Rating: 8 out of 10
Brie Larson … Carol Danvers / Vers / Captain Marvel
Samuel L. Jackson … Nick Fury
Ben Mendelsohn … Talos / Keller
Jude Law … Yon-Rogg
Annette Bening … Supreme Intelligence
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 the Accuser
Chuku Modu … Soh-Larr
Matthew Maher … Norex
Akira Akbar … Monica Rambeau (11 Years Old)
Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck
There are aspects of Captain Marvel that I feel eminently qualified to discuss, and there are aspects that I do not. Since I’m a male reviewer and Marvel Comics fan, it shouldn’t be hard to figure out. It would be difficult to assess Captain Marvel in total without addressing certain themes, and so I will, but a caveat is definitely in order – if I blunder around a bit in areas where I struggle to articulate my feelings, I apologize. As a critic I should be able to examine everything I can about what I feel works and doesn’t work about Captain Marvel, but I don’t want to step on any toes, either. I am well aware that there is sensitive ground here. With that in mind, I’m going to eschew the plot synopsis entirely – much of what works in Captain Marvel is best discovered without any details. Even the opening credits should be a surprise.
What I do feel qualified in discussing is how Captain Marvel’s entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe can be a bit confusing, especially in regards to certain characters, locations, and items. Loyal comics fans will find much to surprise them here, and since Captain Marvel was never going to be an easy fit anyway (Carol Danvers’ origin story in the comics relies on a lot of different variables that the MCU, for a multitude of reasons, cannot completely address), some of these changes work spectacularly, and some not so much. This isn’t a movie you can skip, either. A lot happens that affects the fabric of the MCU in Captain Marvel, and requires you to pay attention. Considering that everyone knows by now that Captain Marvel will be an integral part of AVENGERS: ENDGAME, people will be naturally curious if Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) is a full character and not simply a plot point moving things forward to the big finish.
To that, I say not only is Carol Danvers a full character, she’s damn near the most important character in the whole thing. If there’s one thing about Captain Marvel that frustrates me, it’s that we should have gotten this entry a lot sooner – maybe as early as Phase One, if we’re honest about it. Perhaps Kevin Feige wasn’t confident in the story as it was being told a few years ago to introduce the character and not confuse audiences too much. But if there’s anything these movies have proven by now, it’s that audiences will happily keep up if they’re given compelling stories and characters. Carol Danvers is one of their best so far – we can have Tony Stark’s pragmatism or Steve Rogers’ idealism, but Danvers is desperate to be a part of something larger than her, if only everyone would let her. Much of Danvers’ struggle in Captain Marvel is internal, and requires a lot of heavy lifting as an actor. Larson brings all that to the screen. She’s terrific – funny, brave, heroic, but not naïve. There isn’t a naïve bone in Danvers’ body, actually – she recognizes when someone is manipulating her, and she’s having none of it.
We are very familiar with Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, but here we get to see him in a place that we’ve never seen Fury before. He’s new, capable to be sure, but still trying to come to grips with the larger universe that reveals itself in the film. Jackson is wonderful as he navigates this new world, and it reminded me a lot of his performance in The Long Kiss Goodnight (there aren’t any specific references to that movie, but beat for beat Captain Marvel follows a lot of that template – in a good way!). We can see the steadfast character we come to know within. Also, the CGI work used to de-age him to 1995-era Jackson is pretty flawless – we’ve come a long way since Tron Legacy where a computer airbrushed Jeff Bridges looked like he stared a little too long into the Uncanny Valley.
It’s best not to dive too much into the other supporting performances like Jude Law and Annette Bening except to say they are fully capable of riding with Captain Marvel’s many twists and turns with aplomb. Lashana Lynch’s Maria Rambeau plays Danvers’ best friend with sympathy but also with a little toughness of her own. Both Danvers and Rambeau know how the game is played, and have each other’s back through all of it, and that relationship plays itself out winningly on screen. You want to spend time with them more, just enjoying each other’s company. Their scenes together have a special kind of resonance, because it’s not often that we get to see two women, sitting down at a table, and talking about their lives, in this kind of movie, and it makes you wonder why more superhero movies aren’t like that. It doesn’t call attention to itself; it just is – two people sharing their lives without being directed by outside forces dictating how to do that.
Ben Mendelsohn doesn’t steal the movie – you can’t take anything away from Brie Larson here, nor should you – but, without spoiling, his Talos takes the Marvel Cinematic universe in an unexpected direction that I welcomed, and may have long time fans seething a bit. But it makes a larger thematic point that is difficult to deny, and I admire how Captain Marvel plays with expectations here. He’s always been one of my favorite actors and it was a joy to see him subvert what people expect from his performance.
Look, Captain Marvel has a lot to say about a lot of things. It’s defiantly political, especially when the loudest voices (not the most voices, mind you, just the loudest ones) insist that their popular entertainment be simply escapism and not touch on the real world in any relevant way. But the film’s politics are so interwoven into the story that they become inseparable. It’s all text, it’s all subtext, it’s thematic – and extraordinarily important to the story that directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck are telling. Captain Marvel isn’t yelling “Look at me!” as it talks about these things – about its feminism, its social awareness, its sense of justice and empathy – because those things are so much a part of the fabric. Simply put, Captain Marvel wouldn’t be nearly as good a film without them because its politics gives the film a special weight and emotional power that are necessary in making the film work. Frankly, Captain Marvel’s first third doesn’t work very well. It throws us into the deep end of the pool and expects us to stay afloat. But Brie Larson’s extraordinary performance is our lifeguard, and her compassion and strength keeps us from drowning when the movie’s pacing and tendency to overcomplicate itself in the plot causes us to lose focus. (Honestly, I have a lot of questions about certain things that I shouldn’t spoil here, but a rewatch of certain MCU films might be in order just to keep up with one particular plot strand.)
There are science fiction and fantasy films that show us spectacular new worlds, flights of imagination, landscapes to marvel at, characters that we relate to even though they may be completely alien from us. All the best science fiction and fantasy does that. But it’s rare when a film shows us, for a few moments, what the real world could be like, if we simply opened our hearts a little and tried to understand the person across from us. There’s a key moment at the end of the film where a villain demands that Captain Marvel fight them on their terms, and not hers. So many conversations are like that now – setting the parameters of the discussion, but not letting any empathy win, to score points instead of putting ego aside and trying to bridge the gap to the other side instead of forcing that person to come to yours. If we could learn, to listen instead of waiting to talk, to understand when someone is hurting, to let others in instead of trying to defeat them, that would be a marvelous world to live in, indeed. In that regard, Captain Marvel is triumphant.
Plus, Goose the Cat rules.