Review: 'Captain Marvel' is a Photon Blast of Fun and '90s Nostalgia
by Adam Frazier
March 7, 2019
Created by Stan Lee and Gene Colan, Captain Marvel debuted in 1967's Marvel Super-Heroes #12. During the Silver Age, the name belonged to Mar-Vell, a Kree military officer who becomes Earth's protector. In the '80s, Monica Rambeau assumed the title and later became the leader of the Avengers. In the '90s, Rambeau ceded the name to Mar-Vell's son, Genis-Vell, who passed it down to his sister, Phyla-Vell, in the 2000s. In 2012, Carol Danvers, a super-heroine long known as Ms. Marvel, assumed the mantle in a series written by Kelly Sue DeConnick. That series serves as the basis for the twenty-first movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), titled Captain Marvel, directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, and starring Academy Award-winner Brie Larson as Marvel Studios' first stand-alone, female-franchise title character.
Set in 1995, Captain Marvel sidesteps the traditional origin-story template, with Carol Danvers (Larson, of Short Term 12, Room, and Kong: Skull Island) imbued with the powers of the alien race known as the Kree, including superhuman strength, energy projection, and flight. On the planet Hala, home of the Kree Empire, Carol trains as a member of Starforce, an elite intergalactic military team led by commander Yon-Rogg (Jude Law). As Carol begins to realize her true potential, she finds herself back on Earth where she lands on the radar of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg). Together, they must unite against a formidable enemy in the form of the Skrulls – shape-shifting aliens—and their leader, Talos (Ben Mendelsohn), who is spearheading an invasion of Earth.
Co-written and co-directed by filmmakers Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (of It's Kind of a Funny Story, Mississippi Grind), Captain Marvel is a pastiche of '90s cinema. Like Speed and Bad Boys, it's a buddy action-comedy in which two very different people are forced to work together to stop a greater threat. Like The Rocketeer, it's a comic book movie about a pilot turned high-flying hero fighting foreign spies. And, like Independence Day, it's a sci-fi blockbuster about an alien invasion, complete with an action set piece in which fighter jets and alien spacecraft engage in a high-speed chase through a desert canyon. With its grunge aesthetic and a soundtrack featuring classic tracks by No Doubt, Nirvana, TLC, Garbage, and Hole, Captain Marvel is a love letter to the '90s in every way.
From Pepper Potts and Black Widow to Scarlet Witch and Gamora to Wasp, Okoye, and Shuri, there is definitely no shortage of strong female characters and heroes in the MCU. Having a female-franchise title character and her own stand-alone movie, however, has been long overdue. Luckily, Captain Marvel was worth the wait. In the same way Ryan Coogler's excellent Black Panther tackled complex themes about race, representation, and greater issues affecting modern-day black life, Captain Marvel deals directly with female empowerment and equality. As the MCU's most powerful character, Carol is a fully capable, hyper-intelligent Kree warrior with special abilities, but she's also very much human. And as a flawed emotional being, she's allowed to be vulnerable, confident, funny, aggressive, loving – everything, all at once.
Brie Larson, who won the 2016 Academy Award, Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild Award, and BAFTA for her lead performance in Lenny Abrahamson's Room, is the perfect choice to bring this iconic character to life. Capable of conveying a great range of emotion, she embodies Carol Danvers in the same definitive manner in which Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr. portray their comic book counterparts. This isn't just Larson's movie though – her performance is bolstered by a fantastic ensemble. Marvel's incredible de-aging technology returns Samuel L. Jackson to his Die Hard with a Vengeance days with stunning realism and gives the legendary actor his juiciest role in an MCU film since 2014's Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
As the Skrull leader Talos, Mendelsohn is an absolute delight. You've seen the Australian actor play the bad guy in movies like The Dark Knight Rises, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and Ready Player One, but Talos is a rather unique villain. Mendelsohn is able to convey menace, charm, and humor in equal measure, and his interactions with Larson, Jackson, and scene-stealer Goose (the cat) are fun to watch. Visual effects supervisor Christopher Townsend and his team did an excellent job of translating the Skrull species – and their shape-shifting abilities – from the page to the screen; I can't wait to see the role they have to play in further MCU entries, as there's quite a bit of enticing potential.
In addition to Jackson & Mendelsohn, the cast is rounded out by Lashana Lynch, who plays Carol's friend and fellow pilot Maria Rambeau, Annette Bening as the "Supreme Intelligence", the AI spiritual leader of the Kree, and Lee Pace returning as Ronan the Accuser, last seen in 2014's Guardians of the Galaxy.
Overall, Captain Marvel is another top-tier addition to the MCU canon and their best origin story since 2011's Captain America: The First Avenger. Boden, Fleck, and Geneva Robertson-Dworet's nonlinear screenplay is solid but feels uneven at times. The film moves at such a brisk pace that when it slows down, it feels like it comes to a complete halt before shifting into narrative light-speed again. The pacing issues lead to a finale that isn't much of a conclusion; it's an emotional climax for Carol, but the final battle doesn't feel like a climactic showdown as much as a setup for more in the future. Still, Captain Marvel is a massively entertaining movie with great performances, stunning visuals, and exhilarating action that re-shapes the Marvel Cinematic Universe as we know it and sets the stage for the upcoming Endgame in a major way.
Adam's Rating: 4 out of 5
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