Review: Captain Marvel

This 2019 American superhero film based on the Marvel Comics character Carol Danvers is the twenty-first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and written and directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck. It stars Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Djimon Hounsou, Lashana Lynch, Gemma Chan, Annette Bening, Clark Gregg and Jude Law.

In the depths of space, two alien civilisations are embroiled in war, the Kree Empire and the Skrulls. Kree Starforce soldier Vers (Larson) works with her mentor, Commandor Yon-Rogg (Law) to repel the shape-shifting Skrull threat. When a covert mission goes wrong, Vers is captured by Skrull leader Talos (Mendelsohn) who is seeking an enormously powerful energy source that could turn the tide of war. Vers escapes and crash-lands on Earth, catching the attention of S.H.I.E.L.D agents Nick Fury (Jackson) and Phil Coulson (Gregg).

Vers and Fury join forces to battle the invading Skrulls, but Vers is also trying to piece together a puzzle of her own. Memories of a previous life on Earth haunt her, and it becomes clear she is not who she thought she was. Her acceptance of who she really is will decide the fate of the galaxy forever…

Surrounded in unjust controversy over the fact that our new Marvel superhero was a) a female and b) the actress supports women’s’ rights, ‘Captain Marvel’ has battled an even bigger foe that intergalactic aliens and super-weapons; the trolls and doubters of Earth. How can an actress not act when she has won an Academy Award? Why doesn’t she smile in the trailers? Why does the action look so bland? Can a cat really upstage human co-stars? These are just some of the empty questions thrown at Marvel as they introduce Carol Danvers into the MCU.

We are taken for a nostalgic trip to the 1990’s featuring music, fashion and cultural nods of the time including Blockbuster Video and… A young Samuel L Jackson? Thanks to Marvel’s industry-leading de-ageing CGI process, Nick Fury is back younger and with two functioning eyes as Jackson injects more of the funny, carefree agent we’ve wanted to see before he became a one-eyed, grizzled, war-torn commander of superheroes. Jackson is clearly enjoying the role and getting stuck into far more action and on-screen development than he has before, and it’s given a boost by siding him with Brie Larson.

While Larson has received awful abuse on social media from unhappy “fans” – not befitting that title – who compare her to Adolf Hitler and speaking down against men, those of us who see the world through normal eyes and common sense will see her tackle an origin story that doesn’t make it easy to connect the dots, but throws a lot at you in a short space of time to understand who this ace fighter pilot and karaoke singer really is on the inside. Maybe she doesn’t smile much, because Carol isn’t going to smile during times when she feels her life has turned upside down and she doesn’t know who to trust, or why, or even how. It’s a complex character on the outset, and once she lands on Earth, her defences come up. It takes time for her to understand the situation he is in, and in turn, lets us discover it with her.

And she DOES smile, and quip and make smart-ass observations when it suits. This isn’t a raging comedy, and she isn’t a comedic character. She’s a wounded, broken super-solider who doesn’t know why she is what she is. Only when she finally discovers who she is, directors Boden and Fleck ease off the brakes and let Carol Danvers become Captain Marvel-ous with a whole host of CGI dizzying powers that combine nearly all of the Avengers in one slim, athletic blonde woman in red, blue and gold. The visual effects are high-octane and you really feel the energy in every hit. It’s going to be a very interesting time for Thanos when he meets a woman who can take down a space warship in seconds, fly faster than the speed of sound and clear a room of bad guys in the blink of an eye.

But, all of this is irrelevant when it comes down to accepting the more than capable Larson as a new leading Marvel hero, because, as Carol says nonchalantly during the film “I have nothing to prove to you.”  She has nothing to prove at all to anyone why she is here.

We have a strong supporting cast such as Jude Law as fellow Kree, Yon-Rogg, driven by doing his duty for his people and mentoring Vers. Annette Bening is key to the Kree/Skrull war and looks great in a jumpsuit. Lashana Lynch as Carol’s wing mate with the surname Rambeau – yes, pronounced Rambo. Gemma Chan and Djimon Hounsou kick ass as fellow Starforce soldiers, and Ben Mendelsohn is on fire as Talos, the Skrull leader. Mendelsohn is our go-to man of the moment for super-smooth villainy on film if you look at his recent CV including ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’, ‘Ready Player One’ and ‘Robin Hood’. Here, he is given great material to really flesh out his character and add far more to a typical Marvel villain than expected.

And also we have Goose the cat. You’ll probably love him as much as Nick Fury does.

Goose

‘Captain Marvel’ boasts a strong cast to tell another superhero origin story. Bookended by a visual slew of intergalactic battles and fights, the meat of this Marvel sandwich adds a lot of humanity to things, more so than other MCU offerings. The authenticity of a 1995 era Los Angeles only adds to how retro this feels and looks at times, but we are on a journey with people you will want to know more about and come to understand by the end of it. It’s not about discovering why you are what you are, or how you became what you are, but more about WHO you are. This lends some nice moments to chuckle at as Carol and Fury discover the trappings of 1995 such as unreliable internet, payphones and two-way pagers, but it also gives us enough grounded self-discovery and character development to rely on good acting and brief but well played out action sequences rather than bloated CGI worlds and fast-paced battles.

It’s not perfect, sure. Sometimes you do want Danvers to fast-forward her discovery because you know it’s there, and you know it’s coming, and it’s drawn out as long as possible for a fitting climax, but in doing so Larson is given little to really get her teeth into. On the other side of this, I feel that will change in ‘Avengers: Endgame’. And also the story itself is a little “colour by numbers” as it’s one that’s been done before and offers little in new surprises or twists. If anything, you’re sat looking for familiar faces or items to link to the current MCU stories, and there are a few along the way to discover.

And this is a story to highlight just how important and strong women are, be it young girls playing baseball, driving a go-kart, wanting to fly a plane or simply getting up when knocked down. Our sisters are just as strong, if not more so, then our brothers in this story, and it will clearly wound those who are offended by strong women. Danvers represents a shift in the super-hero slate, just as DC’s Diana Prince does. This is a chance to remind us that change is here, and it’s happening not just in fiction.

It’s a story that had to be told to introduce this possible game-changing character, and at just under two hours doesn’t outstay its welcome. It gives us the base of who Carol Danvers is, why she is who she is, what her relationships are to the established MCU and also proves she can smile if you actually go see the movie and watch her in action.

It ticks the boxes for the Marvel formula, but with a fresh setting, franchise-pleasing characters and ‘Endgame’ foreshadowed a few times, ‘Captain Marvel’ is a fresh, welcome addition to these veteran Avengers, those who are not dust, anyway.


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