Kree warrior Vers with no memory of her past crash-lands in planet C-53 (it’s Earth, nothing special) and crosses paths with agent Nick Fury, who’s only just trying to understand what’s next for SHIELD. Things are about to get really interesting.
2 hours of literal and allegorical perfection. Highly Recommended.
Buckle up, people. In only the second film within the Marvel Cinematic Universe that’s also kinda-sorta a period piece, agents Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson; Glass, 2018) and Coulson (Clark Gregg; In Good Company, 2004) are only just discovering S.H.I.E.L.D.’s mission statement in the ‘90s, when—lo and behold—a blockbuster (pun intended) case pivots it in the direction we all know of today. On the surface, Captain Marvel looks like any other superhero origin story to hit cinemas—and in a timeline that’s quite overwhelmingly saturated with films in the superhero sub-genre, it’s quite easy to cast a disdainful eye on it.
The sentiment wouldn’t entirely be unjustified. Within a little more than the last 12 months alone, we’ve seen as many as nine superhero movies (and no, we’re not counting the weaksauce PG-13 remix of Deadpool 2). Barring a few notable exceptions, like Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther or Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman, among others, you’d think most movies within the spectrum seem to have taken all possible roads narratively, with little else left to cover. Banding together with co-writer Geneva Robertson-Dworet (Tomb Raider, 2018) however, filmmaking duo Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Mississippi Grind, 2015) whip up a film that, within its three acts, subverts just about every trope it uses. (Also there’s a cat for the cherry on top of the icing, so there’s that).
[…] when the other shoe drops in the third act, it makes a huge impact.
Captain Marvel is roughly two hours and ten minutes long, which is crisp enough for a big blockbuster, but there’s a whole lot that it unpacks within the narrative—which is why, unsurprisingly, writing this review was difficult. But let’s start from the beginning. The film’s gorgeously shot opening moments, which are worth the price of your IMAX ticket alone—in spite of the jarring shifts between aspect ratios, of course—lead us into the life of Vers (Brie Larson; Room, 2015), her training as an intergalactic Kree soldier, and her lack of memory. These twenty minutes beautifully lay the foundations for what’s about to come, while—if you’re able to spot it, of course—simultaneously taking a subtle dig at the wise-man trope in many noted films featuring physically strong women in the lead.
Yon-Rogg (Jude Law; Sherlock Holmes, 2011) is essentially Captain Marvel’s Friendly Neighborhood MentorTM; the kind of leader whose toxic ideas on “controlling your emotions” are legitimately the most problematic of all tropes in any movie ever. (This discussion is a whole can of worms and deserves its own space, but Jonathan McIntosh’s video on the Jedi Order is a terrific place to start if you’d like). The entire first act is played entirely straight—almost to appease to the broader audience and make them feel comfortable—until the narrative shifts gears and crashlands into the buddy-cop-meets-espionage territory. If you weren’t too careful, you’d be furious about the change in tone and question it till the end of time (where is my traditional movie?).
Brie Larson stars in Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck's Captain Marvel, a Marvel Studios and Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures release.
Stick around though, and it will get progressively clearer there’s a good reason for it. While the film might give its audience a roller-coaster ride through spectacle—a jaw-dropping set-piece on a train is in line with Black Panther’s fight-chase hybrid in South Korea, Captain America: Civil War’s frenetic bike chase and practically anything in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2—the makers ensure it’s all sprinkled between strong character progression, all the while taking clever jabs at male ego and harmful government propaganda. The latter is specifically why when the other shoe drops in the third act, it makes a huge impact.
The exploration of the politically fraught relationship between the Skrull and Kree, established with the kind of indifference you’d expect from someone talking about politics in simplistic binaries, comes full circle with an incredible payoff that… without spoiling too much, let’s just say it’s admirable to watch on the big screen. The allegories here may seem simplistic, probably to be accessible to a general audience, but the discussions it promises for analysis and critique are rife with endless possibilities. If nothing, this admittedly bold narrative decision will break down why a lot of the world’s most topical political discussions exist today and must continue to in the future.
[Larson’s] an incredible talent—which, if it’s not obvious… we really need to have a little chat.
Keeping all of these nuances and real-world metaphors in mind, it’s quite easy to see why Larson specifically was the perfect choice for the role of the primary protagonist. While she’s an incredible talent—which, if it’s not apparent… we really need to have a little chat—the strength with which she’s been vocal on aspects of gender disparity, and the call for diversity in entertainment journalism are just a few of the many, many reasons. Sure, those attributes wouldn’t usually justify someone’s presence in any movie, but—and it cannot be said enough—she’s an incredible actor. From her body language to how she chooses to become these different people over these different points in time, she looks effortless—and let’s just say viewers like us can only imagine how much physical and emotional energy it takes to look and perform like that.
Larson’s chemistry with Jackson, who’s unsurprisingly great as always, is an absolute breeze to watch, and together, they literally drive the second act. Of course, here, we’re also introduced to Ben Mendelsohn (Ready Player One, 2018) and Lashana Lynch (Fast Girls, 2011), both of whom are consistent scene-stealers. Lynch, in particular, is incredible—that momentary lapse of accent aside. Her hyper-focus on the emotional beats of the role of Maria Rambeau lend a significant emotional heft to Captain Marvel, and it just needs to be seen to be believed. The relationship she has with Vers throws light on just how much we require strong friendships that aren’t toxic in nature—true friends favor mutual empowerment—thereby actively calling out the Mean Best Friends trope. It needs to die. It really just needs to die.
Think of Captain Marvel as a Phase One movie (remember when watching and enjoying Iron Man didn’t necessarily require entry into a whole taxing mythos?), except the best kind. Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck take the bold step of actually confronting hard political questions a big movie like this usually shies away from, while also breaking down the sort of toxic norms that you’d otherwise consider reasonable. Brie Larson is fantastic as the titular character. Her aside though, there’s also Ben Mendelsohn, Lashana Lynch, and Goose the cat! GOOSE THE CAT! How can you not l—
It’s perfect and fantastic and incredible and entertaining, and worth a whole bunch of rewatches. Seriously.