I saw Captain Marvel on the opening weekend, and I was glad to be part of the huge opening weekend, the >$1 billion box office and the overwhelming positive reviews for a movie that the (male) haters were negative-review bombing without seeing the film and trying to stop from becoming the huge success that it is. It took too long for Marvel to make a film starring a female superhero as the lead character, and there is still a long way to go in balancing the scales, but this film certainly goes some way to redress the embarrassing oversight.
A brief plot overview: Vers (Brie Larson) is a Kree warrior with immense power, but she has difficulty controlling it, even under the careful tutelage of her superior officer, Yon-Rogg (Jude Law). She also has strange dreams of another life, one she can’t remember because she doesn’t have any memories beyond a few years before, when she was brought to Hala, centre of the Kree Empire. The empire is protecting itself from shapeshifting Skrulls, who lure them into a trap in order to capture Vers, because she has a secret to something they are trying to find, which seems to be located on Earth. She manages to escape their ship and crash lands on Earth, in 1995, where she interacts with a young Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson), a two-eyed agent of SHIELD, while being pursued by the Skrulls, led by Talos (Ben Mendelsohn), and waiting pick up from Yon-Rogg. In trying to uncover the truth, she learns more about herself than she thought possible …
This is an interesting film in that it is not what we now know as a traditional origin story – it’s not about somebody without powers who gains them and learns how to use them for a noble reason; Carol Danvers (she is not called Captain Marvel at all in the movie) already has powers, she knows how to handle herself and is extremely capable. This film is a voyage of discovery for the central character to find out who she really is. It makes for a refreshing change.
This is also an interesting film because it is blatantly, gloriously and delightfully a feminist movie – there are so many scenes that are about the control of women by men and the attitude towards women in general. The final face-off between Yon-Rogg and Carol crackles with this dynamic and the resolution is particularly beautiful (‘I have nothing to prove to you’), but it permeates the film and develops it in a non-preachy fashion.
The film does a lot of other things right. It fits into the MCU extremely well in setting itself up as a prequel to the films to come, without it being a detriment to the story. It plays a lovely bit of misdirect on the motivation and character of the Skrulls to the long-term fans (and Mendelsohn is a delight as Talos, his dry sense of humour shining through even while he plays naturally scary). It has a Flerken as a major plot device, for crying out loud – the MCU has so much confidence that an alien cat with a pocket dimension inside is a natural part of the story, and nobody bats an eyelid (well, perhaps not Fury anymore …).
Talking of Fury, the de-ageing of Jackson looks great (although I don’t think it worked as smoothly on Clark Gregg as Coulson), and Jackson seems to be having a ball playing a younger version of the character. He also has some great ‘odd couple’ chemistry with Larson, as does Lashana Lynch as Maria Rambeau, Carol’s best friend from her air force days – it’s great to see a female friendship at the heart of the still male-centric MCU – and long-time Marvel fans can revel in the setting up of Monica Rambeau as Photon/Spectrum/whatever she’s called now for the present day. The other big names do a good job – Law plays his part perfectly as the abusive commander, and Annette Benning has fun in the dual roles she has, so much so that it makes you want more of her in the film.
But it is Larson who shines (literally, in this case) – she’s the perfect blend of confident, vulnerable, funny, strong-headed, determined and heroic, and she’s perfect for the role. It’s also nice to see an Academy Award winner for Best Actress make the move into a lead role in a geek film and come out of it well (compare with Halle Berry in Catwoman and Charlize Theron in Aeon Flux). She inhabits the role of Carol Danvers, and she’s the perfect choice, so I’m really looking forward to the sequels (and I’d be very happy if they got Kamala Khan as Ms Marvel in there as well).
Credit to co-writers/co-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck: they do a good job with a tough proposition. The film’s not perfect – it takes a while to get started, and some of the hand-to-hand combat is not staged well (for example, the fight between Fury and Talos in human form in the army base is badly staged and cut) – but when it gets going, it soars, and the film has a whole lot of heart and a fantastic soundtrack.
A final note: the film has a Stan Lee cameo I enjoyed, and which had an extra resonance, having him practise his lines from Kevin Smith’s Mallrats, which came out in the year the film takes place, and was the first role in which he really played himself and thus is the connective tissue with all his Marvel cameos. I’m a fan of Mallrats, so this was a nice touch, and I got to explain to my 12-year-old MCU-loving nephew (who watches all the YouTube videos where people explain the films before they come out) precisely why the Stan Lee cameo had an extra dimension, because he had no idea …