Captain Marvel is a superhero origin story and a good one at that, but the problem is, while there is a lot of the superhero stuff, there’s just not enough of an origin story. Had I watched Captain Marvel eight years ago, or even five years ago, I would have loved it a lot. Watching it in 2019, I enjoyed it quite a bit, but there were some aspects, which didn’t work for me.
Set in 1995, Captain Marvel is the story of Vers (Brie Larson), a member of the Kree Starforce. During a mission to rescue an undercover Kree operative, Vers is captured by the Skrulls, (an alien shapeshifting race whom the Kree have been fighting for a long time) and is forcefully subjected to a memory probe. As she manages to escape, she pilots a pod to Planet C-53, or as we would call it, earth.
Her arrival catches the attention of S.H.I.E.L.D agents, Nicholas Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg). She later finds out that prior to being a Kree Operative, she had a life on earth, as a US Airforce Pilot, Carol Danvers. As she rediscovers her true identity, she meets some old friends, makes some new ones, loyalties are tested, alliances shift, and all of this leads up to a dramatic and at times hilarious final act.
Starting with the positives, Captain Marvel is an important movie. The 21st film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and yet the first Marvel movie to feature a female lead, is an important film, there’s no denying it. Carol as a character has several appreciable qualities, she is fierce, witty, independent, powerful, resilient and a total bad-ass. She doesn’t let perceptions or preconceived notions of identity define her and fights for what she believes in. She is potentially a positive feminist icon, someone young girls could aspire to be.
The absence of romantic tropes imparts the film with a certain freshness
Her friendship with Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch), who is a fellow Air Force pilot and one of Carol’s closest friends, emerges from a place of love and mutual respect and provides the film with a certain emotional depth, which otherwise feels lacking. It can also serve as a good example of the rare instances when female friendships are depicted positively and accurately, in film and television.
On a personal level, I thought the lack of a romantic subplot, served the film pretty well, because one, there’s just no time with several things happening all at once, adding another layer might clutter the narrative, and secondly the absence of romantic tropes imparts the film with a certain freshness and also allows for the interpretation of Carol and Maria’s story as a romantic one. Hey, I am not saying they have to be a romantic relationship, I love their friendship, but the relationship is ambiguous enough for us to interpret it in any way we want.
We get a scene about how the Avengers got their name, and we get to see why Fury needs an eye-patch.
Brie Larson and Samuel Jackson share an easy chemistry, their friendship gives the film a buddy-cop comedy feel and the script mines the unfamiliarity between the two characters to give us some outlandish and yet endearing moments. This review would be incomplete without the mention of Goose, a cat which Nick Fury’s character finds while visiting the govt. records facility has an affinity for and he carries Goose around, all throughout the film.
Goose is based on Carol’s cat in the comic books, ‘Chew’, and weird as it may sound, Goose has a pivotal role to play in the film. Ben Mendelsohn and Jude Law appear in supporting roles and are pretty good in their individual performances as well.
The movie ties in well with the rest of MCU. Watching a younger, funnier, two-eyed and inexperienced version of Fury’s character (Jackson has been de-aged using CGI) is absolutely delightful and tells us a lot about his individual character growth, about how he has changed since the start of the Avenger’s initiative. We get a scene about how the Avengers got their name, and we get to see why Fury needs an eye-patch, and how he ended up with the pager he uses at the end of Avengers: Infinity War. There is the coveted Stan Lee cameo, which made me really happy and really sad, all at the same time. And then there is the mid-credit scene, to hype the audience up Avenger’s: Endgame, and believe me, it does the job pretty well. The good thing that while there are enough tie-ins and easter eggs for the hardcore Marvel fans, even if you aren’t one, Captain Marvel as a film doesn’t alienate you, you could just as easily watch it as a standalone film and enjoy it.
Despite several positives, the problem here is Captain Marvel feels like a film that belongs in an earlier phase of the MCU, in places, it’s unsure and cluttered. The third phase of MCU which started with the release of Captain America: Civil War in 2016, has had some truly exceptional films, with the likes of Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther ( which became the first ever superhero film to be nominated for an academy award for best picture), the expectations are pretty high. Invoking this comparison here is in no way an attempt to belittle Captain Marvel, but just to point out some areas where the film faltered.
The best superhero stories work well, because they draw you into the character’s world, reflect their motivations, what makes them tick, what drives them, which is what Black Panther was able to do brilliantly, here while we do get glimpses into Carol’s character, ultimately such moments are limited. Carol’s character is a source of wish fulfilment for every woman who has been put down by men, told that she couldn’t do something and its a tribute to the women who fought back, against the ‘You can’t do it, You’re a girl’ mindset.
It’s a beautiful and appreciable sentiment, but in writing the character in such a way, writer’s Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck (Anna and Ryan also directed the film) and Geneva Robertson Dworet, have painted Carol’s character in broad strokes, so essentially its a trade-off between the relatability of a character, and a memorable individual identity. She is iconic, she is a hero, we aspire to be like her and we get to see a little bit of ourselves in Carol, but ultimately, we don’t get to know her well enough, part of which has to do with her struggle with identity, but on a personal level, I found myself wishing for a stronger emotional connection or a better understanding of her character.
There is also the fact that some of the characters feel underwritten, one of them Wendy Lawson/Mar-Vell(Annette Bening) who plays a key part in Carol’s story and in her ultimately becoming Captain Marvel, but is sadly underdeveloped and under-used. Now, while this might have something to do with the fact that I haven’t read a single Marvel comic, the final act felt convoluted, and frankly, a bit confusing partly because, I had little information about either the Skrull’s or the Kree’s to actually care about either, so ultimately, by the climactic fight sequence, I was restless.
However, when it comes to MCU films, the visual effects are always a point of attraction, the same is true for this one. The final confrontation between Carol and the Kree Supreme leader is definitely one of the highlights of the film and an absolute visual delight. A total of 11 different digital effects and animation studios have worked in collaboration for this film and the effort is clearly evident, this is definitely the kind of movie designed for the IMAX experience. The cinematography by Ben Davis is visually striking and effective and the combination of good cinematography and visual effects gives us enough meat to stay engaged, in the moments when the plot drags on.
Ultimately, this is a good superhero movie, with a kickass lead, two noble sidekicks and a cat, some intergalactic fight sequences, some cool tech showoffs, a healthy dose of 90’s nostalgia, which despite its strong ambition falls short of greatness, due to cliched and highly forgettable villains, and certain issues with the overall writing and pacing. But, nonetheless, this is an important film, I would totally recommend you go watch it.