April 2024

Captain Marvel (2019)

DIRECTOR: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck

CAST: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Jude Law, Ben Mendelsohn, Clark Gregg, Lashana Lynch, Gemma Chan, Annette Bening, Lee Pace, Djimon Hounsou


Captain Marvel, the first but far from last Marvel installment of 2019, doesn’t ascend to MCU top-tier, but it escapes the purely perfunctory mediocrity that some may have expected from a superhero origin story that’s primarily being squeezed in before she serves as the deus ex machina she’s clearly being set up as for next month’s The Avengers: Endgame. A 1990s setting and sci-fi angle (shades of Guardians of the Galaxy, including a familiar character or two) lends a fresher feel that’s sorely needed in such an over-saturated comic book movie landscape.

When we start out, our protagonist is seemingly a Kree (remember them from Guardians of the Galaxy?) warrior known as Veers (Brie Larson), who serves with an elite strike team led by her mentor and commanding officer Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) devoted to defending Kree territory from the encroaching hordes of shapeshifting Skrulls. But Veers is plagued by fragmented memories of a past life and visions of a mysterious woman (Annette Bening), and when a mission goes south and she crash lands on 1995 Earth, she might find this “alien” world isn’t so unfamiliar after all. And when she realizes her Skrull enemies (led by Ben Mendelsohn) have followed her, Veers—or perhaps Carol Danvers—is forced to team up with bewildered government agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Along the way, she might uncover her true past, and also realize that things might not be as clear-cut as she thought between who is an enemy and who is an ally.

Captain Marvel doesn’t have as much fun with the 1990s as it might have—Carol wears a NIN shirt and crash-lands in a Blockbuster Video store, but there’s not a lot else done with the period setting—but making it a prequel does allow for a couple cool things, principally meeting a younger—and two-eyed—Nick Fury. This younger, greener, often-bewildered Fury getting thrown into the midst of an intergalactic conflict, and the buddy movie-esque dynamic that forms between he and Carol is an enjoyable element, and there’s other familiar faces, including a younger Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), and small roles for future Guardians of the Galaxy villains Ronan (Lee Pace) and Korath (Djimon Hounsou). The plot isn’t tremendously complex, but it’s twisty-turny enough to be intriguing—aided by the Skrulls’ abilities as shapeshifting infiltrators—and the movie employs a little interesting ambiguity about who the real “bad guys” are. There’s a momentary rousing thrill when Carol fully manifests her powers in the third act, even if after that there’s a little of the same detachment as usual when there’s CGI characters zipping around blasting each other. The eventual reveal of how Fury ends up with an eye-patch is a little disappointing, both by being anti-climactic and treated as a throwaway joke, but there’s another cooler Easter Egg revealing the origins of the title of the Avengers Initiative that’s the sort of thing that gives Marvel fans goosebumps; so too is the opening tribute to the late Stan Lee, who makes what may be his final filmed cameo here.

Brie Larson, injecting another boost of girl power into the crowded MCU, gives Carol a feisty attitude and is convincingly physical enough for us to buy her kicking butt (at least in the scenes where she’s doing it hand-to-hand before going Super Saiyan). She also has a nice give-and-take uneasy partnership chemistry with Samuel L. Jackson, who gets to show a lighter side as his younger version of Nick Fury. The CGI digitally de-aging Jackson back to his mid-1990s self is the best example of this kind of special effect thus far. The “younger” Jackson passes muster, which is all the more of an accomplishment considering that while in the past this has usually been used only for brief flashback “cameos”, the de-aged Jackson is a main character who’s around for most of the movie, giving us plenty of time to judge his appearance (in fact, this is probably the biggest role Jackson has had yet in any Marvel movie). Ben Mendelsohn is his usual hammy self (apart perhaps from his portrayal of King George VI in Darkest Hour, I’ve yet to be impressed with him, despite his seemingly popping up in a high-profile movie every few months or so), but gets to mix things up a little with a character who initially seems the latest in his neverending lineup of one-note villains, but whose motives might turn out to be less villainous than we’re set up to expect (he spends the majority of his screentime buried under heavy prosthetic and makeup, but thanks to the Skrulls’ shapeshifting, he gets to look like himself for a couple scenes). Jude Law gets a role that bears a passing resemblance to Liam Neeson’s in Batman Begins: the mentor-turned-adversary. Gemma Chan’s Minerva suffers the same fate of most henchmen in these kinds of movies; she’s onhand to participate in the action sequences, not for her nonexistent personality. Lashana Lynch is Carol’s best friend Maria Rambeau, though their relationship is thinly-developed, Annette Bening has a small but key role, and McKenna Grace has a bit part as the child Carol. Goose the cat—taking its name from Anthony Edwards’ sidekick character in Top Gun—is a surefire scene-stealer. For those who stick around for the mid-credits stinger, there’s a glimpse of what lies ahead for Endgame.

Captain Marvel effectively serves its purpose giving Endgame‘s seeming deus ex machina an origin story so she doesn’t come completely out of nowhere to save the day. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it gets in, serves up some action, some flashy special effects, a little humor, and a plot that offers a few twists and turns and a little misdirection, and gets out without overstaying its welcome. For the latest heavy hitter to climb onboard the crowded MCU bandwagon, it’s a worthy introduction.

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