Marvel has been on a roll for a while now. I guess it’s inevitable that when you release extra colorful and ambitious movies like GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2, SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING, THOR: RAGNAROK, BLACK PANTHER, and AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR all within two or three years then some of the other stuff you put out is gonna seem less impressive. Like, DOCTOR STRANGE was pretty good fun and ANT-MAN AND THE WASP has plenty of laughs and now we have CAPTAIN MARVEL, a perfectly fine movie I enjoyed watching similar to how I enjoyed watching the first THOR. Like that one it’s a pretty cool, well-cast new character who comes to our world from sort of an iffy fantastical one, has some pretty cool, sometimes funny fish-out-of-water interactions with humans, and fights some bad guys from her world in a small town without many people around.
Not bad, but how are you gonna get ’em back on THOR once they’ve seen RAGNAROK? We take the cool characters for granted now and we expect better style, better jokes, better spectacle. At least that’s how I feel. It’s worth mentioning that most of the women I’ve talked to about it liked CAPTAIN MARVEL better than most of the men I’ve talked to, so there may be things we’re not appreciating.
Brie Larson (GREENBERG) plays Vers, a glowing-super-fisted soldier of the alien Kree civilization, at war with the green-faced Skrulls, who crash lands on Earth and starts to remember a life here as Carol Danvers, hotshot Air Force flying ace/top gun/iron eagle. The story takes place in 1995, a detail cleverly introduced by having her land in a Blockbuster Video decorated with TRUE LIES and BABE standees. Quickly on the scene are S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, THE RETURN OF SUPERFLY) and Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg, TYSON), both digitally de-aged. At this point apparently they know about super powers, but not aliens until Fury trails along with Danvers and witnesses Skrulls shapeshifting into and out of humans.
Ben Mendelsohn (ANIMAL KINGDOM) plays the main Skrull character, but luckily he gets to be a little goofy and break out of that arrogant lead villain slot I worried he was stuck in after ROGUE ONE and ROBIN HOOD. Their conflict turns out to be more interesting than just good guys and bad guys, sending Danvers on a journey of questioning what she’s been taught and what side she should be on. It’s an anti-war movie and a protect-refugees movie, but of course all the hype is about it being a girl power movie. Note that Marvel released BLACK PANTHER in Black History Month and this on International Women’s Day. In a legitimate step forward they have their first female co-director (Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck are the team that wrote HALF NELSON and directed SUGAR and MISSISSIPPI GRIND) and composer (Pinar Toprak, Krypton), and the screenplay is credited to the directors plus Geneva Robertson-Dworet (TOMB RAIDER), Nicole Perlman (GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY) and Meg LeFauve (INSIDE OUT).
I don’t understand the silly-pantses that you hear about on the internet who oppose the small strides in diversity we’ve been starting to see in recent movies. We should be happy for people of all backgrounds to have more chances to see themselves represented on screen, but also who the fuck can’t watch a movie and identify with a hero who’s different from them? I mean I got news for you buddy, you’re no Arnold Schwarzenegger either, I don’t know how you can live vicariously through Dutch covering himself in mud to fight the Predator but it’s too hard to imagine yourself having something in common with a lady. Anyway, you’re depriving yourself.
Of course that’s not to say there aren’t things specific to a female experience that I’m not gonna pick up on. I believe this is the first Marvel movie to center on friendships between females, including best friend Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch) and boss Brilliant Scientist Lady (Annette Bening, “Vicky” on the Miami Vice season 3 episode “Red Tape”), as well as Maria’s daughter Monica (Akira Akbar), who idolizes Carol. That last part verged on the too-saccharine for me at times, but I later read that Monica is a future super hero character, so I guess it’s setting things up. The other sweet non-threatening feminism I see is that Captain Marvel (FEMINISM SPOILER) realizes she has to reject the teachings of her male mentor and find her own solutions not based in the militaristic ways of both of her peoples. (Admittedly this is something she vows to do in the future. We have yet to see how she stops a war.)
I also like the symbolism of changing her costume and using her powers as expressions of her true self and fulfilling her potential instead of letting a dude hold her back. And I like that when she shoots at the TRUE LIES standee she hits Arnold but not Jamie Lee Curtis, which I think is a fair judgment of their characters.
There’s arguably more going on beneath the surface than in most Marvels – unfortunately I’d say there’s less going on on the surface. The Skrulls kept reminding me of demons on that TV show Angel, and most of the big scenes take place in generic locations like Rocky Desert Area or Space Station Equivalent of Warehouse. It seems to hark back to the earlier Marvel movies that didn’t distinguish themselves much visually. One exception is the cool part where she flies around in a mohawk helmet with some kind of laser grid face-covering.
I assumed the FX involved in smoothing out Samuel L. Jackson meant he’d be a smaller part than the trailers implied. In fact this might be the most Fury-heavy one so far. Though the artificial youth is a little odd, the only time I found it distracting was a scene where he runs down a hall and I thought “They couldn’t get a double for this one scene to make him run better?” But maybe I should respect that he wanted to do it. Or maybe it’s a character choice. Maybe Fury never could run very good.
Since this is supposed to be the year of DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE, I wish there was one shot where they clearly just pasted Larson’s face over Bruce Willis. At one point when they were in a car chase I heard a little LETHAL WEAPONish guitar noodling on the score and I hoped it would go full-on buddy action movie, but that doesn’t quite happen. You know I’d forgive the low levels of crazy comic book shit if all the normal urban stuff looked and felt like a legit action movie. It could be twenty-first-century big budget I COME IN PEACE!
Though she’s super-powered, the Captain also receives fight training from her mentor Alien Jude Law. The moves look pretty good and shot clearly but it keeps cutting too fast. I read that they tried to get Keanu for the Law role, and that would’ve been a huge waste of his talents, but he could’ve had a talk with them about longer takes. Anyway the fight coordinator is Walter Garcia (SPY, X-MEN: APOCALYPSE). Second unit director is Jeff Habberstad (WALKING TALL, JARHEAD, AvP:R, THE LAST AIRBENDER). Stunt coordinators are Hank Amos (THE PURGE sequels) and James M. Churchman (X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, FIRST MAN). Larson’s stunt double is Joanna Bennett, who has also doubled Amber Heard, Nicole Kidman and Gal Gadot in the DC Universe.
You know what people seem to really get a kick out of? Old technology. They have a joke about our heroine from an advanced civilization not understanding why you have to sit and wait for a 1995 computer to load a program. But the crowd was laughing before they got to the joke. Ha, old computers. Stupid.
See, the other star besides Larson and Jackson is the ’90s. If you’re around my age you might share my feelings of “Oh shit, we’re old now, huh?” This movie fills me with a swirl of conflicting “This is for my people!” and “They think we’re gonna fall for this bullshit?” instincts instilled in my generation from birth. The soundtrack is packed with ’90s songs we all heard a million times back then whether or not we paid attention. Not one of them will make you say, “Ooh, that’s an interesting choice.” None are my favorite songs and none are objectionable. One of them (“Waterfalls” by TLC) was not really my thing at the time, but eventually over the years you just realize certain pop songs are undeniably good, and those are gonna make you smile if they come on the radio either in your car or in Captain Marvel’s. You can’t help that.
I turned to my special lady afterwards and asked “Is that our generation’s version of the FORREST GUMP soundtrack? Or our THE BIG CHILL?” But she pointed out that they at least emphasize female singers to fit with the material. There’s at least that level of curation. There’s some R.E.M. and a prominent placement of Nirvana’s “Come As You Are” that felt a little blasphemous to me, but otherwise it’s Hole, Garbage, Elastica, Salt-N-Pepa, Heart, Lita Ford and that song “You Gotta Be” by Des’ree. The one I thought worked best was No Doubt’s “Just a Girl” during a fight scene, but I seem to be alone in that.
In the movie’s defense, “You Gotta Be” was the only one I could find on a Now That’s What I Call the 1990s compilation CD. For TLC they had “No Scrubs.”
You know, I somehow missed the joke in the Stan Lee cameo, that he was practicing his lines for MALLRATS. Now that I get it I like it. I’ve heard that it doesn’t make sense because how could MALLRATS exist in the Marvel Universe when they discuss Marvel Comics in MALLRATS, but I think it’s an homage to the kids watching SCREAM 2 in HALLOWEEN: H20 even though in SCREAM they watched HALLOWEEN.
I didn’t think CAPTAIN MARVEL was as dependent on its links to the other Marvel movies as I’d heard. There are lots of little connections, but you mostly don’t need to know them to understand what’s going on. In fact, having seen the other movies is what made me confused about the timeline of the Tesseract. Not a big deal, though.
There are other parts that felt a little clunky to me. At the beginning when Vers first starts fighting and being funny it feels like the pay off to some introduction and build up that we didn’t really get. And there’s a sequence with Skrull voices talking as they sift through her memories that seemed like a rough cut to me, something that will be cool once they get it figured out. I wish it was slicker. To me it doesn’t feel as effortless and confident as other Marvel movies. But the things I really like, that seem like small pleasures to me, might be bigger from other angles and overpower that.
An advantage the Marvel movies have is that the ones we consider to be lesser are still part of a larger work. Thor, Black Widow and the recast Bruce Banner have become beloved characters far beyond what you could’ve guessed from their so-so first movies. If this isn’t the best possible introduction to Captain Marvel that won’t’ necessarily matter. In the mid-credits scene (MID-CREDITS SCENE SPOILER) when she suddenly appears behind the Avengers, answering the call from the end of INFINITY WAR (from the pager that Fury luckily had in the back seat of his car after 24 years!), my instinctive response was “YES!” And then when I thought about it more I thought, “Wait, what is she supposed to do? Punch Thanos with her super fists?” The movie doesn’t really tell us why she’d have any better chance than the rest of them to deal with half of the human race having been turned into piles of ashes. But as long as ENDGAME does tell us, nobody will be the wiser.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.