My Review of 'Captain Marvel' (2019)
Poster for Captain Marvel
The summer movie season begins early in 2019 with the release of Captain Marvel, the appetizer to April’s main course of Avengers: Endgame. The great thing about the MCU is that there are no transition movies in its collection. Each one is its own separate story, some with more tie-ins than others. Captain Marvel also has more to prove than the average superhero story, this being the first female-driven superhero story which inevitably brought out the haters in full force. But that’s as much attention as I’m going to give the topic as movie reviews should be about the films themselves, not about the external conversations surrounding them. There is and should be no controversy surrounding this film as it delivers what it promised, the origin of the super heroine who is going to save us all.
Brie Larson’s Vers (proununced “Veers,” which is explained later) is a Kree warrior who lands on Earth (circa 1995) after a skirmish with their enemies, the Skrulls. There, she runs into S.H.I.E.L.D agents Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) while pursuing four Skrulls who have crash landed there. The Skrulls are looking to extract information buried in Vers’ subconscious.
As a result, Vers unearths her suppressed memories, revealing that she was born on Earth and was an air force pilot who volunteered for a top secret mission. During that mission, she survived an explosion caused by extraterrestrial technology which gave her super powers and resulted in her joining the Kree. With the help of Fury and a unique cat named Goose, Vers reconnects with an old friend, weaves through the twists and turns of who to trust, and unleashes the full force of her powers to save the day.
What did you think of Captain Marvel?
A New Fish Out of Water
Captain Marvel has the advantage of being the 21st movie in an ongoing series that has unfolded over a span of 11 years. It gets to learn from the strengths and weaknesses of its predecessors, particularly the origin stories, and you can tell that it has. This isn’t about a god-like being trying to find their humanity, a cocky individual who needs to keep their attitude in check, or an ex-con trying to turn over a new leaf.
The movie takes a fresh approach to representing the repressed female hero and fish out of water stories that this movie simultaneously embodies. It’s not about cramming the message of “girl power” down the audience’s throats or laughing at the ignorant alien who doesn’t understand Earth’s culture.
The film depicts her as more of a Buzz Lightyear character who knows just enough to be able to hold a somewhat normal conversation with a stranger but works in enough weirdness to make them question her sanity. Likewise, her gender plays a large part of proving herself in the past but has zero impact on the present. The way that they pull this off is genuinely impressive.
In the same way that Black Panther was about celebrating African culture while still connecting to audiences of every background, this film is about identifying with a character who is flawed but doesn’t need to change to fit in as either hero or human. This is about a woman discovering her full potential and using it to reveal larger truths about the conflict in which she is entangled.
A Beloved Era
It also nails its mid-90’s setting. Movies set in recent decades can easily feel like caricatures of its era. This film, with its grunge style, technologically-limited era feels like the time without forcing it on the audience.
As someone who grew up in the 90’s, there may have even been references that I missed which would stand out to a younger viewers, simply because they don’t stick out like a sore thumb and fit right into this time period as if they have never left. One instance that comes to mind is when Maria Rambeau’s daughter is told to listen to her music, and in a wide shot, is seen putting on the headphones to her Sony Walkman.
The camera doesn’t close in on her C.D. player as if to say, “Remember these?” It’s just there in the background of the shot as the adults gather to have a more important conversation involving the plot.
The soundtrack too is by far my favorite in the MCU, seeming as though the filmmakers pulled tracks from my personal C.D. collection while putting it together. The last film where I connected to the music so strongly was probably a late 90’s teen comedy.
The visuals, however, are very 2019. The process used to make Samuel L. Jackson look 24 years younger is flawless, selling the de-aging process without being distracting. Captain Marvel's powers, meanwhile, are colorful without being cartoony. It's important to give each hero's powers its own look, and hers does look different from Iron Man's blasters or Thor's lightning. Her energy blasts have a liquidity look to them, and when she fully powers up, you know that her enemies don't stand a chance.
Filling in the Gaps
Best of all is the fact that the story takes advantage of his prequel status in order to fill in some holes that we didn’t even know we needed answers to. This is mostly done through the team up with Nick Fury. It also provides the comic relief that is needed in order to keep the story from feeling hollow. Vers’ humor comes from a sarcastic place while Fury’s is more easygoing in a surprising way. Humor also comes in the form of its unexpected plot twists. None of the jokes are side-splitting, but they help to keep a good-natured tone to the story, even when things get heavy.
Out of Order
This movie’s largest disadvantage is the fact that it shows up with a new character origin story late in the game. In order to keep things mysterious, the film tackles this disadvantage by revealing Vers’ back story gradually and out of order, which can make it hard to piece together. On first viewing, it’s hard to tell where things are going, and by the time all is revealed, it’s time to move onto the final battle.
The plot moves along so fast that there’s not much time to explore our hero’s past and get a strong sense of what drives her, aside from stubbornness. Marvel is good at working in characterization and exposition without slowing the plot down, but being an origin story, this film could have benefitted from pumping the brakes once in awhile, especially after Vers regains her memories of her life as Carol Danvers. In fact, we’re not quite sure if she has regained her full memory, or just what we the audience is shown in flashbacks. She never even has time to process this new information and give her more of an arc than what she gets.
There’s also no real heavy lifting involved for Oscar winner Larson. The part could have been played as easily by a weaker actress, and the film wouldn’t have suffered. But Larson’s enthusiasm for the part shines through in her performance, as does her chemistry with Jackson which slides into a comfortable camaraderie. It just takes awhile for the story to get there.
Lack of Cameos
I, personally, am not a big fan of the MCU’s space world, but it is a crucial part of this story and needs to be explored. And it gets there. I just found myself waiting impatiently for her to put a roof in the hole of that Blockbuster Video as seen in the trailer. Also, I was hoping for some surprise cameos, besides the usual, and satisfying on so many levels, gem from Stan Lee. There seemed to be a missed opportunity to bring Yondu back from the dead or to possibly show a Thor and Loki drive by while in space.
An Abundance of Powers
Another weakness is the fact that Danvers has no formidable opponent in this film. She is so super powered that the only one who truly gets in her way is herself, and even then, not for long. The stakes are low as a result.
However, Superman films have dealt with this problem for years, and it hasn’t hurt the franchise. In fact, the Superman films where Superman meets his match (Superman IV, Batman v. Superman), tend to be weak points in his cinematic history. It was smart of them not to string the audience along with the familiar “will she survive this battle?” knowing full well from the time period alone that she will. This film doesn’t condescend to assume that its audience isn’t aware of how these films work by now.
Also, we know that Captain Marvel is gearing up to fight Thanos, a villain who we’ve seen take on every cinematic Avenger and Guardian of the Galaxy that we’ve seen and effortlessly overpower them all. So, now that we have a formidable villain, we have an equally matched hero. Her day to be truly challenged is coming, and it’s coming soon.