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Captain Marvel Movie Review

Captain Marvel (2019) movie poster Captain Marvel

Theatrical Release: March 8, 2019 / Running Time: 124 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Directors: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck / Writers: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, Geneva Robertson-Dworet (story & screenplay); Nicole Perlman, Meg LeFauve (story); Roy Thomas, Gene Colan (comic book)

Cast: Brie Larson (Carol Danvers/Vers/Captain Marvel), Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury), Ben Mendelsohn (Talos/Keller), Jude Law (Yon-Rogg), Annette Bening (Supreme Intelligence/Dr. Wendy Lawson), Lashana Lynch (Maria Rambeau), Clark Gregg (Agent Coulson), Rune Temte (Bron-Char), Gemma Chan (Minn-Erva), Algenis Perez Soto (Att-Lass), Djimon Hounsou (Korath), Lee Pace (Ronan), Chuku Modu (Soh-Larr), Matthew Maher (Norex), Akira Akbar (Monica Rambeau - 11 Years Old), Kenneth Mitchell (Carol's Father), Mckenna Grace (Young Carol - 13 Years Old), London Fuller (Young Carol - 6 Years Old), Stan Lee (Stan Lee)


Marvel Studios has been at least one step ahead of the competition since they established their brand eleven years ago. But when it came to female representation, the DC Extended Universe beat them to the punch with 2017's critically acclaimed and commercially lucrative Wonder Woman.
Now Marvel responds with Captain Marvel, undoubtedly a less iconic hero but one belonging to a cinematic universe far more popular and respected than the one that gave us Justice League.

Academy Award winner Brie Larson fills the title role, a warrior fighting with the Kree alien race (including Djimon Hounsou's minor Guardians of the Galaxy character). The film clumsily throws us into this intergalactic war against the shape-shifting Skrulls with mere glimpses into the past of this blonde woman called "Vers." Vers meets with a council of Supreme Intelligence, whose members hide their real form but take on the appearance of the target's most respected influence. In the case of Vers, it is Dr. Wendy Lawson (Annette Bening, looking out of place), a mentor of sorts at the U.S. Air Force Academy where our heroine apparently trained but no longer remembers.

After this shaky opening, things improve when Vers crashes into a Californian Blockbuster Video in the year 1995. Out of place in her armored suit, Vers is questioned by S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, including one Nick Fury (a digitally youthened Samuel L. Jackson with two eyes and hair!) and Coulson (Clark Gregg, whose character returns to the big screen years after being killed off and relegated to ABC television).

A younger Nick Fury (a digitally youthened two-eyed not bald Samuel L. Jackson) and '90s-fashioned Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) team up in Marvel's "Captain Marvel."

Vers isn't the only alien who has landed on Earth, or C-53 as they call it. There are Skrulls in hiding as well (led by an always dubious Ben Mendelsohn) and there is mutual pursuit that takes us to moving vehicles (with a fun, practically period-accurate Stan Lee cameo). After the dust settles, we tag along with Vers, now blending in with a Nine Inch Nails tee and a flannel shirt wrapped around her waist, and Agent Fury. They break into a S.H.I.E.L.D. records room, where Vers begins piecing together lost memories of life on Earth that abruptly ended six years earlier in the crash that killed the mentor of her visions.

Vers, or as she used to be known as Carol Danvers, catches up with her old best friend (Lashana Lynch), who is shocked to discover her alive and only a tad skeptical of alien war discussion until it lands right inside her rural home. The adventures move to space and come to involve the Skrulls, an orange tabby cat named Goose, who is more than meets the eye, and Carol's Kree trainer/mentor (Jude Law).

It's a little embarrassing that it's taken over a decade for Marvel to hand over the reins on one of their event movies to a woman. Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow was introduced back in 2010's Iron Man 2 and she has been a fixture of the Avengers ever since, but her place in the hierarchy has always been clearly beneath the male heroes entrusted with their own series of films. To criticize Marvel Studios purely on this fact requires some ignorance of the company's comic book history and fan base. Marvel has had prominent heroines, from X-Men's Jean Grey and Storm to Fantastic Four's Sue Storm. The heroes given their own movie (or trilogy) tend to be the ones that you'd never need to pick up a comic book to know. It doesn't help that the few times we got female superhero movies -- Supergirl, Catwoman, Elektra -- they were ridiculed by all. But even Hulk got two underperforming movies before Marvel decided he couldn't sustain his own franchise. Where was Black Widow's opportunity?

Fighting alongside Krees in a war against Skrulls, Vers (Brie Larson) sports a uniform different from the one that she will come to wear as Captain Marvel.

As DC's ultra prosperous Wonder Woman and Marvel's own Black Panther have emphatically demonstrated, superhero movies no longer have to center on a white male protagonist to succeed. So, now the time has come for Captain Marvel,
never before mentioned or seen in the Cinematic Universe until being coyly summoned in an Avengers: Infinity War end credits tag, to have her moment in the spotlight. It's a little puzzling that she's been interacting with Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. for a quarter-century without ever coming up in a discussion among heroes (the character was introduced in comics back in 1968), but if that's what we have to accept to get the MCU's first full-length period pic, so be it.

The mid-'90s setting is put to use, but not overuse. There's a scene set in an early Internet cafe (Alta Vista! dial-up problems!) and the soundtrack does less than nimbly serve up tunes from TLC, Nirvana, and, most climactically, No Doubt. Nick Fury has a pager and there is that pivotal sequence set in a closed, darkened Blockbuster. At this point, if you're old enough to remember living in the mid-90s, you're in the middle to latter portions of Marvel's primary demographic. And yet this is about as recent a jolt of nostalgia as we've gotten in the line, with Iron Man flashbacks dialing back briefly to Walt Disney era (and Y2K) and Guardians of the Galaxy opting for a 1970s-driven soundtrack.

Captain Marvel does not break the Marvel superhero mold, though it does gladly avoid the conventions of an origin movie as much as it can, with its nonlinear presentation and lack of archetypes. It's a self-contained adventure, with only the first of two end credits scene linking this to the bigger Marvel movie opening at the end of next month.

There is obvious value in finally having a woman superhero front and center, as there was in Black Panther giving us heroes and villains of color. And yet, just like Black Panther, strides in representation are not enough to elevate this above Marvel's comfort zone of above average popcorn entertainment. The sets are good. The visual effects and action pass muster. Unversed in the genre and in big-budget fare, husband and wife writers-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (It's Kind of a Funny Story, Half Nelson, Mississippi Grind) meet the genre's challenges without significant concern. The acting is adequate, with characterization largely deferring to plot. The two standouts are Samuel L. Jackson, whose presence has never been more focal and less expository than here, and Goose the cat(/flerken), who doesn't need dialogue, all that much screentime, or his comic book name ("Chewie") to rise up among Marvel's most memorable characters.

Goose the cat (who's really a flerken) steals multiple scenes in "Captain Marvel."

It is unfortunate that much of the present discussion of Captain Marvel, online anyway, involves gender. Part of that stems from Brie Larson's ill-chosen defense of A Wrinkle in Time, which would have been categorized as both racist and sexist if not for historic power structures. Of course, Larson's remarks, made nine months ago, could have come and gone, if not for the irrational misogynistic response by numbers significant enough for Rotten Tomatoes to take away users' power to vote down or comment upon a film before it even opens. Until then, Captain Marvel had been hit hard in the audience rating score, a tactic near and dear to the hateful hearts of those who passionately detest Star Wars: The Last Jedi for whatever reason.

At the same time, at least there is conversation to be had, which eleven years into Marvel's still smooth-running machine is not insignificant. Because otherwise, what else is there to say? Marvel seems incapable of making a bad movie, but also largely unable to make a great one. As long as moviegoers continue to show up for the expensive whiz-bang, then the studio will keep it coming and in the same fashion we all know and either like or tolerate. They grossed over $4 billion worldwide from their three releases last year and even with "Phase Three" winding down and the Avengers presumably undergoing some personnel change, does anyone foresee the cash cow disappearing anytime soon? As long as superhero fatigue remains a theory and not a sentiment, we'd all be writing the same thing again and again, if not for Black Panther winning some awards and Brie Larson stoking the flames of toxic masculinity.

Related Reviews:
Now in Theaters: The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part Greta Triple Frontier
Avengers: Infinity War Black Panther Ant-Man and the Wasp
Captain America: Civil War Ant-Man Captain America: The First Avenger Doctor Strange
Brie Larson: Room Scott Pilgrim vs. the World Kong: Skull Island | Ben Mendelsohn: Ready Player One Animal Kingdom

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Reviewed March 5, 2019.

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