Review: Captain Marvel

The Story:

Set in 1995, Carol Danvers becomes Captain Marvel and is caught in an intergalactic war between two alien races which will put Earth in danger.

The Review:

Not many surprises can be had with an origin story for a superhero film. By the very nature of the project, we know that by the end, the protagonist will have forged their identity and become the titular hero.

Captain Marvel doesn’t change this expected narrative but the 21st film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and the 6th “origin story” film tries to shake things up and present fresh ideas by making the actual origin story into a mystery of sorts that we, along with the protagonist, need to decipher.

When we first meet Carol, she has no recollection of her life other than waking up on the planet Hala, and becoming part of the alien race Kree as a member of the Starforce military unit. She can also happen to shoot energy projections from her hands.

The fact that we discover her background along with her brings an interesting element into how an otherwise familiar story is presented and allows you to invest in her emotionally, taking up most of the first half of the movie.

Now, the second half has seen more praise and its easy to see why. The big superhero spectacle takes over with space battles and lots of visual effects.

As Captain Marvel herself, MCU newcomer and Academy Award winner Brie Larson gives an occasionally powerful performance, both emotionally and physically, yet always having a certain mischievous spark in her eyes and lots of charms.

Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Annete Benning, Lashana Lynch and Jude Law play supporting parts. Particular note goes to Mendelsohn as Talos, the leader of the shape shifting Skrull race that Carol is trying to stop and Jackson as a young pre-patch version of Fury, with impressive digital de-aging, stealing every scene they’re in.

Much has been said on Captain Marvel’s empowering message with internet trolls targeting its supposed “pro-feminist” angle. In fact, by 8 am on opening day, it had an audience score of just 33% from more than 58,000 reviews… more audience reviews than Avengers: Infinity War had in its whole theatrical run.

Now, to be very clear, the movie is absolutely pro-feminist. Released on March 8th (International Women’s Day), a key character in Captain Marvel’s backstory has been gender-swapped to be female, the film’s commentary on abusive relationships for women is quite clear with various male characters trying to put Carol down and any doubt is eviscerated when No Doubt’s “I’m Just a Girl” plays during the climactic battle.

But I believe one of the story’s strongest points is not necessarily limited to one gender or even race (also smartly incorporating the timely topic of the refugee crisis tastefully) and should be celebrated as a great representation of accepting one’s own strengths and smashing the preconceptions and limitations set by others. Higher, further, faster indeed.

On the music department, it carries an appropriately heroic and hummable score by the first MCU female composer Pinar Toprak and a hell of a lot of 90’s hits intertwined although it maybe uses one too many songs to remind us of the era.

For a film this size and genre, one expects impeccable visual effects and innovative action. Unfortunately, this is not always the case as some of the critical special effect shots sadly look like they came from that time in the early 2000s where you could pinpoint the exact moment a real human being transforms into a rubbery plastic toy.

The action, although highly serviceable and fun, is missing the strong idiosyncratic touches seen in Taika Waititi’s visually striking humorist approach in Thor: Ragnarok, Scott Derrickson’s psychedelic and horror tinged settings from Doctor Strange and Ryan Coogler’s precise camerawork and cinematic movements from Black Panther.

Making it quite noticeable that directing duo Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, known for smaller, independent films such as Half Nelson and Mississippi Grind, are more comfortable in dialogue driven scenes, excelling in establishing some great relationships, character work and convincing twists.

Also, I didn’t exactly buy the prequel aspect of the movie with them trying to connect Carol into the larger MCU a little unconvincingly, not always making too much sense.

Finally, big bonus points for the perfect Stan Lee cameo and tribute.

Excelsior!

The Result:

Very much a film for these times with its strong messages of representation, refugees and empowerment, Captain Marvel won’t be changing the MCU in any substantial way and has its fair share of technical issues, but is a fun twist on the “origin story” as well as a worthy addition anchored by some powerful performances, noteworthy storytelling and intergalactic fun.

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