Captain Marvel (2019)
Directors: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
Screenwriters: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, Geneva Robertson-Dworet
Starring: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mandelsohn, Jude Law, Annette Bening, Lashana Lynch, Clark Gregg, Rune Temte, Gemma Chan, Algenis Perez Soto, Djimon Hounsou, Lee Pace, Akira Akbar
It has been eleven long years since the MCU began, Jon Favreau’s Iron Man rocketing the newly birthed Marvel Studios into the stratosphere, and while female figurehead The Wasp may have been a titled co-star for the Ant-Man sequel in 2018, it has taken until the Universe’s 21st movie for us to finally get a female fronted superhero film from the monarchs of all things action-fantasy-adventure. In Captain Marvel, through the creative visions of screenwriter-director duo Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (It’s Kind of a Funny Story; Mississippi Grind), the Marvel Cinematic Universe finally has its own franchise-leading female – a woman so powerful she can single-handedly defend planets against invasion, but one whose extra-terrestrial qualities never out qualify her central-most gift: being human.
Told across multiple timelines in conjunction with the heroine’s re-establishing of her long-lost memories, Captain Marvel offers a complex study of repressed grief and overcoming barriers (mental and physical), though it is never dragged into any realm one could consider less than “fun” – fun ordinarily being a lazy word with which to explain superhero movies, but a word entirely encapsulating of this often comedic action film that maintains a “living on another planet” element of light-hearted oddness throughout its run-time.
The picture in this respect isn’t all that deep – it isn’t the sort of character study one could analyse like a Black Panther, for example – but it does ensure that the multi-universe-spanning, planet defending plot of the film remains easy to follow despite the picture jumping between memory and reality. Captain Marvel is easy to invest in and the hero at the centre of the piece, Carol Danvers (aka Captain Marvel) therefore becomes the hinge around which all thematic exploration and narrative twists and turns tend to orbit – she truly is the star of the film, and Brie Larson delivers a performance worthy of grabbing your attention.
Written with a certain sensibility that separates her from the rest of Marvel’s quietly established female heroes, the character of Carol Danvers was already quite strong on the page, but the work that Brie Larson does in establishing her as a likeable and ultimately relateable superhero is quite the achievement. Larson, whose work on the likes of Room and Short Term 12 is well known for its quality and gravitas, has typically been able to give a legitimately human touch to each of her characters, her portrayal of a character with a lot of self-doubt but inner strength defining her career milestone performances, with her performance as Captain Marvel in this film being no different. In the shape of Larson, Carol Danvers isn’t just an almost all-powerful superhero, she’s vulnerable and sad, though she’s also the sort of person that would spark a smile and tease you for liking the cat if you ever tried to get her to open up. It’s somewhat apropos that Larson offers such vulnerability underneath an upbeat persona in a movie she is supported by one of the very best at doing so, Annette Bening. Few could have argued the choice of her casting when she was announced, but as of now it’s almost impossible to imagine anyone else in the iconic super-suit.
So-impressive-it’s-almost-unnoticeable de-ageing and a bunch of 90s nostalgia moments – slow loading times on computers, pagers, even Nine Inch Nails t-shirts – earn Captain Marvel a unique spot in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe from a visual standpoint, though much of the action tends to feel vague in the same fashion we’ve become accustomed to in the less creative of Marvel’s big-budget offerings (we’re not getting Russo Brothers levels of action here, that’s for sure). It seems to be the curse of the franchise-openers Marvel offer, and does tend to make this picture in particular drag on throughout several sequences – sequences that may have been cut by a studio more intent on maintaining engagement.
The length of the film (just over 2 hours) is perhaps the biggest downside to Captain Marvel as it’s quite easy to see where a good 30 minutes or so could have been cut. The elongation of a story that would have satisfied the hardcore Marvel fans as a 90 minute intermediary between Avengers films and offered a quick, fun standalone for those less familiar with the MCU, ultimately damaged the momentum of a picture already struggling to establish meaningful opponents for the would-be hero. It seems like now, even after 20 films, Marvel still struggle to offer antagonists worthy of their screen time, and that the good and the bad of their movies are still presented to us as a part of the story we just have to accept, rather than something we’re taught to believe. At times, this film was bogged down by the necessary action beats the Marvel formula dictated and it seemed more obvious in this film than many others just where the powers at Marvel and the directors had different intentions, with the directors clearly pushing for stronger elements of backstory and drama against Marvel’s typically quippy and action-heavy formula. The disconnect between the two visions was ultimately one of the movie’s most damaging aspects, halting momentum at key points and sometimes derailing trains of thought that developed as the movie went on, though it must be noted that this never quite detracted from the overall positivity surrounding the picture.
It is, after all, the positivity surrounding Captain Marvel that makes it such an important film, and while the finished product is hardly of the standard of the franchise’s biggest breakout hits Guardians of the Galaxy and Black Panther, it remains a watchable and at times exciting release that has all the bells and whistles you’d expect from Marvel: incredible CG, a strong hero, talented and interesting side acts, and a mild feeling of empowerment. Larson is the hero we’ve all been waiting for and Captain Marvel is the sort of movie that lives up to its billing. This is not only an enjoyable and rewatchable superhero movie, but one that could act as a sturdy springboard for one of our next generation’s most important superhero icons. You won’t have your socks blown off, but it’ll be a fun couple of hours for those expecting Marvel-tinted wish fulfilment.