Review: Captain Marvel

After a break for cinemas from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Captain Marvel blasts in: a quirky addition that has much to like, but could have been better.

On the homeworld of the Kree race, powerful warrior Vers (Brie Larson) is trained to control emotions and confusing memories of her past for war against enemy race the Skrulls. Post battle, Vers crash lands in the USA circa 1995, teaming up with a younger Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to piece together where she came from, her real name (Carol) and how she got her powers.

Two years after Wonder Woman got there first, Marvel finally has a female superhero movie (it only took 21 films to get there…). Gender diversity is reflected in co director Anna Boden (working alongside Ryan Fleck), a team of female writers, and Marvel’s first female composer Pinar Toprak: welcome given Black Panther’s success.

Both directors ably handle action and dialogue, but more than most recent Marvels, this feels more like an anthology entry from a directors’ voice and vision standpoint. However, the two ably adapt their screenplay – written alongside Geneva Robertson-Dworet, and based on a story by those three, Nicole Perlman and Meg LeFauve – meaning there’s a strong female presence (rightly) behind the script.

The story and choices are interesting – portraying an origin this way is a risk, and while the film initially struggles it hits stride quickly, offering a refreshing take on the standards of getting powers, a suit and so on. The conflict between the Kree and the Skrulls appears simple, but cleverly upsets expectations and assumptions, gifting actors more complex scenes and the movie interesting twists – there’s a more humane throughline too to conflict and war, which felt unique for this series.

The 90s setting allows for great cultural references (Blockbuster, terrible internet speeds, terrible clothing) that help ground it in a specific time, and as expected the joke and quip ratio is high! The way Vers/Carol grows and develops feels different too – as she remembers her past, it gives Larson much more to work with, drip feed flashbacks expertly placed and paced rather than overlong or expository.

However, despite being two hours long it felt a bit rushed – I’d have liked to spend more time on her powers and what they actually are, something a lot of Marvel films usually obsess over. In mitigation, I imagine the script intended to put us in the dark like our protagonist though. Shared universe tie-ins mostly work, but a couple towards the end had even this Marvel fan rolling his eyes. A definite plus is the increased focus on the MCU’s wider universe, planets and species broadening the scope ahead of developments post Avengers: Endgame (where a fair few big heroes could bow out).

MV5BMTE0YWFmOTMtYTU2ZS00ZTIxLWE3OTEtYTNiYzBkZjViZThiXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyODMzMzQ4OTI@._V1_

Toprak’s score evokes Blade Runner on the Kree homeworld, pivoting to an orchestral sound that soars in all the right places. One particular scene masterfully combines this with editing, utilising the character’s growing inner belief, realisation of her powers and battles throughout her life to stay on top, culminating in a brilliant emotional moment that marries performance, sound and visuals.

A series of 90s songs are also used well, evoking the decade’s varied music. Visually, the film is hit and miss, US location shooting far more impressive at creating a sense of place than more fantastical environs. Dusty, sunbaked California gives way to lush greens and woozy sunsets in Louisiana, making blandly foggy CGI paradises in space less tangible.

The action is very good but a little too CGI heavy at times – perhaps understandable given Carol’s main power is an energy blast from her hands! A later scene set in space is far more impactful, showing the sheer range of her powers and  clarity that the dark of space (contrasted with Earth) offers.

Special effects range from incredible to sketchy, with some action a little weak or settings obviously greenscreened. This is par for the course with most modern blockbusters though – and it’s on the performance front that Captain Marvel might be a trailblazer, in nearly perfect de-aging Samuel L. Jackson.

We’ve seen this technology sparingly used in prior MCU films, but here it’s used throughout – after an initial trip to the uncanny valley, I was astonished at how quickly I accepted it. Give Disney a couple more years and this could change filmmaking – it’s absolutely remarkable.

Larson blends sass, irony and a wounded, broken air as Carol, and is at her best when wrestling with who she really is and what she really stands for; she makes her certain in her actions and steadfast, that iron will translated well and contrasting with her human side. Jackson puts in his best Marvel performance as a wide eyed (no pun intended), wisecracking, less jaded Fury, giving us a hefty share of his well known charm and comedic timing (that this comes through with the effects is impressive).

Ben Mendelsson’s Talos is surprisingly great, the Aussie actor more interesting than expected given similarly rote roles in Rogue One and other big films. His comic timing and smarmy charm come across despite thankless prosthetics, and he’s another villain you wouldn’t mind bumping into again.

Lashana Lynch is understated but impressive as Carol’s friend Monica – in lieu of a romantic interest, her strong scenes with Larson are imbued by a treasured friendship lost to time and rejuvenated. It’s another example (like Bucky Barnes and Steve Rogers) of Marvel’s grown up emphasis on strong, affecting friendships.

Jude Law has a complex, different role as Vers’ mentor, hectoring and shaping her into what he believes she can be, while Annette Benning plays both a mysterious, empathetic character from Carol’s past and an avatar of the manipulative Supreme Intelligence running the Kree empire, showing range in little snippets.

There’s also a welcome return for Clark Gregg’s S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Phil Coulson, de-aged (not as impressively as Jackson) and providing fun in a nod to long time MCU and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. fans. Gemma Chan, Lee Pace and Djimon Hounsou (the latter two reprising roles from Guardians of the Galaxy) portray war hungry Kree, conveying soldiers’ camaraderie as well as an obsessive drive to keep their empire on top. I couldn’t not mention the cats that play Goose, who steals scenes and provides the biggest laughs.

Even with (in my view) a need for a bit more focus and time, Captain Marvel is one of the better MCU origins, and a good first female led superhero film for the series.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.