Cast: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Lashana Lynch, and Jude Law
Director: Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck
Synopsis: Brie Larson stars as the newest superhero added to the Marvel Cinematic Universe roster. In order to protect the universe, she must rise above her failures and her fears to reach her potential as a hero.
It just made $1 billion at the box office. It’s the 21st Marvel movie and the first solo with a female superhero. You’ve heard of it, and you’ve probably already seen it. Therefore, the purpose of this review is less to convince anyone to purchase a ticket (or not) than it is to discuss Captain Marvel— what it means to the world and to the MCU that it exists.
When a standard Kree military mission goes awry, Carol Danvers (known to the Kree as Vers) begins a journey to unearth the past she cannot remember. Joined by SHIELD agent Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and stray cat Goose (Gonzo, Rizzo, Reggie, and Archie), Carol must find answers to an intergalactic war and discover who she is.
This film acts as a great standalone addition to the Marvel canon with its delightfully 90’s soundtrack, bright color scheme, and of course, the introduction of not only the most powerful superhero in the MCU but also possibly the most powerful character. Although Larson gets off to a rocky start, perhaps the result of playing a near blank-slate character, her overall performance is one of the best in Marvel history. These movies are not known for their dramatic caliber, so it is refreshing to see depth in acting combined with punching alien bad guys and the magic of superpowers. Larson’s banter with Jackson is fun, but the best moments of the film come from her and Lynch, as they play off of each other beautifully.
The core (yes this is a Captain Marvel themed pun) of this film is Carol Danvers, aptly, and that is a clear strength. Carol’s character is the most captivating, complex, and commanding part of the film. Even in the most frustrating and confusing (to an amnesiac) of situations, Carol is a woman of duty and drive; she is calm and competent. She fully embodies the notion of a hero. Yes, she’s a strong woman. Many will call her a strong female protagonist. But that’s not the full picture. She can be wrong, she’s not always likable, and she’s definitely flawed. She’s also emotional, something uncommon for a “strong” female character. Yet for Carol, her emotions are where her true potential powers lay, both literally and metaphorically. There is depth to the character of Carol beyond the classic Marvel snark and angst. She’s a full person, struggling to find herself and her home.
Unlike a lot of action blockbusters, especially Marvel ones, Captain Marvel’s theming was solid throughout the 2-hour runtime. Carol’s identity, or lack thereof, and her relationship with other characters were woven delicately into the major themes of home, belonging, and strength. Over the course of the film, Carol becomes her own person, one who is stronger than the Air Force pilot she was, and the Kree soldier she begins as. She grows in a way that, by the end, it is impossible not to root for her victory.
Carol’s identity, or lack thereof, and her relationship with other characters were woven delicately into the major themes of home, belonging, and strength.
It is difficult not to compare Captain Marvel to the only other standalone superhero film with a female hero, Wonder Woman. While this comparison frequently ends up being reductive to both films, it is worthwhile to acknowledge some differences. For instance, Carol is aided by Fury, but not nearly as much as Steve Trevor helps Diana. Carol is not born sexy yesterday (explanation), a trope that Wonder Woman runs into occasionally, nor is she surrounded by men. Her greatest ally is her former co-pilot and best friend, Maria Rambeau. Her greatest friend is Monica, Maria’s daughter. Her mentor is Dr. Lawson, a female scientist who helped Carol and Maria fly despite the Air Force’s rule against women in combat. Although it is not fair to make a one-to-one comparison and declare one film better than the other, it is crucial to notice these distinctions and consider how both the characters and the films were affected by the differences.
True to the MCU, expanded universe references are everywhere. If you’re a die-hard fan, you’ll appreciate the fanservice. However, as a standalone movie with a plot that is almost completely separate from the current Marvel Avengers story, these scenes were unnecessary. The desire for everything to be connected and for everyone’s favorite characters to have screentime damaged the film. The final scene is a humorous bit which is enjoyable in the moment, much as an after-credits scene would be, but immediately afterward it becomes clear that the emotional gravity of the prior scene is retroactively stolen. Minutes of screentime are allotted for Agent Coulson and for the worst MCU villain, Ronan (from the Thor movie no-one saw) and are therefore stolen from Carol’s character arc, or from Maria’s. This contributes to the other major problem of this film: it doesn’t entirely know what it is. It starts out as a military ops movie, then becomes a buddy cop movie, then a spy mystery thriller for a minute, and then an epic space fantasy, all while maintaining an undercurrent of comedy. The tonal shifts aren’t always noticeable, nor is the overall confused “what”, but when it is obvious, the film suffers.
Finally, to address the controversy surrounding this film: Captain Marvel is a movie about a woman who is a superhero. It’s about her life and includes her relationship with her best friend, another woman. There are corners of the internet where these two statements are inherently bad, and where this film is described as the end of Western society. To be clear: this movie includes misogyny. It would not be an accurate reflection of a woman’s existence if it didn’t, especially considering that Carol is an Air Force pilot. However, Captain Marvel is not a movie that hates men. It’s also not a “girl power” movie. It’s a movie about a woman with space-magic powers. If you think it is bad that this movie exists because of “forced diversity” or how it’s “unrealistic”, please recognize that this is the 21st Marvel movie and the first with a female superhero. Black Panther only came out a year ago. There is no hostile takeover happening. Besides, Iron Man 3 exists and is infinitely worse.
With enough depth to spend hours discussing, Captain Marvel is what’s been missing from Marvel lately—and is certainly worth seeing.