Synopsis – Carol Danvers becomes one of the universe’s most powerful heroes when Earth is caught in the middle of a galactic war between two alien races.
My Take – I think by now we all know what Marvel Studios has done and achieved is nothing short of spectacular. Sure they have had their small share of misses here and there, but looking at the larger picture, which came down to us last year in the form of ‘Avengers: Infinity War’, studio head Kevin Feige and his set of exemplary filmmakers deserve a standing applause for providing us with exiting ride. A 21 film ride which is comes to an end with ‘Avengers: Endgame’, which hits theaters in April.
Now joining the ranks of the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe, is this titular superhero which also happens to be there first female fronted film, as a result the expectations are quite different. In recent years, the MCU has divided itself into three divisions. One set of films settling in for a familiar route of a basic good vs evil, films which introduced us to the likes of Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and Spider-Man, along with a genuine cultural-paradigm shift, Black Panther.
While the other set of films seeking out more unexpected trends, with a more cavalier plot, and genuine yet inventive dosages of humor, which introduced us to the likes of Ant-Man, Wasp and the Guardians of the Galaxy, But the last set of films like Infinity War, Civil War, and the first Avengers films are more story focused and just simply put enormous in scale. This latest entry written and directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, weirdly has its stake in all this divisions, which makes it surprising, silly and refreshing, but also unsurprisingly an underwhelming experience.
The film plays like the kind of generic comic book film that was in vogue 15 years ago. It’s high on stale, low-tension action, giving us lots of obligatory fights and chases while never providing the stakes necessary to make the characters and their story compelling. Thankfully, considering Marvel staple for providing entertainment, it still manages to be a perfectly fun time at the films, with solid acting and special effects, it deftly lays out the stakes of its new lead character for many future appearances, especially the one coming next month.
The story follows Vers (Brie Larson), a member of Starforce, a military unit of the alien race, Kree, who serve under the Supreme Intelligence. Although not Kree by birth, and no memory prior to her arrival on the Kree home world six years ago with only her dreams offering glimpses of her past, she has been fighting on the their side along with Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), a charming but jaded mentor who keeps nudging her to keep her emotions in check while on the job, to stop the Skrulls, a shape-shifting alien race led by the villainous Telos (Ben Mendelsohn).
When an ongoing mission goes awry, Vers finds herself stranded on planet C-53 (a.k.a. Earth) in the mid-1990s, and meet Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D, and begins her hunt for Dr. Wendy Lawson (Annette Bening), who seems to possess some kind of technology which the Skrulls believe can help them win the war.
It isn’t until she meets up with former USAF pilot Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch), her long-lost best friend, now the single mother of an 11-year-old daughter (Akira Akbar), that she finds out about her previous life as Carol Denvers, and begins to question the story she’s been told all her life about her identity and mission. On the way to finding out the truth, this already stalwart fighter will grow in confidence, compassion, and photon-blasting fist power.
Like most initial standalone superhero films, this one too is an origin story. Rather than meet her as a “normal” person, though, we’re introduced to her as a scrappy and sassy hero shooting electric blasts from her hands and struggling to remember life before. But since the plot is built on twists and revelations, there’s little else to say that won’t spoil it for most viewers. The references to existing MCU properties and Marvel lore as well as a truly impressive revision that assures us she was at the core of The Avengers Initiative all along arrive fast and precisely. As does the humor, which is lighter and less forced (for the most part) than recent superhero films, MCU or otherwise.
Unlike other science-fiction titles, the film feels inviting to both kids and hardcore MCU devotees. Not because it’s holding back in some way, but because it realizes how many of the overstuffed distractions in Marvel’s lesser films from glorious explosions and planet-ending crises to busy, hard-to-follow establishing shots of our heroes battling are just that.
They have also opted for a 1990s setting for the film. The reason why becomes clear later. In keeping with the setting, they’re shooting for a ’90s sci-fi tone – a little bit Men In Black and a smidge Independence Day – with Vers as the no-nonsense alien come to Earth, baffled by its primitiveness. Samuel L. Jackson, made 30 years younger by some flawless CG, is her startled guide, the rookie Shield agent who will eventually become the Avengers’ boss Nick Fury.
There’s so much fun stuff in this approach that it’s a shame the film doesn’t embrace it more. Last year’s Bumblebee nailed the nostalgia of ’80s sci-fi without overloading the references and this is aiming for a ’90s equivalent, but its grip is less sure. As the film progresses the ’90s element becomes less about tone and style than soundtrack and visual reminders. Nirvana on the soundtrack remind us when we are. What starts out weird and individual slips into Marvel formula, with some genuinely surprising twists and strong action, but a familiar groove nonetheless.
The script by co-directors Anna Boyden and Ryan Fleck and Geneva Robertson-Dworet seems intent on subverting the normal origin direction by looking backward instead of forward, but it’s only as that experiment ends that their film finds its own potential and future. The answers eventually pile up, and the film’s weight finally begins to reveal itself. The ‘stand back up’ montage used so well in the marketing works even better in the film itself as a collective response to the moments and men in this woman’s life who’ve knocked her down and/or told her that’s where she belongs. The film’s not subtle about its pro-woman stance, but it delivers both satisfying beats and laughs on the topic without ever feeling antagonistic.
Both Boden and Fleck have a talent for sharp banter and character interplay which only shines in the scenes set on Earth. When the story is space-bound, things begin to feel perfunctory. That’s especially true of the action, which reeks of the anonymous house style that Marvel seems to impose on most of its films.
The film’s first big showdown is inexplicably set on an alien planet shrouded in a dank yellow mist, so that all the punching and shooting is both impossible to follow and ghastly to look at. Most of the subsequent battles have similar problems, they’re choppily edited and difficult to visually track.
The film also expands the scope of the MCU significantly; just as Guardians of the Galaxy added a whole universe and Doctor Strange introduced magic to the world, this one brings a long running Marvel comics conflict to the silver screen: the war between the Kree and the Skrulls.
The Kree/Skrull war is one of the classic Marvel comics’ story lines; however, here its introduction here is haphazard and less effectively realized than one might expect from something so deeply embedded in Marvel lore. Although the film might have benefited from a more detailed exploration of the conflict, time constraints allow for no more than a quick overview.
The film always seems to be rushing from one set piece to the next, trying to cram too much story into two hours. Characters suffer as a result. Yon-Rogg is one-dimensional, the members of his team have little definition beyond their physical characteristics, and Maria’s introduction is perfunctory. Even Carol is badly underwritten and becomes less interesting once she recovers her memories. Any time the story settles into its central mystery, the script is far more involving; there are even a couple of satisfying major twists at the midpoint. She’s more intriguing as an enigma during the period when her seemingly limitless powers are constrained.
Her few attachments include a lost mentor who hovers around the periphery of her past; her one-time best friend; and the irrepressible Nick Fury, who’s on hand more often than not for comedic purposes and to provide a tangible tie-in to The Avengers. But the amnesia required comes at the cost of Carol as a character, and coupled with the uninspiring action, that makes the film more of a solid building block for future endeavors than a must-see solo adventure.
The film rests entirely on Brie Larson‘s shoulders, as even Jackson plays support to the film’s namesake, and Larson bears the weight effortlessly. Like Superman, Captain Marvel is arguably too physically powerful and morally pure to be all that interesting a character, but Larson plays her with a frank, tomboyish physicality that’s appealing. The heroine is going to seem right at home among the Avengers when she inevitably shows up in Endgame. Samuel L Jackson is clearly having fun as well, and while he’s been brilliantly de-aged to look decades younger he does good work pairing that visual youth with a more casual, less embittered Fury than we typically see.
Ben Mendelsohn really chews on his scenes. His motivations and antics mark him as one of the MCU’s more interesting and charismatic villains, and Mendelsohn’s performance nails the character with a balance of relaxed humor and desperate intensity. Lashana Lynch is a perfect sidekick to Danvers. Jude Law fares much better than the role written for him, and brings his usual gravitas to the screen.
In supporting roles, Annette Bening, Clark Gregg, Gemma Chan, Djimon Honsou, Akira Akbar, Rune Temte and Algenis Perez Soto are also good. So are Lee Pace and Mckenna Grace in smaller roles. On the whole, ‘Captain Marvel’ is a surprisingly loopy, traditional and enjoyable superhero film which acts as an obligatory addendum to future MCU stories.
It’s less than two months until Carol Danvers will be back in theaters in Avengers: Endgame. From what we’ve seen of her so far, Captain Marvel may not be the most complex or finely shaded of the MCU protagonists. But given that she’s the first woman to be charged with the duty of saving this cinematic universe, I for one totally support her avenging.
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 124 minutes