Director: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
Screenplay: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, Geneva Robertson-Dworet
Starring: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Djimon Hounsou, Lee Pace, Lashana Lynch, Gemma Chan, Annette Bening, Clark Gregg, Jude Law
Runtime: 124 Minutes
The frenzy around the existence of Captain Marvel as an artefact has been hard to avoid, with rally’s of toxic individuals spewing bile at one end with arguments altering on a daily basis in order to supper their more *ahem* disagreeable perspectives on the female gender, and those backing the film so entirely that it seemed for all the world as if we were about to experience a major shift and defining moment for 21st century popular culture.
So, to take a step back and assume off the bat that this is a mostly agreeable, passably entertaining superhero adventure origin film in much the same vein to the other MCU films feels like the comedown necessary in order to judge it more firmly on its own merits.
Yes, Captain Marvel is a good film with the same ups and downs as many of its siblings before it, that occasionally dapples in greatness by its third act as the fruition of its themes and story come to a satisfactory close. But, again, as with the other MCU films, its more traditional plot components, beats, tone and presentation are there to support the characters that are going to become mainstays and develop later on, and it’s in these finer margins where the film really shines.
Staged as a prequel to the rest of the contemporary MCU instalments (the first period set film of such since the first Captain America), set in 1995, the story follows Kree soldier Vers as she becomes Captain Marvel after Earth is caught in the centre of a galactic conflict between her race and the shapeshifting Skrulls.
It’s a familiar setup that puts the film more in line with James Gunn’s more cosmic-centric Guardians of the Galaxy series in tone and execution, and for the first hour or so the now familiar formula can be felt at its most aggressive. Racing through the introductions of our lead and supporting cast of bit players, both species, their conflict, Vers missing backstory and then launching into action beats and witty banter (while all well played) leaves a large stretch of the film’s introduction overwhelming and surprisingly uninvolving as we are forced into the passenger seat with Vers.
The structure of which is laid out as a mystery regarding Vers true identity, but the journey of Vers to rediscover that identity as Carol Danvers is the backbone of the story, and point in which the surprising turns that the film takes to get there is also the point in which the film finally comes to life.
The moment characters stop bouncing off one and other and begin talking, and its where indie darling directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck find themselves at their most confident. While the action is handled well enough with energy and 90s music and references galore, it’s the more offbeat moments of interaction and reaction shots that work the strongest.
To go any further into the developments concerning the reveal would constitute as a huge collection of spoilers, but its ambitions to upend the source material and its components in new and interesting ways, throwing characters together and realigning them into different positions than original thought turns out to have been the strongest approach toward keeping the audience on their toes.
Once the real conflict is understood, the film undergoes a steady transformation into the profound as it reveals its themes regarding inner strength to be something that has been held back from Carol by those around her, and by the time the nature of her true power and potential are unleashed in a powerful montage wherein Carol continues to stand in the face of authority, suppression and faces of determent throughout her entire life is one of the most uniquely powerful and simple images the MCU may have yet produced from a purely cinematic perspective.
Brie Larson proves very capable in the lead role of this massive blockbuster, balancing humility, arrogance and curiosity with aplomb, in keeping with a recurring idea that she is holding back because she doesn’t want her emotions to get in the way of her judgement, when in fact that is part of what makes her who she is.
It helps that she’s paired up with Samuel L. Jackson as a younger Nick Fury (host to some terrific de-ageing effects). The buddy comradery that they share is where the film sparkles with Jackson returning to the kind of performance that made him such an icon in the 90s, and his attachment to the tag along cat Goose provides some of the film’s largest laughs.
There’s also Jude Law in a role at first seems rather simple, only to reveal his far more concerning yet interesting dimensions later on as a terrific throwdown of mansplainers everywhere, and as such helps to deliver on one of the film’s most satisfying and cathartic moments.
Support comes from Annette Bening in a small but pivotal role, Lashana Lynch providing a huge amount of humanity to the role of Carols forgotten best friend, and Clark Gregg and Gemma Chan picking up some duty in smaller roles. But it’s Ben Mendelsohn as villain Talos who might be one of the most interestingly performed and executed antagonists in the films yet, and an entertaining scene-stealer at that once his true colours are revealed.
The weaknesses, other than some major pacing issues in the first half, come from the film’s needs to cater as a prequel of sorts with bit parts for introducing Lee Pace and Djimon Hounsou for their roles later on a little unnecessarily, as well as familiar MacGuffin’s of little interest and one or two moments where the set-up feels a little too on-the-nose and self-congratulatory.
Despite some weaknesses and a slow start, once Captain Marvel gets there it soars and sparkles as much as it’s beautiful and powerful central character, with beats and thematic payoffs so strong that it's hard to hold the early stumbles against it. If this is a sign of the future to come following the conclusion with Avengers: End Game, the future still looks bright for the MCU.