Captain Marvel: Review

To fully review a movie like Captain Marvel you need to spoil some things.  It’s inevitable and necessary. For those of you who wish to go in as blind as I did, I’ll keep this first part spoiler free.  My version of spoiler free, which means ZERO plot and character details.

Anyone who has ever listened to my podcast or read any of my work knows I’m very critical of Marvel.  I feel that too many people grant them a pass on all their problems and grade on a curve. When movies like “Ant-Man and the Wasp” are getting 7s and 8s out of 10, I feel like I missed a round of kool-aid.  Not saying that it was a bad film at all; it was a blast. Was it Captain Marvel? Absolutely not. Captain Marvel is exactly the movie I wanted and avoids nearly all the pitfalls I was afraid of. I haven’t been this impressed with a Marvel outing since the first Avengers.

The movie works on many levels;  the cast is spot on, the set pieces are dazzling, and the score keeps the mood from going full on bananas, or way too serious at any given time.  It’s a feat that even the best of Marvel’s offerings still have trouble with. But the strongest thing that this film nails is that it has nothing to do with the rest of the Marvel movies.  Now hang on, and put down your pitchforks. I know how much it fits into the MCU, but that isn’t my point.

The last Marvel movie you could go to while knowing NOTHING about the MCU was Captain America: The First Avenger.  There are solid arguments to be made for Guardians and Doctor Strange, but they have a few too many nods to the bigger universe to be totally standalone.  If you have never seen a single MCU movie and you sat down to watch Captain Marvel, you’d never be lost once. If you’ve been a fan since the beginning, there are tons of extras and nods to enjoy, but when you lean over to your “basic” friend to ask if they caught the reference, they would say no, and it wouldn’t matter at all. The importance of this can not be understated.  This is Marvel’s first solo-female-led film, and there will be an entirely new audience lining up for it, many of whom are nervous they will be lost or confused. Fear not. This is a movie for everyone, and I mean that in the best way possible.

This brings an end to my spoiler-free portion of the review.  If you just wanted to know if should you see it, or if it is any good, then I’m here to say, “Yes!  Go now!” This movie is the new contender for my favorite Marvel film to date.  If I had to give it a score, I’d give it 9/10.

SERIOUSLY.

When Brie Larson was cast as Carol Danvers, or Vers as she is known the majority of the film, I was excited.  It seemed a safe casting choice, but that isn’t a bad thing. It’s safe because you know she’s a good fit. What Brie brings to the character here is her natural charm and wit, but everything else is Carol Danvers.  She loses herself in her character and is mesmerizing in the role. For the first time in a long time, I felt that was watching a superhero on screen, and not an actor playing dress up. As much as I love my celebs, it’s wonderful to forget that you are watching a person do their job, and just get lost in the spectacle of it all.

The movie begins with Carol already a superhero fighting with the Kree, believing herself to be one of them.  Her boss, played by Jude Law, is always training her to be the best fighter she can be, without her powers. This leads to one of the more compelling plot lines of the film.  Captain Marvel is always being told to prove herself. Carol is told she must prove to Jude Law that she can fight, to Talos that she’s not as bad as the other Kree, to Fury that she isn’t a Skrull, and to us the audience, that she is all she has been hyped to be.  The film knows and answers all of this with skill unmatched. The journey of Carol’s character is almost the journey of the film. It doesn’t have to prove anything to you. With both the character and the film not caring what you think, they manage to stand boldly and plant themselves as new mainstays of superhero pop culture.

Any good hero needs a good villain.  Captain Marvel has more than enough of them to go around.  The advertised Villain of Talos the Skrull, who is played to perfection by Ben Mendelson, immediately stands apart from every MCU villain to date.  Within his first conversation, it is obvious that there is more to this character than meets the eye. You are begging to see more of him, and the film grants this wish.  The Skrulls here are not the enemy, but the hunted. No one is saying that they aren’t dangerous, and terrifying. Just that the Kree are that much more so. Talos phrases it best when he says, “My hands are filthy from this war too.”  He knows that he isn’t the hero that his people and family needs, but he certainly isn’t the foe that the Kree have made him out to be. It’s this duality that has led to so many praising Mendelson as the show stealer of the whole production.  While thoroughly impressed, for my buck, you just can’t beat Brie Larson.

The real villain turns out to be Jude Law.  I won’t go on and on here like I do about how the trailer ruins this fact, that’s not the film’s fault.  Yet, the film doesn’t do a great job of hiding this fact either. Maybe it’s the gruff exterior that Jude Law plays his character with or maybe it’s just that he plays such a good villain that I was expecting it the whole time. But when that turn came, no one in my prescreening was surprised.  The good news is that this isn’t a bad thing, because he does such an amazing job as the villain. He plays a villain whose major skill is mind games. He tries to get Carol to doubt herself, and if for some reason that horrible plan fails, he is ready to fight. It was refreshing to see a villain both smart and physically capable.  While not having to be 10 feet tall and purple…

Much like a villain, heroes need their sidekicks.  Things really take a turn for something special here.  Carol has three main people that she relies on. Her childhood best friend and accomplished pilot Maria Rambeau played by Lashana Lynch.  She and her daughter ground Carol and provide her something to fight for.

Carol has a young, dashing, two-eyed Nick Fury, played by Samuel L Jackson and millions of dollars of nearly unnoticeable CGI.  This is where I thought the movie would struggle. Fearing that if you hadn’t seen the rest of the MCU you would have no idea who he is. But the movie and Jackson play him as a new character, and he fits in the world perfectly.  Brie and Jackson’s chemistry is electrifying and keeps you entertained. It really makes “that” Infinity Wars moment have that much more weight. At the end of the film when Carol gives Fury the beeper, it dawns on you that they may never see each other again.  Given how great of friends they are, this is that much more heartbreaking. I won’t spoil how the eye goes bye-eye (sorry), but since the only explanation we’ve ever had is, “The last time I trusted someone I lost an eye” it’s fantastic to finally have an answer to the mystery.

The third and final side kick… who really isn’t a sidekick at all, is Mar-Vell, played by Annette Bening.  She pulls double duty in the film as both hero and villain. As the hero Mar-Vell she inspired Carol to be the best pilot in the world.  Then used her to test out her light speed plane, which crashed, burned, and gave Carol her powers. As a defected Kree she spends her time on earth preparing a way to save the Skrulls and end their pointless war.  On the flip side of the coin. Annette also plays the Supreme Intelligence. An A.I. that the Kree communicate with and get their orders from. When you “plug in” you see whoever you admire most in the universe. Carol, of course, will see her mentor Mar-Vell.  As the Kree are shown to be the true villains of the film, the audience can figure out that we will be seeing a Carol vs Supreme Intelligence fight. When its all said and done, I was left a little wanting from Annette Bening and both her characters. It was awesome to see her in the movie, but she really has little to do in either part.

Captain Marvel Blockbuster GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Moving on from the characters, the film takes place in the ’90s.  For better or worse, the film blurs the lines between being a period piece and just having an unreasonable amount of 90’s references.  I can only hope that your audience wasn’t like mine, laughing at every single 90’s reference as if it was the best joke in the world. Which was unfortunate, because it undercut a brilliant job from production designer Andy Nicholson.  Andy created both a futuristic world reminiscent of other MCU films while being unique and a believable 90’s Los Angeles.

Captain Marvel GIF by Marvel Studios - Find & Share on GIPHY

The music in the film is largely going unmentioned.  To be fair, the pop songs are pretty much what you would expect, 90’s hit after 90’s hit.  Both for comedic effect and to set a tone. For the most part, I think that it works well. But the thing that impressed me was the original score from composer Pinar Toprak, in her first Marvel gig.  The score reminded me of a subtle Ragnarok score, fitting the tone of the movie just as well. It never drowns anything out, or calls attention to itself, but heightens whatever is on screen from a standard comic book movie to a beautiful sci-fi adventure.

If I had to nitpick something, I’ll go after the same thing I do with every Marvel movie, the comedy.  At some point around the Avengers Marvel decided that all of their movies must be funny, as well as action packed.  Even if it clashes horribly with what’s on screen. Ragnarok and Doctor Strange will always be the top two offenders of this, but Captain Marvel slips up every now and then too.  The movie is smart enough not to undercut every serious moment with a joke like the other two films I mentioned, but it can’t help itself sometimes. The biggest bruise comes when the Kree take the beach, a shot you’ve all seen in the trailers by now.  It is perfectly shot, the score is scary, and then you see Talos turn into a surfer he sees walking by, it’s very intimidating… then… jokes. This isn’t the only example, and by no means does it ruin the movie, but it certainly stains an amazing scene. There are a few more moments where jokes could have been funny, but ill-timed edits ruin pacing and step on punch lines.  These are minor problems in a movie that is otherwise, near comic book perfection.

Walking out the theater and driving home, I was lost in the wonder of the movie I had just seen.  I see a ton of movies a year, and I almost never miss a comic book movie on the big screen. So at this point, I’ve become hard to impress.  Captain Marvel is a damn good movie. This is a movie I can’t wait for every little girl and boy out there to see as soon as possible, because they have a new hero to look up to, and for that matter, so do I.

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