Starring: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Djimon Hounsou, Lee Pace, Lashana Lynch, Annette Bening, Clark Gregg, Jude Law, Lashana Lynch
Directed by: Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck
Written by: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, and Geneva Robertson-Dworet
Based on Captain Marvel by Stan Lee & Gene Colan, Carol Danvers by Ray Thomas & Gene Colan and Captain Marvel by Kelly Sue DeConnick & David López
As the first Marvel film headlined and (co)-directed by women, there are a lot of hopes and expectations being placed on Captain Marvel. Those looking for a fun, superhero action movie starring ladies will leave the theatre satisfied. Those looking for a Marvel offering as fresh and distinct as Black Panther or Thor: Ragnarok may feel a bit let down. Captain Marvel feels a lot like a Phase One Marvel film in structure and content (although it does its best to break with some conventions), and it delivers on being a fun origin story for a new hero in the MCU, but it doesn’t offer much in the way of surprise or fresh storytelling despite its fresher protagonist.
We’re introduced to Brie Larson As “Vers” a soldier of the Kree race of alien warriors, and who is suffering from memory loss. After being kidnapped by shapeshifting Kree-enemies, the Skrulls, she starts to see memories of her past and in an escape ends up on Earth, a place she may have a connection to. Comics fans know already that she’s Carol Danvers, a former Air Force pilot, and fans will be happy to see characters from the Captain Marvel comics, and cameos from Stan Lee and writer Kelly Sue DeConnick.
Carol lands on Earth, crashing into a Blockbuster Video, which immediately sets the film in a particular era: the 1990s. The film’s writers (Geneva Robertson-Dworet, along with co-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck) work in as many references to the ‘90s as they can, which sometimes had me wondering who the target audience of this film is meant to be.
Surely Marvel superhero movies should keep children in mind as a core audience, but they won’t understand the sight gag of Carol sporting grunge flannel with a Nine Inch Nails t-shirt. Nor are they likely to recognize some of the music cues. Captain Marvel follows the Guardians of the Galaxy films, setting action sequences to retro radio hits, but to less impressive effect. I love the concept of filling the soundtrack with female vocalists from the ‘90s, era of grrl power. The song choices (while they may have relevant lyrics) don’t musically always fit the scenes. The fights aren’t edited to match the beat of the music, which feels like a missed opportunity. That said, fans old enough to remember the ‘90s will get a kick out of the references, as they’re present enough to be funny, but are not overdone.
Another holdover from the ‘90s are copious one-liners, which often feel right out of a Buffy script (for better or for worse). Luckily, Larson is up to the task of delivering these lines with as much snark as Sarah Michelle Gellar ever was. Larson is perfectly cast as Carol Danvers. She is powerful, hotheaded, and as charismatic and likable as the male heroes who have dominated the screens until now. Flashbacks and a few references to the past are all we get to learn about Carol’s human life before gaining her powers. It’s clear that she struggled with roadblocks put in her way as a woman. The film is careful not to belabor this point – it’s not a movie about a woman proving that “girls can do anything boys can do.”
That said, it’s very satisfying to see Carol get small revenge against a dude who tries to hit on her by asking her to smile. She is repeatedly told by Jude Law’s Yon-Rogg that she is too controlled by her emotions. By the end of the film, it’s clear that this is one of her strengths. A significant purpose of this film is to make sure audience know who she is before Captain Marvel swoops in to save the day in Avengers: Endgame, but they do a good job of keeping the conflict as self-contained as possible, and they introduce a convincingly heroic and powerful character.
Larson is supported by a wonderful cast as well. Samuel L. Jackson, in impressive de-aging make-up, gives an incredibly fun performance as a less cynical, more jovial, young Nick Fury. He and Larson are a fantastic duo, both bringing a lot of charm to their team-up. Ben Mendelsohn is having a lot of fun as Skrull leader Talos. I was glad to see the Skrulls in practical makeup rather than CG, even though it seems hard for the actors to speak through.
It wouldn’t be Captain Marvel if Carol weren’t supported by other women, most notably the always-amazing Annette Bening as Carol’s mentor and Lashana Lynch as Maria Rambeau (mother of Monica Rambeau). Some fans may be disappointed to see that Monica isn’t Carol’s best friend, but I’m excited for the potential for a grown-up Monica Rambeau to show up in the later MCU timeline, and hopefully stick around for a few films.
All of that said, the most important character for many viewers will be Goose, the orange cat who steals the movie.
By nature of being a prequel, some of the twists in Captain Marvel are a bit predictable, but it’s still fun to watch them play out. While it has to put in the work as an origin story, the movie does its best to work around the cookie-cutter formula of MCU films. It tells a satisfying superhero story, and grounds all of the fight scenes with real emotional stakes. I hope that soon we’ll get more solo movies for Marvel heroes whose success isn’t linked to their ability to punch or blow things up the best. Seeing this kind of colossal power in the hands of a woman is a refreshing power fantasy for a lot of fans. I hope that Captain Marvel is another in a line of superhero movies that provide these escapist power fantasies starring a wider diversity of heroes.