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At this point, reviewing Marvel movies seems a bit pointless. If you’re already in, then Captain Marvel is going to be another solid, world-building entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe as you know it. If you haven’t bought into what Marvel is selling, then there’s little hope that Captain Marvel will change your mind.
That being said, the film does offer something that the likes of Ant-Man or Dr. Strange couldn’t: Marvel’s first female superhero lead kicking ass and taking names with the immeasurable spirit of girl power. What’s interesting about Captain Marvel is that it manages to be both groundbreaking and par-for-the-course at the same time. It gives audiences it’s first big screen female lead, but manages to still fit the mold of the Marvel brand. It manages to feel both new and exciting whilst maintaining a relatively high status quo, and that feels like progress in itself.
Captain Marvel is unique as an origin story in that it starts with our hero called Veers and already a mostly-formed badass, harnessing her powers as a member of Starforce, an intergalactic team of Kree badasses tasked with making huge strides in the Kree-Skrull war. When a series of unfortunate events strands Veers on Earth in the mid-90s, she teams up with a young Agent Nick Fury to stop the Skrull form invading and unveil secrets about her past.
That’s right, Veers is powerful but amnesiac , and her origin story unfolds uniquely throughout the film as a mystery to be solved, rather than a linear becoming-a-hero format we’re used to. There are several twists along the way, with plenty of humor and sci-fi action to keep the blood pumping.
As the title character, Brie Larson makes for a well-rounded hero who’s only real fault is that she’s straight-up overpowered as a hero. Her Veers, later to be discovered as Carol Danvers, manages to capture the sass not unlike Tony Stark, but has dutiful purpose like Steve Rogers. Teaming her up with Samuel L. Jackson as a young, unpolished Nick Fury is a stroke of genius, as Jackson serves as an excellent foil for the buddy cop format of the second act.
The supporting cast is, as to be expected, uniformly solid all around. Jude Law provides gravitas as the Starforce leader Yon-Rogg, and Lashana Lynch is effective as an important part of Veers’ past. Most of the Kree Starforce members, including Djimon Hounsou and Lee Pace reprising their roles from Guardians of the Galaxy, are good but just aren’t given enough to do to stand out. Seeing a de-aged Clark Gregg pop in as a rookie Agent Coulson is fun, but don’t expect much substance to his appearances. Annette Benning also gets in on that Marvel money action, serving as the embodiment of the Supreme Intelligence, the AI that keeps Kree society running.
The biggest standout of the film is Ben Mendelsohn as the Skrull leader Talos. He is no doubt having an absolute blast, even under layers of lizard-like makeup. Talos is such a fully formed, entertaining character and Mendelsohn makes the absolute most out of every seen, effective not only for dramatic moments, but those of comedy as well. He’s excellent.
As is typical with Marvel productions, everything is top-notch in regards to the quality of filmmaking on display. Screenwriting/Directing duo Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck prove deft at handling the character interactions in ways that make them feel fresh whilst also using tropes like switched alliances, buddy cops, and amnesia to great effect. Makers of smaller, acclaimed films such as Half Nelson and Mississippi Grind, Boden & Fleck manage to bring a film together that has enough unique parts to it that it feels slightly more than just another addition to the MCU.
Part of what makes it feel so at home at the collaborators behind the camera, including produce Kevin Fiege and Cinematographer Ben Davis, who has shot several Marvel films including Guardians of the Galaxy, Age of Ultron, and Dr. Strange. He certainly helps make this feel like it’s part of the same universe, even if it is set in the 90s. Speaking of the 90s, the production design by Andy Nicholson allows for fun locations and nostalgic costumes. The soundtrack is peppered with some 90s hits, and the score by Pinar Toprak is solid, but lacks the iconography of previous franchise themes from the likes of Giacchino or Silvestri.
What makes Captain Marvel more unique than your average MCU origin story is the way that it plays out. As mentioned previously, we’re not introduced to Carol Danvers and then watch her go through the hardships of becoming a hero. Her amnesia serves as a way for both her and the audience to piece together exactly what happened that gave her such powers, and it sets up several dreams and flashbacks for earned, emotional payoffs later in the film.
It also plays with established Marvel lore in ways that are sure to divide audiences. The Kree-Skrull war has been a major part of Marvel comics, but the film takes more than a couple of liberties with motivations and character alignments. Likewise, previous unanswered questions regarding things like intergalactic pagers, eye patches, team names, and Infinity Stones receive answers that are certainly unexpected, and often times fairly funny.
If I had to nitpick, I’d say that a few issues arose when trying to establish exactly what Captain Marvel’s powers actually are. She can flight, fight, and blast energy, but that energy is portrayed similarly to Cyclops’ laser vision from the X-Men films. At times it can cut through layers of steel, and others it just tosses enemies aside.
To top it off, Danvers winds up feeling so powerful that it almost nerfs everyone else. There are few times where I felt that Captain Marvel was ever in any danger, and she could always just punch or blast her way out of any situation. She feels like the Superman of the MCU, and I hope they find creative ways to challenge her rather than just have her fly faster, punch harder, or blast bigger.
Quibbles aside, it doesn’t make Captain Marvel any less exciting as a film and as an entry to the MCU. Brie Larson is wonderfully cast and Carol Danvers proves to be a character that I cannot wait to see interact with the rest of the world at large. Boden & Fleck have constructed a film that both feels at home in the MCU yet offers enough quirks and unique story beats to differentiate itself from the pack. I’m practically chomping at the bit to see how things wrap up with Endgame in April.
The Final Pop
Captain Marvel shows that the Marvel formula continues working at a high rate of success. Though at times the finer points can be a bit muddled, it still proves to be a rousing sci-fi adventure with a mysterious plot, great lead performances, and plenty of references to keep viewers locked in.
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