Movie Review – 16 Thoughts About Captain Marvel

SPOILER WARNING – THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR DISNEY’S NEW FILM CAPTAIN MARVEL

SPECIAL ADDITIONAL DISCLAIMER – I went in to this movie purely as a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Aside from what I’ve absorbed as a regular comic book reader over the years, this Captain Marvel, the Kree, Skrulls, and… the other major alien species… aren’t my area of expertise.

Captain Marvel is kind of a big deal.

Not only is its hero, Carol Danvers, being positioned as a major part of the future of the multi-billion dollar MCU franchise, the film itself is serving as something of a bridge between the finality of Avengers: Infinity War and the impending rebirth that the upcoming Endgame represents.

Additionally, it has the cultural weight of being the MCU’s first female-led film. There is a lot of baggage that goes along with this. Some of it is good and some of it is bad, but all of it is irrelevant to whether or not this is a good movie. Hopefully most of you know me well enough by now to know that that’s all I care about. I won’t be getting into any of the issues that simple-minded morons might have with Brie Larson or with shitbag websites that use exploitative headlines to generate pageviews with no regard for facts or nuance.

So with all of that being said, was Captain Marvel a good movie? Read on and find out!

1 – The Star – It’s unreasonable that I would have expectations for the character of Carol Danvers. My most recent experience with her was in the excellent last run of Spider-Woman. There she was fairly well defined, but also a just a supporting character. I got a taste of what that writer thought of Carol, but that wasn’t necessarily as on-brand as she might be in her own book.

I still had expectations, though. And I can’t say that Brie Larson necessarily matched up with them. In my head Carol was all around a little tougher. In the trailers Larson seemed physically slight and her voice was hardly the commanding tone I expected from the most powerful hero in the Marvel Universe. But I trust Marvel and wasn’t too worried about it. I liked Larson in Kong: Skull Island and felt pretty sure that she was up for the role.

I was right.

You can look at the rest of the MCU leads and see that one quality outweighs all others – magnetism. Don’t get me wrong – Robert Downey, Jr., all three Chrises, Chadwick Boseman, and Paul Rudd are all good actors. But they share a certain charisma that compels us as the viewers to care about what they do and what happens to them. It’s an undefinable star quality that gets us all warm when they smile and makes us pump our fists when they triumph. It’s an extra something beyond just emoting and delivering lines.

I suspect that Edward Norton lacking this something is why people didn’t connect with his Bruce Banner. They man is a fantastic actor, but he doesn’t have it in that way.

Brie Larson has it. That quality that makes us sympathize with her struggles, laugh at her cockiness, and delight in her victories. We want to see her story. And from the opening frames of Captain Marvel she is undeniably right at home in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, taking her place alongside those other charismatic icons.

As for Carol herself, I think her story might be my favorite origin movie after Captain America: The First Avenger. It begins rather abruptly, but it doesn’t take long to get “Vers” (the name the Kree gave our hero after her memory loss) and have sympathy for her situation.

Larson plays Carol as a tough, assured soldier, but not in an infallible way. She also isn’t overly vulnerable, as there’s no breaking down, weepy hugging scene later in the movie when she doesn’t remember her best friend. She handles business and gets the job done like any good character would. Nothing is overwrought or melodramatic.

Carol Danvers is both relatable and inspiring – the same combination that made Chris Evans’ Captain America so beloved by MCU fans. Back when Civil War came out I speculated that T’Challa could be the new Tony Stark. I feel just as strongly that Carol could be the new Steve Rogers.

2 – Fury – Speaking of charismatic icons, this movie’s portrayal of Nick Fury – whom everyone just calls “Fury”, even his mother – brings two amazing things.

First, the technology used to turn 70-year-old Samuel L. Jackson into 46-year-old Nick Fury is astounding. Fury is the constant sidekick of the film – and make no mistake, he is the sidekick – and despite his continuous presence there is not one moment where the de-aging effect is even noticeable, let alone detracts from the movie. Your brain knows what Jackson should look like, but at no point do the effects betray it.

The other delightful thing is that we’re getting a Sam Jackson unlike any we’ve seen before. He’s lighter and more fun. This is a Fury that has been through some stuff, but does not yet have the weight of the world on his shoulders. It’s a fascinatingly different version of the character that gives more depth and context to the man we saw disintegrate at the end of Infinity War.

Jackson and Larson are great together. I was a little concerned that the filmmakers would be leaning on Jackson a little too much, but he is purely there to support Larson in her role as the lead. Their dialogue is sharp and funny and watching them exchange quips and smiles is just as engaging as great duos like Gibson and Glover, Ford and Connery, and Willis and… well, Jackson.

3 – A Little Bit of Phil – As you all know our beloved hero Clark Gregg is back as our beloved hero Phil Coulson. While Gregg’s appearance hasn’t changed dramatically in the last 24 years, he still had to be youthed up for the role. His de-aging is just as solid as Jackson’s, but for some reason it leaves him looking a bit like Conan O’Brien, which is kind of distracting.

While it’s nice to see Phil again, he isn’t in the movie a whole heck of a lot. But when he is, he’s great. I’d love to see more of the Young Fury and Coulson Adventures.

4 – The Double Turn! – Pretty much everyone guessed that Jude Law’s Kree warrior, Yon-Rogg, was going to be a bad guy and maybe even that the Kree in general could be a villainous society. But I don’t know of anyone who called the WrestleMania 13 worthy double turn that took place.

Not only are the Kree Big Bads in the baddest sense of the term, the Skrulls in Captain Marvel are the scrappy, whitemeat babyfaces!

I was absolutely delighted by this turn of events. Ben Mendelsohn has caught my eye in recent years as a fantastic villain, so I thought his casting as the presumed antagonist of Captain Marvel was quite clever. It turns out his character, Talos, is no intergalactic supervillain but instead merely wishes to be reunited with his family and the group of Skrull refugees that have been displaced by the warmongering ways of the Kree.

As a whole, the Skrulls themselves are depicted as “just regular guys” and not as maniacal villains, even prior to the revelation about their true intentions. It’s a very refreshing take on the “other” and fits in with what we’ve seen of the wider Marvel Universe via Guardians of the Galaxy. Even their interrogation of Carol early on doesn’t come off as much menacing as it does humorous. They’re almost like gentler versions of the Lectroids from Buckaroo Banzai.

Note: Thanks to Agents of SHIELD the Kree have already been depicted as mostly villainous in the MCU, but I think we’re all fairly realistic at this point as to how much that counts in the movies. So I was still surprised by the Kree in Captain Marvel being outright bad guys.

5 – Just A Hair Off – Lashana Lynch is great as Maria Rambeau, and watching her get to fly a spaceship on a desperate mission is delightful. But her hair is terrible. I don’t know if it’s a wig or if Lynch just sports Mom Hair or what, but it was so bad as to be distracting. Maybe it was intentional because the actress, under normal conditions, does not immediately look mom-like?

I hate to hair shame, but I’m talking Jaleesa from A Different World  when she had the bad hair bad. Although this would be around the time that show was on, wouldn’t it?

So just know that my biggest complaint about Captain Marvel is extremely petty and stupid and that should show you how good the movie is.

Hair aside, Lynch acts the heck out of this movie. Since Carol has no memory of her life on Earth – and it does not magically return at any point in the movie, though she does begin to feel for the things from her past – Maria is the one doing all of the heavy emotional lifting. She has to sell the loss of her best friend and the difficulty of her abrupt return. Fortunately Lynch and Larson have fantastic chemistry and you buy their relationship without too much heavy exposition.

6 – Everybody Cry Now – Just so you’re ready for it, you’ll be weeping before the movie even rolls because the standard Marvel opening that showcases all of the characters has been altered to be ALL STAN LEE. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

Yes – I know that some fans will argue that Lee is over-credited and that other creators like Kirby and Ditko deserve just as much recognition. I don’t disagree at all that many creators should get their due, but nobody has done more for Marvel Comics than Stan Lee. We may love our writers and artists, but Stan’s importance as the face of the company and the practical voice of editorial made Marvel what it is today. He did not build Marvel Comics alone, but he certainly laid the foundation.

Note: Stan the Man is in the movie reading the script for Mallrats, which is amazing. I don’t know if it’s a CGI Stan or if this is one of the supposed bundle of cameos Marvel filmed prior to his passing. Whatever the case, it’s another tearjerker of a moment.

7 – Musical Connections – If you came for 90s music, you’re gonna get some 90s music, thought your mileage may vary as to how satisfying you find it.

I thought the most effective usages were Elastica, Heart, Garbage, TLC, Salt-N-Pepa, and Nirvana (which is surprising because I am not a big Nirvana fan).

No Doubt’s “Just A Girl” was a little on the nose for the big fight scene. I would’ve preferred “Shitlist” by L7, but I get that this is a Marvel movie and that might’ve been a bit much. Besides, let’s be honest – “Just A Girl” is absolutely the Disney version of the 90s female music scene summed up. It’s poppy and identifiable and, go on – admit it – a crowd pleaser.

As for Pinar Toprak’s score, I’m very much looking forward to hearing it on its own. Toprak did something truly special in that she bridged the gap between the traditional stylings of the Earthbound Marvel films and the more whimsical, synthesized score of Thor: Ragnarok. Which I still want on vinyl.

8 – The Movie Knows What You’re Thinking – One of the plot points of the movie is that the Skrulls want a “Lightspeed Engine”. This doesn’t really make any sense, because why would a spacefaring species need such a thing from Earth? Wouldn’t they have at least an analog?

This seems especially suspect after Carol is abducted by the Skrulls way out in space and then taken by them to somewhere proximal to Earth.

But the movie knows this; the characters just don’t.

It turns out that not only are the Skrulls not after the Lightspeed Engine, the Kree are, but not the engine itself. They’re after the power source.

WHICH IS THE FREAKING TESSERACT FROM CAPTAIN AMERICA.

This was an awesome and rewarding reveal that answered one of the biggest lingering questions in the history of the MCU – how the heck did Fury get the Cosmic Cube? It’s a small but important piece of the history of the Tesseract and of the MCU.

9 – Is This A Spy Movie?Captain Marvel is full of space action, drama, comedy, and thrills, but it’s also sort of a spy movie.

The Skrulls, the Kree, and the US government all have their secrets and it’s up to Carol Danvers and her intrepid sidekick, Fury (just Fury) to unravel the intertwined mysteries. It’s admittedly light “spy” action, but there’s a great sequence with Fury and Danvers breaking into a government facility that turns into quite a thrill ride.

10 – I Am Not a Cat Person – But that’s okay because Goose is a Flerken, not a cat.

Goose is excellent and owns every scene it is in. I say “it” because I can’t actually remember if it’s a male or female.

Fury’s scenes with Goose are absolute cinematic gold.

11 – Familiar Faces – Besides Fury and Coulson, Captain Marvel also features Korath and Ronan the Accuser. They provide additional MCU depth and are used well – they don’t feel like they were thrown in just for the sake of tying things together. As a matter of fact, both play fairly significant supporting roles. Lee Pace and Djimon Hounsou were not wasted here.

I still can’t get over the Pie Man playing a cosmic heavy.

12 – Girl Power – There are many positive female-oriented themes in Captain Marvel. They’re all worked into the plot skillfully and if you have a problem with them you’re probably a douchelord and should go live in the desert and stop watching movies and talking to people.

13 – They’re A Force. From the Stars. – Led by Jude Law’s Yon-Rogg, Starforce look so cool. Their uniforms are awesome, each of the characters gets just enough time to make an impression, and while they don’t have the cool gruffness of the Ravagers or the military prestige of the Nova Corps, they are a solidly depicted faction of warriors. Each has a skill that is communicated visually rather than through dialogue and their battle scenes are action-packed and engaging.

14 – Somebody is Enjoying Themselves – While the whole cast seem to be having a great time in Captain Marvel, one person in particular appears to be having the time of her life. And it makes sense because she basically gets to play three roles.

Annette Bening plays the Kree expatriate Mar-Vell(!) hiding on Earth as scientist Wendy Lawson, who was a mentor to Carol Danvers.

But she also plays the Kree Supreme Intelligence as perceived by Carol (each Kree projects an identity onto the Supreme Intelligence).

Bening jumps between the three roles in an amazing fashion, clearly relishing the opportunity. There are only slight differences between Mar-Vell and Lawson, with the former getting to enjoy a great, “Now you know my secret as I lay dying” moment. But as the Supreme Intelligence Bening gets to shift between all-knowing benevolent near-deity and straight-up energy-blasting villain.

Bening’s eyes light up with every line she delivers and the movie is richer and more alive thanks to her involvement. I can only hope she comes back for more in the inevitable follow-up.

15 – A New Beginning – Even as surrounded by MCU touchstones as this movie is, it feels like something fresh, new, and exciting. Sure – it’s the Marvel tone we know and love and I can’t say that it dazzled me with more flair or bigger thrills than any other MCU production. But this movie has a heart and a quality that make it stand out from its familiar trappings. Just like Black Panther before it, there’s something special here and I can’t wait to see more.

16 – AfterwardsCaptain Marvel delivers the mid-credits scene you’re dying for. I had no expectations that we’d see Carol interact with the modern day Avengers in this movie. I expected a tease and nothing more. But the first post-credits scene picks up right after Infinity War, with Steve, Natasha, and Bruce attempting to figure out what Fury’s pager is doing. The scene ends with Natasha turning around to find a Very Serious Carol suddenly inside Avengers headquarters asking, “Where’s Fury?

It was BADASS and the theater went nuts.

The post-credits scene simply finishes the Tesseract narrative. You just need to see it.

And you definitely need to see the movie that precedes it. Thumbs up.

Picky Nitpicks 

Was “Just A Girl” the first non-diagetic use of pop music in an MCU film? Besides it being a bit too on the nose for me, I found its use in that way to be jarring.

Carol “Avenger” Danvers was dumb and unnecessary. It was the bad way to retroactively create significance.

I don’t know how I feel about Fury’s eye. It didn’t really land for me. I didn’t even realize until Coulson brought the eyes in that that was the big injury.

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