It’s taken 20-something movies but MCU has finally released their first female led superhero movie and despite some controversy leading up to its release we can rest assured that Marvel’s seemingly endless good streak continues.
We meet Vers (Brie Larson) an amnesiac human with some special powers living amongst an alien race called Kree. Vers is a bit of an upstart, particularly to her mentor Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) but she’s determined to be the best member of Starforce, an elite group of galactic warrior heroes. When a mission goes sideways and she’s abducted by some shape-shifting alien terrorists called Skrulls led by Talos (Ben Mendelsohn), fragments of her memories return. Setting her on a path of discovery to find out who she really is and her true powers.
Dircted by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (both having worked on Sugar and a few eps of Billions) the film has a weighty job of not only providing a suitable origin story for this leading lady. But also providing connective tissue for the forthcoming release of Avengers: Endgame as well as some other smaller aspects of the MCU. Structurally and tonally this film shares a lot of its formula with the Phase One films a la Iron Man or Captain America: The First Avenger. Marvel knows that if it ain’t broke, there’s no need to fix it. But as a wise woman once said “just because something works, doesn’t mean it can’t be improved” and so we see an adjustment to the method here out of necessity.
The film takes some of the usual superhero tropes and changes it up. We start with our hero already gifted, already with powers. But her limitation is due to her own uncertainty and that she’s being hamstrung by those around her and the situation she is in. And it’s not until she discovers her humanity and freeing her emotions that she finds the depth of her capabilities, levelling up from powered to super-powered.
We begin in outer space, on alien planet Hala, full of cosmic wonder and technological wizardry. We then end up on Earth and it’s like being flung back in time, figuratively and literally since the film is set in the mid-90s. The film does lean into its 90s-setting-nostalgia, there’s NIN shirts, and flannel and pinball machines and Blockbuster video still exists. The soundtrack is definitely all your faves including TLC, Elastica, Salt ‘n’ Pepa, Hole and No Doubt. And it might be a little timey-wimey but it slots into the overall MCU timeline since it sits a little while before the events of Guardians Of The Galaxy but also helps to provide context for Captain Marvel’s obvious appearance in Avengers: Endgame.
Brie Larson as Vers/Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel channels some of her most badass moves but it’s in her vulnerable state of doubt and uncertainty over who she is, where she really shines. There’s a fine line between looking sour and looking stoic and we don’t often see women getting to act indomitable but Carol Danvers knows she’s strong enough to overcome whatever gets thrown her way. Larson has enough charm and an endearing tiny smile on the corner of her lips that allows her to get away with some of the cocky, upstart dialogue without sounding dickish.
Watching a de-aged Samuel L. Jackson as Nicholas Fury or ‘Fury’ (as he insists on being called) is definitely a little Uncanny Valley. The young S.H.I.E.L.D agent is being introduced to things he never thought possible, and taking it all in his stride. It’s no wonder he ends up running the joint. But it’s the buddy-cop style interaction and banter between Fury and Danvers that helps to build character development for both of them. Even though this is a Captain Marvel film, we do get to see some of Fury’s origins too. We also have rookie Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg looking particularly smoothed out and de-aged too) teaming up with Fury demonstrating the early stages of their bond developing, a trust that only deepens over time.
Lashana Lynch plays Maria Rambeau, Carol’s best friend and fellow fighter pilot. She also gets to provide some of the more grounded and emotional moments in the film as the two try to reconnect. All done whilst gently side-stepping any obvious African-American limiting tokenistic placement. Annette Bening and Gemma Chan are also on the cast list docket but should’ve been granted more time to flesh out their roles better as both are excellent actors.
Aussie Ben Mendelsohn gets to add Space Mendo to his belt notch, now having played a heavily prosthetic-ed Skrull. I enjoyed his antagonist role but annoyingly his accent (and slight lisp) kept consistently taking me out of his performance. Which is a shame coz he is acting the hell out of the script – when you’re under that much latex you have to. Jude Law also seems a little too good at playing the smarmy over-confident Kree warrior. And lastly don’t be fooled by all the hype and promo surrounding Goose The Cat, there’s a reason for it, and that’s because the cat is a legitimate co-star and quite possibly the actual MVP (Most Valuable Pussy) of the film.
It probably helps that there are some of us (myself included) who come into the MCU as fans of the cinematic universe and less informed about the original comic source material. This is definitely an origin story movie and the less you know about her, the more enjoyable the experience is learning about her story. The film isn’t strictly linear, with many flashbacks popping up as Vers/Carol Danvers tries to put the pieces of her past back together. Obviously for the more die-hard fans they can pull apart all the minutiae and look for easter eggs, this is a film that’s part of a “universe” not just a stand-alone after all. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this film on a re-watch value though. Sure there are some funny moments and laughs but it does struggle with rushing through explaining itself. And most of the enjoyment from the film tends to come from learning about this new character, particularly one that a lot of people won’t be familiar with.
Captain Marvel takes a charismatic upstart of a superhero and levels them up with warmth and depth by revealing their humanity. The character of Carol Danvers is inspiring for being less of a hero and more of a human. It just so happens that she can smack her opponents down with witty quips and blast photon beams out of her hands.
PSA: There’s an important mid-credit sting and a less important but hilarious end credit scene.
THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Captain Marvel releases in Australian cinemas from March 7th through Marvel Studios Australia/New Zealand.