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[SPOILERS] Review: Captain Marvel (2019)


Title: Captain Marvel

Genre: Action/Superhero/Sci-Fi

Stars: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Jude Law, Annette Bening, Ben Mendelsohn, Lashana Lynch

Directors: Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck

Bias: I love the current comics incarnation of Captain Marvel, but Brie Larson will always be Envy Adams to me.

Grade: B

In A Nutshell: While battling the shape-shifting Skrulls, a powerful Kree warrior crash lands on Earth and discovers that she may have a connection to the planet that she doesn't remember.

The Critique: As with seemingly every superhero film these days, it's almost impossible to talk about it without having to address the entire genre, multiple movie studios, where it fits in its respective franchise, etc. And Captain Marvel faces the added burden of being the target of various degrees of whining, harassment, and review-bombing on Rotten Tomatoes, by folks who seem convinced that a movie about a powerful woman - which is explicitly about her being powerful in the face of misogyny and patriarchy - is somehow a threat to them. Perhaps because they're patriarchal misogynists? Regardless, a false binary becomes created in which the film must be absolutely perfect or exceptional or it's a complete failure. The mentality behind this is perfectly and subtly captured by Carol Danvers and Maria Rambeau's mantra to each other - "Higher, further, faster" - as a shorthand for what they must accomplish relative to their fellow male pilots to come close to being taken seriously. For many reasons, that's not a position I ascribe to, and it's not the rubric I'll be judging the movie on.

So, how is Captain Marvel? It's good. It's an origin story that tries to do something a bit different structurally than the standard superhero origins, starting with a hero already powered, who has to discover her origin along the way, and this mostly works (and may work better for audiences who aren't bringing in prior knowledge from the comics). What unquestionably worked for me was Brie Larson as the title character. She plays the role with a certain cockiness and somewhat quirky, off-putting sense of humor that makes her feel like a real human being and not the standard "I have to find my past and have no personality in the mean time" type.

Pairing Larson with a digitally de-aged Samuel L. Jackson as a mid-90s Nick Fury helps, giving her someone with an equally strong personality to bounce off of for much of the film. Similarly, her interactions with Jude Law's Yon-Rogg work well at setting her up as accomplished, but somewhat apart from the rest of the Kree. Essentially, both with the Kree and on Earth, she's someone who doesn't quite fit, but doesn't let that change who she is.

Where the movie runs into some problems for me is that different structure, and again, that may be where my knowledge of the characters and story hurt things. For most of the film I felt like I was ahead of the characters and story, so very little was surprising. To be fair, that's the case with most superhero films, particularly adaptations, but most of those aren't presented as mysteries to the same extent that Captain Marvel is. Much of Carol Danvers's backstory is presented in montage-style flashbacks as the character slowly discovers the truth about her origins. They're done well, but don't quite land as the reveals that they're meant to be.

This movie, like many of the MCU films, also has a bit of a villain problem. At various points we have Talos (Mendelsohn), the Supreme Intelligence (Bening), AND Yon-Rogg as the villains of the piece, and I'm not entirely sure what any of their motivations are (though Talos's becomes more clear). Oh, and Lee Pace's Ronan the Accuser from Guardians of the Galaxy shows up (years before the events of that film) and has an abbreviated confrontation. All of these actors are good, and I like their characters in the film, but because of the structure (again) none of them really have time to establish themselves as the main threat Carol has to overcome.

On a brief note, I also think the decision to set the film in 1995 doesn't really pay off in a way that justifies it. It feels like an attempt to give the character some added gravitas when she finally encounters the modern day heroes. But given that we don't quite know what she's been up to for those 25 years, I'm not sure what it adds, other than isolating her from the rest of the MCU.

Ultimately, though, this is a Marvel movie, and I think the film excels at giving the audience what it wants from those - a fun, engaging character and well-executed action set-pieces. The best of these, for me, is Carol's escape from the Skrulls early in the film, which showcases both of those things quite well. Another thing the Marvel films do well is surrounding the hero with talented actors playing interesting characters, and this is no exception. Along with Jackson and Law, Ben Mendelsohn is excellent as the Skrull leader, Talos, Clark Gregg's return to the MCU proper is very welcome, and Annette Bening is given a lot to do and does it well.

Shout-Out: I mean, Goose the cat, obviously. I also like the bit with Djimon Hounsou (also returning from GotG) explaining his sense of humor (or seeming lack of it).

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