Movie review: ‘Captain Marvel’ introduces first female lead just in time for new Avengers era
(Courtesy of Marvel Studios)
Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
By Sam Connon
Mar. 7, 2019 11:29 pm
After 11 years, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has its first leading woman – and she doesn’t disappoint.
Marvel Studios has released 20 films since the 2008 debut of “Iron Man.” In that time, the series has expanded to include spy thrillers, heist movies and cosmic comedies all sprawling over the most expansive cinematic universe ever created. Now, “Captain Marvel” takes the MCU where it has never gone before – the ’90s.
But for those clamoring for the good old days of Blockbusters and beepers, it takes a while to get to there.
“Captain Marvel” opens with Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) on an alien planet, six years after a mysterious crash wiped her memory. Carol is now aiding a team of Kree soldiers in their generations-long war against the shape-shifting Skrulls, while team leader Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) teaches her to control her newfound photon energy powers. When Carol is sent on a mission to stop the Skrull leader, Talos (Ben Mendelsohn), from kidnapping a Kree spy, she is eventually captured and brought to Earth, where the story of her past begins to unravel.
The first act of the film – composed mostly of dream sequences, flashbacks and exposition dumps – doesn’t particularly start “Captain Marvel” off on the best foot. The plot feels rushed, and amid all the space jargon, we miss out on major details about the Kree-Skrull War, the two alien races’ traits and Carol’s relationship with her team. But when Carol arrives on Earth and teams up with then-S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), the pacing, humor and plot finally come into their own.
Much of the film follows Carol uncovering her past, a plot point that can typically fracture a narrative and strip its lead of any real character. However, Carol’s personal journey fits organically into the greater plot, and unlike other cliche amnesia-stricken protagonists, she still retains a relatable and witty personality full of sarcastic quips and emotional outbursts.
[RELATED: Movie review: ‘Avengers: Infinity War’]
Larson shines as the titular character, and her instant chemistry with Jackson is a blast to watch. The two have great banter, and it is refreshing to see Jackson take a more youthful approach to the typically jaded Fury.
Mendelsohn stands out as well, joining the list of Marvel villains with tangible and sympathetic motives alongside Loki, Killmonger and the Vulture. He manages to bring both humor and heart to the role, despite often being held back by his overbearing prosthetics. Yon-Rogg is a compelling character, thanks to Law’s nuanced performance, but he winds up being a missed opportunity as there was little insight offered into his motivations and his relative lack of screen time.
There is not a lot of action in “Captain Marvel” – at least compared to its peers in the genre – but what is there works. The first act only has a dusty, shadowy fight scene and a brief, yet creative, escape sequence, while the second act boasts a fun train chase. However, the action kicks into full gear in the final 30 minutes, and the visuals in the final fight are awesome.
By nature of its existence, “Captain Marvel” also bears the burden of tackling certain social issues. The movie isn’t as overt with this as its female-led blockbuster predecessor, “Wonder Woman,” but it is still able to address such themes in a relevant and entertaining way.
The film plays off sexist tropes of submission and pretty faces without relying on them, typically making use of visual storytelling – as opposed to cliche dialogue and flawless women – to empower audiences. Carol is far from a perfect person at the start of the story, and her ability by the end of the film to stand up to people and let her passion take over carries most of the film’s emotional weight.
Being the first Marvel movie since comic book writer Stan Lee’s death, the film does his legacy justice with a surprisingly emotional send-off. But while the era of Lee comes to a close in “Captain Marvel,” the film kicks off a brand new one – introducing one of the series’ most powerful and likable characters in Carol just in time for April’s “Avengers: Endgame.”
So for the next seven weeks, Carol Danvers’ lone appearance will be in her very own entertaining and badass solo outing, but the film has major implications that tee her up as one of the standouts of the burgeoning new Avengers era.