Captain Marvel Review

Movie after movie, hero after hero – waiting for Marvel Studios to misfire and derail its blockbuster empire is a fool’s errand, and “Captain Marvel” is just the latest to disappoint the superhero movie Nostradami of the world. Sticking to the formula, making great casting decisions and knowing how to use the goodwill it has built as a springboard into a few calculated risks are among the winning calls that Marvel makes in delivering on its first female-driven offering.

That Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) is a woman means both nothing and everything to this film. The story has a remarkable (by Hollywood norms) four women credited: Anna Boden – who also directs with partner Ryan Fleck – Geneva Robertson-Dworet (the rebooted “Tomb Raider”), Nicole Perlman (“Guardians of the Galaxy”) and Meg LeFauve (Pixar’s “Inside Out”), underscoring Marvel’s recognition that women should comprise the creative force of this film. Together, embodied by Larson’s performance, they create an image of a woman whose female-ness doesn’t define her or tell her story.

There’s no knocking what DC Entertainment did in this regard with “Wonder Woman,” and there’s even a little bit of emulation going on, but this movie makes the fact that its hero is a woman into even less of a thing while still being feminist. Captain Marvel doesn’t combat overt sexism (there’s one instant that’s fleeting at best), and other characters don’t comment on or make assumptions about her gender identity. The fact that she’s part Kree actually has more relevance to the story than her womanhood. It only seems to matter that she’s a woman because of the context of the world and society we live in.

When we meet Vers, she’s on the Kree homeworld working as part of an elite starforce team, and she already has the ability to blast energy from her hands. After her team is ambushed by Skrulls (the Kree’s sworn enemy), she’s captured, and the Skrulls probe into her mind, revealing some clues about her past that eventually lead her to Earth/Los Angeles in the mid-‘90s and a younger Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson).

The throwback time period, though a change in the Marvel M.O., hardly matters aside from a handful of jokes and soundtrack choices. The movie is still operating in the Marvel framework. The more distinctive feature, however, is the script’s twist on the typical origin story, choosing to make how Carol Danvers became Captain Marvel part of the film’s central mystery, not what propels it. The choice tweaks the Marvel formula (for films introducing new heroes) just enough to keep it fresh in the eyes of those who have made countless trips to the Marvel Cinematic Universe these past 11 years.

Even the sci-fi/intergalactic side of the MCU has been visited so extensively in the “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Thor” films that very little feels new or exciting about the world of “Captain Marvel.” This film doesn’t have the advantage of immersing its audience in something completely new (see “Black Panther”), and that, in turn, exposes the Marvel formula a bit more, puts pressure on the quality of the writing and requires Larson to sell the hero.

With a creative rather than cliché use of flashbacks and a device that completely flips the story on its head in a thought-provoking way, Boden and Fleck keep “Captain Marvel” engaging throughout a barrage of same-old action sequences. The non-traditional way of introducing us to Vers creates a significant lag time before we click with the character, but once we do, she becomes easy to cheer for. Larson’s performance exudes a confidence, poise and emotional undercurrent that shares similarities with many of the other Marvel on-screen heroes. Like her DC counterpart, Gal Gadot, she exudes strength, only her body is completely not a focus or of interest to the filmmakers.

Boden and Fleck haven’t sent shockwaves through the MCU or the greater world of blockbuster filmmaking with “Captain Marvel,” but they execute a thoughtful, values-driven story with a hero who didn’t have to be a woman, but will inspire audiences because she is one.

4/5 Stars

Captain Marvel
Directed by Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck
Written by Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck & Geneva Robertson-Dworet (story & screenplay), Nicole Perlman & Meg LeFauve (story)
Starring: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Jude Law, Lashana Lynch, Ben Mendelsohn


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