The latest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe finds itself in a challenging and unenviable position. More than twenty films in, the franchchise is starting to spread its wings a bit. Not only does Captain Marvel stand-out as this series’ first vehicle for a female superhero and the first installment helmed by a female director, but it also serves as the feeder for what is bound to be the biggest movie we’ve seen to date: Avengers: Endgame. There’s a lot going on here and a lot hinging on Captain Marvel. Does the superhero origin story live up to the hype?
Captain Marvel follows the title character (Brie Larson) as she enters the Marvel Cinematic Universe, discovering not only who she is, but also the full extent of her powers. Along the way, she meets up with a baby Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), S.H.I.E.L.D, and finds herself caught up in a vicious intergalactic war between the Kree and the Skrulls. Keeping this spoiler free, so that’s all you’re getting. Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck direct the film from a script they co-wrote with Geneva Robertson-Dworet.
To start, Captain Marvel is a little slow to find its feet. The first act is weighed down by the extent of everything which needs to happen. While the film is loosely tied into the Guardians of the Galaxy universe, these are new characters, new worlds, and new scenes to establish. However, the script makes an interesting decision to start in the middle of the action. Instead of seeing Carol Danvers become Captain Marvel, audiences watch through her eyes as she learns who she is. As a result, the first act feels a bit muddled. There’s a lot of play in the realm of the psychological and this distinct stylistic choice will likely work for some, but definitely not for others.
In the quippy and snarky MCU, Captain Marvel stands as a bit of an outlier. The Oscar winning Larson brings an interesting persona to the character, playing Danvers very straight and almost emotionless for much of the narrative. Considering Carol’s tenuous and convoluted mental state early in the film, this particular stylistic choice could make sense. She quite literally doesn’t know who she is and she’s almost a blank slate in her own mind. However, this does stand out in the scope of the MCU and might not play well with some audiences. Will this make sense as audiences learn and ultimately get a feel for Carol? Of course. At this point in her origin story, its difficult to find an in-road into this complex and complicated character.
Now, this doesn’t mean that this character isn’t incredibly important in the scope of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In Larson’s hands, Carol Danvers quickly becomes the biggest and most formidable bad*ss in the franchise. Whether she is saving the universe or simply standing up when she’s told “It’s called a ‘cock’pit for a reason”, women need to see characters like this.
For the first time in a long time, young girls are finally seeing powerful main characters who look like them. We aren’t prettier when we smile. We don’t owe anyone anything. Even a moment as simple as Carol repeatedly get to her feet after she’s hit/kicked/falls down is incredibly emotional. With each movie where female characters are shown in a leading, empowered and non-sexualized manner, we take a step in the right direction. Ultimately, while there felt to be some lack of development in Captain Marvel, the possibility with the character feels incredibly bright as she gains traction in the MCU.
The performances around Larson are bright and quippy, allowing the movie to soon feel right at home within Marvel. Samuel L. Jackson is probably one of the brightest spots. For the first time in a while, he’s given free rein to be the comedic relief and he excels. Audiences see a new side to Nick Fury. His scenes with a cat named “Goose” are a particular joy.
Interestingly, the graphics’ work surrounding Nick Fury show the almost scary advances around “de-aging” actors. Rogue One showed the technology in its infancy, and a mere few years later, things have improved tremendously. Looking at Nick Fury in the film, it’s difficult to tell where Samuel L. Jackson ends and the effects begin. It’s not an exaggeration to say the actor looks and feels exactly how he did in Jurassic Park. Where does this technology advance from here? Do actors no longer need to worry about aging?
Also, fans of Ben Mendelsohn rejoice! In his role as Talos, the Australian actor finally gets a fun role he can wrap his teeth around. While he’s usually cast as a heavy or in thankless (yet challenging) parts, Mendelsohn is an absolute joy to watch in Captain Marvel. He has no trouble diving into what proves to be an incredibly layered and complex character and he shines in a rare opportunity to tackle some comedy. Please, Hollywood, let Ben Mendelsohn keep doing this!
Much has been made about Captain Marvel’s mid-1990s setting, and the film has a great deal of fun with its locale. Children of the 1990s will enjoy and appreciate so many references from a Blockbuster video to a number of comedic moments involving dial-up internet (kids, ask your parents!). Do some of the attempts at humor (or social commentary) feel a bit forced? A bit. For example, the choice to stage a full fight scene to No Doubt singing “I’m Just a Girl” might illicit some groans. These moments are few though, with plenty of chuckles set up throughout. Once the movie finds its feet, it’s good fun.
Is Captain Marvel for the comic purist? That’s a difficult call to make. As the final credits roll, the MCU is rapidly approaching “Phase 4” and things are feeling incredibly complicated. Where was the Tesseract in 1994? When did Loki get it again? How did it get to Asgard? Captain Marvel suddenly makes a complete, chronological rewatch feel much needed. Timelines are starting to feel a trifle… full. In setting this film in 1994, the movie comes in a weird (and unexplored) spot in the timeline and viewers watching with an eye for the comic specific plot points might walk away with a bit of a headache. That being said, stay till the end of the credits… there are two cut-scenes.
Stylistically, the film struggles a bit. Disappointingly, the brunt of the trouble comes in the action set pieces. The cinematography ends up being much too dark. There’s “moody” and then there’s “I can’t see faces” and this tends more towards the later. On the same front, the editing on the action sequences felt a bit jarring in places with too many cuts dissecting the action. Just let viewers watch the fight! Trust your actors.
Alright, is Captain Marvel a perfect movie? No. The next installment of the superhero franchise has its fair share of struggles; however, which of the origin stories haven’t? The superhero scene is a crowded one and some are less memorable than others. Despite the problems, the fact that audiences are now watching female superheroes kick butt on screen is what makes this story special. There’s so much to develop, and here’s hoping that Marvel continues to craft stories outside of Iron Man’s boys club.
Captain Marvel opens in theaters around the country Friday.