“Does announcing your identity help with the covert part of the job?”
Let me begin by saying that actress Brie Larson doesn’t want me to write this review. It’s not that I didn’t like the film and intend to cut it down. Actually I rather liked the movie, and while it isn’t going to crack my top five Marvel films, it’s a very entertaining film that adds wonderfully to this always evolving world of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or as we fan geeks like to refer to it, the MCU. So she wouldn’t take much if any umbrage with my evaluation of the film. It turns out that I happen to be a white male, and she has made it known that she doesn’t want to see reviews for this film written by white males. Sorry, Brie. I suggest you skip this one. Just put it out of your mind. Still reading, Brie? I thought you might be. So, after a rather long wait for a movie only teased at in the final frames of a stinger added to Avengers: Infinity War, we finally get to meet the newest member of the Marvel MCU. Welcome, Carol Danvers, aka Captain Marvel, and as they used to say on the comic covers when welcoming new characters: I hope you survive.
The first version of Captain Marvel was created by Stan Lee and first appeared in the comic Marvel Superheroes # 12 in 1967. But that character has very little to do with the version we see on film. We do meet a version of this original character in the film. He was a Kree warrior named Mar-Vel, and there’s a rather nice homage to all of this in a pronunciation joke early in the film. It wasn’t until sometime later that Carol Danvers appears on the scene and becomes the version of Captain Marvel that we are introduced to in this film. It was a very good place to start, and while the character went through many incarnations both male and female, it is the Carol Danvers version created by Roy Thomas and Gene Colon that has captured the imagination of so many comic readers. She’s a wonderful choice to introduce the first solo female hero character to the MCU. Scarlett Johansson was truly the first out of the gate with The Black Widow, who has appeared in most of the Marvel films to date. But she is only now in the process of getting her own well-deserved solo film. Until then we have Brie Larson as Captain Marvel, both here in her origin film and in a few weeks when she arrives to save the day in Avengers: Endgame which will finish the story begun in Avengers: Infinity War. Of course this appears to be where Brie Larson takes exception with the likes of me writing a Captain Marvel review. She appears to believe that we white men want all of our heroes to look basically like us. She obvious hasn’t followed the nearly universal acclaim for the DC film Wonder Woman, where white guys like me called it the best DC film since the Donner Superman. Forget that we gave just as thunderous applause to the more recent Black Panther film, which has become one of the most successful films of all time. I was also high in my praise for both films. I don’t care what race, sex, religion, or other variables my film heroes have. As long as they are compelling characters recreated through solid performances and keep me entertained, they could be any of those things, and I will be there in my seat joining them for a ride. And by the way, Captain Marvel does most of those things, and some of them very well.
The film is rather hard to follow at first even if you are up on the comics. But it helps to have a pretty good background on that four-color printed world. We are introduced to two races that have been prominent in the entire Marvel universe since the 1960’s. Both have given us good and evil characters, so it won’t be quite so cut and dried who to root for. The Kree and The Skrulls have been at war for a long time. Carol Danvers (Larson) is a member of the Kree’s fighting forces, although she knows she’s not completely Kree physiologically. She has been mentored by Yon-Rogg, played by Jude Law. Danvers has developed to a point where she is about to enter the A.I. world of the race’s supreme commander. The A.I. is supposed to present as someone you trust, but Carol doesn’t appear to recognize the form which the rest of us recognize as Annette Bening. There she’s given her mission to stop the Skrulls from getting their hands on a powerful weapon/artifact. This mission will bring her to planet C-53, better known to the rest of us as Earth.
On Earth it’s the 1990’s, and we quickly meet younger versions of Nick Fury (Jackson) sans eye-patch and not-so-different-looking Coulson, played by fan favorite Clark Gregg. They work for the fledgling S. H. I. E. L. D. and come running when they hear reports of a strangely-clad woman who is shooting up a shop with some kind of power beams in her hands. The two suddenly find themselves in the middle of the Kree/Skrull struggle, and Earth is in a crap-load of alien danger if they can’t locate this power source and decide which side are the good guys. In other words, in the Marvel Universe, it’s Tuesday. During the struggle Danvers begins to unlock parts of her submerged memories, and she makes some startling discoveries about who she is and the part she has already played in this intergalactic drama. Wouldn’t want to reveal too much here, as this is where the story finally becomes grounded after an awkward first half hour that isn’t going to be a smooth ride for the uninitiated.
The first point I’d like to make is that the Marvel folks really did a great job of making the familiar Marvel opening scroll an emotional tribute to Stan Lee. Of course, Captain Marvel is the first of these films to release after his passing. You will also get to see one of his final filmed cameos that is equally touching, enhanced by a wonderful reaction from Brie Larson that I suspect might have been added in the aftermath of Lee’s leaving us. It’s simply a wonderful moment.
The film attempts to throw us directly into the action of the Kree/Skrull war, which I really believe was a mistake. The screening was attended by one of the press guests who was completely lost for that 30 minutes or so. I understand the concept, but Marvel should have worked to ease us into the action with some background like they have in previous films. The Black Panther is an excellent example of how to do this well, and it’s a terribly blown missed opportunity for this film. I suggest you check some back issues of Marvel comics including a generous helping of The Fantastic Four if you need to catch up on these two warring races. The early Captain Marvel titles won’t help here, as her origin story has been significantly altered here and told in pieces throughout the film. This concept I actually agree with and rather liked. We get an origin story without having to necessarily start at the beginning. It’s well done, and Larson gets the opportunity to provide some wonderful emotional beats as her own story unfolds for her at the same pace it does for us. We also find ourselves getting to know her as a person before the super stuff gets fully charged and soon dominates the screen and the story.
The Skrulls are the real welcome moment beyond getting our first glimpse of a new hero. These guys have been a huge part of the Marvel comic universe, and there was a big chance they could have been screwed up on film. They are a huge part of the Fantastic Four world, and I suspect that with the Fox acquisition nearly completed, this film is going to lead us toward that entrance into the MCU. What was done with them here makes me hopeful. It’s a nice blend of practical f/x, motion-capture CG, and actually adding some depth too, at least with Ben Mendelsohn who plays the leading Skrull. He’s a wonderful choice who brings all of the “fake” stuff to life and allows this alien to develop chemistry with both Jackson and Larson to a point you accept him for who/what he is. The alienness doesn’t distract you from the drama, and he adds just that right light touch of humor to the role.
The film borrows a little from the tone of The Guardians of the Galaxy and fits more with that style than elsewhere in the MCU. You get some great female pop songs from the 90’s, and they play the time period out quite well. There’s a pretty neat emphasis on the slow computer technology of the 90’s, providing some of the best humor of the film. Unfortunately, too many of the younger audience don’t really remember things like 386 computers or dial-up connections. I’m not sure if the film made me feel old or just wise to the winks from the screen. I’m going to go with the wise part. There is some wonderful humor here. Much of it comes from Samuel Jackson, of course. But Larson has this kind of wicked little smile that adds tremendously to both the film and her character. She delivers a strong performance, but it’s the chemistry she developed with Jackson that will give this material legs going forward. They take to each other almost immediately, and that’s only going to enhance her entrance into the MCU going forward.
Marvel will have to be careful how they use this character. She is unarguably one of the physically strongest characters in the universe. She’s practically indestructible and can level legions of enemies with blasts from her hands. There is a very real danger of her just being too powerful for us to feel any emotional care/worry when she is in peril. She’s Marvel’s version of Superman, and I hope they use her wisely. If they do, she is a pretty solid new piece of the Marvel pie, and there have been some wonderfully emotional beats for her in her comic book history. She has suffered from alcoholism and having the great power corrupt who she is. In the comics she relies on friends and comrades to deal with such frailty, and I hope it carries over in the MCU.
Captain Marvel is loaded with the kind of huge f/x moments you have come to expect from these films. There’s a ton of money up on that screen. For the most part it’s pretty good. But toward the climax there are too many moments when everything, including Danvers, is a product of CGI, and it rather stands out. Those moments took me from the film, and Marvel has to find a credible way out of such moments. It’s not a problem unique to Marvel. Aquaman was certainly plagued with the same issues. These comic hero films feel the need to be bigger and expand the entire universe. It’s where some of the genre criticism lands with more impact. I tend to phase out of a film when it starts to look too much like a cartoon.
All in all it’s a fun ride with some very nice performances. The two hours is a smart move. It goes by quite quickly. We’ll see Danvers again in just a few weeks, so there was no need to tax our attention with a longer film now. Carol Danvers is now established and will be integrated with The Avengers: Endgame. We’re going to get plenty of Carol Danvers. Hopefully Brie Larson will be okay with my writing the review. I liked your film, Brie. “Space invasion, big car chase… truth be told, I was ready to hang it up till I met you today.”