I am very tired as I type this.
Last night, #Squirrel and I went with Will and #Buddy and a few other friends to see Captain Marvel, the latest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, not to mention the first Marvel Studios solo film featuring a female lead…after 20 previous entries in the series. Like Black Panther before it, this is a pretty big deal for Marvel, although Wonder Woman beat it to the feminist punch…not to mention Supergirl (1984) and Catwoman (2004). (Honestly, no one really wants to mention those last two.) Still, on the cultural landscape, this looms large; the world of geek culture still largely relegates women to secondary roles, so a film like this doesn’t have to be the first, or even the best, of its kind to be important.
So let’s leave the cultural importance aside then, and let’s judge it on its merits. How solid an entry is it into the MCU canon?
It’s a good movie, a worthy Marvel Studios film. I enjoyed it…but I didn’t love it. It’s going to be much beloved for its cultural significance, and rightly so…but it’s not a GREAT movie. It doesn’t belong among the best of the MCU films…but a middle of the road MCU film is a damn enjoyable movie.
Will and I had the same feeling about the movie…in a rarity for a superhero film, it had first act problems, but came together in the second and third acts. When the film opens, Captain Marvel is a member of the Kree special forces unit known as Star Force, and is the beneficiary of some potent photonic powers, which basically means she shoots lasers from her hands. She’s suffering from amnesia, but that doesn’t seem to bother her much. She has purpose and power and that seems to be enough for her. I mean, the film opens with her having nightmares, but she chases them away by sparring with Yon-Rogg, her commanding officer, played by Jude Law. (Prior to the film’s release, there was a lot of speculation as to whether Law was playing Yon-Rogg or Mar-Vell.) All of this gets us off on the wrong foot a little bit. Carol, known on Hala (the Kree homeworld) as “Veers,” doesn’t seem particularly bothered by her nightmares, which could be her memories trying to break through, or particularly loyal to or grateful for the Kree. She doesn’t seem to WANT anything, except action.
She IS brought at one point before the Kree Supreme Intelligence, who in this iteration appears differently to different people. It’s an artificial intelligence, and it always appears to people as the person that they admire most. For “Veers,” that’s apparently Annette Bening, but Veers doesn’t know who she is. Intriguing…and to be honest, kind of awesome, because I love Annette Bening.
Things happen, she gets captured by Skrulls, the ancient enemies of the Kree, and ends up escaping to Earth in 1995. There’s some fun fish out of water stuff when she gets to Earth, and a fun little chase/action sequence…but it still lacks something.
The film kicks up a notch when she connects with Nick Fury, a digitally youthful Samuel L. Jackson, but it suddenly finds its heart when Veers comes to realize that she’s in fact Carol Danvers of the US Air Force, and it reunited with the people that mean the most to her, her best friend Maria Rambeau and Maria’s daughter Monica. This is when the movie goes from being just fine to good. Carol suddenly has someone to care about, and those relationships felt very real to me.
The movie has more twists and turns…the Skrulls AREN’T the bad guys? Annette Bening is MAR-VELL???…and has its real feel good moment when we realize that the Kree have been holding Carol back. They placed an inhibitor disc (my terminology, not theirs) on the back of her neck, but they led her to believe that it was the SOURCE of her powers. When she takes it off, she suddenly becomes the incredibly powerful bad-ass that we were waiting for.
So it’s a solid action film that takes a little too long to discover its emotional center. It has genuine surprises, which are always appreciated, and which are likely to add fuel to the fires of incel hatred. Mar-Vell was one of my favorite characters when I was a kid. It hit me hard when he died, and I’ve always been glad that they never brought him back. (His story was told, and told well. Kudos, Jim Starlin.) Having him played by Annette Bening was a complete surprise to me, although the movie’s Mar-Vell is a totally different character…but similar enough at her core: she’s a Kree that turned her back on her society’s conquest-driven depredations to do the right thing.
Most of all, Captain Marvel is an MCU film to its core. It fits seamlessly into the larger narrative (with one possible exception, that being the story behind Nick Fury’s eye…but even that is good enough), and leans into what it is instead of trying to be cooler than it is, which of course makes it as cool as it can possibly be. Most of all, it’s incredibly charming.
Brie Larson is, to me, a revelation. She exudes power and confidence at every turn, and she has the playfulness and wit that the MCU demands, but it’s when she softens that she shines. Her scenes with young Monica Rambeau are perfect, as is the moment when she’s brought before a group of Skrull non-combatants and children…it’s then that she’s most a hero. The MCU never forgets that being a hero is NOT about being a bad-ass, but about how you treat and care about other people, and they didn’t forget that here. After rewatching Zack Snyder’s Watchmen, this was a relief for me. It’s not trying to so hard to be epic and cool…and thus manages to be much cooler and more meaningful.
All of the performers are good. The aforementioned Brie Larson is the standout performer, as she should be, but Ben Mendelsohn is always awesome, as are Jude Law and Annette Bening (in very limited screen time). Lashana Lynch and Akira Akbar give the film its emotional foundation as Maria and Monica Rambeau. Their understated performances cannot be overstated, if that makes sense. And Samuel L. Jackson is, of course, Samuel L. Jackson.
So…good but not great. It’s a solid MCU film, but the MCU is kind of like Pixar: even their worst movies are still pretty good…and this is far from the worst MCU film.
Grade: a firm B.
(PS: Goose the cat was fine. I think too much is being made of his role, but he was fine.)