Directors: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
Starring: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Jude Law, Annette Bening, Lashana Lynch, Clark Gregg, Rune Temte, Gemma Chan, Algenis Perez Soto, Djimon Hounsou, Lee Pace, Chuku Modu, Matthew Maher, Akira Akbar
Words: Toni Stanger
As the first female-fronted superhero film from Marvel Studios, it’s no coincidence that Captain Marvel arrived just in time for Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day. Being the first of its kind, Captain Marvel has faced unfair high pressure to perform better than other origin stories within the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
Since the release of its first poster, many men have been calling for Oscar-winning-actress Brie Larson to smile more (which she responded to perfectly). The worst backlash, however, came from a misinterpreted interview with Marie Claire. Larson noticed her press days were filled with white men and she wanted to diversify them in order to provide fresh perspectives from LGBT people and people of colour. Many men took this as a personal attack which resulted in them review bombing the film on Rotten Tomatoes before it had even been released. Larson had to clarify that she didn’t want to remove white men from the table, but add more people to it.
In Captain Marvel, there’s a very fitting scene where a man tells her to smile. As this was already in the film, an interviewer asked Larson if art was predicting life, but she said: “No, that’s just depiction of the female experience.” Despite the rising Girl Power attached to the film’s marketing, the film itself keeps this very subtle. It’s a subtlety that speaks to women on a personal level, one that some men might not even notice. But if they do, it really is telling of what the female experience is like and shouldn’t be hidden just because Captain Marvel is a powerful superhero.
We first meet Carol Danvers on the Kree planet of Hala where she is known as Vers (pronounced Veers). She remembers nothing from her past, but is plagued by dreams – or perhaps nightmares – of scattered memories. During the past six years, Carol has been training with the elite Starforce to defeat the Skrulls, an alien race of shape-shifters who have been at war with the Kree for centuries. During her sparring matches with mentor Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), she is often told to control herself as her emotions make her weak. Kree soldiers tend to remain impassive, but women are usually scolded by letting their emotions get the best of them in any situation. We get the feeling that Carol doesn’t like being told what to do.
Carol heads to the Kree’s Supreme Intelligence to find out if she’s ready to join Yon-Rogg’s team on their next mission. As the Supreme Intelligence takes on the form on the person you admire the most, Carol is puzzled when she comes face-to-face with the woman (Annette Bening) she sees in her dreams – a woman she doesn’t remember. Approved for the mission, Carol is captured in battle by Skrull commander Talos (Ben Mendelsohn), who digs around in her memories for a key detail they need. Writer-director duo Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden effectively give us a sneak into Carol’s past without lengthening the film’s runtime with filler. After putting up a good fight, Carol escapes and crash-lands on Planet C-53, also known as Earth.
It’s 1995. There are Blockbuster stores, dial-up internet, pagers and grunge fashion. There’s also Samuel L. Jackson reprising his role as S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Nick J. Fury (with spectacular de-ageing effects). Still having both of his eyes, Captain Marvel serves as his origin story as well as Carol’s. Not knowing who she is or where she belongs, it’s here on Earth where Carol’s story really kicks off. Larson and Jackson take on a buddy-cop dynamic and their on-screen chemistry is electric. The 90s setting is a nostalgia-filled-dream as we get to laugh at Carol typing slowly on an old computer in an internet café. It’s also delightful to watch Fury embrace his inner cat lady with the introduction of Goose the cat who is adorable and full of surprises.
Larson is captivating as Captain Marvel, creating believable relationships with each cast member. The introduction of her best friend Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch) and her 11-year-old daughter Monica (Akira Akbar), who calls her “Auntie Carol”, is something very special. It’s refreshing to see a female friendship be explored instead of a romantic subplot, especially when romance tends to be included even when unnecessary. It’s also empowering that Maria reminds Carol of who she is, instead of a male love interest. It’s a breath of fresh air to take a step back from the male gaze, which is perhaps why Captain Marvel may resonate more with women than it will with men. Maria and Monica are both strong women whose roles are played perfectly.
There are excellent 90s music cues – ‘Only Happy When It Rains’ by Garbage stands out the most – but not all of them work. There’s a fight scene to No Doubt’s ‘Just A Girl’ where some moves are choreographed to the song, but not the sequence as a whole, which leaves it feeling misplaced. The music is something that could’ve really spiced up occasional moments of blandness, yet it fails to integrate it as well as the Guardians of the Galaxy films did. Instead, the directors seem to keep the overall feel similar to their previous works (Half Nelson, It’s Kind of a Funny Story) when the atmosphere should’ve been more fun and fulfilling.
Whilst Carol had her identity taken away from her, it never seemed to hinder her. When she falls down, she always gets back up. At the end, Carol Danvers knows who she is. But do we? She is a fairly guarded character, especially considering her Kree training, but we see the snarky, fun and loving sides of her personality come out throughout the film. Carol’s main character development comes from her finally learning how to harness her powers, but hopefully we’ll see more of her fun side shine through in Avengers: Endgame as she interacts with the other characters. Will we get banter with Tony Stark? We can only hope. There’s no denying that Captain Marvel is insanely powerful.
Whilst it could’ve been a lot more exciting, Captain Marvel holds attention with its twists, turns and effective characters. It’s a classic origin story that aligns well within the MCU. It serves as a great bridge to Endgame whilst delivering a solid introduction to one of the most powerful characters in the universe. It should be cathartic to watch Captain Marvel battle Thanos, who is one of the most evil and fleshed-out villains in the franchise. This is what we’ve all been waiting for.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Captain Marvel has finally arrived.