Captain Marvel, 2019.
Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck.
Starring Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Annette Bening, Gemma Chan, Lashana Lynch, Kenneth Mitchell, Colin Ford, Chuku Modu, Robert Kazinsky, Lee Pace, Mckenna Grace, Djimon Hounsou, Rune Temte, Jude Law, and Clark Gregg.
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.
At this point in the MCU it’s safe to say that origin stories need a little something extra to avoid resonating as filler for the next team-up extravaganza, which in the case of Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel (Brie Larson, who has apparently crushed the egos of fragile men, mostly white, everywhere based on comments from last year taken out of context that have been spun into a trolling campaign that continues to get dumber with each new daily YouTube talking head conspiracy theory) is a teaser of her otherworldly unprecedented powers. After all, Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury wouldn’t use his flash of dusting to make contact with her if she wasn’t capable of saving the universe from an intergalactic threat not even The Avengers could contend against.
For clarification, Captain Marvel would still be an above average, fairly worthwhile entry into the extended universe without that climactic demonstration of planet-saving destruction, but many of the plot beats here are familiar and predictable. Helmed by the dynamite directing duo of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (both also serve as co-writers to the script alongside a noteworthy number of female writers), the narrative follows Carol Danvers (referred to as Vers) as a Kree Starforce soldier carrying out missions against the Skrulls, a species of green aliens with nefarious intentions that can alter their DNA and bodies to shapeshift into anything that crosses their line of sight. It’s also not a secret to Carol’s peers that she is more gifted than the rest of her kind (she resides on the planet Hala, which is aesthetically pleasing in its bright lights, layered environments, and futuristic design although we don’t really spend enough time there to truly make it stand out as a distinct planet), which has her commander Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) giving her one-on-one combat seminars regarding keeping her abilities and emotions in check.
Nevertheless, an operation quickly goes literally south, as Carol Danvers escapes a battle between the alien races unscathed but also plummets from one planet to Earth, crashing right into a nostalgic Blockbuster Video store from the 90s. Keep in mind, The Skrulls can tamper with memories, unintentionally revealing to Carol a past life on Earth (seemingly one as a human being) in their quest to locate the whereabouts of technology capable of crafting lightspeed aircraft. It’s standard sci-fi fare in terms of the discovery of one’s true self and what really happened, and I don’t think there are many moviegoers that will have problems figuring it all out by the end of Act I.
Fortunately, Brie Larson is rather good in the role; she’s outstanding at maintaining battle-hardened prose while also delivering smartass quips similar to Tony Stark. She especially has terrific chemistry with Sam Jackson (it also needs to be mentioned that the de-aging process is unreal and rarely looks noticeable or out of place, even during sudden bursts of movement/combat that one would presume would result in a glaring stutter for the visual effects), who is obviously his naturally likeable funny self. If we’re going to do more fish-out-of-water humor in superhero movies, it’s certainly a wise choice to bring him along for the ride and to nostalgically rib on the frustrations of the Internet during its infancy (floppy disks, unbearably long loading times, and more remind us of darker times and the evolution of technology). Anyway, the pair play off each other superbly, whether they are sneaking around science laboratories or becoming distracted by an adorable cat. And without saying much, that cat is more important to the plot then you probably think…
However, by far the smartest creative decision is casting Ben Mendelsohn as head Skrull, Talos; not only does the villain also get some amusing comedic moments due to earthly inexperience, he’s also another morally complex individual that shows Marvel is continuing to step up their bad guy game. The only issue is that he’s not exactly well-written (after the movie you will probably question his motivations at various junctures of the story realizing that not everything adds up as soundly as it should), and that it’s mostly the acting talent of Ben Mendelsohn alone (he also gave an incredible performance working with the directors on the underseen Mississippi Grind) that gets you invested in his emotional character arc. This also might be heresy to state about Marvel’s first female-led superhero movie, but he’s easily the best character.
Further confirmation arrives that Ben Mendelsohn is doing his best to salvage a by-the-numbers origin story script when it becomes apparent that other subplots involving supporting characters don’t really register as anything substantial. Carol Danvers reunites with a pilot friend named Maria (Lashana Lynch) from her former life on Earth but it surprisingly doesn’t carry much weight. I’m assuming they will do more with the character (and her daughter that Carol treats as her niece in a few touching scenes) down the road, although it still feels that more could have been done here, especially considering Captain Marvel is surprisingly short for a Marvel movie, clocking in at just below two hours. The same goes for the cosmic material, including a showdown with a supernatural entity that ends just as it’s becoming unbelievably trippy fun. Jude Law is also underwritten and wasted, playing straight up generic-ness for the genre.
Needless to say, Brie Larson more than carries the movie with her no-nonsense grunge attitude (she wears a Nine Inch Nails shirt for roughly a third of the movie, which should automatically earn anything some brownie points). There are also some thoughtful thematic touches regarding not restraining a woman’s emotions and setting her free to be herself. Sure, it all inevitably boils down to good versus evil and doing the right thing, but there are a handful of scenes that will no doubt inspire women all around the world, across all nationalities and cultures. Not to mention, the appropriately 90s soundtrack frequently utilizes songs vocalized by women, including a no-brainer selection during one of the exciting final battles. Even the original score was composed by a woman, Pinar Toprak, a first for the saga.
No, it shouldn’t have taken anywhere near this long for Marvel to finally commit to a female-centered superhero flick, but better late than never. It certainly more than makes up for Captain Marvel being another spin of the wheel as far as origin stories go. Let’s just hope that Avengers: Endgame follows through on something Carol Danvers asks herself: “what happens when I am finally set free”? Yeah, you’re kind of screwed Thanos; start anticipating the meltdown from insecure men everywhere when The Avengers requires her assistance to save the world. As far as Captain Marvel goes as its own franchise, it will certainly be interesting to see how Marvel tackles future installments for this now overpowered but compelling godlike intergalactic warrior.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com