most successful cinematic crossover ever, while Black Panther not only became a landmark cultural moment in representation, it was an Oscar contender and multiple award-winner. It leads us to the MCU’s new film, from the directing team of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, which serves as a bridge connecting the end of Infinity War to the highly anticipated Avengers: Endgame while also being, like Black Panther, another crucial step forward for showing a new generation yet another hero their not accustomed to seeing on screen. On those two fronts, Captain Marvel is a success. In the grand scheme of things, though, the new MCU film falls somewhere in the middle of their canon of films, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a fun, and ultimately pretty important blockbuster.
Having been there and done that, the MCU makes Captain Marvel a more non-traditional origin story. It’s one essentially told in reverse, as the film starts with with Brie Larson as Vers on another planet, serving as a member of the Kree military force. She has no memories of her past, but as she ventures to Earth in her battle to fight the shape-shifting Skrulls, she discovers her true identity as Air Force pilot Carol Danvers and why exactly she’s able to shoot energy blasts from her fists. Larson makes Danvers witty and powerful in her own right. You can already envision her standing tall next to Captain America and Iron Man. It’s yet another perfect casting choice in the already stellar MCU roster.
As Vers, she fights for the Kree in their never-ending war with the shapshitting, villainous Skrulls. The Skrulls, as has been known in Marvel comics lore, are a dangerous force and are presented on screen as such. Ben Mendelsohn plays the Skrull leader Talos and for a stretch in the film is in human form, pretending to be a SHIELD boss on Earth. Mendelsohn also plays Talos in full makeup in Skrull form, and he’s just as imposing. As an MCU villain, he’s one of the best and certainly most memorable, able to emote through the heavy prosthetics — there’s a classic ‘68 Planet of the Apes vibe in his performance, as the face masks adds to his vocal tics.
The Skrulls dig inside Carol’s mind for clues to her Earth origin for their own grand scheme. And on Earth, Carol meets a young Nick Fury. You see, the film is set in the mid-1990s and serves as a sort-of prequel to the MCU. Here’s where it gets clunky; there are moments where ‘90s needle drops and grunge fashion pushes its way into the movie, distracting from the main plot. And, of course, there are Solo: A Star Wars Story-esque reveals that are totally unneeded — if you were ever wondering why Fury wears an eye patch, get ready for that awkward reveal. It does feels like the franchise is eating its own tail at this point, with forced beats proving there might already be some fatigue, 20 movies in. All that aside, the one aspect you’d expect to be an eye-soar isn’t: the CGI deaging of Samuel L. Jackson. Save for a few outdoor scenes, Jackson’s deaged Fury seamlessly puts him next to Danvers in their own action-comedy, road movie, this side of The Long Kiss Goodnight, in the middle of Captain Marvel. Moments where a wisecracking Jackson riffs with Larson’s straight-man Danvers are times when the movie really shines.
The crescendo of Captain Marvel comes when Danvers realizes her full potential. It works thanks to how well her backstory is handled — we don’t get complete scenes, instead we see glimpses of her younger self wrecking her go-kart or falling down during her military training. These flashes resonante and the “picking yourself back up” trope is as old as time, but seeing a female protagonist-superhero do it on the big screen, and do it so well, serves in the emotional payoff. She has plenty of male voices telling her she isn’t good enough, even telling her to smile more, and she comes back from those criticisms with her own fiery reprisal. And the male mentor-female mentee relationship we’ve seen done so patronizingly in other films is handle exceptionally well here between Jude Law’s Yon-Rogg and Larson’s Danvers.
In the end, Captain Marvel proves what we should already know: that women can hold their own in the world of male-led superhero franchises. Larson is a star and the latest MCU film sets the table for her to take over the world as Captain Marvel. The film may stumble at times, and yes, you can sense that 21 movies in the MCU needs a reset, but the power of the heroine at the forefront prevails. The film is a fun, rousing winner and hopefully Captain Marvel can help pave the way for new adventures for this franchise in the future.