WARNING: THIS ARTICLE WILL DISCUSS STORY POINTS IN CAPTAIN MARVEL, AND SO WILL HAVE SPOILERS. DO NOT READ ON IF YOU WANT TO GO IN BLIND. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
It took 11 years and 21 very well performing movies, but finally Marvel Studios felt they were in a safe enough position to chance a superhero movie with a female lead. After the long wait for someone without a Y chromosome to take the lead on a Marvel movie, is Carol Danvers’ big-screen debut any good?
Well, yes. Of course it is. It’s very good.
Captain Marvel is up against a thankless task from the get-go: introducing and selling a whole new hero to a movie audience buckling under the already dense MCU roster, giving Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. an entertaining origin story, and establishing the start of the Avengers Initiative, all while teeing up Avengers: Endgame next month. It’s a lot for one film to deliver, and with a subset of angry men on the internet actively willing the film to fail, it very unfairly feels like the film needs to over-perform; not just succeed as a competent superhero movie.
As the captain herself says to a male antagonist in the film, “I don’t have to prove anything to you”, and Captain Marvel rolls with the selfsame confidence in its storytelling and characters that almost suggests that its team of writers and co-directors were entirely anticipating the vitriol, and simply don’t care one bit what people would have to say.
That boldness is definitely a strength to the film, which goes to some very out-there places at times. The film’s stronger moments are reminiscent of the two Guardians of the Galaxy movies, and it’s testament to those films that a major blockbuster movie can now unabashedly portray shapeshifting green, pointy-eared aliens with Australian accents as a force to be reckoned with.
It really does demonstrate how far Marvel have come, that a film as weird as Captain Marvel can exist with almost no sideways glances or winks to the camera. There’s definitely plenty of great humour in the film’s dialogue, and some very clever manipulations of the conventions of the typical hero origin story, but otherwise the film gets by on the strength of its characters’ convictions – Carol Danvers is a real hero and she’s here to stay.
That mixture of sincerity and playfulness is front and centre in Brie Larson’s performance. Her portrayal of Danvers is definitely enjoying the silliness of the film’s rubber suits and little green men, but she never lets her performance descend into silliness itself. Danvers means business, and she’s here in full action hero mode to kick some shapeshifting alien butt and take some alien names.
While we’re on the subject, the film’s introduction of the Skrulls to the MCU is to be commended. They’ve been a feature of the Marvel comic books since 1962, and Captain Marvel ensures their film debut is a memorable one. That’s mostly down to the outstanding performance of Ben Mendelsohn, who threatens to steal literally every scene he’s in. Mendelsohn has been doing the rounds as a character actor for some time now, and while he’s not an obscure figure, he continues to be underrated by everyone and is on the form of his career here as Skrull warrior Talos.
The remainder of the cast is well up for it too: Jude Law is thoroughly enjoying himself as Danvers’ mentor, Samuel L Jackson’s younger, naïve Agent Nick Fury adds a nice buddy cop element in his interactions with Larson, and Annette Bening playing a supreme leader is great fun.
Where the film shines brightest though, is when it gets to Carol Danvers’ relationship with former Air Force comrade Maria Rambeau, played by Lashana Lynch. The chemistry between Lynch and Larson is electric, and the film is more than happy to let things slow down while their characters get to enjoy their scenes together.
Not to mention Goose the cat too, of course.
There’s definitely a lot to admire here, but Captain Marvel isn’t a faultless film. The opening 20 minutes or so are messy at best, and the directors seem intent on throwing so much at the screen in its first act that if not for Larson’s performance, the film might not have recovered as strongly as it did. There’s also a feeling of Marvel movie-making-by-numbers throughout, and the film is screaming out for a defining aesthetic that simply isn’t there. For a film with brightly coloured aliens and a main character that can literally become shrouded with cosmic fire, Captain Marvel is, dare I say, a bit visually bland.
A lot of that seems to come down to the ordinary mid-1990s setting in which the majority of the film takes place, and the contrast between that and its flamboyant characters should really come through more than it does.
All of this considered, Captain Marvel‘s end product is definitely worth the film’s shortcomings. The final act does have the typical world-ending stakes at play, but they’re there more to showcase Carol in her full glory, and the story doesn’t ultimately hinge on her overcoming the odds to save the day. After all, this is a prequel: we know where things are headed already. Instead, we get a montage for which the film will be remembered – a very touching sequence of Carol’s refusal to stay down throughout her life – and an action sequence which arguably does a version of Superman better than any Superman movie has to date.
I thoroughly enjoyed Captain Marvel, messy as it was, and as a fan of the ongoing Marvel saga I can happily say that the film did enough to make me want to know more about Danvers’ part in the greater unfolding story, while also being an engaging outing in its own right. To keep that goodwill and interest going after 21 movies is certainly no mean feat, let’s just hope that Captain Marvel and gang can stick the landing in a month’s time.