Captain Marvel (2019) Review
HIGHER. FURTHER. FASTER.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe (i.e. the MCU) has indeed become a dominant force in both the superhero genre of filmmaking as well as cinematic blockbusters genre. Since the franchise began back in 2008, the MCU has quite literally ascended to popular movie franchise stardom, producing a continuing narrative of interconnected superhero feature films (all from which are comic book source material properties from Marvel comics) within a shared movie universe. With each new entry, the MCU has grown in size (expanding its own universe of heroes, gods, and monsters) as well as providing a blockbuster-ish superhero fantasy escapism for moviegoers around the world. Naturally, the franchise itself has proven to be a powerhouse juggernaut, cultivating large successful numbers at the box office with every entry, which demonstrate the mass appeal of costumed comic book heroes and the need for continuing the various MCU phase sagas in continuing already established ones as well as new ones to fill in the roster. Now, Marvel Studios and directors Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden gear up for the 21st theatrical motion picture installment of the MCU with the movie Captain Marvel. Is the movie “simple marvelous” or is it just a flat and uninspiring entry in the long-running cinematic universe?
For the past six years, Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) has lived on the alien planet Hala (the capital home world to the Kree race) and has been a member of warrior elite unit named “Kree Starforce” team; going by the name of “Vers”. Though she is human, Vers has lived amongst the Kree on Hala, living in their society as she trains to become a fierce warrior under her mentor / commander Yon-Rogg (Jude Law). However, Vers doesn’t remember anything about her life before arriving on Hala, struggling to know who she is and what lies within her past. When a Starforce mission goes sideways and Vers is captured by the Kree’s sworn enemy, the Skrull, led by Talos (Ben Mendelsohn), they look into her memories, allowing Vers more uncover / insight into her past than she can remember. Her fuzzy yet unlocked memories lead Vers and the Skrulls to Earth (circa the mid-90s), where they’re searching for a lightspeed engine that was developed by Carol’s mentor, Dr. Wendy Lawson (Annette Bening). With the assistance of S.H.I.E.L.D agent Nick Fury (Samuel Jackson) as well as Carol’s former best friend Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch), who knew Carol before the accident that found her on Hala, Vers digs deeper into her past memories (having a previous life on Earth) and her connection to Dr. Lawson’s research technology that the Skrulls are seeking out. However, the more that Vers / Carol pieces together her past, the more she uncovers about the truth to the ongoing conflict that has brought the Kree and the Skrulls to Earth.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
It goes without saying (as many of you readers already know) that I’m a huge (and do mean huge) fan of the MCU films. I think this particular cinematic franchise has indeed flourishes (the right way) into becoming a powerhouse juggernaut that it is today, spanning over more than a decade (currently) in presentation its shared universe of Marvel superheroes. As one can imagine, I’m more of a fan of Marvel comic book characters than the DC Comics ones, so the actual cinematic representation that each of the twenty films released (thus far) since 2008 have definitely enchanted and “geeked out” my inner fanboy. Of course, the success of the MCU has been expanded upon the already established characters (i.e. Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, the Hulk) as well bringing new characters into the mix (i.e. Black Panther, Doctor Strange, and the Guardians of the Galaxy); showcasing the different styles and narratives that accompany these super tales of good and evil. Yes, I do agree that these movies have found a “winning formula” and have repeated as such (accordingly) throughout its different entries in their “phase sagas”, but it’s something that definitely worked and there have been a few surprises along the way that keeps these movies both “interesting” and “entertaining” at the same time. All in all, I think that the MCU (as a whole) has definitely left its mark on the film industry. The question remains…. how long can this shared cinematic universe of Marvel superheroes be relevant before it becomes stale and uninteresting to the general public opinions? I guess only time will tell on that endeavor in the coming years.
This, of course, brings me back to talking about Captain Marvel, the 21st feature film in the collective superhero world of the MCU. Naturally, being a movie buff and fan of the Marvel superhero properties, I’ve been definitely anticipating any type of MCU endeavor for the past several years. That being said, Avengers: Infinity War’s ending definitely brought an introduction hint at what is to come for the penultimate entry of the Phase III saga (before the finale conclusion in Avengers: Endgame), with Captain Marvel being the next superhero to appear in superhero universe. With that, the rumors mill began turning as well as all the pre-release “buzz” about the movie (i.e. cast announcement, production stills, and B-Roll footage, I was getting pretty excited to see Captain Marvel, especially considering it was gonna introduce the character of Carol Danvers into the MCU (an origin story I was assuming), who would (presumably) play a pivotal role in the Avengers: Endgame. Of course, I did have some doubts about the movie, but the film’s promotional marketing (movie trailers, TV spots, etc.) kept my interest quite peaked to see this movie. Mostly, I was curious to see how it would ultimately shape up and lead into to Avengers: Endgame. Sadly, there was some controversy surrounding the movie that lead into some viewers bashing the feature or “black balled” it completely (i.e. what happened with the score on Rotten Tomatoes). Still, my anticipation in seeing Captain Marvel never wavered (and I wasn’t really caught up in all the way “politicising” for the movie) as I went to see the film on its opening night (with all the rest of the die-hard MCU fans out there). What did I think of it? Well, despite some nitpicks here and there, Captain Marvel is another successful installment in the on-going shared superhero universe by Marvel Studios. It wasn’t the absolute best that the stood has put out (especially considering some of the recent big hits), but it’s definitely far from being a bomb / disappointment that some were projecting it to be.
Captain Marvel is directed by both Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden, whose both have previous directorial works on both the films Sugar, Mississippi Grind, and It’s Kind of a Funny Story (both of which co-directed those films). While these previous project endeavors are most small-budgeted films, Captain Marvel represents Fleck and Boden’s jump into the foray of large-scaled / big-budgeted blockbuster. While their so-called “jump” into these types of films is not met with some difficulties (more on that below), Fleck and Boden do make the most of their directorial work on Captain Marvel, making sure to incorporate a lot of superhero aesthetics and nuances that are customary to an MCU feature film. This includes a lot of big-time visual action of heroics, a mixture of humor and dramatic heart, and the importance of establishing itself (both character and movie) in this ever-growing cinematic franchise. On those points, Fleck and Boden succeed and keeps the movie very much a Marvel movie through and through. In that regard, the movie (whether you love it or not) has the status quo standard of a MCU feature film, which is still quite enjoyable and entertaining.
That being said, Captain Marvel does manage to shakeup the standard standalone origin story MCU feature film that he all know of (remember this is the 21st installment in the franchise) in two primary areas. Of course, the first (and perhaps the more important one) is that Captain Marvel is the very first MCU movie for a female lead character to be featured in her own stand-alone origin story. Yes, female characters have been featured with past MCU films (i.e. Black Widow, Gamora, Wasp, Valkyrie, Scarlett Witch, Shuri, etc.), but have always played a “supporting” role to the lead male superheroes. In Captain Marvel, however, the character of Vers / Carol Danvers takes center stage and acts as the focal point of the film, devoting an entire motion picture towards the character. It’s definitely a very important and poignant moment for women actresses in Hollywood (especially in the realm of superhero movies) and does certainly feel like it’s the “sign of times” (for the better) in the industry. Thus, Captain Marvel, for better or worse, does act as the “tipping point” in a paradigm shift for female leads in these movies. Here’s to hoping we see more of this in the future chapters of the MCU.
The other area is that it offers a somewhat new spin of the commonly known superhero origin story arc (something that’s atypical for both the MCU franchise as well as superhero movies in general). While most superhero tales see the more traditional linear stance of a hero’s rise from normal to extraordinary (i.e. unlikeliest zero to heroic hero), the film’s script, which was penned by Fleck and Boden as well as Geneva Robertson-Dworet, Nicole Perlman, and Meg LeFauve, introduces our hero (Vers / Carol) already endowed with powers and (throughout the course of the narrative) explores her mysterious past in order to move forward. It’s not a huge “game changer”, but it’s definitely a non-traditional way of storytelling and helps mix up the commonplace superhero origin story that we all know of, which does help make Captain Marvel stand out more so than other endeavors.
Presentation-wise, Captain Marvel is a pretty solid endeavor, utilizing its 90s era setting appeal for visual gags as well as its sci-fi aspects / nuances to make the feature otherworldly. It’s kind of like “one foot in reality, one foot in fantasy” type of vibe throughout the movie. On that front, the movie does succeed, hitting all the right collective nuances (visually speaking) in shaping the feature film. Thus, the movie’s various “behind the scenes” team, including Andy Nicholson (production designs), Sanja Milkovic Hays (costume designs), and Ben Davis (cinematography) all work quite well in their respective fields on Captain Marvel. Additionally, the visual effects are also good. There not superbly grand from what I’ve seeing in some previous entries (i.e. Avengers: Infinity War), but are not terrible and / or dated CGI effects. A good example of all of this is towards the film’s ending, which showcases plenty of visual action and the usage of Carol Danvers full power. Lastly, while the film’s score, which was composed by Pinar Toprak, is good and definitely has all the right musical cues and melody that usually accompany a Marvel superhero movie, the soundtrack for Captain Marvel has plenty of 90s hits songs, including Nirvana’s “Come As You Are”, No Doubt’s “Just a Girl”, TLC’s “Waterfall”, and Lita Ford’s “Kiss Me Deadly” just to name a few. Again, it all adds to the 90s nuanced flavor of the feature timeline setting and it all feels good.
Unfortunately, Captain Marvel does fall prey to some pitfalls that makes the feature stumble and not quite as palpable as some of the latter entries in the MCU. How so? Well, despite the movie “freshen up” the classic narrative structure of a superhero origin story for the MCU and adding diversity in the lead role, Captain Marvel doesn’t really “up the ante” when it comes to cinematic endeavors. Of course, the movie is good and is definitely entertaining, but it’s really to compare to several previous MCU Phase III saga films. As many viewers, superhero movies are evolving beyond what they use to be. I mean… look at the smaller scale “coming of age” story from Spider-Man: Homecoming, to the more humor based sci-fi adventure from Thor: Ragnarok, the poignant and diverse tale from Black Panther, and the grandeur blockbuster epic from Avengers: Infinity War. Compared to all those entries, Captain Marvel (as an entire feature film) lacks that extra “oomph” that makes the tale worth the name brand of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. To me, while I liked it, I wasn’t completely “blown away” or overly “stimulated” by the movie. Naturally, while the film presents a strong female lead superhero, the rest just feels slightly subpar. However, while it may be half the fault lies with Fleck and Boden (as well as those involve in the story / script shaping), but also as well as we (the viewers), who have become somewhat “conditioned” in wanting to see something grandiose and brand new from this cinematic franchise. No one can argue that the MCU has paved the way for the current era of superhero movies, so the bar has been set really high for expectations for all within each new installment. Thus (and I’ll explain a little more below), Captain Marvel does fall a little short on expectations
Part of the problem with that is in the handling of the feature, with Fleck and Boden lacking the precise nature of shaping a superhero movie. Directing-wise, both are good, but the feature just really lacks the size and scope that it really wants to be (or rather the narrative it wants to tell). Personally, they both just seem a little bit out of their depth for a large budgeted / highly anticipated blockbuster superhero project like this. This is most apparent during the film’s middle section (i.e. the second act), which does little to move the plot / story along and sort of feels like a little boring. Of course, it definitely picks up during the third act, but the second act of the feature definitely could’ve been handled differently in both storyboarding and in direction. Another problem is that the movie never truly “humanizes” the character of Vers / Carol. The MCU is littered with “humanizing” its various superhero leads, which makes them humbler / more sympathetic and sometimes evolve beyond their comic book exteriors looks. Yes, I do understand that this is the first introduction for the character of Carol Danvers in this cinematic universe, but the film never completely allows her (as a character) to fully “humanize”; seeming to stoic and heroic throughout. However, I’m sure they (Marvel Studios) will build more upon Carol Danvers / Captain Marvel in future installments down the road, evolving her into something more than what’s presented in this film.
Coincidentally, while the narrative structure is different from past MCU endeavors, Captain Marvel does take certain cues from other female lead-based motion pictures of late… specifically with both Wonder Woman and Alita: Battle Angel. While this is not necessarily a bad thing (both of those films showcase some pretty strong and bad-ass female protagonist characters), their nuances and narrative pieces seem vaguely familiar in this particular movie (i.e. a female lead character who has a mysterious past and incredible strong discovering a shocking revelation by the film’s end). Again, it’s not totally a bad thing, but it just comes off as a little bit too convenient and too similar to those two movies. Additionally, without spoiling it, the villain in the movie also feels a bit underwhelming for the story that movie wants to explore. It suffices, but not grandiose, especially coming after such well-built villains like Killmonger from Black Panther or Thanos from Avengers: Infinity War. To me, all these points didn’t bother me as much (though I was expecting a little bit more than was presented), but it might bothersome to others and really might weigh heavy on them in their overall likeability towards Captain Marvel.
The cast in Captain Marvel is a pretty solid one, with plenty of recognizable faces (i.e. actors / actresses) from previous projects populating the movie within the respective characters. Of course, actress Brie Larson is at the head of the pack, playing the titular main title character of “Captain Marvel” or rather Vers or rather her real name Carol Danvers. Larson, known for her roles in Kong: Skull Island, Short Term 12, and Room, sure did makes some “waves” online prior to the release of Captain Marvel, which did rub some viewers / fans the wrong way. However, it didn’t bother me, so I didn’t pay attention to those comments and saw Larson’s performance in the movie (my overall opinion) in an unjaded and unprejudiced light. Personally, she was really good as Vers / Carol, introducing the mighty Marvel character to the MCU in a very positive way. As previous mentioned, the character of Carol Danvers is the first female lead protagonist in the MCU and Larson is clearly up to the task in filling out that role; having a sharp cheekiness and witty banter when she’s interacting with a lot of the movie’s various characters. There are a few scenes that she seems a little bit shaky on, but (for the most part) Larson succeeds in stepping into the boots of Carol Danvers.
All in all, I thought that Larson was great in the role. Their always “room for improvement” in making the character her own (a little bit more) and I think she can achieve that in future MCU feature films. Thus, despite all the controversial stuff surround her, I thought that she was great as Vers / Carol Danvers and definitely solidified herself as a strong and powerful female superhero lead that sure does kick ass and could easily go toe-to-toe with any other of the male superhero leads in the franchise (i.e. Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark / Iron Man, Chris Evans’s Steve Rogers / Captain America, Chris Harmsworth’s Thor, etc.).
Behind Larson’s Vers / Carol, is the character of Nick Fury, the future director of S.H.I.E.L.D who is a low-level agent during the movie, who is played by actor Samuel L. Jackson. Known for his roles in Pulp Fiction, The Hateful Eight, and Snakes on a Plane, Jackson has appeared numerous times as the character Nick Fury (or rather Director Fury) in the various MCU films, but more as small supporting role; acting as the “gruffer” and more stalwart individual who assist the Avengers in whatever challenges they face. In Captain Marvel, however, he gets more to time to shine (bumped up to more of a larger supporting role than before) and gets to showcase a more lighthearted and humorous side to Fury, with Jackson easily up to the task in providing his MCU character in much different light than previous shown. Additionally, Jackson’s rapport with Larson is great as their on-screen chemistry (nothing romantic) is fantastic as its quite amusing to see their banter back and forth in a way than seems natural rather than force. Plus, for fans of these movies, you do get to see how Jackson’s Fury loses his eye in the movie.
Looking beyond Jackson’s return as Nick Fury, Captain Marvel does offer some other small supporting roles to past MCU veterans to return to their respective on-screen characters. This includes actor Clark Gregg (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and Choke) as a younger agent Phil Coulson (using the same “de-aging” visuals effects that Jackson had for the film), actor Lee Pace (The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies and Halt and Catch Fire) as the Kree Ronan the Accuser, and actor Djimon Hounsou (Gladiator and Blood Diamond) as Korath. These characters, though limited on their screen time, are fun little cameo throwbacks to past MCU films; adding sort of “connections” to the rest of the already established shared franchise. That being said, I kind of wished some of them were utilized a bit more, especially Coulson. Still, their inclusion in the feature was a welcomed one.
The other person that plays an important connection to the character of Carol Danvers is the character of Maria Rambeau, one of Carol’s old friends and fellow Air Force pilot. Played by actress Lashana Lynch (Fast Girls and Powder Room), the character of Maria is a rather good, position herself as a supporting character in the movie as well as focal point in “piecing together” Danvers’s past memories. The overall character build for Rambeau isn’t relatively anything new, but the friend / relationship between her and Danvers is a good one and the movie certainly nails that. This is also apparent in the on-screen performance that Lynch gives in the role and the somewhat bond she cares with Larson. In the end, the character was a solid supporting player in Captain Marvel and it would be cool if she does return again in some of the future MCU movies. In connection to with that character, young actress Akira Akbar (Criminal Minds and This Is Us) plays Maria’s daughter Monica Rambeau and certainly does a good job in the role (no complaints here).
Moving along down the lines of connections to Carol Danvers / Vers are other two characters Yon-Rogg, Vers’s commander / mentor of the Kree Starforce team, and Dr. Wendy Lawson, a mysterious female woman who shares a special connection to Carol’s past, that are played by actor Jude Law (Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald and Closer) and actress Annette Bening (American Beauty and The Siege) respectfully. For their collective parts, both Law and Bening help “anchor” the film as the movie’s seasoned acting veterans and justly do so within their characters. Law provides the right amount of leadership bravado and charming wit to his portrayal of Yon-Rogg. Likewise, Bening serves as the more gravitas role as Dr. Lawson, surrounded more airy mystery as she holds the key to unlocking Ver’s past (as Carol Danvers). Although she doesn’t get a complete and wholesome character build, Bening was great in the movie as both her (as well as Law) are great when bouncing dialogue against Larson.
The only other supporting character that plays a large part in the movie is the character of Talos, the shaping-leader of the Skrull that are after Carol’s past memories (in search for Dr. Lawson’s research), who is played by actor Ben Mendelsohn (Ready Player One and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story). Unfortunately, the character isn’t exactly fresh and doesn’t really bring anything new to what’s already been told in the past entries, which makes Talos a somewhat second-rate opposition / antagonist of the feature. The flip side to that is that Mendelsohn is always good in playing this type of character (see his role in Ready Player One). Thus, I think that he was good as Talos, with the combination of smarmy villainy and some comedic bits. Could there been improvements made on the character? Definitely, but, for its worth, it works for what the movie needs.
Rounding out the cast are several other members of the Kree Starforce team, including actor Algenis Perez Soto (Sugar and Samba) as Att-Lass, actress Gemma Chan (Crazy Rich Asians and Mary Queen of Scots) as Minn-Erva, and actor Rune Temte (Eddie the Eagle and Fortitude) as Bron-Char. These respective characters are mostly minor supporting roles (and nothing more), but they are well-acted (for their sum parts allotted in the movie). As a side-note, the cat in the movie “Goose” does literally steal the show in his scenes. Why? You’ll have to find out…..
Lastly, as to be expected, the movie does have to secret Easter Egg scenes during the film’s end credits sequences (one mid-credits one and one at the very end). While I won’t spoil it what these two particular scenes are, the latter scene is more of a fun comical one and the former scene is something that I quite expected to see (as I’m sure that many out there can guess what I’m talking about). Still, that scene is something that I liked. As a final side-note, the movie opens with a touching and beautiful tribute to legendary Stan Lee.
Starforce warrior Vers travels to Earth to unlock her past and stop an intergalactic conspiracy in the Kree-Skrull War in the movie Captain Marvel. Directors Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden latest feature film sees the iconic Marvel superhero character in her first solo motion picture, delivering on providing her character with her own origin story of sorts for the popular MCU franchise. Well, the movie does struggle in its second act (pacing issues) as well as a few nuances that are atypical for an MCU endeavor, the movie does find its stride keeping the fresh, some interesting concepts, and solid performances from its cast, especially in Larson and Jackson. To me, I liked this movie. Yes, it wasn’t my personal favorite in the MCU’s Phase III saga, but it was still a successful entry in this shared universe that was both fun and entertaining (and that’s what I look for in an MCU movie). With that being said, my recommendation for this movie is definitely a “recommended” one superhero movie fans, especially ones seeking a strong female lead character, as well as for the casual moviegoers looking for some blockbuster distraction. Given everything that said and expected about Avengers: Endgame (the next and epic cinematic endeavor from Marvel), it’s safe to assume that Carol Danvers / Captain Marvel will appear in the movie (and play a pivotal role in the surviving Avengers members in their battle to reverse what Thanos has done), but her future in the MCU is one that I’m more interested to exploring, with plenty of cinematic narratives for the studio to explore (both between Captain Marvel and Avengers: Infinity War timeline as well as beyond Avengers: Endgame). Regardless of what metalizes on the horizon, Captain Marvel (as a film), while not as incredibly stellar as some of the latter entries in the franchise, still succeeds in being a favorable installment in this on-going shared comic book movie universe and a step forward for female lead characters in the age of cinematic superhero films.
3.8 Out of 5 (Recommended)
Released On: March 8th, 2019
Reviewed On: March 11th, 2019
Captain Marvel is 124 minutes and is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive language