A seismic punch to the MCU.
Earth, or as Captain Marvel‘s galactic characters call it, “C-53”, is a “real shithole”. How else can you explain how we’re only just getting a female-led superhero movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, 11 years into its inception? Though, it isn’t a case of too little, too late – this ground-breaking effort is an empowering leap forward in the larger narrative; socially, politically and story-wise. That, and it’s bloody good fun.
Vers (Brie Larson) is an extraterrestrial Kree “noble warrior hero”, training alongside Yon-Rogg (Jude law) in the fight against the shape-shifting Skrulls. After a mission goes wrong, she crashes to Earth, where she has to deal with enemies, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Nirvana and CD-ROMs – that’s right, it’s the 90s. Vers is told early on: ‘There’s nothing more dangerous to a warrior than emotion.” But she is continually afflicted by flashbacks of what appears to be a previous life; as well as learning to harness her superpowers, she starts to uncover the mystery of her past.
MCU movies often have a distinct style: Iron Man has the swaggering combo of Downey Jr and Favreau; Thor unravels with the Shakespearean penchant of Branagh; Thor: Ragnarok is built on the brazen peculiarity of Waititi. Captain Marvel‘s directing team, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, have solid foundations in indie drama (such as the excellent Half Nelson), but struggle to bring much more than healthy, but obvious imitation to the table. Even going as far as to hire the same cinematographer, Ben Davis captures the elegant suaveness of Guardians of the Galaxy‘s visuals (location titles are the exact same) but makes them more grounded.
However, the action is quite unlike other entries in the franchise; slickly cosmic, built on the goddess capabilities of its titular hero. The closest we’ve seen to this level of power is Thor’s epic Infinity War landing – fittingly, Captain Marvel goes “higher, further, faster baby”. Though for a character with such bombastic potential, there are some technical issues: choreography veers between cheer-worthy and over-edited (particularly in a head-aching train sequence that riffs on The French Connection); there’s a patent lack of extravagance in the colour department; and the jarring facial effects in flight sequences, as heart-soaring as they are, need serious refinement. Strange really, considering the frightening quality of the de-aging technology, as witnessed by a younger, seamless Jackson as Fury.
The directors, plus Nicole Perlman, Geneva Robertson-Dworet, Meg LeFauve, Liz Flahive, Carly Mensch are all on screenplay and story duties, but remarkably, the result isn’t overly cluttered. The film could do with some more time to get into the various plot-threads; there was definitely more meat on the bones of the flashbacks, and Annette Bening is excellent in her quite thankless role. But thankfully, the cast more than make up for this; Ben Mendelsohn as another villain does attract somewhat of a shrug these days, but he truly is fantastic, embodying a far less typical malevolent charisma. Larson and Jackson share an irresistible chemistry as they both become fishes out of water; the latter occasionally steals the show alongside Goose, the amazing cat. But the former, with a Oscar-winning pedigree in dramatic work, brings emotional depth to a boundless character, sometimes stoic but also affable and fierce (particularly in a refreshing central friendship with Lashana Lynch’s Maria Rambeau).
A fiery montage of our female hero’s lifetime oppressed by patriarchy electrifies the film’s content, right down to a climactic fight handled with incendiary, calculated wit. The message is more important than the entertainment though; women shouldn’t need the go-aheads of men to achieve extraordinary feats, and if Captain Marvel, following DC’s Wonder Woman, can teach a younger generation that, the world can follow in the footsteps of this small, but important milestone. “What happens when I’m finally set free?” she asks. The answer will no-doubt play a role in the historic Endgame of this saga.
A distinctly Phase One pre-Endgame appetiser, progressive and thematically powerful in areas missing a little wonder. Somewhere out there, on a farm far, far away, a purple titan is sweating.
Cameron Frew – @FrewFilm