Marvel at Marvel's Captain Marvel!by Todd Pickering, contributing writer
Captain Marvel is the 21st film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and also the penultimate film in a huge story arc that ends next month in Avengers: Endgame. This makes for an intersting installment, adding yet another character to the Marvel Universe this late in the game.
Captain Marvel is sandwiched between two Avengers films with a cast of thousands (well maybe not that many but it sure feels like it). It is actually refreshing having an origin story and some relative calm before the storm. But make no mistake—Captain Marvel knows how to pull some punches. With the phrase "Girl Power" being thrown around there may be some women (and men) curious to take in a Marvel film at this 11th hour. As we have heard from the Marvel team at the theme parks on attractions such as "Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout," they are designed for every fan whether they have read every single comic book or never even seen a Marvel movie. This Marvel Studios movie seems to be a bit on this line.
The previews have been very clear that Carol Danvers was once human (who now goes by the moniker of Vers) and six years ago was taken to the planet Kree, where she is one of their "noble warrior heroes" in the epic war between the Kree and the Skrull.
The problem is that she remembers not a bit of her previous life. Jude Law plays Yon Rogg, her mentor. Or boss or pal? It's a little unclear. Mr. Law has the difficult and thankless task of handing out the exposition.
A mission gone wrong gets her kidnapped by her greatest enemy, the Skrull, and they try to extract her memories. They, too, are searching for something on that little Terran planet called Earth. She escapes her shackles and a big battle sequence that we have come to love and expect out of a super-hero movie ensues. She makes a daring escape and crash lands on Earth, hotly pursued by the Skrull. And so her journey begins to find out who she was. So she can find out who she is. So she can learn what it is she is going to become. Even though this is just the first 30 minutes of the movie, I think from the poster near the ticket booth where we purchased our tickets that it is quite clear that the answer is Captain Marvel.
The writing/directing team of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, along with writer Geneva Robertson-Dworet, are not creating a mystery for us to solve. Captain Marvel is a fresh take on the origin story in style. Some of the past Marvel origin stories have been a bit tedious considering that the comics often tell the same story in four panels. We have seen so many of these by now that the writers/directors come from the angle that since we already know that our hero will discover that she is Captain Marvel, the joy in this picture comes from watching Brie Larson using subtlety in her acting to slowly see and discover what we, the audience, already know.
Larson undercuts the action of the genre with careful delivery and taking time to experience things. The directors let her breathe. They let her look out on the landscape of her home planet and give her time to remember things, and let us see her adding things up in her mind. If you are using an Academy Award-winning actor, why not let her act? Not to worry though—these scenes are followed by exciting fight sequences with great special effects and impeccable choreography that we have come to expect from a super-hero film.
Samuel L. Jackson gets a star turn finally in the Marvel Universe. If you're interested in seeing terrific acting, then you are in for a treat. For all of those Marvel fans who have felt short-changed through all these pictures , in which the Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. character Nick Fury takes a back seat to the likes of Thor and Iron Man, this is also a treat. Something for everyone.
The key to the success of this picture is the wonderful relationship that is almost immediately formed when Fury trusts Carol Danvers and decides to help her. It becomes a buddy picture when he jumps ship from his fellow agents knowing that his planet is infilitrated with aliens. Larson and Jackson have a great rapport and really light up the screen always giving and taking from each other as the directors let them take quieter moments and even develop that signature comedy that is so important in the Marvel Universe. One minute Nick Fury claims that "No one calls me anything but Fury, including my mother," and the next moment he is completely believable playing with the cat Goose to reveal that Fury is a cat person. The adage of not working with animals seems to go out the window here. Goose ends up being a major character in this film and arguably stealing the show. Goose is one well-trained cat who is seemlessly blended into the plot and who makes his human co-stars always look good. For example, the best moments are actually filmed as opposed to the comic gimic of a CGI version of Goose plastered on the wall of a blasting off space ship.
One of the best action scenes involves Fury and Carol walking through a gigantic room of files, with row after row after row of shelves filled with top-secret documents. As they walk down the aisles, motion sensors trigger the lights to turn on as they search the shelves and then shut off when they are out of range. When the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents descend upon them, this works into a fun chase sequence, with lights going on and off as Fury tries to outrun his captors. Carol saves him at the last minute by blasting through the floor. We see this from the agents' point of view, making this whole segment fun and exciting without using, to the best of our knowledge, one bit of computer animation.
This scene could harken back to the creativity of movie-making from the likes of Alfred Hitchcock. It makes this reviewer look back on the finale of the Avengers: Infinity War and remember being so overwhelmed by the gigantic fight sequences, and even becoming a bit shell-shocked. A chase sequence filmed from the perspective of a character like Nick Fury creates anticipation, fear, and excitement as it combines acting, tension, and great film-making.
Another standout in the cast is Lashana Lynch as Maria Rambeau, Carol's old flying buddy from her days in the military. The camera stays on Rambeau when she sees her old friend whom she thought had died six years ago. No overacting here. She takes in her friend and doesn't scream in joy or weep uncontrollably from seeing a ghost. We see so many emotions cross her face and in her eyes. This is reflected back on Brie Larson, creating great energy between two old friends. In this moment, even without words spoken, we see another chapter of her life slowly coming into clarity.
Annette Benning has a smaller role in this film delivering a searing and commanding performance. Ben Mendelsohn as Talos is terrific, getting to flex his muscles with a more nuanced performance rather than the purely evil villains he usually plays.
So let's address this "girl power" that everyone is talking about. Make no mistake: This is a film populated with strong women. It's high time that a female character takes the lead in the Marvel Universe, but let the example that this film has set be that first and foremost, all of these characters are incredibly human (even the Kree and Skrull)—may we see more leads played by women in the MCU. Oh—and excuse me, Akira Akbar—there is indeed "girl power" in this film. The talented Akira Akbar as Monica, Maria's daughter, also gives a performance that is understated yet full of childlike wonder. The adage also goes, don't work with children as like animals they also steal scenes. Not so in this case. Her performance complements the scenes and never steals them away from the adult actors. It isn't about a cute kid but a focus on relationships; mother, daughter and friends
If by now you are asking if this is a super-hero film or not, you needn't worry, as the plot rears its head and all of sudden you have these really human characters saying things that no one in their right mind would say in the real world. They go from sitting in their living room looking at photographs to saving the world. But after all, isn't that the point of these movies? Isn't that why we paid our admission in the first place? To give us a healthy dose of adventure and fun. To believe in a world bigger and bolder and even better than our own! And with developed characters we actually care about the outcome. Now we have epic battles to perform, we have amazing costumes and the promised Captain Marvel reveal to perform. We also have that infamous cross over from other movies in the character of Ronan who was the nemesis in Guardians of the Galaxy. If you have not seen those movies it seems rather clunky that this character pops up but he is played so villainly delicious by Lee Pace, but for those fans that have attended every single prior movie, why not toss him into the story? The other signature staple from the Marvel Cinematic Universe is Stan Lee's cameo. It falls at the beginning of the movie; and don't worry—it is very solid so you won't miss it.
The last Marvel staple is that little teaser for the next movie after the first roll of the credits, but this one dissapoints. We know the next movie is Avengers: Endgame because it was a two-parter. If you have seen all of these pictures, this may be the most dissapointing teaser ever, but maybe it is placed here for the new fans to entice them to see the last film in the story arc? Suffice to say the crowd goes nuts knowing that the 22nd installment will be next month, and I was clearly in the minority.
There is another button at the very end of the credits that is much more fun and pleasing, so stay for that. Captain Marvel stands on its own as a more nuanced super-hero movie, but is also a neatly timed package to set up the final installment in a very successful stream of films. The Marvel Universe seems to remain well and alive, and one can sense that a Phase Two is ultimately imminent.