Sunday, March 24, 2019

Captain Marvel

Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck.
2019. Rated PG-13, 124 minutes.
Brie Larson
Samuel L. Jackson
Jude Law
Ben Mendelsohn
Lashana Lynch
Annette Benning
Akira Akbar
Clark Gregg
Gemma Chan
Djimon Hounsou
Lee Pace

Our heroine is a mighty Kree soldier with some special abilities. The Kree are an alien race of noble heroes, emphasis on the heroes. Their main mission is defending themselves and everyone else from the Skrull, a race of nefarious shape-shifters who resemble lizards in their natural state. However, there's another issue. Our heroine isn't real sure of who she is. She doesn't remember anything before pretty recently. While fighting the Skrull, she finds herself on planet C-53, aka Earth, after crashing through the roof of a Blockbuster in sunny California in 1995. Since it was obviously a noisy arrival, she's soon in contact with a young (via cgi), but still seasoned agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., Nick Fury (Jackson). She fills him on the Skrull, gets him to partner up with her, also meets rookie S.H.I.E.L.D. agent by the name of Coulson (Gregg), and most importantly, starts figuring out that she might actually be from Earth. Lots of putting together of twos and twos ensues.

Captain Marvel has two big things in its favor: the Marvel formula and what it does with its lone plot twist. The former keeps things from getting bogged down even when the plot is trying pretty hard to do just that. It is an origin story so it's naturally slower than many of its genre mates as it introduces us to, and develops, a number of characters and relationships. For reasons I'll go into later, that part of the movie isn't as compelling as in other MCU movies. What the formula does is pull the type of sleight of hand that would make David Blaine proud. It tells us to pick any card from this regular deck, has us put it back without looking, and throws all fifty-two at the wall. Fifty-one fall away. The card that sticks is signed "Tesseract," and we all say, "Ooooh." If we start to get bored another time, here come the jokes, mostly via Samuel L. Jackson cutely interacting with a cat. All of this works. We get a good number of chuckles and get caught up in yet another MacGuffin chase.

While the formula keeps things chugging along through the first half of the movie, the plot twist adds enough weight to keep the second half from floating away on the breeze the formula creates. It takes Captain Marvel from being an empty superhero flick to one that has at least a little something on its mind. Granted, it's pretty low-hanging fruit given today's socio-political climate, but it's well-handled, for the most part. There's nothing groundbreaking, but it is relevant. The real prize this gives viewers is someone and something to root for. Before that, we have one in name that our head tells us we should, but not one that drags us into this fight by heart. Now we're getting back to the reasons certain aspects don't work.

I don't read reviews of movies I plan on writing about until after I've done so. I made no exceptions for Captain Marvel. However, I mistakenly watched a few YouTube videos ranking all of the MCU movies. Invariably, they gave their thoughts on each film, including this one. The thing that kept coming up is that the main character felt distant, or didn't let us in, making it hard to connect with her on an emotional level. I agree. Some blamed this on Larson's performance. I don't agree with that. My beef is with the writers. The plot hinges on her amnesia. In trying to make it clear how little she knows of her own past while simultaneously keeping viewers as much in the dark as possible, they made her a totally blank slate. Every character of consequence, save for Fury - who finds out things as she does, projects whatever they want to believe onto her. Larson plays to this, presumably to also keep things under wraps. The result of the words on the page coming together with a performance that stays true to them is a heroine we only pull for because she is the main character in a superhero flick, not because her plight has grabbed us in any tangible way.

Black Panther suffered from similar problems. In that film, the titular character is rendered damsel in distress for a huge chunk of its runtime. However, the rest of the characters are so dynamic they more than make up for it. On the good guys' side, Captain Marvel does much the same, just to a bit lesser degree. Nick Fury steals the show in his biggest role in any of the MCU movies to date. It's also one of the most fun performances in Samuel L. Jackson's career. Lashana Lynch and Akira Akbar handle much of the emotional heft as mother and daughter Maria and Monica Rambeau, respectively. After the twist some more characters show up to help in that regard. While this makes Captain Marvel one of the least interesting people in her own movie, the others do their part to make it work.

The real issue is that Captain Marvel lacks the one thing that elevates Black Panther to greatness, a strong villain. While that movie's Killmonger is arguably the MCU's best, the eventual bad guys here are some of its worse. There isn't anything particularly bad about them, except in totality. They are generic and unmemorable. Despite being played by a pair of very talented and well-seasoned actors, they never rise above our sense that they can't beat the protagonist. There is a difference between thinking the hero will eventually win and thinking they can't lose. The former leaves room for the doubt that creates intrigue while the latter zaps that very thing.

Luckily the movie does the superhero stuff well. Larson is more than up for the physicality of the role. Because of this the action scenes work. When action scenes work we can have fun watching a movie. And so, when things get going it's a blast. Some viewers might be put off by the fact that her powers are a bit murky. I see this as a plus because Captain Marvel herself is still discovering what she can do. The evolution of her powers throughout the film is an organic fit. It also helps to do the one thing a Marvel movie must: set up the next entry in the franchise. When the film ends we know she is powerful but don't know her limits (comic book fans aside, of course). This bodes well for Avengers: Endgame. It also keeps this movie on the positive side of the ledger. Captain Marvel has some glaring faults, but none are egregious enough to make it a bad experience. It's a solid enough watch that seems to have a promising sequel in its future. And I don't mean Endgame.


  1. I can agree with you that film does have its faults as the first act does feel rushed. Yet, once it gets grounded on Earth where Danvers meets Fury and learns more about herself and the stakes. That's where I feel the film really gets going while I also commend the writers/directors for bringing in some emotional weight once Danvers meets the Rambeaus who also help ground the film. Seeing Samuel L. Jackson be relaxed and humorous in the film was a joy. It showed a side of Fury that wasn't cynical but someone who gets to smile and also sing some soul classics.

  2. You're so right about Danvers as a character and it not being down to Brie Larson.
    I liked this one more and more as it went on. The beginning was really confusing and kind of all over the place.

    1. It certainly found its footing as it went on.

  3. I liked Carol. I thought she was sassy and funny. I liked T'challa too, I don't know, the characters were both likable. I really enjoyed the Skrull twist here, that was unexpected and provided a very nice message in the movie

    1. Both Danvers and T' Challa are very likable, just not as interesting as others in their own movies. And the Skrull twist made the film work.

  4. I think this is probably middle of the pact MCU movies for me, but that's still very good.I did like Carol, and I kind of wonder if she'll go along the lines of Doctor Strange and really come to life once she starts bouncing off the other Avengers?

    1. Middle of the pack is right... probably lower middle, but still a decent flick.

  5. Great review. I do agree the villains are pretty thin. But I looked at them as really secondary to this particular story. It was so much more about her search for identity. Even battling the baddies fed that search. I kinda liked that smaller scope. But the Skrull twist...still mixed on that.

    1. Fair point about the villains being secondary to the story. They most certainly were. Agreed, the smaller scope works well for this movie.

  6. I really enjoyed this, especial Larson, Jackson and Mendelsohn’s performances, and Goose, but you’re so right about the villain as he was yet another of those weak, forgettable Marvel villains. Nice review!

  7. I think you hit the nail on the head when describing this film's problems. You never really connect with the hero and, therefore, aren't invested in her success. Also her success is all but guaranteed because she's too powerful for anyone in the movie to take on. There reached a point where I was left wondering why the film was going on at all because she's now gone super saiyan and her power level is over 5000 so why is the fight still happening?
    I'm hoping for a more active Captain Marvel in her sequel.