Captain Marvel Review: Somewhat Higher, Further, Faster Baby!

(Originally published on popculturecosmos.com 3/9/2017)

2019 has not gotten off to the greatest of starts when it comes to box office returns but that is about to change with a needed jolt from Disney as Captain Marvel takes to the skies this weekend in the 21st entry of the highly successful Marvel Cinematic Universe. Many pundits, journalists and “YouTubers” will be paying close attention to how the film performs with audiences while others will be trying to dissect every frame and scavenge for every easter egg they can find that will provide any clue as to what might go on in the upcoming Avengers: Endgame. For many fans, however, this latest release into the superhero genre comes with a lot of anticipation, excitement, and promise but it also arrives with some uncertainty and controversy as well. (We’ll try to keep it here in this feature as spoiler-free as possible.)

Who is this version of Captain Marvel coming to theaters?

As Marvel has done quite often in its cinematic universe, they have taken some liberties with the backstory of Captain Marvel’s origin from the comic books. Without trying to give too much away in spoilers, the movie is set in the 1990s as Carol Danvers (played by Academy Award-winner Brie Larson), an officer in the United States Air Force, accidentally becomes exposed to a powerful force that unleashes her unique abilities and has her transported far away from Earth becoming part of an elite space force tasked to defend the Kree homeworld against their bitter rivals the Skrulls while leaving her with virtually no memory of her past.
The battle between the two races extends itself back to Earth as Captain Marvel’s return to the planet jogs up some of those memories and also brings about the Skrull’s true intent as their evil plans begin to take shape. Danvers in the comics has origins dating back to as far as 1968 with an appearance in Marvel Superheroes Issue #13 in a supporting role to Captain Marvel and also extensively as Ms. Marvel. The reimagining of her character and her assuming the mantle of Captain Marvel takes place in 2012 with a series of comics penned by Kelly Sue DeConnick that helped provide some of the foundations behind the upcoming film.

Why is she coming now?

An origin story at this point in time in the Marvel Cinematic Universe may seem out of place with the turbulent times many of our heroes are now facing, but the movie serves as a dual response to what Marvel has planned for now and what they may have up their sleeves for down the road. Flashback to last year’s hit Avengers: Infinity War and if you stayed long enough for Marvel’s now infamous end credit scene (SPOILERS!) Nick Fury, with his last action before succumbing to the “snap” from Thanos that wiped out half of all life in the universe, ” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>set off what looks like a long-range beeper intending to signal a call for help to Captain Marvel to return and once again save the day.
Carol Danvers’ impending return after the events of Captain Marvel, which will presumably be in Endgame, gives her the opportunity to play a key role in a possible rematch with Thanos. What the film will also do is provide the groundwork for what is to come in the next phase of movies for Marvel, with Captain Marvel likely at the forefront of much of what will be going on within the next five to ten years worth of movies. While this comes to the delight for many, Captain Marvel doesn’t arrive onto screens without some controversy and some pushback from a segment of the audience that is determined to undermine the success of the film.

Why is there a backlash to the Captain Marvel movie?

Having a woman being at the forefront of a superhero movie is not something new (see 2017’s summer hit Wonder Woman and if you go even further the disappointments in Elektra and Catwoman to see it has come with mixed results), but it is still a first for the Marvel Cinematic Universe and that fact alone irked some who only envision females in a supporting or sideline role. Compounding this further were comments made by Larson herself in 2018 calling for more diversity among the entertainment media which only infuriated conservative groups to the point where calling out for the movie’s failure, boycotts and review-bombing movie aggregate sites like Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic gave an unfortunate platform for those carrying a misogynistic or racial bias.

What is the general reaction to the film?

It’s almost impossible to get a clear picture at this point of how the general movie-going audience feels about the film. And even though many of the sites involved with the pre-opening review bombs have taken measures to rebalance their user scores it looks as if there are still more subtle, calculated efforts being made to not give the movie an accurate reflection or value that can be wholly trusted or believed.
Film critics have weighed in with their own observations when it comes to Captain Marvel and as of this writing, it appears the aggregate average on Metacritic is 65 with 79% of the scores being at least somewhat positive giving it that much-desired “fresh” rating. If one were to look at the scores and try to find any consistency the best that can be said is “good luck” because the reviews for the movie are all over the place and after watching it personally I can attest to why there is such a broad opinion of the film and why its long term prospects may be harder to gauge.

So what did I think of the film?

Captain Marvel has some many varying opinions because the film is very uneven in what it is trying to deliver to its audience. Directed by Anna Borden and Ryan Fleck (who have collaborated regularly, including 2010’s It’s Kind of a Funny Story and 2015’s Mississippi Grind), the movie has some highs when it comes to establishing its relationships and conveying its humor. Other times it seems a bit incomplete with its scene placement and timeline logic, underwhelming battles and plot loopholes the film fully doesn’t get itself around and its double twist the audience can see coming a mile away. As a movie, Captain Marvel works best when it sticks to the tried and true Marvel paint-by-numbers formula which it does just enough to be a satisfying experience.
The question that arises the most when it comes to the film undoubtedly centers around its main character and whether or not Brie Larson could handle such an important role for Marvel. Well, fear not on that end as Larson portrays Captain Marvel with a style and a brash sense of bravado not seen from a first-time Marvel superhero since Robert Downey Jr. stepped in to fill the shoes of Tony Stark in Iron Man. This gargantuan-sized chip on her shoulder serves her well for most of the film, with only a scene or two where a sense of vulnerability is needed she cannot fully convey with the audience because the story and direction didn’t flesh out the support that was needed to get the job done.
The on-screen chemistry that she forms with S.H.I.E.L.D agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and her former best friend Maria “Photon” Rambeau (Lashana Lynch) prove to move the film forward effectively even through some varied rough patches and story plot holes. Jackson does a brilliant job on screen once again showing a side of Nick Fury audiences have never seen (and I’m not talking just about the computer graphical aka C.G. de-aging which I will speak of here in a bit). This version of Fury is decidedly upbeat, personal and much less jaded with Jackson realizing it wasn’t just a “facelift” that was needed to effectively portray the future Avengers founder as he saw the world in the mid 1990s before his world (and all of ours watching the MCU) got turned around in all sorts of directions with the dawn of the modern Marvel superhero era.
When I first heard Mendelsohn was involved in the film playing Talos, leader of the Skrulls race and mortal enemy of the Kree I did say to myself “oh he’s playing a villain once again…yay”. But as the story progresses his delight in the role seems clearly evident and he takes the opportunity to embrace it with a reverence I would like to have seen in his previous performances in Ready Player One and Star Wars: Rogue One. Jude Law finds his way onto another potential blockbuster film as Yon-Rogg, leader of the Star Force, a team gathered together to protect the Kree homeworld against the Skrulls and also as a mentor to Danvers herself.
In addition another big Hollywood name in the mix, Annette Bening steps into the role as the Kree Supreme Intelligence that connects with Danvers telepathically to communicate the importance of the Kree’s battle against the Skrulls. Although it will not go down as one of the highlights of their careers, Law and Bening do an effective enough job as a part-teacher, part-antagonist to understand what they are trying to get her to learn and what their true guidance and motivations for the film and Captain Marvel truly are.
Lashana Lynch acquits herself well in the role of Rambeau, to the point where the audience should be looking forward to what Marvel may have in store for her next. Unfortunately not everyone in the movie gets a fair shake like everyone else in the Star Force is treated as an afterthought with no depth to their characters and an opportunity for a potential strong connection to Guardians of the Galaxy is wasted with minimal usage of familiar faces in Korath (the usually brilliant Djimon Hounsou) and Ronan The Accuser (Lee Pace, who acts more like Lee Pace The Accuser than Ronan with his brief joyless performance which was the exact opposite of his fun turn in GotG).
Lest we forget Clark Gregg’s return to the MCU as Agent Coulson, fresh out of the academy and unfortunately also all-too-brief performance in the film. It might at least have you catching up on all those Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episodes you never watched. While the CG de-aging given Jackson’s Nick Fury was certifiably incredible and the best ever done to this point in cinema due to continued flawless look they created for him even with the amount of screen time he has in the film, for Gregg and his twenty years younger Coulson however the same cannot be said as his facial results seemed to be a hit or miss depending on if it was a closeup to the camera or any other length away.

When all is said and done, Captain Marvel should not be considered as one of the best (or worst) entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While the movie gets let down in its structure and narrative, the powers that be were smart enough in allowing this to be more of a performance-driven film than something of a spectacle like we’ve seen with the most recent entries from Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther, Thor: Ragnarok and Avengers: Infinity War. Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Lashana Lynch and Ben Mendelsohn carry the film to a desired enough conclusion that I believe will have us wanting to see what Captain Marvel is up to in the future, whether it be Avengers: Endgame or in the years to come with the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

7.2 out of 10

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