Released: March 2019
Director: Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Budget: $152 to 175 million
Stars: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Jude Law, and Annette Bening.
It’s the mid-nineties in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and, a galaxy away, the Kree super soldier Vers (Larson) is embroiled in a war against the shape-shifting Skrulls. When the Skrull campaign brings Vers to earth, she encounters a young Nick Fury (Jackson) and embarks on a journey to recover a mysterious light-speed craft while also uncovering the truth about her past and her true identity.
Captain Marvel was most popularly the Kree superhero Mar-Vell, who famously died of cancer in 1982, however this version of Captain Marvel has existed since 1968 and spent quite a bit of time as Ms. Marvel before officially taking the mantle of Captain Marvel in 2012. This particular movie seems to be taking influences from the classic “Kree-Skrull War” storyline from the seventies and Kelly Sue DeConnick’s work on Captain Marvel from 2012. Captain Marvel was teased at the very end of Avengers: Infinity War (The Russo Brothers, 2018) and, given the success DC and Warner Brothers had with Wonder Woman (Jenkins, 2017), tied nicely in with Marvel Studios’ desire to finally have a female-led superhero movie. With this serving as the character’s official introduction into the MCU, Captain Marvel is being positioned not just as the “most powerful” superhero in the MCU but a pivotal character going forward. This film also serves to fill in some gaps in the MCU continuity, specifically regarding Fury’s early years and his first introduction to superheroes and cosmic threats.
Captain Marvel does a pretty good job of slowly unravelling Veers’ past and backstory; it introduces her as a character with no memory of her past, who struggles to control her energy-based powers and with her identity, under the tutelage of Yon-Rogg (Law) of Starforce, she is pushed to overcome her weaknesses and emotions and be a stoic, unflinching soldier.
Starforce, also comprised of other Kree warriors (including the return of Korath (Djimon Hounsou) to help flesh out his character…a little bit….), are ordered by the mysterious Supreme Intelligence (which appears differently to every person but, for Vers, is represented by Annette Bening) to retrieve an undercover Kree operative, however they are ambushed and Vers is captured and mind-probed by the Skrulls.
Using her memories, they head to Earth to locate a scientist and recover an experimental light-speed engine; having escaped, Vers soon runs into Nick Fury and rookie S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), both of whom have been fantastically digitally de-aged about twenty-five years, meaning we never need to worry about recasting characters ever again. Convinced by an encounter with the shape-shifting Skrulls, Fury agrees to aid Vers in locating the scientist and keeping the engine out of the Skrull’s hands and, along the way, Vers discovers that she had an entire life on Earth. Captain Marvel balances a few different genres really well; it starts as a space-epic and, whenever cosmic elements arise, very closely echoes the look and feel of the Guardians of the Galaxy (Gunn, 2014; 2017); when Vers crash-lands on Earth and teams up with Fury, it becomes a road trip, buddy-cop take on Thor (Branagh, 2011) as Vers is a super powerful fish-out-of-water.
For the most part, all these elements come together really well; despite all the negativity I read about Larson and her being a stoic, unemotional robot in the trailers, Vers is actually a very emotive and charming character who makes jokes and quips at the expense of her team mates (and to the frustration of Yon-Rogg) and has a very dry sense of humour most of the time. Larson also expresses Vers’ conflicting emotions about her past and the revelations she uncovers really well, turning sadness and guilt into focused anger. Honestly, I shouldn’t even have to be commenting on this, as trailers are just that…trailers, they show only glimpses of a movie and the characters so to judge Larson completely on the trailers is laughable, especially considering there are plenty of trailers in the MCU that show characters just frowning or being stoic and serious.
The Skrulls came off really well here; as a brand new alien species, it was important to introduce them properly and to get their shape-shifting effects nailed down and both are right on the money here. Practical effects transform the actors into distinctly different Skrulls and their motivations are surprisingly well defined. Similarly, it’s great to Samuel L. Jackson back as a younger, far less jaded Nick Fury and to show how he reacts to these cosmic situations; the only real issue I had was that Fury was, perhaps, a bit too much of a goof at times. I’m happy for him to go ga-ga over a cute kitty cat, for example, but randomly singing, laughing, and joking seems contrary to his character. He must have seen some serious shit between this movie and The Avengers/Avengers Assemble (Whedon, 2012), let’s just say that. Between all the road trip, buddy-cop, detective work there are some pretty solid action sequences; there’s a pretty awesome dogfight sequence that takes more than a little inspiration from Independence Day (Emmerich, 1996) and, once Vers go full Super Saiyan and unlocks her full power, she is tossing energy blasts and battling starships in space, which was very exhilarating.
Also, this is a nostalgia trip back to an era very close to my heart, the good old nineties; as such, we see a Blockbuster, arcade machines, and many references to the Grunge music scene. These elements are sometimes a bit in your face but, generally, they act simply as a backdrop and framing device; using the nineties is a nice change of pace as well, since all the nostalgia seems to revolve around the eighties these days, and allows us to explore a previously unknown time in the wider MCU.
It’s not really a spoiler to say that “Vers” ends up discovering that she is truly Captain Carol Danvers, an Air Force pilot presumed dead six years ago but, in actuality, she was spirited away by Yon-Rogg after she (somehow) absorbed the seemingly limitless energy of the light-speed engine after destroying it to keep it out of the Kree’s hands. That is the true spoiler of this movie, the revelation that the Kree are actually an antagonistic force who hunted down and killed a rogue agent (Marv-Vell (Bening), who was posing as Dr. Wedny Lawson, Carol’s friend and mentor) because they discovered that she was building a light-speed engine to help the Skrulls escape the Kree. This is revealed to Carol by the Skrull Talos (Mendelsohn), who has been posing as Fury’s boss, Keller; Talos plays the black box recording of the day of the explosion to unlock Carol’s memories and then leads her to a cloaked ship in Earth orbit, where his family and a bunch of Skrull refugees have been kept safe. Making the Skrulls the oppressed and clearly innocent parties in the Kree/Skrull war was an interesting twist as, generally, the Skrulls are just as bad as the Kree (if not more so, as they favour deep-cover infiltration); this seems to lessen the Skrull threat in the MCU and screws up my prediction that they would be an antagonistic force going forward. Unless, of course, there is a rogue, terrorist, or fanatical subset of Skrulls that end up becoming a threat and, of course, a lot could have happened in the twenty-five-odd years between this movie and present day that could have turned the Skrulls more towards the dark side.
Also on the ship is the energy core that allowed Mar-Vell to create her light-speed energy, which is none other than the Tesseract. Fury is able to recover the Tesseract with the help of a cat he has grown attached to, Goose, which turns out to be a Flerken, this weird alien-thing that resembles a cat and can swallow massive objects whole using tentacles. Predictably, and unfortunately, the Flerken also ends up clawing Fury’s eye out; I’m not sure exactly why, though, as Goose seems very fond of Fury and they have an amicable relationship throughout the movie, which reduced Fury’s mysterious missing eye (that he previously claimed was the result of trusting someone too much) to a mere joke. Once she rebels against the Kree, Carol removes the inhibitor chip suppressing her powers, turns Super Saiyan, defeats Yon-Rogg and sends him back to Hala (the Kree home world) with the promise that she’ll be heading back to end their warring ways. She sends the Skrull on their way to their new home but, before heading out herself, hands Fury the modified pager device we saw at the end of Avengers: Infinity War, for use “in emergencies only”; back at his desk, Fury begins outlining plans for an initiative to defend the Earth from cosmic threats, deciding to name it the “Avenger Initiative” after Carol’s call-sign, which helps bring the MCU full circle and emphasise Carol’s influence in the wider MCU. As for post-credits scenes, the first mid-credits scene appears to be a scene from Avengers: Endgame (The Russo Brothers, 2019), in which the pager stops transmitting and Carol drops in one the survivors from Avengers: Infinity War, while the second is simply the Flerken puking up the Tesseract.
Captain Marvel ends up being a great addition to the MCU and I’m excited to see what she brings going forward and, while the movie is enjoyable and decent for the most part, it didn’t bring too much new material to the table. However, I enjoyed Captain Marvel; as I said, I did not agree with the initial negative backlash towards Larson and she emotes very well throughout the film. Her arc is more about discovering her past and true self rather than replacing stoicism with a joyous personality and, as a soldier, a degree of stoic focus is expected; Captain America (Chris Evans) is very stoic and by-the-numbers when on a mission and Captain Marvel is the same, so I don’t get these complaints. Also, yes, this is framed primarily as a female-led piece with a feminist agenda about females being powerful and independent but it wasn’t as in your face as people are making it out to be; Vers is mostly portrayed as an equal among men, especially on Earth, and is only ever seen as less due to her inability to control her powers and emotions. This is primarily beaten into her by Yon-Rogg, a character who isn’t exactly a bastion of emotion and righteousness, and gives her an oppressive male force to rally against but I feel this would have been the same if she had been a man; again, Captain America faced similar issues and oppression even after he became a super soldier. In the end, it’s best to watch Captain Marvel as a fun buddy-cop movie with science-fiction influences and action sequences rather than go into it with a feminist agenda. It annoys me that we even have to mention that and talk about it; just watch it as a movie and take from it what you will, like you would any other movie.