REVIEW: Captain Marvel (2019)

Theatrical Release Poster – Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

The following is a review of Captain Marvel — Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck.

It’s good to be Marvel. One year ago, the industry was still in shock over the huge success of Marvel’s Black Panther. Only one month later, Avengers: Infinity War would break many records and, along with Black Panther, make sure that the first six months of 2018 was owned by Marvel. Now, in March of 2019, Marvel Studios can finally say that it has Oscars to its name following Black Panther‘s historic wins at the 91st Academy Awards. Some things never change, we are now waiting for another huge Avengers-film.

But first, Disney and Marvel Studios are now ready with their first female-led superhero film (that is, unless you count Ant-Man and the Wasp), Captain Marvel, almost two-years after DC and Warner Bros.’ success with Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman, which lived up to pretty much every hope and dream. Of course, Wonder Woman was a female icon and one of the most well-known superheroes in existence long before the Marvel Cinematic Universe existed. Indeed, one might argue that to make a Captain Marvel film successful was, on the surface, a much more daunting challenge.

Marvel Studios hired Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck for the task. The co-directors have worked together on such great films as Half Nelson and Mississippi Grind, both of which I would recommend but neither of which seemed to me like the projects that would ultimately decide that they were right for a major motion picture blockbuster with the ambition and pressure that Captain Marvel has. So, did the directors live up to the task? Well, pretty much. Though the film isn’t as thematically rich and groundbreaking as Black Panther or Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel, which includes a simple but beautiful tribute to the late, great Stan Lee prior to the first scene, is another fun Marvel movie that fits right in and gets you excited for what is next to come.

Boden and Fleck’s Captain Marvel takes place in the 1990s — long before Nick Fury assembled the Avengers Initiative, pitched it to Tony Stark, and saved the world from Loke and his army — and the film follows the curiously named ‘Vers’ (played by Brie Larson), a female member of an elite alien military task force team known as Starforce, who, during a mission to an alien planet, is knocked unconscious by a shape-shifting alien — of the species ‘Skrull’ — known as Talos (played by Ben Mendelsohn). Talos and his crew probe her mind which severely disorients the noble female warrior, but it also jogs her memory.

When she crash-lands on Earth, she is still disturbed by a series of visions that indicate that she may, in fact, be a human woman. While she waits for the rest of Starforce to find her, she is ambushed by more Skrulls who have invaded Earth hoping to find some creation that ‘Vers’ may be linked to. Chased by both Skrulls and S.H.I.E.L.D. members, ‘Vers’ eventually teams up with Nick Fury (played by Samuel L. Jackson), who becomes the first person on the planet that she trusts. Together, she and Fury try to figure out what secrets are hidden in her unknown past on Earth, while they combat the shape-shifting, pointy-eared green aliens that may threaten the state of the galaxy.

This, like 2016’s Ghostbusters, is a film that has been criticized early by misogynist online trolls who knowingly twist the words of the actors to make it appear as if Captain Marvel is a film that hates men. They want this film to fail, they fear films that do not cater to their worldview, and they want to disrupt the enjoyment of entertainment that doesn’t focus on people that look like them. At the time of writing, trolls are running to their desktops to review-bomb user review aggregates on sites like IMDb hoping to manufacture an untruthful general opinion of the film. These individuals have turned your opinion of just another superhero film into a political statement. It is ridiculous and embarrassing. Thankfully, Captain Marvel has the exact right attitude and response for these individuals.

“I don’t have anything to prove to you.”

If there is anything that we know Marvel is good at, it is to put their heroes front and center with great charisma and involving character moments. When you walk out of a Marvel movie, you love the central character and want to see more of them. The same can be said for Brie Larson’s character in spite of the first half of the film. Even though I did leave the theater with a massive smile on my face due to an overwhelmingly electrifying final act as well as a playfully nostalgic tone and soundtrack, the first thirty minutes of the film indicated to me that I would not be leaving as positive and optimistic as I ended up being.

The first thirty minutes of the film are really rough, slow, and clumsy. You start on a distant alien planet, rush from this one to the next, and watch these fresh new faces train with each other and then participate in a poorly-lit action scene in a corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that isn’t as explored as the film would have you think. The film doesn’t truly find its footing until ‘Vers’ crash-lands in a Blockbuster Video.

That’s when it, eventually, has moments of great buddy-comedy banter between Larson and Jackson who both seem to be having a lot of fun in their roles, which, we know, we’ll see them reprise time and time again going forward. Larson, an Academy Award-winning actress who, trolls would have you believe, ignited the fire that would start an online culture war, doesn’t give the most impressive performance seen in these films, but she is very entertaining as a plucky hero with knowing smirks that I greatly enjoyed. I’m sure Larson will get a firmer grip of her character going forward, but this is a comfortable start to her superhero movie career — long may she reign.

Again, Jackson seems to be having a lot of fun giving a new, fresh spin to the character that he has played eight times previously. Here, as you may have gathered, Jackson plays a much younger and less experienced version of the Nick Fury character — one that doesn’t need an eye-patch. Most impressive is the computer effects and make-up work that has made it appear as if Jackson-circa-1990 is playing Nick Fury. De-aging effects have gotten stronger and stronger, and Captain Marvel may be the first film to use it throughout the film without it ever being distracting.

Seeing Jackson with the scene-stealing cat ‘Goose’ is delightful in every scene. Indeed, it would not be wrong to say that Goose is Captain Marvel‘s ace-in-the-hole — its Baby Groot. Goose will give you a new respect for feline creatures. Also, Lashana Lynch has a small handful of scenes that definitely helped give this film a beating heart. I wish they would have paid more attention to the friendship that Lynch and Larson’s characters have.

Of the remaining supporting characters — namely Jude Law, Ben Mendelsohn, Clark Gregg, Lee Pace, Djimon Hounsou, and Annette Bening — only Ben Mendelsohn leaves a lasting impression. Thankfully, it’s a very strong impression as the Skrull-character Talos. His is one of the most interesting Marvel antagonists as he is influential in bringing up themes like integration and forced displacement, both of which are fascinating but ultimately somewhat underexplored.

Captain Marvel is the twenty-first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. So, at this point, it won’t surprise you to learn that Marvel Studios still knows exactly what makes a superhero film work. Although it doesn’t quite live up to the richness of previous culturally significant and inclusive superhero films like Black Panther, Captain Marvel is yet another fun and entertaining origin story that presents you with a new character to love and appreciate in team-up films. Furthermore, though its ideas are not fully explored, Captain Marvel contains important messages for women who have waited more than a decade to see someone like them lead a Marvel movie. It certainly isn’t a top-tier Marvel movie, but Captain Marvel is a thoroughly entertaining and engaging new chapter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

7.5 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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