Starring: Brie Larson (Room), Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction), Ben Mendelsohn (Rogue One), Djimon Hounsou (Gladiator), Lee Pace (The Hobbit), Lashana Lynch (Fast Girls), Gemma Chan (Crazy Rich Asians), Annette Bening (20th Century Women), Clark Gregg (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), Jude Law (Sherlock Holmes)
Directors: Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck (Mississippi Grind)
Writers: Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck and Geneva Robertson-Dworet (Tomb Raider)
Runtime: 2 hours 4 minutes
Release Date: 8 March (US, UK)
Well, it’s about damn time! The Marvel Universe is a playground rife with diverse and imaginative characters, and that includes a hefty range of female heroes. The only woman of Marvel to get her own film prior to the superhero movie renaissance was Elektra in her failed spin-off to 2003’s Daredevil, and in the meantime DC went and beat them to the punch with Wonder Woman. But after years of promising and planning, Marvel Studios finally has delivered their answer with Captain Marvel. This film comes to us with a lot of expectations both positive and negative, facing scrutiny and backlash not seen since…well, that last time Marvel catered to an audience other than self-proclaimed “real fans”. Even faltering slightly in its delivery could mean giving ammo to those waiting for any opportunity to be mad, but Captain Marvel seems keenly aware of this, and what it delivers is an excellent balance of gratifying blockbuster entertainment and inspiring intersectional exegesis.
Jumping back in time and delving into the history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe much in the same fashion as Captain America: The First Avenger, Captain Marvel by its conclusion makes it clear this is no disposable chapter in the wider franchise; it is key for not only the upcoming Avengers: Endgame, but for appreciating the MCU as a whole. It is an origin story, but not in the traditional “with great power” mood we’ve gotten so accustomed to. Our protagonist Carol Danvers is already a hero when the story begins, and instead the film takes us on a deeper narrative about why she is a hero and discovering there is so much more to it than she ever imagined. It’s a fresh take on a familiar set-up, mixing up things from the comics in ways even many fans won’t expect, whilst still delivering everything you want from a Marvel movie. Whilst its themes are perhaps not as nuanced or groundbreaking as last year’s Black Panther, Captain Marvel does carry with it not only welcome subtext about the oppression and empowerment of women, but also unexpectedly some timely commentary on the morality of war, seeking asylum and even nationalism. This is a movie we should have gotten a long time ago, yes, but what it ultimately has to say could have only come from a film made in this current climate. It retroactively makes the wait worth it, cementing Captain Marvel as not only the superhero movie women want, but one humanity in general really needs right now.
Brie Larson was an inspired choice to don the mantle of Captain Marvel, and as the half-human, half-Kree intergalactic peacekeeper she absolutely nails every facet of the character. The film perhaps doesn’t do the best job setting her up in the first act, jumping straight into the thick of it before we’ve had time to get to know Carol. However, once the action hits Earth and the plot gets properly moving, she is given more than enough room to develop and quickly cements herself as yet another charismatic Marvel lead. Larson manages to give a character that could’ve easily come off as cold and unrelatable a lot of heart from the start, perfectly balancing her alien upbringing with her human soul, and in the process creates an icon with much the same potential to galvanize young women as Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman. Samuel L. Jackson has clearly never had more fun playing Nick Fury than he does here, revealing an upbeat and humorous side to the jaded director of S.H.I.E.L.D. we’re all used to, and his chemistry with Larson is electric from the word go; their relationship is what ultimately clicks the movie’s disparate pieces into place.
The film unfortunately doesn’t quite give its many supporting players quite enough to do. Jude Law has some potential as Danvers’ Starforce mentor Yonn-Rogg and has some strong moments with his titular protégé, but he is ultimately in the film too infrequently to leave the impact the film wants him to have. Djmon Honusou and Lee Pace, reprising their respective roles of Korath and Ronan from Guardians of the Galaxy, feel a little tacked on and could’ve easily been replaced with non-descript characters. Their presence perhaps adds a little texture to their characters and the oft-connected MCU, but otherwise it’s a wasted opportunity. Clark Gregg fairs a little better in his return as Agent Coulson but is still relatively throwaway; then again, it’s just generally nice to see him back on the big screen after being relegated to our TV screens for so long. Lashana Lynch is charming as Danvers’ longtime BFF Maria Rambeau but she comes into the plot a little too late, whilst Gemma Chan is practically a glorified henchman as Starforce member Minn-Erva. Luckily, both Annette Bening and Ben Mendelsohn don’t succumb to the same fate. Bening only appears briefly, but her dual roles couldn’t be more opposed and she brings a wildly different energy to both, whilst Mendelsohn delivers a wonderfully nuanced twist on his usual villainous persona that will make you rethink a lot of Marvel’s previous antagonists. Also, Goose the cat is cute and adorable and I love them. That is all I have to say about that.
Much like every decade before it, the 1990s have reached an age where films are starting to be nostalgic for it, and as much as it makes me feel old Captain Marvel nails the period in its depiction. It manages to pile on the 90s trappings without ever feeling too cloying, and whether it’s the vintage costumes or the excellently chosen period songs on the soundtrack, this is a film guaranteed to bring back some fond memories for every millennial in the audience. Veteran MCU cinematographer Ben Davis gives the film that signature Marvel look to create a visually spectacular experience, though an early scene on a murky planet is perhaps a little too hard to follow. Most impressive about the film’s technical achievements are its visual effects, particularly the de-aging work done on Jackson and Gregg. After many films over the past decade or so slowly improving the complex techniques, here the results are practically seamless. Sure, Jackson is one of those actors who doesn’t age much to begin with, but they really have brought him back to exactly how he looked in the 90s for the whole movie without a hint of the uncanny valley creeping in. Even more than all the dazzling superpowers and alien worlds, that is an astounding feat.
Captain Marvel is yet another welcome entry to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, expanding the horizons of the franchise and opening up plenty more avenues for further adventures. It embraces its female empowerment narrative without needing to belabour it, putting forward an entertaining story first and lacing in its timely subtext as a bonus. Larson’s performance immediately earns her a spot amongst the other iconic Avengers, delivering exactly what all female Marvel fans have been asking for since the beginning of the MCU, and I can’t wait to see what more Carol Danvers can bring to the franchise both on her own and amongst her fellow heroes. We’re not going to have to wait too long to see more with Endgame out next month, but here’s hoping the exploits of this cosmic demigoddess continue on for many, many instalments.
FINAL VERDICT: 9/10