Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Captain Marvel (2019) Proves Her Power

Captain Marvel Movie Review
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Fandom hatred for Carol Danvers was sparked long before she hit the screen. From Brie Larson calling for more inclusiveness with film criticism to her heroine being pitted as better or worse than Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel had “something to prove” to the haters, the box office, and the barriers Black Panther obliterated. Despite being underestimated, the film has been knocked down but fights to live another day.

On the planet Hala, Vers (Brie Larson) and her fellow alien race of Kree are fighting a brutal war against tyrannical shape-shifters called Skrulls. Curious and haunted by the mysterious dreams she has of another life, she escapes capture to Earth to uncover the truth about where she comes from and who the real enemies are.

To say that Captain Marvel has to streamroll through Vers’s (aka Carol Danvers) evolution to get to a bigger point (Avengers: Endgame) is the understatement of the entire comic book movie genre. Working with the already successful universe of The Avengers, led by Nick Fury, Danver's first installment has to, not only explore who Carol is, but why she is "suddenly" powerful enough to defeat Thanos and where she has been for the past twenty-three years. It's a tall order for any superhero to fulfill, and Captain Marvel manages to achieve a lot within the story and time restraints it has been given.

Dropkicking us into her universe, the film's opening is the most rushed aspect of the entire film. Almost immediately, the story has to cement Carol's complicated relationship with her mentor Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), why the Skrulls are dangerous, and how Carol's memories matter in relation to the sonic power she has. So much of the movie's character development for Danvers and her supporting players rests on the set-up that it raises question about all the loose threads that need to be tied up. When the story delves into Vers’s true identity, the rest of the movie relaxes into a marvelous adventure.

Once Danvers’s mission begins on Earth, the film finds its groove. Initially, the story wants us to believe that Danvers is simply caught in the middle between the Krees and Skrulls, but then it surprisingly lets the real reasons sink in as to why Danvers is an important cog in their much bigger war. Danvers has emotional bonds to both causes between her family on Hala and beyond, and as she learns to control her strengthened powers, she has to figure out if there is an innocent party between these two enemies and if either one is using her for their own means. Her physical abilities are a backbone to her emotional and mental fortitude, and the journey to her figuring out what kind of superhero she is meant to be is empowering and exciting.

As for leading the film and introducing a new hero, Larson does a wonderful job as Danvers. Similar to Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman, there's a real evolution of who her character thinks she is and discovering the truth. The story builds her growth in stages from questioning why she is 'the chosen one' to how she defines using her abilities. She moves further away from being caught in the middle of her past and future, and more into understanding the people who've affected her life for better or for worse. Alongside her, and hanging on for the ride, is a familiar face - Nick Fury. Toying with the idea of S.H.I.E.L.D. in its heydays, there's a lot of fun seeing more behind his effortless cool exterior. He's someone we've come to know as having all of his bases covered, but here, we get a taste of who he was to become the man we know in the rest of the franchises. Both Larson and Jackson at times feel like they're in a buddy-cop movie and the leads of a larger well-rounded ensemble with Annette Bening, Ben Mendelsohn, Lashana Lynch, DeWanda Wise, and Goose the cat.

Stepping slightly out of the comfort zone from Marvel’s formula is the fact that Captain Marvel isn’t just an origin story for the character, but also the rest of the MCU. Like the audience, Fury’s discovering answers to the franchise’s biggest questions: why Fury sought out the Avengers, how did he lose his eye, where did the Tesseract come from, and how is an asset for the Avengers against Thanos. The film also plays around with the saga's hero vs villain formula by raising questions about who Danvers can truly trust. Instead of introducing the bad guys and just building up to the 3rd act showdown, it uses the Kree's shape-shifting abilities to cause doubt about who deserves Marvel's support and protection. The story still maintains the typical 'fish out of water' hero's journey, but manages to have entertaining twists that it averts being a copy and paste superhero film. Captain Marvel does a good job handling all of its easter eggs, and is at its best when it has time to breathe in-between.

Despite the great cast and action-packed script, the film botches its 1996 setting. On Hala, the atmosphere is highly vibrant and filled with techno jams that feed a futuristic vibe. On Earth, the girl power anthems and cultural homages will give most pre-Millennials a nostalgic chuckle, but the film isn't deeply ingrained by the 90s landscape, which is a letdown. Remove the few references thrown in as props (plus a young Nick Fury), and the story could take place at any time. This shouldn't matter that much, but its place in the Infinity Saga is so finite in building The Avengers in the mid 2010s, the production design doesn't come across as "the definitive prequel" to the other Marvel movies. In comparison to its sibling films, Black Panther (2018) uses iconic cultural moments and advanced technology to define Wakanda's past and future, while Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) dives into 1940s before powerfully contrasting it with Steve’s rude awakening in a brief run-in with the 20th Century. As fun as it is to hear No Doubt’s Just A Girl kick in for a bad-ass fight scene, the placement of familiar pop-rock songs and that Windows PC reference (and Blockbuster stand-in) pop up randomly. The directors missed an opportunity to use the atmosphere as an entertaining and immersive character on its own.

An imperfect movie doesn't mean it's the worst in the universe. If anything, it should mean there's always room for improvement. Establishing a character in a cinematic universe that's already twenty movies into developing dozens of other characters, and zero build-up to her existence, finally gives Marvel the opportunity to pay attention to why inclusion matters. While the kick-off to her own franchise feels rushed and Captain Marvel has rough patches, the MCU still needs all the help it can get in defeating Thanos. It was a smart move that they finally decided to unleash her.

Rating: ★
Have you seen Captain Marvel? What did you think?

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