Film Review: Captain Marvel

The (very long awaited) first female-led entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe jumps back in time to the Nineties to give us the origin story of, arguably, the universe's most powerful hero.

By: Mandy J Watson
Posted: 11 April 2019
Category: Reviews Comments View Comments


Captain Marvel posterCaptain Marvel gives us a little breather from the escalating emotional drama of the Marvel Cinematic Universe by skipping back in time to the Nineties and giving us an origin story. (A few, in fact, because we also see the origins of formation of the Avengers, as well as some of SHIELD's early days, part of Nick Fury's back story, and some of Ronan the Accuser's history.)

Origin stories tend to be stronger than films in the middle (Wonder Woman being, to me, a notable exception, as I explained in my review) because there isn't any baggage attached to them - it's a chance to start fresh and lay groundwork that will either strengthen the character and his/her universe later or result in a mess that, these days, will just be rebooted with new actors and a new creative team.

Slightly different here in Captain Marvel is the fact that this is an origin story that exists within the massive context of many other story threads that we've already seen being explored in film and television as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe but it manages to stand alone and not be too bothered by them while, at the same time, giving us long sought after history, specifically with regards to Nick Fury who has always been a rather enigmatic character who tends to manifest at crucial moments but then disappear. This movie successfully fills in a lot of his storyline gaps. It also gives us more screen time with characters - both good and bad - who died in previous movies set later in the timeline and who weren't really explored to their full potential.

Captain Marvel: The Kree

On the planet Hala in Earth year 1995 Vers (Brie Larson) is part of Starforce, the Kree Empire's elite squad of soldiers, which includes its commander Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) and Korath (Djimon Hounsou). Vers has superpowers that she can't explain - due to amnesia that has blocked her memory of her past - and is struggling to control, especially when her emotions get the better of her. Yon-Rogg works to train her to manage her emotions as Starforce has been tasked with defending the universe against a shape-shifting alien species called the Skrulls that has been overrunning and decimating planets and their populations. The Kree Empire is governed by an artificial intelligence called the Supreme Intelligence that appears to each person in a different guise based on someone important to that person. In Vers' case she sees an older woman (Annette Bening) who she can't place but has seen in the occasional incomprehensible flashback or nightmare.

The fight accidentally takes Vers to Earth, where she crosses paths with mid-level SHIELD agent Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) and rookie agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), as she tries to eliminate a number of Skrulls, including Talos (Ben Mendelsohn), who have infiltrated the planet and threaten its existence. In the course of this mission, with Fury choosing to aid her after witnessing one of the Skrulls transform and consequently SHIELD hot on their heels, she begins to uncover evidence that she may have been on the planet before, even though she has no memory of it.

Captain Marvel: Brie Larson as Carol Danvers

You can guess the rest without knowing the details, which are, essentially, what the movie is all about: Vers ultimately becomes Captain Marvel, who will be a crucial part of the story that explores the aftermath of Thanos' decision to destroy half the life in the universe, which played out in Avengers: Infinity War, and the attempt to reverse the catastrophe, which we will see later this month in Avengers: Endgame.

With fewer story tethers and a setting in a different decade, it gave the film-makers a chance to play. It's not, by any means, the usual over-the-top, wacky, American cultural blast - for which I am truly grateful - but there are pleasing nods to a number of Nineties action movies, as well as an unusual dry sense of humour that permeates situations and conversations.

Captain Marvel: Ben Mendelsohn as Talos

The movie also satisfyingly explains why Captain Marvel, who is arguably the most powerful superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (she can fly - even in space - has super strength, and has photon beams that emanate from her fists), has been absent all this time while greater and greater threats have manifested that necessitated the formation of the Avengers and resulted in Wakanda revealing itself to the rest of Earth as being technologically superior and ready to offer aid. (Although it has transpired that the Captain Marvel ending was suggested by the movie's editor, Debbie Berman, who thought the original ending made no sense.) It doesn't explain why Nick Fury didn't use his special communicator, which he activated at the end of Avengers: Infinity War, to try to summon her earlier (apparently that will be explained in future movies) but it does explain why she wasn't just "around" to help.

Captain Marvel: Lashana Lynch as Maria Rambeau

One refreshing difference in this story is that Carol isn't motivated by fridging, nor is there a romantic entanglement powering any of her actions... in theory, because those repeated overly long glances between Carol and her fellow Air Force pilot Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch) hint at the kind of lesbian subtext last seen in Xena: Warrior Princess (in the 1990s). It had me wondering whether the Marvel Cinematic Universe commanders were testing the waters for potential future LGBTQ content (after all, fans are already shipping Carol and Valkyrie) but were reluctant to be overt so early for reasons that could include the backlash to Brie Larson being cast as Captain Marvel, who is one of the key players in the conclusion of the Infinity Saga (as it is now being called).

On a technical level the film somehow felt different to me, although I cannot place exactly what it was, perhaps because it's a combination of many little aspects that can't easily be pinpointed, although the dry humour would certainly be one of them and the lack of a relationship drama powering the story would be another. I did notice that there seemed to be more women in prominent production roles (including directing, writing, editing, and composing), nevermind the fact that this is a female-led story, and this may have been a contributing factor to small differences that subtly tweak the tone. To my great delight another difference was that the "end boss battle" was also very short because the movie thought character development was more important and, consequently, an overly long "epic" battle wasn't necessary.

Captain Marvel: Jude Law as Yonn-Rogg

There was only one aspect of this move that I didn't like and that was some of the sound creation - specifically some of the sound effects used for the spaceships, which sounded like they were pulled off a Star Wars Stock Effects Volume 1 CD. There are just certain "space" sounds that I assume are now sitting in a stock library somewhere that are becoming as pervasive as the Wilhelm scream (although, these days, it's usually used as an in-joke) and the Inception horn. It's really jarring to hear them and I can't miss it anymore and they were everywhere in the second half of the movie.

In contrast the score, by Pinar Toprak, is wonderful and unusual for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with a contemporary orchestral base upon which Toprak has built little electronic melodies that are a nod to the scores of many Nineties movies. Completing this is a fantastic soundtrack of Nineties hits, including You Gotta Be by Des'ree and Waterfalls by TLC, although some of the songs seemed thrown into the movie to add a nostalgia punch rather than craftily integrated into the soundtrack to enhance certain scenes.

Captain Marvel: Brie Larson as Captain Marvel

Overall Captain Marvel is a great addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe that features strong performances from its lead actors and a welcome break from the intensity of the Infinity Saga even though, in terms of pacing and construction, it still has to fit the Marvel formula. There's also such a large gap in the timeline that there's space to explore more of Carol's story in another movie - and I hope the film-makers will.

Captain Marvel was written by Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, and Geneva Robertson-Dworet (screenplay and story) and Nicole Perlman and Meg LeFauve (story), was directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, and stars Brie Larson, Samuel L Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Jude Law, Annette Bening, Lashana Lynch, Clark Gregg, Rune Temte, Gemma Chan, Algenis Perez Soto, Djimon Hounsou, Lee Pace, Chuku Modu, Matthew Maher, and Akira Akbar.

The press screening was courtesy of Film Finity. Rating


Tags: Comics, Screen, Speculative Fiction

This trailer does not contain spoilers.

[ YouTube link ]

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