‘I’ ON CULTURE
Captain Marvel is a charming film, filled with action and plenty of twists and turns. It might not be one of the best of the Marvel movies, but it is great fun. It is making a fortune, and people are walking out of the theater smiling.
Vers/Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) is a Kree super-warrior. Plagued by bad dreams, she works out with her mentor Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) trying hard to overcome emotions and use her full powers. Before long she is sent out with his team to fight against the feared Skrulls, a shape-shifting, reptilian looking race. She is captured and interrogated by Talos (Ben Mendelsohn), a Skrull leader, but manages escape to a backwater world, which turns out to be Earth in the 1990s. Struggling against the Skrulls, she winds up with young Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) who has trouble believing her until a Skrull winds up on an autopsy table. She gets memory flashes, discovering she is native to earth and was a pilot and best friend of Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch). She disappeared with scientist Dr. Wendy Lawson (Annette Bening), who turns out to not be who she seemed. The chase is on, with plenty of plot twists, all nicely done.
The film moves quickly through interesting scenes, moving from futuristic Kree cities to 1990s America. A few touches brought laughs: Vers lands in a Blockbuster Video store (the one movie we see her check is The Right Stuff) and she goes to Radio Shack for communications equipment. Songs from the era play in the background. But there’s always the feeling that a chase is on. The movie keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout, particularly because just about anyone can be a Skrull in disguise.
There are a couple of real problems, however. At the start, Vers is told to control her emotions, and Larson does that for the first half of the film, which makes her a not very sympathetic character. Jackson’s Fury comes across far better. He seems more the center of the film than she does for the first half. In some ways, the key emotional center of the film is the relationship between the two leads and, although they have great chemistry together, a lot of that does not appear until well into the picture. In many ways, this is as much Jackson’s picture as Larson’s.
Even more vital is that the story is not linear. Larson’s character is Vers, a Kree warrior through most of the film, who has flashbacks that eventually turn into finding out she was once Carol Danvers. The name “Captain Marvel” is never used in the film. As a result, it takes time to figure out what the central character really is all about, and an awful lot is left out.
Most of the supporting cast is fine but is given very little to do. The great exception is Mendelsohn as the leader of the Skrulls. His performance is only slightly limited by the fact he wears a reptilian face, but he manages to turn the whole plot on its ear partway through. It is a bravura performance. Law, all buffed up, is OK but emotionally limited. Lynch gives a charming performance as Carol Danvers’ best friend. She provides a lot of emotional warmth.
The film’s lead actors and directors have done no favors by constantly talking female empowerment and claiming a focus on women’s issues. Although Vers is clearly a woman (and for most of the career of Captain Marvel, the character was male), there is no sex or even allusion to it. Vers is a tough warrior whose superpowers are tremendous. For much of the film, her gender has no relevance, and even then, it is mostly because of her friendship with Rambeau and her daughter.
If you like the Marvel films, this one is for you — a nice warm-up for Avengers: Endgame coming in late April. There is even a post-credits scene that brings her into that universe.