Josh Reviews Captain Marvel
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It’s been a long time coming, but here, at last, is the first Marvel Cinematic Universe film focusing on a solo female super-hero! (Last year’s Ant Man and the Wasp featured Evangeline Lilly as the Wasp, though she shared title billing with Paul Rudd’s Ant Man.) Brie Larson stars as Carol Danvers. When the movie opens, Carol, known as Viers, is serving as a super-powered soldier for the Kree, an intergalactic race at war with the shape-shifting Skulls. Carol/Viers has no memory of her past prior to six years ago, when she awoke after a crash and was rescued by the Kree soldier Yon-Vogg (Jude Law). When their unit is ambushed by Skulls, Carol winds up trapped, alone, on Earth, where she discovers that she had a past here. She meets up with Nick Fury, a young (two-eyed) agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., and the two team up to attempt to discover Carol’s past and the secret that so many seem to be after.
Captain Marvel is great fun. It’s a delight to see this strong, powerful female super-hero brought to life on-screen, and Brie Larson is great in the role. The secret ingredient to the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s success has been the impeccable casting of its main characters, and the win streak continues here with Brie Larson. Ms. Larson absolutely looks the part, but far more importantly is the way this Oscar-winning actress is able to handle the film’s emotional beats. In fact, she’s at her best in the film’s quiet moments, interacting with characters like Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch), or Maria’s young daughter Monica (Akira Akbar).
The film takes place in 1995, before all of the other Marvel Cinematic Universe films, and so in many respects it serves as an origin story of sorts for the MCU, and there are lots of fun connections to be found. Samuel L. Jackson gets his largest role yet in the MCU as a younger version of Nick Fury (who has not yet lost his eye). It’s great that Fury is basically the co-lead in the film. Samuel L. Jackson has a lot of fun playing this looser, less-serious version of Fury, and it’s a delight. I love seeing this Fury who laughs and smiles and washes dishes and makes goo-goo noises at a cute cat. I was also delighted to see Clark Gregg back as Phil Coulson, for his first film appearance since getting murdered by Loki in Avengers. (Mr. Gregg has reprised Coulson as the lead character of the TV series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but this is his first time popping back up as the character in the MCU film series.) Clark Gregg is always a delight, and he gets some fun moments here.
Both Mr. Jackson and Mr. Gregg have been digitally de-aged for the film, so that they appear 25 years younger. This is a magnificent achievement, a nearly-invisible visual effect that nevertheless represents an incredible amount of effort from an army of talented visual effects artists. It’s extraordinary what Marvel its able to accomplish in terms of the visual effects for its films these days. (Actually, these nearly-invisible visual effects triumphs are far better than some of the more obvious CGI shots. As an example, I wasn’t entirely convinced by some of the action shots of Carol taking on three Kree destroyers in Earth orbit in the film’s climax. Some of those shots of her zipping around in space had a bit of a fake CGI look to them.)
I was delighted to get to see Hala (the capital of the Kree empire) and lots more of the Kree. The Kree Ronan the Accuser was the villain of the first Guardians of the Galaxy, but he was depicted as a renegade and was basically the only Kree we saw on-screen. So it’s fun to get to explore Kree society in this film. I was fascinated by what we saw. I loved the gorgeous glimpses we got of the huge futuristic cities on Hala, and I loved all of the Kree characters in Yon-Rogg’s “Starforce” unit. I was absolutely tickled to see the Supreme Intelligence — the A.I. leader of the Kree empire — depicted on-screen. (I was hoping we’d get one shot of the classic huge green face-blob creature from the comics, but I wasn’t really expecting to see that, and I was pleased by the clever way the Supreme Intelligence was represented.)
Seeing young versions of Fury and Coulson weren’t the only fun aspects of this film’s nineteen-nineties setting. It was a hoot to see Lee Pace back as Ronan, still working for the Kree government. I was also very happy to see Djimon Hounsou back as Korath (also returning from the first Guardians of the Galaxy). During this film, Korath was a noble hero of the Kree, working for Yon-Rogg, but we know he’ll eventually follow Ronan into exile. There were lots of nineties touches in the film, from Carol’s crashing into a Blockbuster video to the Nine Inch Nails t-shirt she sports for a while in the middle of the film, and some of the film’s nineties soundtrack choices were artfully done. (I laughed a lot when we see Carol doing an internet search using Alta Vista.)
Captain Marvel doesn’t have the enormous galactic stakes of a film like Avengers: Infinity War, nor does it have the laugh-a-minute humor of the Guardians of the Galaxy or Ant Man film series. It’s easier to go for a funny/hip tone, but Captain Marvel sets itself the more-difficult challenge of being straightforward and heartfelt. At this, the film mostly succeeds. I think this film stands proudly alongside the other solo-hero debut films that have come earlier in the Marvel film series (films like Captain America: The First Avenger, Thor, and Doctor Strange).
If the film has a weakness, it’s that it feels a little paint-by-numbers at times, in that events mostly unfold in a predictable manner, and, with one terrific exception, there’s not much grey in the film: characters are either very good or very evil. It feels a little simplistic.
Ok, we’re going to dig a little deeper now, so please beware SPOILERS ahead, folks!
In the lead-up to Captain Marvel’s release, everyone involved in the film played very coy as to what role Jude Law was playing. Many suspected that he’d be playing the original Captain Marvel. In the Marvel Comics of the seventies, Captain Marvel was a heroic superhero named Mar-Vell who was a Kree soldier who betrayed the Kree empire in order to become a hero on Earth. This version of Captain Marvel was killed off in Jim Starlin’s seminal graphic novel The Death of Captain Marvel, long before Carol Danvers stepped into the role. Jude Law certainly looked the part, and the blue-green Kree “Starforce” costume he was wearing in the film closely resembled the look of Captain Marvel in Marvel Comics’ rebooted “Ultimate Universe” comic-book series. In the end, this was a total fake-out, as we learn that Jude Law was playing a character called Yon-Rogg, while it was Annette Benning who was playing a gender-swapped version of the original Mar-Vell. I have mixed feelings about that. It would have been super-cool to have the original, Jim Starlin-era Mar-Vell be a part of the MCU. On the other hand, I loved the idea that it was Annette Benning who was revealed to be Mar-Vell.
Jude Law does a fine job in the film, but I think it’s one of the film’s biggest failures that his character is so obviously a bad guy right from the beginning. We know that Carol has a past that’s being hidden from her, so it just seemed obvious to me that Mr. Law’s character, who was set up as her mentor and confidante, would be in on it. Also, once Carol is trapped on Earth, every time she communicates with Mr. Law’s character, he’s all alone in the dark, which is an obvious “tell” that he’s not to be trusted. I wish a) they’d managed to make this more of a surprise or b) had at least given his character more depth after the revelation, as opposed to just turning him into a one-dimensional grimacing bad-guy.
I loved Annette Benning’s scenes in the film. She was awesome as both the embodiment of the Supreme Intelligence and also as Carol’s old mentor Dr. Lawson (a disguised Mar-Vell). I wish she was in more of the film.
I adored the film’s depiction of the Skrulls. It was so exciting to finally see the Skrulls — a classic Marvel villainous alien species, going all the way back to the earliest issues of the Fantastic Four — at last brought to life on screen in the MCU! The Skulls were rumored to appear in the first Avengers film (but they wound up using a generic alien race called the Chitauri — which, in an in-joke, was the name used for the Skrulls in Marvel Comics’ “Ultimate Universe”), so this has been a long-time coming. I loved the look of the Skrulls — they looked absolutely perfect! Their shape-shifting effect was unique and gross. I loved it. Ben Mendelsohn (so great as the villainous Inspector Krennic in Rogue One) was spectacular as the Skull leader Talos. He’s the film’s secret weapon! Rather than going with a standard-sounding movie bad-guy voice, Mr. Mendelsohn’s drawl was so unusual and so funny! And, of course, the switch regarding the Skrulls’ true motives was the film’s one true surprise, a terrific revelation that I didn’t see coming and that wonderfully recontextualized the Skrulls’ place in the MCU. (Does this mean we’ll never see a Secret Invasion adaptation in the MCU, if the Skrulls aren’t actually evil…?) I really hope we see Talos and the Skrulls again.
* Carols’ cat Goose (a fun Top Gun joke), and the running joke about the other aliens referring to it as a dangerous Flerken, was fantastic.
* I thought Lashana Lynch was terrific as Carol’s old friend, pilot Maria Rambeau, and I loved that the film involved her daughter Monica in the story. (Monica Rambeau would inherit the role of Captain Marvel for a while in the Marvel Comics of the eighties and nineties. I’d love to see her in that role onscreen someday!)
* I liked the dish-washing scene in which Carol explains to Fury how to properly pronounce Mar-Vell. (By the way, I was intrigued that, although the film is called Captain Marvel, Carol never goes by that name…)
* I did NOT like the thuddingly obvious moment in which Fury proclaims that no one ever calls him anything other than Fury… a clear set-up for when a Skull disguised as his boss refers to him by his first name. (Also, we’ve heard lots of characters call him Nick or Nicholas, so the whole thing was just dumb.)
* I am somewhat confused by this film’s use of the Tesseract. It’s not what I’d expected based on the timeline of the previous films, though I suppose it’s not exactly contradictory to what has come before. Howard Stark recovered the Tesseract at the end of Captain America: The First Avenger. We’d assumed it was in S.H.I.E.L.D.’s custody until Fury asks Selvig to start working on it at the end of Thor (and which we see happening in the opening of The Avengers). How did Annette Benning’s Mar-Vell get it, and then keep it hidden on her lab in orbit for so many years?
* I loved the mentions of Project PEGASUS, a nice reference to this secret organization from the comics.
* I loved that they were able to incorporate Carol’s famous mohawk look from the comics into the film!
* The “Viers”/”Danvers” thing was clever (albeit a bit reminiscent of V’Ger from Star Trek: The Motion Picture), though I wish they’d trusted the audience to make that connection the first time we saw the “Vers” on Carol’s damaged dog tag, rather than hammering the point home in a second close-up of the dog tag later in the film.
* Why was it a big deal that Dr. Lawson had developed a ship with faster-than-light travel? Haven’t we already seen in the MCU a universe of alien planets, who travel between the stars? (The Kree ships seen in this movie seem to use some sort of system of stargates, rather than the type of light-speed/warp drive powered by engines on ships as seen in Star Wars/Star Trek. But surely many of the other alien civilizations use their own light speed ships to get between planets/solar systems?)
* I was amused that the film teased us about how Fury lost his eye (with a few fake-outs) — but I’m confused, did Goose actually scratch out his eye in the end? I thought at first that was just a joke, but then at the end we see Fury with a makeshift eyepatch, and Coulson gives him fake glass eyes. So I’m a bit confused (and a bit let down if that’s truly the way Fury got his signature one-eyed look)…
* The film’s Stan Lee cameo was one of the best ever. (Though there have been SO MANY great Stan Lee cameos!!) But the idea of playing on the film’s nineties setting to have Stan actually playing himself, studying his lines for his appearance in Kevin Smith’s Mallrats, was amazing. If that had been all the Stan Lee we’d gotten in this film, I’d have been happy. But I was not prepared for the extraordinary, amazing tribute to Stan in the film’s reworked opening Marvel Studios logo. Absolutely genius.
* The mid-credits scene was terrific. It looks to me like it was a scene taken right out of Avengers: Endgame, in which we see that the surviving Avengers have recovered the beeper device that Fury used to signal Captain Marvel during Infinity War’s post-credits scene… and then Carol herself appears! It’s great confirmation that Carol will appear in Endgame (a fact further clarified by the text statement that “Carol Danvers will return in Avengers: Endgame”. That usual end-of-the-credits line was moved up to follow this mid-credits scene, I assume to make certain that all the Captain Marvel fans who don’t stay all the way to the bitter end will know that Carol will appear in Endgame). The final end-of-the-credits scene was fine. As has been the case for the past several Marvel films, this final end-of-the-credits sequence is a slight, humorous moment, one that’s amusing but not necessarily worth the long wait through the full credits.
I’m not sure if Captain Marvel is better than any of the MCU’s three 2018 films (Avengers: Infinity War, Black Panther, or Ant Man and the Wasp). But it’s a very solid, enjoyable film that is a wonderful addition to the MCU. Now, bring on Endgame in less than two months…!!!
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