Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck
Starring Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Jude Law, and Goose
Reber’s Rating: A-
There’s something to be said if Rotten Tomatoes finally went ahead and disabled reader reviews. After all, fans with blood fueled with vitriol have tried to derail numerous films within the last couple of years. Remember how reviews penned by forum trolls nearly sunk Star Wars: The Last Jedi? Well, they tried all over again with 2019’s Captain Marvel. No reason at all either, merely just because the film is headlined by a female who becomes mightily endowed and empowered with a power she strives to control. Carol Danvers is woman, hear her roar and with a beaming smile too. She’s fierce and mighty and will not succumb to failure when she falls down. Yet there are people who feel threatened by a movie like Captain Marvel.
No, I’m quite sorry to all the negative naysayers lingering out there. Not only is Captain Marvel fun and fresh, embracing a mid-90’s era charged by grunge rock and bad attitudes with a flair some origin tales , but Brie Larson relishes her role and is a bubbly delight. Sure, Marvel’s marketing made their penultimate release to Avengers: Endgame look incomprehensible and generic, but the reasons are quite clear as the breezy plot unfolds. We’ve seen some of these tropes woven into Marvel’s formula previously but not with a cast delighted in the magic brought to life in just a two-hour time span. Captain Marvel is one of the MCU’s top-tier origin tales, even managing to best several sequels in both quality and fun factor.
The trailers across the last several months haven’t really offered us much to get enthusiastic about for Captain Marvel’s introduction. What, a woman who can’t remember her past tussling with the Skrulls and backed by a Kree-led Starforce? Yeah, I felt the urge to shrug this one off too, I did. Then I started to see a tale of a film studio that knew they had a hit on their hands. Yes, this is the first female-led Marvel Studios film. Yes, Wonder Woman beat this to the big screen a couple years ago but, in hindsight the Patty Jenkins-helmed blockbuster feels clunky and a tad bleak. Captain Marvel wasn’t rushed onto the big screen just to make a point. Instead, Marvel Studios took their time to ensure that both the character and story were crafted just right. Anyone can proudly proclaim to be the first at something. No one wants to be the first female-led super hero film but feel copied and pasted from another property.
If you must know, yes, I am saying Wonder Woman felt like a story politely borrowed from 2010’s Captain America: The First Avenger. But the plot as told by director Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, leading their first blockbuster of their young careers, is a bit clunky in the first act. Parts seem like the proverbial mainstays within the Marvel formula. The hero who has to overcome the odds to save the day. The best friend who encourages her pal to not just do better but be better. The comedic elements to place necessary breathers into the action. Most of the Marvel origin tales are hampered by these themes underneath the surface. 11 years into the shared universe, these nuances have become a bit distracting. You find yourself checking off a list inside your head rather than enjoying the film unfolding on the screen before you.
Thankfully, trying to pinpoint what parts of the formula are injected into this particular installment are soon forgotten. The banal trailers were all to distract us from trying to piece the plot together. Yes, Captain Marvel is very much a tale of a young woman trying to make sense of her past. That is by far the least on Carol Danvers’ mind, however. At the center of the story is the expansive Kree/Skrull War, much of which is merely hinted at from the get-go. We know that Vers thinks she’s of Kree descent, blue blood and all. She has powers that she thinks can be stripped from her at any time. She’s told to not run off and take action her way. Yet, as Carol finds herself back on Earth chasing down leads with a downtrodden SHIELD agent by her side, Captain Marvel proceeds to take another run-of-the-mill science fiction story and actually humanizes our characters.
On one side is the relationship that Danvers and Fury develop, a Martin Riggs/Roger Murtaugh vibe to their dynamic. Danvers is more the wild child free spirit with a fiery temperament, Fury the older fatigued spook looking for a reason to keep on going. Their relationship doesn’t take itself seriously, allowing both characters to learn and grow from each other’s traits. Fury admires Danvers’ moxie, Carol is taken in by Fury’s sense of loyalty. Tipping the scales is the endearment that Carol shares with Maria Lambeau, her best friend as they fought to gain respect within the Air Force. The comradery the women share is affectionate and grounds the story when most necessary, their love for each other rooted in discordant childhoods. Carol and Maria are like wayward sisters who can pick up the pieces after not seeing each other for years and connecting without friction, evoking feelings of real life woven into fiction.
Brie Larson, for starters, is an absolute delight to watch every second she’s on the screen. Though the trailers made her interpretation of Carol Danvers seem frosty and distant, the truth is that Larson is truly having a blast. Much like Robert Downey Jr. or even Chris Evans, she enjoys every moment she has in front of the camera. She’s spunky, with a charm that radiates around her performance that becomes immensely infectious. Larson has always been in the passenger seat but possesses a natural charisma that makes her Danvers very likable and idolizing. Everyone wants to be a dreamer, not just be along for the ride, and Larson taking command will be her big break. Partner her with the ever-talented Ben Mendelsohn, whose Skrull commander can’t even be dismissed as undistinguished. A balance to the main character makes for great empathy. Mendelsohn is an absolute treat as Talos to the point that I felt compassion and union with his goals. Finally, a Marvel villain that doesn’t feel one-dimensional!
Admittedly, seeing de-aged versions of Samuel L. Jackson and Clark Gregg running around the screen is jarring at first. You catch yourself looking for crow’s feet, wrinkles, hair loss, anything that gives age away. Truly, Nick Fury looks like a gruff vet and Phil Coulson a spry rook looking to impress his new boss. Not only that but Boden and Fleck, alongside co-writer Geneva Robertson-Dworet (Tomb Raider), really did their homework to dig into the MCU timeline. There’s many nuggets hiding in plain sight not just from previous Marvel Studios releases but also ABC’s venerable Agents of SHIELD. Seeing some of the winks and nods that the show gets in this blockbuster feels deserving. The show is generally ignored by the MCU. Maybe this is the changing of the tide? Agents of SHIELD fanswill approve of the mentions. Casual Marvel fans will dig the references anyway.
The real scene stealer isn’t any of the above-mentioned, however. The culprit who actually gets the most laughs, aside from Danvers herself, would be Goose the Cat. Yes – the cat. Sure, changing the name of Danvers’ feline friend to wink at Top Gun is worthy of a groan. No matter. Goose is a fluffy little Flerken of a good time who puts the air back into the film when Captain Marvel needs a break most.
Captain Marvel doesn’t have to prove a damn thing to anyone out there. The time is right for a character such as Carol Danvers to finally get the chance to shine bright. The story of our original corps of Marvel heroes is concluding in just a few short weeks. We’ve no idea what to expect, nor who will survive to fight another day, in Phase Four. Brie Larson is energetic, lively, and even comedic as she brings life to Captain Marvel. The future could not be brighter not just for her Larson but the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Whatever is to come with the MCU, may I hope that both Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck find their fortunes in Marvel’s favor. Any doubts I had about Captain Marvel are all erased. If this is the best version of Brie Larson, then we are all in for a hell of a ride in the coming years.