14 March 2019

Review: Captain Marvel

I do not own any of these images

Directed by Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck
Release date: 8th March 2019
Starring: Brie Larson, Samuel L Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Annette Bening, Lashana Lynch, Jude Law

Official synopsis:

Carol Danvers becomes one of the universe's most powerful heroes when Earth is caught in the middle of a galactic war between two alien races. - IMDB.com

This review contains minor spoilers.

A fresh approach: an unconventional origin story

Captain Marvel uses a new, fresher approach in order to introduce this new superhero to the ever-growing Marvel Cinematic Universe. Like Black Panther, it's a different format to what we've seen before, (understandably it's easy to fall into the same routine when it comes to origin films) this time with non-linear storytelling involving past to present flash-backs, jumping between intergalactic space travel sequences and 90's America. 

Carol Danvers - first introduced as Vers - lost all of her memories following an incident 6 years ago. Since then, she has become a member of Starforce, a team of Kree Warrior Heroes on Hala, the Kree Empire's capital planet. The film is a puzzle of sorts where she attempts to put the pieces of her past back together after being captured by Skrulls (with whom the Kree Empire is at war). Through a memory probe, it is revealed that the Skrulls are trying to locate someone from Vers' past: someone she has no memory of. Vers escapes the Skrulls only to crash-land on Earth, where she runs into Agent Fury & Agent Coulson of S.H.I.E.L.D, eventually reuniting with forgotten friends and putting all the missing pieces of her life back together.

Impressively enough, amongst the mixture of space tones and 90's America and flashbacks, the film succeeds in telling a cohesive, balanced story. The directors knew how to juggle space travel and huge action fight sequences (on and off-Earth) with intimate character moments, a balance not always achieved in superhero films.

Captain Marvel feels 'fresh' because of this unconventional approach to an origin story. Yet we have a sense of familiarity, whether it be Easter Eggs that connect CM to previous MCU films or familiar characters such as Nick Fury, Ronan and Korath from Guardians of The Galaxy and even a soundtrack similar at times to Thor Ragnarok.

Vers / Carol Danvers

It didn't take me long to fall in love with Carol Danvers, but I knew for sure during the train scene, where she strolls through the train carriage in search of a Skrull in disguise. Carol is confident, funny, disciplined, playful, kind and likeable. Throughout the film there is an underlying girl-power narrative, which is both subtle and empowering. Repeatedly, Carol is subjected to every-day sexism that women will recognise all too well: being told to smile by strangers on the street, being told she would never be a pilot in the Army because she is a woman, regularly being reminded to control her emotions and prove herself to others. Carol's own body is also controlled by others: she is lied to (by a man) that her powers were given to her, and can just as easily be taken away. What's more is that she unknowingly has restraints to limit her abilities.

Danvers deals with the above with unflinching strength, mental and physical. Her Wonder-Woman-No-Man's-Land-moment is undoubtedly when she realizes that her true strength is her humanity: her ability to always get back up no matter how hard she falls down (both before and after she got her abilities). The montage of Danvers standing up everytime she fell was one of the most powerful moments in the film: her determination, persistence and resolve are her most important assets.

And yet, seeing Danvers with super strength at the start of the film felt so normal - empowering, yes; but normal. We didn't question it. When she eventually frees herself from the restraints that were imposed on her (without her knowledge), you can feel the audience take a collective breath of excitement and anticipation: Carol finally has full control of her physical self, and she becomes even stronger, a strength that is unfathomable, mind-blowing.

" [...] Larson has the natural body language of a superhero: that mixture of innocence and insouciance, that continuous clear-eyed idealism and indignation combined with unreflective battle-readiness, all the things that give MCU films their addictive quality. I wanted a clearer, more central story for Captain Marvel’s emergence on to the stage, and in subsequent films – if she isn’t simply to get lost in the ensemble mix..."  - The Guardian

The Superhero Suit & StarForce

I remember seeing on-set pictures of Brie Larson in the Starforce suit for the first time: straight away, it looked iconic. It is a practical, functional uniform (no impractical heels or tight corset in sight), it isn't sexualised and it has protective armour, a mirror image to the male version. The helmet was also incredibly cool and worked really well. The scene where Carol changes the colour of her suit is really sweet and touching too, and you can't help but scream Avengers! when you see it.

I do in some ways wish we saw more of Starforce. Yes, we witness a glimpse of their team dynamics, but I can't help but wish we knew more about their teamwork (especially when Carol fights them towards the end of the film). There is little emotional stake here, perhaps because the relationship between the team members was strictly professional and reserved. There is also little to no exposition in terms of the Kree and Skrull war, but what Captain Marvel comments on is colonial dynamics of genocide. If you are familiar with Ronan's story-line in Guardians Of The Galaxy, this Kree & Skrull conflict may be easier to comprehend - however, CM does a good job in establishing its Skrull characters such as Talos (Ben Mendelsohn).

Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) and Vers have a mentor-apprentice relationship, where the above differs slightly. There is more emotional weight in their confrontation scene towards the end of the film because we had more scenes of the two together. Their relationship is no doubt a subtle commentary on heteropatriarchy: Yon-Rogg did, after all, put a restraint on Vers powers and lied by saying they were given to her and can just as easily be taken away; throughout the film Yon-Rogg tells Vers that she must prove her ability to master her emotions in order to use her full power... all of this is so subtly ingrained into the plot, normalised, showcasing how commonplace sexism and patriarchy is in our lives and culture. What's more is that I'm not even sure if Yon-Rogg even realizes that he is a participant in this.

At the end of the film, Carol effortlessly punches Yon-Rogg to kingdom come, before uttering I have nothing to prove to you. Of course she doesn't! Because like Peggy Carter, she knows her value so anyone else's opinion does not matter.

90's Nicholas Joseph Fury

Samuel L Jackson makes a very welcome return as a younger Nick Fury. Danvers is the first superhero that Fury meets, prompting Fury into developing the 1st stages of The Avengers Initiative. 

Captain Marvel is as much about Fury becoming Fury as it is about Danvers taking the first steps towards becoming Captain Marvel. The two develop a truly charming friendship - the chemistry between the two actors is terrific and feels so genuine. The dialogue, humour and chemistry bounced between them so effortlessly. Captain Marvel can almost be considered as a buddy-cop film because of this: scenes between the two where the entire audience laughed out loud, something I hadn't experienced in a cinema since GoTG. There is a mutual respect between the two, unlike the mentor/apprentice relationship between Danvers and Jude Law's Yon-Rogg. Fury and Danvers have each-others backs, whether it be in combat or during more mundane moments. This friendsip between the two is really heartwarming and it will be interesting to see how it plays into Avengers Endgame.

Being set during the 90's didn't only allow for some pop-culture nostalgia (not to mention a great soundtrack) but some great comedic moments too: Danvers sitting in an internet cafe, researching a map on a painstakingly slow internet connection only for it to time out; using a phone booth to make an intergalactic call and more. These two contrasting tones; 90's grunge-and-old-fashion-research vs sci-fi-high-tech collided in the coolest manner. CM switches from spaceship chases and Artificial-Intelligence-Virtual-Reality to old-fashioned car chases and 90's flawlessly, knowing exactly when and how to slow down.

Maria Rambeau & Dr Lawson/Mar-Vell

There is no love-interest in this film which was really refreshing to see (not that having romance in the narrative is always a bad thing, but many films depicting a female-lead tend to contain a whisper of romantic undertones). In this film, it's all about friendship (Fury/Danvers, Danvers/Maria Rambeau) and mentorship (Yon-Rogg/Danvers, Dr Lawson/Danvers). Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch) was a dear friend & air force colleague of Danvers, and even with Danvers forgotten past, upon reuniting the two clearly take off as if no time has passed at all. I do however wish we had more scenes of Dr Lawson (Annette Bening). She is, after all, Mar-Vell, the origin of Danvers future superhero name and also unintentionally had a major role in giving Danvers her powers. Despite revelations made by the Skrulls and files discovered by Danvers & Fury, we merely scratch the surface of her story. Yet with all that being said, the role she has in the creation of Captain Marvel is clear: when talking to the Supreme Intelligence (an AI ruling the Kree) the AI takes the form of the person you most admire. For Danvers, it has always been Dr Lawson, despite Danvers having no recollection of her at all. 

All in all, Captain Marvel is another successful page in MCU's every-expanding book. The energy in the cinema after the post-credit scene showcased the audience's anticipation for End Game. It will be  interesting to see how Carol Danvers is introduced to the other avengers, how/if/when she will take up the mantle of Captain, and if she is even going to remain Earth-bound. The biggest challenge will be ensuring all of the characters in End Game get their chance to shine, and not be lost in the background. 

And a list of highlights to end this review: Pinar Toprak is the 1st female composer of a Marvel movie and she did a wonderful job - I suggest listening to I'm All Fired Up for maximum goosebumps. Her score is reminiscent of the main Avengers theme as well as Thor Ragnarok vibes, and it still felt fresh and exciting. Ben Mendelsohn was also very entertaining as Talos, and Goose the cat is a great addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe; bringing humour and unexpectedly answering some questions viewers have had since seeing the very first MCU film. Captain Marvel offers us only a snippet of what Carol Danvers is capable of, and I for one, am excited to see what comes next.

What did you think of the film? Summer x

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