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Review: Captain Marvel

An abridged version of this review was previously published in Nathaniel's column at Towleroad


by Nathaniel R

Captain Marvel‘s “Vers” (Brie Larson) can’t remember a thing about her past life. She has only known this: training with her mentor Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) and fighting with her fellow Kree warriors in Starforce. 

Their mission is to wipe out the evil shape-shifting alien race known as The Skrulls. Though Vers can’t recall her origins, Marvel Studios has their origin template memorized by now, 21 films into their world-conquering juggernaut franchise. It’ll involve:

  • comic sidekicks (☑️☑️☑️)
  • training sequences (☑️)
  • losing an early battle (☑️)
  • questioning old beliefs (☑️☑️)
  • forming new alliances (☑️☑️)
  • and the hero/heroes finally coming into their own, more powerful than they were before (☑️)

Cue end credits. But we'll get to those in a minute...

Things start slowly, as origin films, do with a lot of world-building groundwork in outer space. Starforce includes talented actors like Rune Temte, Gemma Chan, and Djimon Hounsou, but they’re badly underused in the picture, separated from Captain Marvel almost immediately. That’s probably so we can get to Earth quicker, but it makes their obviously forthcoming return later in the picture less emotionally impactful than it could and should have been, given what they represent in the narrative.

After the detail, imagination, and splendor of Black Panther's Wakanda, though, this film's imagined other world feels awfully rushed and empty.

When we arrive on Earth in the 1990s the movie picks up considerably, buoyed by cheeky nostalgia, plentiful jokes (it's strangely hilarious to see Brie Larson slowly tapping away at old computers), and a stronger focus on the protagonist’s plight.  The best move is an overall lightness in tone, which springs from the fun chemistry between Brie Larson and Samuel L Jackson (reprising his Nick Fury role, this time with both eyes since we’re in the past) and the total relief that the stakes aren’t the destruction of the universe for once (whew) but a war in outer space that we largely aren’t privy to. 

We’re on a more personal journey for Captain Marvel to recover her memories and become her truest, most powerful self. With something of a blank slate to play, Brie Larson leans into her star charisma with professional ease. 

The supporting cast are all strong. Jude Law is compelling (as usual) but this time with yellow eyes. Annette Bening, who we didn’t expect to see in a superhero picture, is having fun with her dual role, as a mysterious figure from Marvel’s past and the Kree leader known as “Supreme Intelligence”. Lashana Lynch has a largely thankless role as Maria Rambeau, Captain Marvel's former best friend who she has completely forgotten due to the memory wipe. But Lynch rises to the challenge and gifts the exposition with some heart and soul.

The film’s happiest surprise, though, is that it features not one but two true scene-stealers in the form of an adorable ginger cat named “Goose” and a very game and rangy performance from Ben Mendelsohn as both a S.H.I.E.L.D agent and the Skrull who impersonates him.

It's a delight to realize that Nick Fury is a cat person.

Comedy aside, the bread and butter of superhero movies are their action sequences and unfortunately here Captain Marvel comes up bland. Directors Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck (best known for the fine Ryan Gosling drama Half Nelson) have always been gifted with actors but haven’t yet conquered the unique directorial challenge of fight scenes and crafting memorable action set pieces. 

There are beats within the sequences that pay off, though. 

One early sequence requires our heroine to fight without the use of both of her hands (long story) and in another, she isn’t exactly sure who’s she’s fighting, stopping frequently to suss out which “human” is actually the Skrull she’s chasing, giving the sequence a unique rhythm. 

These significant obstacles make a world of difference; In the end the problem with the other action sequences, particularly the dreadful finale, may be that Captain Marvel is too powerful. When a character feels unbeatable, action sequences deflate into mere pyrotechnics and foregone conclusions, CGI light displays doing all the work when it’s the heroes themselves and those insurmountable odds that we can’t imagine how they’ll overcome that we’re invested in. If it’s too easy for them, there’s no triumph to cheer on.

With film #21 Marvel is breaking no new ground but for the gender of its protagonist. It seems insane in a subgenre that firmly belongs to the action/adventure side of filmmaking that’s already given us iconic female characters like The Bride, Sarah Connors, Lt. Ellen Ripley, Neytiri, Catwoman, and Wonder Woman to name just a few, that it would take this long for Marvel to let a woman lead the way but here we are. 

Women and fans of female heroes deserved better than Captain Marvel (a mediocre entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe) but there’s no denying that it’s rousing to see a woman triumph within the context of this heretofore excessively masculine universe. 

We loved Nine Inch Nails in the 1990s, too!

That said, there’s unfortunately not a single moment that’s a patch on the kind of ecstatic cultural charge of the “No Man’s Land” sequence in Wonder Woman (it remains a shaming miracle that the messy Warner Bros/DC school of superhero filmmaking pulled off a great female hero movie before Marvel even deigned to bother trying). 

Perhaps now with Marvel’s self-imposed glass ceiling shattered, they’ll be able to reach for that kind of grandeur themselves? We hope they’ll try. Comic books have a rich history of great female characters and all too few of them have been done justice on the big screen. 


[SPOILER] Since Marvel has trained us all to expect an end credits scene you should know that there are two of them. The last is a very funny punchline to something you’ll casually wonder about during the movie, but the important scene comes early in the credits as we return to the present day. We’re in the Avengers HQ and Captain America and team are huddled around that pager that Nick Fury set off at the end of Infinity War, an S.O.S. to Captain Marvel herself, before he disintegrated. They’re wondering why the device has suddenly stopped signaling and they still haven’t figured out who it’s trying to reach. As Black Widow turns to leave the room she’s faced with the sight of Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), an intergalactic stranger standing right behind her, suddenly barking “Where’s Fury?” With that split-second moment, a simple cut from one heroic female face to another, Captain Marvel finally delivers on its promise of greater gender parity in the MCU moving forward. That single beat carries it own electric charge, far more satisfying than any CGI photon blast; the future is female. [/SPOILER]

Grade: C+
Oscar Chances: Very unlikely. Disney/Marvel will surely be throwing all their campaigning behind Avengers Endgame this year.  

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Reader Comments (15)

It was so much fun to see Annette Bening having a ton of fun and reminding us all what a big star she is. I'm so used to seeing her in smaller films now, that it was great to see her in something like this. Hopefully, this is the start to a great year for her.

I also thought Lashana Lynch brought a lot to her part, and really helped to give us a sense of who Vers was.

March 11, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJoe

I mean, I get it: Marvel needed to introduce a Thanos killer and it had to be relatively serious, not an absurdist punchline and that's why this is a Captain Marvel movie, not a Squirrel Girl movie, but...wouldn't that absurdist punchline character make a better movie...?

March 11, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

That having been said? Now that they've committed to including Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel, I'm pulling for her Solo Film 3 being a $60-80 million cancer special.

March 11, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

I'm a gay man with an occasionally juvenile sense of humor, so I can't get past the fact that the character's name is "Vers."

March 11, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterTroy H.

I too thought the beginning dragged and the return of her space team towards the end lacked emotional punch, but everything on Earth and especially the New Orleans sojourn was just aces. The latter part especially felt refreshingly "indie" to me which makes sense that's where Fleck/Boden excels.

I did seem to like the film more than you since Larson and the other actors were just so good and it was damn thrilling to see her kick ass (as well as Lynch in her one big moment). Mendelsohn is perfection and the CGI to Jackson is eerie good.

March 11, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRyan T.

I had a much more positive response. Some of the film-making criticism is warranted - there are significant holes in the plot and the Hala aesthetic seems, as you put it, rushed and empty. But the solid performances all around, especially from Larson and Jackson whose Danvers and Fury have the most chemistry of any Marvel duo since Thor and Loki, makes for a great time at the movies.

March 11, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterSawyer

I like Brie Larson but she's totally miscast as Captain Marvel - she seemed out of her depth - her performance lacked her usual charm and fun and charisma.
And I didn't think she had great chemistry with Samuel L. Jackson.
The dreaded curse of the green screen perhaps?
But she CAN work in blockbusters - she worked like gangbusters in Kong Skull Island for instance.
So I don't know why she came across so bored and dead in Captain Marvel.
She also looked kinda terrible with that awful hair - wig? - very distracting and unflattering.

And the movie itself is as generic as they come.

March 11, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterUlrich

Ulrich: Because she wasn't really here for this, and was more interested in solo movie 2 and 3? As I mentioned earlier, I am honestly SO down for a $60-80 million cancer special ending this franchise.

March 11, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

I followed ZERO of the controversy surrounding the film, Brie Larson's comments, and what not

I also did no preparation regarding the character's history and I'm here to tell you that:

I very definitely enjoyed Captain Marvel, the movie, and Captain Marvel, the character more than Wonder Woman.

She's the strongest Avenger, according to a short clip I watched on IMDb, and boy, isn't it awesome to finally see a hero who totally dominates? <- we haven't had that in a marvel film. And that someone's a woman!

March 11, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterYavor

I liked this film a lot. It wasn't a top-tier film of the MCU!!!!! However, it did what it needed to do and more. Plus, I agree Joe on Lawshana Lynch as I liked what they did with Maria Rambeau as someone who would help Vers remember who she is as well as take part in the battle proving that she can kick ass w/o superpowers.

March 11, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterthevoid99

Mild spoilers but here are some issues that Captain Marvel may or may not have touched on. Police brutality, the after effects of the 'scramble for Africa,' DADT, immigration, 'the end of history,' gender equality in government institutions. But it handles those issues in a frustratingly problematic way.

March 11, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPaolo

I have zero interest in the latest Marvel - and to me the Captain Marvel is a guy- why not call her Ms Marvel which makes more sense

March 11, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

Jaragon: When I saw that the red and blue costume went with the starburst thing, I groaned. Pure lazy translation with no regard for future continuity. Yes: Carol's Ms. Marvel swimsuit, sash and heels look wasn't going to translate to live-action. (See: Catwoman, Elektra, Barb Wire. I could mention how dull the MCU versions of Scarlet Witch and Elektra look like as counterpoints of "anti-sexy gone wrong", but I'd rather dull design to that creeping feel of wrongness of design.) But, also yes: Carol NEEDED to wear a costume with a thunderbolt symbol on it, and that being the Red and Blue costume makes ALL THE SENSE.

March 11, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

I'm with you 100%, Nathaniel. I don't usually care for superhero movies and I cried like a child watching Wonder Woman. Maybe it's not fair to expect Captain Marvel to feel the same, but I thought it was just as forgettable as most Marvel movies. It didn't feel any more special than Ant-Man or Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and that's just depressing.

March 12, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterKiki

to watch this movie plz Visit oceanofmovies!

June 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRutvik

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