90s Nostalgia & Feminism Pack into a Space-Comic Book Tale
Captain Marvel is the latest entry in the Marvel Comic Universe, which is arguably the most successful film franchise and has certainly generated the most money. Although there are now 21 films in this series to date, Captain Marvel is the first in the series with a female lead and a female director. Plus, I’m sure there is no coincidence that it was released on International Women’s Day.
The film leans into a feminist message throughout the story and there are a number of “girl power” anthems from the 90’s that will certainly pump up millennial audiences. It even decks out its star, Brie Larson (The Glass Castle, 2017), with a grunge look for a large portion of the movie. While delivering a clear message of female empowerment, it also provides action and humor that make the Marvel comic movies so reliably successful. Also, similar to its previous films, Captain Marvel has a part to play in the next Marvel movie, Avengers Endgame, which is being released within the next two months.
Although Captain Marvel is a must-see for comic book fans, it may not be as entertaining for non-comic book fans due to an overly complicated plot that unfortunately takes some of the emotional stakes out of the audience experience.
The film can really be described as two stories: an ongoing war between two alien races (that converge on Earth) and Captain Marvel’s self-discovery that takes place in early 90s U.S.A. The plot opens with a flashback / dream sequence featuring Vers (the initial name for Brie Larson’s character, which is pronounced like ‘fears’). In her dream, Vers stands up in a daze on a battle field with blue blood dripping from her nose as a green alien shoots a laser at a woman she doesn’t recognize (Annette Bening, The Seagull, 2017). We discover that Vers lives in the capital of the Kree Empire, a human-like alien civilization in a distant galaxy. She is startled by this recurring dream that she does not understand due to memory loss. Since she cannot sleep, she goes and knocks on the door of her commander, Yon-Rogg (Jude Law, Fantastic Beasts: Crimes of Grindelwald, 2019). She asks him if he wants to go fight even though it’s the middle of the night. We soon realize Yon-Rogg and Vers are part of an elite military force serving the Kree Empire. As they spar against each other in a training center, Yon-Rogg counsels Vers to control her powers, which include her unique ability to shoot energy blasts from her hands. After receiving another lecture about controlling her emotions from the head of Kree race, Vers joins her team on a rescue mission.
The Krees’s mission takes them to a neighboring planet to rescue one of their secret agents, who is helping in their war against another alien race, the shape-shifting Skrulls. The mission quickly goes awry when Vers is captured by the Skrulls who trick her (they have stolen the identity) of the agent they are hunting for. The Skrulls take her to their ship and use a machine to search her mind for secret information about someone named Dr. Laura Watson (who we recognize as Annette Bening’s character from her Ver’s dreams). The Krees believe Watson has a secret weapon and they think Vers knows who she is. Although shackled, Vers can also see these memories the Skrulls have accessed and recognizes the scenes are occurring on Earth. She manages to escape her shackles, fight off the Skrulls with to her superior powers, and steals a spaceship that crashes into Earth (more specifically a Blockbuster store). This crash landing gets the attention of the authorities and agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, Incredibles 2, 2018), who eventually comes to believe her story that she is from another planet and that shape shifters are hunting for her and infiltrating Earth. The two team up to find out more information about Dr. Laura Watson (also played by Bening) and begin to unravel Ver’s connection to her. As Vers searches for clues to her past, Yon-Rogg and the Krees have come to retrieve Vers before the shape-shifting Skrulls find her first.
Clearly, the film has a lot going on, possibly too much. It has two futuristic alien civilizations warring while the main character is caught in the middle of it and suffers from memory loss to boot. It’s not surprising that the most enjoyable parts of the movie occur back on Earth when Larson’s character is a little more human.
In fact, Larson’s performance is a bit wooden through the first third of the movie and it seems like she fails to embrace the character until she sheds her costume on Earth in favor of the grunge clothing she wears to ‘fit in’ with society. This may not just be a coincidence as Larson, prior to her becoming an Oscar-winning actress, was a singer who grew up on 90s music. Larson delivers in her action scenes, but really shines when she playing against Jackson’s character. In fact, Jackson, Larson, and Latasha Lynch (who plays Maria Rambeau) form the emotional core of the movie and Jackson, who excels at playing a tough guy, provides the comedy relief, which give the movie a lift. Rounding out the cast, Jude Law, who plays a military leader of the Krees and Ben Mendelsohn, who plays his rival for the Skrulls, also deliver in their roles, but don’t receive enough screen time or character background to make to much of an impact.
Bottom Line: Comic book lovers will want to check another Marvel film off their list, but they should brace themselves for a complicated storyline. For audiences just looking for an action-packed movie on a rainy day, save a couple of bucks and rent it!
Credits: Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck; Written by Geneva Robertson-Dworet, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck
Starring: Brie Larson (Carol Danvers), Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury), Ben Mendelsohn (Talos), Djimon Hounsou (Korath), Lee Pace (Ronan), Lashana Lynch (Maria Rambeau), Gemma Chan (Minn-Erva), Annette Bening (Supreme Intelligence), Jude Law (Yon-Rogg), Algenis Perez Soto (Att-Lass), Clark Gregg (Phil Coulson)
Studio: Marvel Studios
Running Time: 128 minutes
Jessica DeLong © March 8, 2019