This has been one of the films of the MCU I’ve been waiting for the most. Obviously there was going to be a Captain Marvel film, but the question was which version of Captain Marvel would it be, would it be the original Mar-Vell version of the character or one of the other characters who have adopted the name since. Thankfully, the version of Captain Marvel that was chosen was Carol Danvers, allowing Captain Marvel to be the first MCU film with a sole female title character, and with Anna Boden as one of the directors, the first MCU film directed by a woman. This angle has been seized on by Marvel, proudly proclaiming the feminist stance of the character and the cast, to the chagrin of the alt-right (which means they must be doing something right). As for the film itself, I found it to be a lot of fun, even if I wish it did go a bit further in its themes.
The film follows Kree soldier Vers, who has been struggling with her emotions during combat missions and plagued by dreams of a past she can’t remember. During a mission undertaken by her Kree squad, led by Yonn-Rogg, against Skrull, a race of shapeshifters at war with the Kree, Vers gets captured and her memories extracted/restored, bringing her to Earth in 1995. On Earth, Vers joins forces with Nick Fury, at this point still just an agent of SHIELD, against the Skrull, whilst also having to find a scientist the Skrull are looking for and find out who she is, that being Air Force pilot Carol Danvers. The central theme of the film is one of self-identity. A good chunk of the film is dedicated to Danvers discovering who she is, and through this learning to understand more of her value as a person, rather than as a soldier, with this also incorporating themes of perseverance and the feminist angle of the film. We see that a lot of Danvers life was standing up to systems designed to limit her abilities and knock her down, with Danvers always standing back up again after she is knocked down. This creates some strong imagery in the film and helps to continue the strong work the MCU has built up in creating engaging heroes that the audience can identify with. There will be a lot of women who see what Danvers goes through from her life on Earth and will see something that resonates powerfully with them, this alone being a worthy cause for the film. There are some points where I wish the feminist angle was taken a bit further, although I did like that the filmmakers knew there was going to be a fuss kicked up by men over Danvers not smiling and working it into the film. There are also strong themes raised about the damage caused by colonialism and the way that societies distort and manipulate reality to turn refugees and those fighting imperialist rule into enemies, I don’t want to give more away since this is a big twist in the film, but this is an element that is of great importance to show. There are some plot issues due to the amount of exposition needed in the first act of the film to establish the Kree-Skrull war and elements of Kree society like the Supreme Intelligence and the Accusers (although this element is helped by an appearance from Ronan from Guardians of the Galaxy), but once the film gets to Earth and becomes more about the mystery of Danvers’ identity, the pacing of the film picks up and the exposition in the third act is better executed.
For the performances, Brie Larson is excellent as Danvers. There’s this strength that Larson brings to the character that allows her perseverance and desire to do good to come through, with Larson also bringing a lot of personality to the character. So much is done to establish the character of Danvers through subtle facial expressions and body language from Larson, showing strength, humour, compassion and a sense of fun, showing that Danvers loves what she is doing, be it using her energy blasts as a Kree soldier or being up in the sky in a fighter jet. Samuel L Jackson as Fury is also a lot of fun. The chemistry that Jackson and Larson have together is excellent, showing a real cameraderie between the two and letting you know why Fury called Danvers at the end of Infinity War and it’s a lot of fun to see Fury start to understand the wider cosmic world. Ben Mendelsohn as Talos, the leader of the Skrulls, is a lot of fun, with him also playing Fury’s boss at SHIELD, Keller. Using his natural Australian accent for Talos and an American accent for Keller allows Mendelsohn to create two distinct personalities for the characters, although I don’t want to say more for fear of spoilers. Lashana Lynch as Maria Rambeau, Danvers’ friend in the Air Force is fun as well, having a strong rapport with Larson, showing the deep friendship the two have, even if Danvers can’t remember their time together. There is some hinting at other MCU films through the appearances of Djimon Honsou, Clark Gregg and Lee Pace, but they don’t overwhelm the film and you wouldn’t notice it if you weren’t looking for it. I do think that Jude Law as Yon-Rogg and Annette Benning as Dr Lawson were a bit underutilised, they are strong in their roles, working well off of Larson, but I think more could have been done with their characters, although to say more would spoil the film, whilst Gemma Chan is completely wasted, which is a shame considering how talented she is and what could have been done with her character.
On a technical level, the film does a good job of replicating the feel of the 90s. From the production design to the costume design to the strong soundtrack (which includes TLC, Nirvana, REM and No Doubt, with the use of Just A Girl by No Doubt being on par with the music cues in the Guardians of the Galaxy films), there is this feel of the 90s to all the scenes of Earth, which helps to establish a strong feel for the film. The action scenes meanwhile are well executed, if a little bit underwhelming for me, although the character work in these scenes is still strong. There are also a few points that felt a bit too dark for me, although when there were some times, like at the end and during a scene in a records vault, where the use of lighting added to the tension and character of a scene. The make-up work meanwhile is excellent, especially for the Skrull, allowing the facial expressions of the characters to consistently come through, which helps add to the character development we see. The costume design, mainly for the Captain Marvel suit, is a good mix of practical elements, feeling more combat ready with things like the retractable helmet, whilst still taking good inspiration from the comics. I also thought the de-aging work for Samuel L Jackson and Clark Gregg was well done, avoiding going into the uncanny valley and being done in such a way that you wouldn’t tell is was CG de-aging, it does look like 20 years younger versions of the actors.
Overall, I had a lot of fun with Captain Marvel. Whilst I wish some of the themes and character development were explored in a bit more detail and there were some slight pacing issues in the first act, there is still a strong thematic weight to the film, with the excellent lead performance from Brie Larson adding so much vibrancy and life to the film, helping to bind together all of the themes.
My Rating: 4/5