Captain Marvel begins with an emotional punch, well away from the rest of the film. The Marvel Studios opening title screen recreated so not to have Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, or the Hulk but instead, Stan Lee. Drawn, painted, and all his cameos jumbled together with a ‘thank you Stan’. It got applause at the screening I saw, and set the scene for some strong emotional bursts through the film.
The nineties are funny now. Just like the fifties and the seventies once were. Every choice of music, every use of technology, every pop cultural reference in Captain Marvel, set in 1995, got a laugh. Even Samuel Jackson as Nick Fury driving a car sitting next to Clark Gregg‘s
John Travolta Agent Coulson worked. I tell you, in thirty years time, what we are doing, how we are dressing, what we are listening to is going to be hilarious.
But this is not a jokefest like Ragnarok, the smiles punctuate a story of being driven, of a character regaining what she once was and going further than before. It is very different to your traditional superhero – or even secret agent movie. The character who has forgotten their past is a standard trope, but usually that past is one of danger, action and adventure. The person who is secretly an alien, secretly a superhero, super agent, hiding among us in plain sight. Sometimes they know, sometimes, they have been made not to know, we have all seen that story. Captain Marvel may be the first such film in which the superhero is secretly someone far more mundane. I mean, it’s all relative. A mundane fighter pilot. But it’s a complete reversal of the usual perspective. Which is something this film clearly likes to do. You know in the trailer when you saw Captain Marvel (though she’s never named as such) talking about the Kree as a race of noble warrior heroes that something was bound to go wrong there…
That’s where Brie Larson excels in this movie. Bridging that gap between alien and human, from warrior to rebel, she seems at home in her skin, whether Kree, human, or a color-shifting armor, flying a fighter jet, engaging in hand to hand combat or racing through the sky, all powered up. Each is a challenge, each may be one step beyond her expected ability, each is one she takes on and embracing, no matter the cost. And every time there is a cost. Portraying that transition each and every time on screen is an impressive achievement, and it convinces each and every time.
The youngified Nick Fury and Agent Coulson are an issue, it’s no way as convincing here as it was in the shorter scenes Ant-Man or Iron Man 3. You take a while to get used to the shine and squishiness of Fury’s face while Coulson looks like he’s a waxwork brought to life. Indeed, having him in close proximity to Jude Law’s seemingly coked-up Kree warrior had Coulson remind me of how Law looked in AI, where he was meant to be artificial. The tech isn’t quite there for long scenes, especially taking place in daylight. Sorry. You do get used to Fury a bit sooner though, especially when they head into space. And Stan Lee’s own youngified version of the man in 1995 works perfectly for the split second he’s on and gives you that second pluck of the heartstring.
There’s also a worthy shout-out for Ben Mendelsohn, as both the Skrull Talos and the SHIELD agent Keller he transforms into. What begins as a scenery-chewing bad guy is transformed into a comic foil and then a tragic destiny reveals itself. It’s a magnificent jump through the movie and worthy of note.
It also ties into Marvel Cinematic Universe continuity in a big way. While many will be looking for how the movie ties into Avengers: Endgame, there’s far more to tie it into the first film, Avengers Assemble. Everything aside from explaining why she wasn’t paged for that movie… and yeah, you’re going to get annoyed by that. Sorry.
And then there’s the comics. Expect outrage from some fanboy traditionalists over how the original Mar-Vell is portrayed in this film, but others will appreciate how much was retained. Captain Marvel comes to reflect aspects of all versions of her character in the comics, Ms Marvel and Captain Marvel, sure, but there’s also a lot of Binary in there too, especially in the resultant power set. This is a new origin for Carol Danvers, separate from both her comic book origins, but it’s a satisfying one. turning the ‘destiny’ angle on its head and gives us something more about embracing blind luck – because no one else is going to.
Yes, the possibility of a future Captain Marvel is set up, as the daughter of Larson’s fighter pilot companion Maria (and yes, they do explain how they both get to be fighter pilots in the eighties, by doing the work no one else is desperate enough to take up) played with warmth and maturity by Lashana Lynch and the mother of the young Monica Rambeau played by Akira Akbar and Azari Akbar (clever sisterly casting there for different ages) – in the comics, the first to inherit the title after Mar-Vell. Marvel Comics is starting to realize that actor’s age – even if their CGI department does their level best to try and convince us otherwise in this movie- is setting up a legacy early on may be the new thing.
And seriously if anyone is looking for some kind of male-hating diatribe to react against, this is not that movie. You get, like, one line from the eighties about how two female fighter pilots are ‘showing the boys how to do it’ in keeping with the characters and the tone and that’s about it. The messages of strength and resilience are for all, though the use of Carol Danvers’ childhood gives us a montage straight out of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and may well connect especially with little girls – of all ages. But this is deliberately an inclusive rather than excluding movie.
That probably makes it blander than it could have been. But then you can’t have everything.
Overall, it’s a middling Marvel film with some exceptional stand-out – or stand-up – moments. Stack it with Doctor Strange and Ant-Man rather than Ragnarok, but it’s entertaining for all that.
Captain Marvel opens in cinemas March 8th 2019.
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