If DC/Warner’s wonderfully groundbreaking Wonder Woman was the “I am woman, hear me roar” of the superhero movie genre, then Captain Marvel, the first Marvel Studios film centered on a female hero, is the “Anything you can do, I can do better” entry. This is both a virtue and a flaw, but not in the way toxic male fanboys want you to believe. In fact, this may very well be the biggest mass-appeal movie ever that’s both Bechdel-Test and #MeToo approved. Think all the action and thrills of your average male-centered entertainment, but with a well-earned dose of empowerment.
Captain Marvel In a Nutshell
The plot focuses on Vers (Brie Larson), a human far from Earth with glowing hands and bad amnesia. As a member of the Kree Starforce led by Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), Vers fights against the Skrulls, a race of sneaky, shape-shifting green meanies led by the snarky, manipulative Talos (Ben Mendelsohn). Vers gets captured by the Skrulls after a botched rescue mission, but manages to escape to Earth. Specifically, crash landing into a Blockbuster Video in Los Angeles circa 1995.
Our marooned hero – real name: Carol Danvers – forms a fragile partnership with up-and-coming S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nicholas Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Together, they must track Dr. Wendy Lawson (Annette Bening), an Air Force scientist from Danvers’ past. The Skrulls want a top-secret device Lawson developed that will help them win their war. Danvers must stop the bad guys, unlock her past and discover her true potential, all while navigating an excessive amount of 90’s references. However, when it comes to shape-shifting aliens, nothing is what it seems.
Playing with the Boys
Marvel Studios had plenty to prove with Captain Marvel. Wonder Woman beat it to the screen as the first female-centric superhero flick, one that is as lighthearted as it is action packed. The only way Marvel could possibly top that was to make the most gender-equal hero ever. That challenge fell to co-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, who made their careers with character-driven indie darlings like Sugar and It’s Kind of a Funny Story. Their intimate style inevitably gets diluted within Disney/Marvel’s blockbuster-making machine. Still, enough of their signature touch shines through, making Captain Marvel something between a tale of self-discovery and a low-budget 90’s Top Gun / Iron Eagle clone. (There’s even a character named Goose.)
Captain Marvel takes a few missteps while, like its hero, it decides what it wants to be. Still, the movie mostly works as a whole, while also providing diehard Marvel fans enough tidbits to satiate them until Avengers: Endgame. Besides a de-aged two-eyed Nick Fury, MCU connective tissue includes Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg), Korath (Djimon Hounsou), Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), a pre-Thanos infinity stone, and a certain pager. There’s also plenty of eye candy to enjoy, but not much we haven’t seen before. We just hadn’t seen it with a powerful woman at the front.
A Woman on a Mission
Which brings me to the main reason Captain Marvel holds together: an outstanding titular performance by Brie Larson (Room). The actress is an active supporter of women’s rights, as well as the #MeToo movement. She injects much of her own empowered personality into her portrayal. Her Carol Danvers is plucky, resourceful and rebellious, but suffers no fools and waits for no one’s permission. More importantly, she holds her own with Jackson, Bening and Mendelsohn, all of whom bring their A game. Larson’s scenes with Lashana Lynch as Maria Rambeau, Danvers’ best friend, provide the emotional core of the story.
You can argue that Larson’s character – as written by Bowden, Fleck and Geneva Robertson-Dworet – lacks a proper arc. That’s because her journey isn’t a typical one. Whilst Carol gathers more clues about her past, she slowly realizes just how much the structures of society, both human and Kree, have held her back simply for being a woman. Even the Kree race that accepts her with open arms is physically and literally blue-blooded. Danvers, Lawson, Rambeau, and even Kree enforcer Minn-Erva (Gemma Chan), have fought hard all their lives to stand out in a man’s world. Danvers’ growth seems imperceptible because the audience knows she always had the power, as Glinda would say. She simply needs to embrace it.
Like Wonder Woman, Black Panther and even Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Captain Marvel is further proof that the future of cinema depends on gender and race diversity. In its own scaled-down way, it manages to be more “woke” than those other movies. One key scene near the climax, for instance, references both Predator and Raiders of the Lost Ark in an obvious jab at male-dominated action cinema. As per the rules of the test inspired by comic strip creator Alison Bechdel, Captain Marvel contains more than two prominent female characters, who engage in at least three conversations in which the topic is not “a man”. In a medium and a genre plagued by toxic masculinity, this is great progress.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: You should obviously stay for the post-credits scenes, but make sure you watch the film from the very beginning with the Marvel Studios logo. I’ll admit it made me shed a tear.
Now showing only in theaters.
Movie title: Captain Marvel
Date published: 2019-03-08
Director(s): Anna Bodden, Ryan Fleck
Actor(s): Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Lashana Lynch, Annette Bening, Gemma Chan, Djimon Hounsou, Lee Pace, Clark Gregg
Genre: Action, Adventure