With major portions of the Marvel Cinematic Universe likely coming to a close with Avengers: Endgame, we await the emergence of new heroes to take the place of those we’ve come to love over the past several years. While Peter Parker is known to stretch himself thin, Spider-Man can only do so much alongside the dynamite success of Black Panther, so we need others to join them and extend the MCU into the foreseeable future. The first up-to-bat is Captain Marvel, but with her origin, we get to take a nostalgia-laden trip to the 1990s. It arrives as the first female-led Marvel film yet, and while that fact alone should be enough for the world to take note, much ado has been made in recent months about some reported comments from Brie Larson, the film’s star, regarding the lack of diversity in film journalism. While any reasonable person could easily and quickly see her words were taken completely out of context and misquoted, it remains to be seen here at the film’s release date if they will have a major effect on the film’s success. That said, that entire situation is its own thing. How is the film? Well, let’s talk about it.
In this origin story, we follow Vers (Brie Larson), a Kree special operative member of Starforce. Alongside her team led by Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) and including among others Minn-Erva (Gemma Chan) and Korath (Djimon Hounsou), she investigates the growing threat of the Skrulls, a shapeshifting race of green-skinned aliens who are bitterly pitted against the Kree in a war that spans the cosmos. As she fights these battles and trains her abilities, she has a deep longing for answers to her past, as memories lead her to believe she has ties to Earth. Circumstances lead her to our planet, and pursued by Skrulls, she meets a familiar face to Marvel fans: an early-in-his-career Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Together, they seek out answers for Vers and try to keep this brewing conflict from destroying Earth in the process.
With the film framed as a mystery throughout, I leave out a lot to keep the secrets fresh for viewers. Still, this mysterious tone is mish-mashed onto portions of the film that range from militaristic sci-fi to buddy cop thriller to earnest character drama. That’s a lot to transition between, and the film is mostly successful. As has become increasingly common in the MCU, humor is in abundance, even when it feels unwarranted. Here, I’d say the attempts at humor fail almost as much as they succeed. With the film set in the 1990s, the humor often leaves one feeling about the screenwriters like one might feel looking at fashion choices of that era: “What were they thinking?!?” Nothing ruins the overall movie, but I do think it is held back. With five listed screenwriters, it left me wondering how we got what we got in some places.
With much riding on her shoulders moving beyond this film, narratively and commercially, how does Brie Larson fare as an action/comedy lead? Mostly, pretty well, I’d say. There’s a twinge of overacting in her portrayal, but the impression it left me was she is having a ton of fun coming into her own as this character. Maybe too much fun, but still. With her character not knowing who she is for most of the film, it does leave us with one who is hard to fully connect with. Much like another Captain we know, her heroism predates any powers she might have, and I am on board to see her develop that in the future. Few people, male or female, can nail the hero pose like Larson does here, and as a character that wants to do what is right and honest, she makes a great figurehead for fans to look up to, as many inevitably will. It’s exciting to think about what this film will do for the character overall, beyond these films in comics and such.
Samuel L. Jackson gets his biggest role as Nick Fury since Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and honestly, minute for minute, it may be his biggest one yet. Always reliable for lighting up the screen, it’s amazing to see how successful his “de-aging” turned out here. I’m sure a behind-the-scenes featurette will lift the curtain at some point, but whoever and however many that made his look a success deserve a raise. Up to this point, Fury has been all business, but here, we see a lighter side. That’s great, but there are some plot points this film delivers in regards to the character that will forever change how we see that seriousness we’ve witnessed for over 10 years.
As I felt about him in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, Jude Law lights up the screen, no matter how the finished product is as a whole. He’s a guy that can really do anything he wants with his career, and whatever it is he does, he does it well. This is no different. What’s awesome about him here is the physical presence he commands in the role, and I do hope we see more of him in the future. Another delightful addition to the cast is Ben Mendelsohn as the Skrull leader, Talos. A favorite of mine, he brings the sinister and the humor in a performance that is distinctly one of the most memorable to me in the MCU yet. While prosthetics can often be an impediment to an actor, his performance was great, with and without the prosthetics. His interactions with the cat named Goose in the film had my screening laughing throughout. I relish the opportunity to discuss the potential future of Skrulls in the MCU, but if/when they do return, I hope it’s with Talos in tow.
Discussing the fullness of Annette Bening‘s character is central to the plot, so I’ll leave specifics out. Still, her mannerisms while performing took me out of it all when she was on-screen; I would say that it was jarring even to me. For long-time fans of the Captain Marvel line of comics, the film plays fast and loose with core parts of the mythos, and her portrayal on top of these changes left me truly puzzled at the rationale really in even casting her here. My friend and I discussed some of the core parts of the story involving her, and much of our critique led back to her performance and character, I hate to say. I wouldn’t say she ruined the film, but I will say I didn’t agree with all of her acting choices.
Another character that is best left to watching rather than reading about is Maria Rambeau, played very well by Lashana Lynch. I wasn’t familiar with Lynch at all prior to this film, but she gets some of the best character moments in the film and gives the film some much-needed emotional attachment. When the lead is mostly a blank slate who doesn’t know who she is, Rambeau makes an impression with us, the audience, and even makes us care more for our lead. It was her scenes that felt the most like what the directors, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, excel at. The quieter exposition-laden scenes were shot with an almost serene-like quality, and it made the film feel more unique amongst its MCU peers. Many shots are masterfully done, but they do get lost, sadly, amongst the more frequent action sequences and comedy.
Musically, I thought the film was interesting at least. The electronic score was nowhere as trippy as Thor: Ragnarok, but it accentuated the sci-fi vibes nicely. Juxtaposed with the mostly 90s female-vocals pop/songs throughout, it did what was needed in the background so that the familiar songs could come on the scene to emphasize the nostalgia and girl power. No MCU film comes close to the way that Guardians of the Galaxy and its sequel used songs as storytelling devices, but still, the songs chosen here are more for fun and feeling.
Content-wise, the language, while still there in places, was kept at more minimal levels, compared to other MCU offerings. There was blood spilled in places throughout, but with it being mostly of the alien variety in color, I felt it minimized the jarring nature it would have had if it had all been red. Sexual content isn’t a concern, but allusions to sexism are in the film with comments made that some may not like to hear. Don’t go grabbing your pitchforks, as my preceding sentence makes it sound more unbearable than any of it is, but part of the message of the film is that women can do more than they are often believed to be able to do. While I believe that it is Biblical that men and women are given strengths and weaknesses that make us all unique to one another, I also agree with the film that women need not be helpless flowers. Beyond gender labels, the more resonant message to bring from the film is that heroes don’t give up, and if the film has a central message, that one is likely it.
All-in-all, I think the film is an imperfect success. By film’s end, I genuinely want to know more about the character, moving forward, and I had a great time. I wholeheartedly believe that there are better origin films in the MCU already (and still to be made), and my reviews would align with that estimation. Still, I don’t think this is a film that people should miss out on, especially in response to the pre-release drama. It gives men and women an interesting premise that unfolds with fun, nostalgic packaging. It zigs and zags within an until-now unexplored time period, and that causes some changes for the MCU from what we thought we knew to be, but it also gives us enough to look forward to, as well. Don’t let the haters dissuade you. Enjoy Captain Marvel for what it is: an oddly fun character introduction with charm and imperfections all its own. Even when it isn’t at its very best, the MCU is still much better than many could ever hope to create, and this film shows that.