Since I refuse to acknowledge the fact that I wasted more than two hours of my short life on Ant-Man and The Wasp, I’m going to go ahead and pretend this is the first Marvel movie we’ve covered in a while. And it’s a big one – we’re taking a look at Captain Marvel, starring Brie Larson as the eponymous Carol Dan/Vers, Marvel ‘s first female-fronted movie (hey, only took ten years, right? Ha, ha, h a ). Spoilers abound!
The movie follows the story of Vers (Brie Larson), a warrior for the alien Kree race, and part of a force meant to eliminate the apparent violent invasion of the Skrull from the universe. After a mission goes wrong, she finds herself on earth, and her mysterious, obscured past begins to come back into focus and forces her to question everything she thought she knew.
And I do enjoy Captain Marvel as a character, more than I thought she would – while the movie struggles with her lack of identity (but we’ll get to that), this is a joyous performance from Larson in a lot of ways. Her action scenes are lean and fun, her fish-out-of-water banter with the rest of the cast is smartly-placed to keep the deep implications of the, uh, maybe war crimes? That she has been involved in as part of her job for years.
We know the Marvel formula by now, well enough to tap along with the beats that they’re playing out, but there’s some genuine flair in the Captain Marvel script that lifts it out of the mediocrity of the standard superhero origin story: some great direction exploits the inherently intriguing concept of Carol’s discovery and doubt over her own past, plus the rejection of a crammed-in love interest (if we’re going to ignore the hardcore gaycoding between Carol and her best friend Maria, which I don’t want to, but you know) and focus on profound platonic relationships allowed for a different spin on an emotional core. That the directors Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden actually wrote this one, too, as opposed to picking up a script from other creators, lends the story a sense of cohesiveness and tonal completeness.
There’s a great boldness, too, in the way that Captain Marvel plays with the Skrull as villainous creatures; featuring Ben Mendehlson, a well-known cinematic asshole all-rounder, as the leader of their group even seemed intent to wrongfoot us on what to believe about their apparent Big Bad status. Iron Man 3 attempted to subvert the classic villain story with the Mandarin, but really, that seemed just there to shock – the twist surrounding the Skrull acting as refugees fleeing from the Kree is surprisingly impactful, difficult to predict, and pointedly relevant. And a reminder, if anyone needed it, than Ben Mendehlson can do more than just sneer.
This is also an origin story, as much as it is for Carol Danvers, for Nick Fury, as played by Samuel L Jackson. Fury feels more grounded as a character here just because we know where he’s going in-universe, but it’s still a joy to see him share some fantastic comedic chemistry with Larson and look at the way his relationships in the later movies were established. Also, he plays a lot with a cat. It’s great. It’s great.
But I think that biggest problem that Captain Marvel deals with also happens to be it’s biggest strength. Setting your story around a hero trying to discover her own identity is, undoubtedly, an interesting new take on the tried-and-true origin story formula that we’ve seen a dozen times from this universe already, and watching Carol unravel her past alongside the audience is an interesting take. But it also leaves the film with a curious lack of identity – how can Captain Marvel as a movie feel like a self-defined being when it’s leading character doesn’t even know who she is for most of the runtime?
Larson gets there with the performance around the time Carol gets there with her character, and frankly it just comes a touch too late. Despite some great direction, a depth and warmth to the characters, and a surprisingly socially relevant storyline that echoes the way Thor: Ragnarok took on similarly heavy themes against an intergalatic backdrop, I couldn’t help walking out of the cinema feeling like there should have been a little more actual Carol. With a strong third act that sees the title character come into her own, it sticks the landing, but, for Captain Marvel, the run-up could use a little work.
Hey! Thanks for reading this article. I haven’t mentioned it on this blog before, but since there’s just a few days left till it drops, I wanted to let you know that my debut novel Rape Jokes is coming out soon, and you can get it at a pre-release discount right here until Monday.
By Louise MacGregor
(header image via The Mary Sue)