It’s 1995 and the Earth is unaware of all the intelligent life in the galaxy. Vers (Brie Larson) is a Kree warrior in the fight against a shapeshifting race called Skrulls. Vers is part of a team led by Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) and is sent on a mission to retrieve a Kree spy on another world that is being invaded by Skrulls. The mission is a trap and Vers is captured. Her brain is scanned by Skrulls and several memories are retrieved. The Skrulls are looking for an engineer and inventor on Earth named Dr. Wendy Lawson (Annette Bening) they believe has invented a lightspeed engine. Vers can’t remember her life prior to arriving on the Kree home world and these recovered memories give her a glimpse into her mysterious early life. Vers breaks free and steals an escape pod, but it is damaged and disintegrates entering the atmosphere. Vers crashes through the roof of a Blockbuster video store. She manages to cobble together a communications device using parts from a Radio Shack and a pay phone to contact Yon-Rogg, letting him know she is on Earth. He tells her to stay put and a ship is on its way, but Vers tells him she needs to find Dr. Lawson and keep the Skrulls from getting her lightspeed engine. Agents Nick Fury and Phil Coulson (Samuel L. Jackson and Clark Gregg) from SHIELD arrive and attempt to take Vers into custody, but she runs off after a disguised Skrull attacks her with an energy weapon. During the chase, Fury discovers the Coulson riding in the car with him is a disguised Skrull, leading Fury to intentionally crash his car, killing the Skrull. At SHIELD headquarters, the Skrull is autopsied in the presence of Fury and his boss Director Keller (Ben Mendelsohn). Director Keller is actually the Skrull, Talos. Doing some research at an internet café, Vers searches for a restaurant she saw in one of her memories. When she arrives, Nick Fury is waiting for her and they talk about what she is and why she’s on Earth. He trusts what she’s telling him, so he takes her to the facility where Dr. Lawson’s engine is being developed. Skrull Keller arrives with other SHIELD agents to arrest Vers and Fury. The pair escape then go on the run to find Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch) to try and help Vers recover more memories of her early life when she was known as Carol Danvers and was an Air Force pilot, while also looking for the lightspeed engine to keep it away from the Skrulls.
“Captain Marvel” is Marvel’s first female-led superhero movie. There’s a great deal of pressure to make more inclusive superhero movies. The majority of these films have both male leads and men playing the villain. The only female hero prior to “Captain Marvel” has been DC’s “Wonder Woman” and a shared lead position in Marvel’s “Ant-Man and the Wasp.” The only female antagonists I can think of are Ghost from “Ant-Man and the Wasp” and Hela in “Thor: Ragnarok.” While Black Widow, Pepper Potts, Nakia, Okoye, Shuri and other female characters have played important supporting roles in Marvel films, none have focused on a singular woman hero with power until now. This film has faced more scrutiny than most Marvel releases. It is the first MCU film following the death of Stan Lee. It has also been the focus of many internet trolls looking to make a point from their parent’s basements. They feel any woman with power (or powers) is an attack on all men. Their actions forced Rotten Tomatoes to change their audience score reporting, but apparently had no impact on the film’s power at the box office. With so much attention on “Captain Marvel,” and taking all the social/political nonsense out of the equation, is it an entertaining film?
The cast of “Captain Marvel” is terrific. Academy Award winner Brie Larson is perfect for the powerful, proud, capable, and confident Vers/Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel. Her playful banter with Jackson’s Nick Fury feels natural, not a script she learned for a job. Larson is also a natural action star, performing the complicated (granted, heavily edited) fight scenes early in the film with the grace of a dancer.
There’s a through-line in the film of Vers/Carol being stubborn and a “pain in the ass.” It’s a simple technique to show a perceived flaw as an actual strength. Larson handles all the aspects of the character’s personality as natural traits instead of showy actor flourishes. It’s a beautifully nuanced performance of a character that could have been a cliched “superhero,” hands-on-hips, wind-in-her-hair routine.
Ben Mendelsohn’s Skrull Talos is able to shapeshift into any person he sees. Mendelsohn also tailored his performance depending on how he looked. When he’s Director Keller, Mendelsohn is all business and speaks with an American accent. When he’s under all the latex appliances to become Talos, he uses his natural Australian accent and is more playful. While his speech is somewhat affected by the makeup and prosthetic teeth, Mendelsohn still manages to put a spark in Talos that implies there’s more to the character than a mindless killing machine. The Skrulls are an interesting race, with their abilities and exposed backstory later in the film. Perhaps Mendelsohn will return in a future project telling us more about the history of the Skrulls in a standalone film or Disney+ project. I’d see that because of Mendelsohn.
The Nick Fury of “Captain Marvel” is far different than the one we’ve seen in the MCU to date. This younger Fury is a bit more trusting and laughs easier. He takes Vers’ word for what her mission is after she doesn’t vaporize him with her photon blasts. She gets personal information out of Fury that we’d never get out of the one we’ve known for the last 10 years. Samuel L. Jackson looks like he’s having fun playing Fury, something I couldn’t say in his earlier appearances. Fury is also a bigger part of the story instead of a peripheral character. Jackson and Larson’s interactions are understandably tentative at first but become warmer and even familial as the story progresses.
While the performances are great, the story of “Captain Marvel” comes up a bit short. First, it’s repetitive. I’m sure an examination of all superhero movies would show similar repetition, but it really stands out in “Captain Marvel.” There’s a fight, a chase, a resolution, some chat, a fight, a chase, a resolution, some chat, etc. The series gets repeated at least five times. It would be different if something truly amazing happened in one or more of these series, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before.
For an origin story, there’s not much original in what happens until the last 15 minutes of the movie. Only then does the film come alive and impress us with a superpowered light show and something of a tutorial about how to manage Captain Marvel’s true abilities. All the back and forth with the Skrulls, learning about her past, being on the run with Fury, spending time in Louisiana with Maria, it all feels like filler. There is important story information in some parts of these scenes, but it’s padded and like busy work given to script writing interns. While the average superhero movie is two hours or more (sometimes much more, “Avengers: Endgame”), and this film clocks in at two hours, four minutes, it feels too long. While every film has stuff in it that could probably be trimmed, the best ones should feel like every frame is important and worth seeing. “Captain Marvel” doesn’t feel that way.
“Captain Marvel” is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive language. Punches are thrown, beatdowns are given (Fury comes out on the short end of one), energy beams are shot, stuff blows up. It’s standard superhero action. We get a look at a Skrull being autopsied. The suggestive language consists of a male Air Force pilot asking Danvers if she knows why it’s called a “cockpit.” Foul language is otherwise widely scattered and mild.
Returning to my original question, is the film entertaining, my answer is mostly. It feels too long and too repetitive with nothing special about the storytelling or what we learn about Carol Danvers. The film’s twist isn’t all that surprising given what we see about those involved in it. However, the performances by Larson, Jackson, Mendelsohn and the rest of the cast raise the entertainment value, along with the way Captain Marvel will be involved in the events of “Avengers: Endgame” (make sure you watch the mid-credits scene for a sneak preview), making “Captain Marvel” required viewing. It’s not the best MCU film and it isn’t the worst. It is squarely in the middle and does the job required of it.
“Captain Marvel” get three stars out of five.
Opening this week are films about oppression, teen romance during illness and the power of imagination. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:
Five Feet Apart—
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