Film critic Calum Cooper gives his take on this week’s hit blockbuster, Captain Marvel, the twenty-first film in the colossal Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the first to be led by a female superhero.
Captain Marvel – ★★★☆☆
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has at last produced its first female-led superhero film with Captain Marvel. I really love what the MCU has done with the superhero genre for the past decade it has been active for, and it was about time we had a female superhero front and centre with this franchise. Not only is it a refreshing change, but there are lots of progressive and powerful ideas that can be examined with this sorely needed inclusion.
Captain Marvel works best when it’s exploring those ideas. It’s clever, confident, and empowering. I don’t think it’s a great film, but, even if you overlook the strength of its central message, it’s still very much amiable and entertaining. That’s honestly the minimum I ask for with these Marvel films.
The plot: Brie Larson is an intergalactic fighter named Vers, aka Captain Marvel. Together with her team, Starforce, led by Jude Law’s Yon-Ragg, she hunts down Skrulls, shape-shifting aliens that infiltrate other worlds. During one of these missions, Captain Marvel is blown out of the sky, crash landing on Earth in 1995. Realising Skrulls are on Earth too, she decides to continue with her mission, teaming up with a younger Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, who has been de-aged with impeccable CGI). As she remains on Earth however, she begins seeing memories belonging to a woman named Carol Danvers. Realising she may have a connection to this planet, the film is as much about Captain Marvel coming to terms with who she is as it is about intergalactic warriors pummelling each other.
During the first fifteen or so minutes, I thought the film was in real trouble. For whatever reason the craft on display isn’t as consistent as many of the other MCU films. The editing, lighting, and even sound mixing all seemed a little off. The initial scenes involve a dust planet, and later an alien ship, where shaky cam and darker lighting are both utilised, obscuring what we can see on screen, and not for the better. It was difficult to make out what was going on, and some of the dialogue spoken was so soft that I could barely understand it.
The movie especially works when viewed through a feminist lens. It showcases the strength one woman can possess, and how she doesn’t have to prove that strength to anyone, least of all arrogant men in higher power that look down on her.
Luckily, when Captain Marvel arrives on Earth, the film picks up exponentially. We do sadly still get moments where these technical anomalies re-emerge, but the movie improves because it becomes a much more focused character piece. Although, that doesn’t mean we aren’t deprived of the usual MCU trademarks, whether that be solid action, fun characters, and plentiful comedy.
For starters, the character interactions are some of the most enjoyable moments. I’ve seen some reviewers call Brie Larson’s performance bland. I couldn’t disagree more. I found her very charismatic. She was clearly having the time of her life, portraying the character as snarky and confident. Yet, when drama has to kick in and Captain Marvel has to reconsider who she is, Larson brings it just as well. She suits the role wonderfully, and the chemistry she has with the side characters is addictive in its charm. The banter and dynamic shared with Samuel L. Jackson’s Fury is especially fun, but there’s also a lot of heart in her interactions with Lashana Lynch’s Maria Rambeau, who joins the duo later in the film in a side role that’s equal parts exciting and wholesome. You enjoy spending time with this small collection of people, and therefore find yourself concerned for them when hostile aliens come to wreak havoc.
Plus, the action that isn’t hampered by the aforementioned technical problems are as grand and immersive as they are in any other MCU film. The finale in particular is mind blowing, as the size and scale becomes amplified by the identifiable characters and personal growth we’ve bore witness to. The colours and choreography leap off the screen, and they’re equally energised when framed in either a serious or comedic tone, of which the film does a dexterous job at balancing both. In fact, the comedy on display is among the strongest in any MCU film, with humorous turns from Larson and Jackson’s chemistry, misunderstandings between humans and Ben Mendelsohn’s Skrull character, and the cat Goose, who gets a lot more to do than you’d expect.
However, the film is at its best when it concerns its lead heroine and what she embodies. Captain Marvel is a flawed character. She’s stubborn and hot-headed. But, through flashbacks and present day interactions, we see that her stubbornness grew from how people treated her. Whether she wanted to join in on go-karting as a child, or train to fly fighter jets as an adult, she was constantly told that she couldn’t do it, or that she didn’t belong. It’s never explicitly said that this is because of her gender, but it’s definitely implied. As such, she believes she must behave and conduct herself in a certain manner.
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This sets up her character arc brilliantly. Revelations, both past and present, force her to confront what kind of person she is, and who she wants to be. It’s ultimately an inspiring tale about Captain Marvel unlocking her true powers, both physically and mentally. I believe this to be the film’s core message – that only you have the power to unleash your own inner strength. This belief can be applied to either gender, universalising the film. But the movie especially works when viewed through a feminist lens. It showcases the strength one woman can possess, and how she doesn’t have to prove that strength to anyone, least of all arrogant men in higher power that look down on her, the main villain being a representation of this. It’s a beautiful ideal for the film to share with its young female audience, with this repetitive image of Captain Marvel, from girlhood all the way to womanhood, constantly getting back up after being knocked down being especially potent.
What stops me from calling Captain Marvel great is that the rest of its plot is rather safe narratively speaking. While the character development and themes are outstanding, it’s still pretty easy to see where everything is going. There aren’t too many surprises, outside of comedic ones, and the occasional technical blunders certainly don’t help. It feels more structurally akin to the MCU’s earlier films than the ambitious newer entries. Because of this, it sadly doesn’t pack quite the punch that something like Black Panther did, at least for me.
Take that with a grain of salt however, for I know I’m probably not the best person to pass judgement here. The audience I was with largely consisted of young and teenage girls, the groups the film is more orientated at (although there was no shortage of males either). Given the cheering and applauding at the end, it was obvious how much they loved it. That truly matters so much more than whatever my silly opinion is.
Nevertheless, I had a good time with Captain Marvel. It’s a fun popcorn film with valuable things to say. It may not be my favourite MCU film, but I reckon I’d enjoy it more on a second viewing. It’s exciting, it’s funny, it’s charismatic as hell, and its messages are incredibly powerful, making Captain Marvel a strong final lead in to Avengers: Endgame. I can’t wait to see how she influences that film, and the future of the MCU as a whole. With her on the team, its safe to say that Thanos is screwed.