Higher Further Faster
Captain Marvel opens in 1995 on the alien world of Hala. We are introduced to Vers [Larson], a Kree warrior being trained by her superior, Yon-Rogg [Law] to suppress her emotions in order to become a better fighter but as she is suffering from amnesia, is desperate to uncover who she is. Sent on a mission to extract an undercover operative, we learn about the Kree’s war with the shape-shifting alien race, the Skrulls. The mission is an ambush and Vers is taken hostage and has her memory probed, revealing glimpses of a history on Earth. Vers escapes the Skrull ship and falls to Earth, where she meets SHIELD agent, Nick Fury [Jackson].
If anything can be said to sell this movie, it will be the chemistry between the cast. Seeing Larson and Jackson interacting at the Oscars it was very quickly apparent that they have great rapport and this comes across wonderfully throughout this movie. Fury is less jaded than we’ve seen before, making him more charismatic and fun while Vers’ fish-out-of-water cocky fighter pilot spunk gets her in and out of a lot of trouble. By the way, before we go any further, this may be considered a spoiler but Vers is indeed from Earth and her name is Carol Danvers. I just wanted to get that out of the way so you don’t get confused if I jump back and forth between Vers, Carol Danvers and Captain Marvel. Ok, moving on.
In each of the Marvel origin stories, the characters have grown, evolved and improved through group interactions; this is one of Marvel’s strongest assets. When people rank their favourite MCU films, it’s very rare that a standalone will be highest, it’s usually a medley piece as seen in a sequel, which is less bogged down with origin mythology and established comic book lore and finds traction and its place in the larger narrative universe. Case in point, Captain America is my favourite MCU character but in his first film I will quite happily admit that Steve Rogers is a fairly two dimensional unwavering pillar of moral fortitude. There isn’t much of an arc for him and he remains a flawless stalwart of truth and justice from start to end. If that film were to be released now, it would be eviscerated. But when analysing Carol’s place in this saga, we need to address who she stands to replace. If Iron Man, Captain America and Thor were the original Avengers trinity, then Doctor Strange and Black Panther are their replacements, along with Captain Marvel as the Thor substitute; becoming the overpowered cosmic hothead. And while that’s great, it’s worth pointing out that for a lot of audience members, Thor only got really good by his fifth appearance. It’s also incredibly difficult to gauge the personality of a character in an amnesia piece but I think Carol was a fun inclusion with a lot of potential for growth and exploration; very different from the comic version but that’s not a bad thing.
**If I’m honest, most of the review will pretty much be spoiler-laden from hereon out, so you may want to skip ahead to the final paragraph**
Stepping away from the lead, one of the most interesting elements is the role of the bad guys and I don’t mean the Skrulls (I’ll get back to that later), I mean the true villains of the piece. The double-punch of the Kree’s artificial intelligence ruler, Supreme Intelligence [Bening], who adopts the form of an individual you respect and Carol’s commanding officer, Yon-Rogg. These characters are keenly placed to illustrate both a society that limits individuals, constantly reiterating that they need to be something they aren’t and threatening to take away power that is given, even when this isn’t the case. To be blunt, Supreme Intelligence is every institution that has denied a sect of society the ability to prosper and then expects gratitude when offering a recycled piecemeal morsel back. While Yon-Rogg shines a subtle light on the nature of abusive controlling relationships, lying to an individual while gas-lighting and rewriting the past to keep their partner weak, submissive and compliant. My original highlighted quote was “if toast is cut diagonally I can’t eat it” but the conclusion of the Yon-Rogg fight is so spectacular, how could I highlight anything else? And the truth is, these sorts of characters aren’t going to particularly resonate with a lot of people, specifically because they either haven’t been in that position, haven’t had many frank conversations about these traits or worse still, are those individuals. I’m talking about white males. And I genuinely feel this is why a lot of the backlash about this film being disappointing may stem from; that unrelatability. Oh and speaking of Supreme Intelligence, I don’t care that Mar-Vell is a woman. Don’t care in the slightest. Sure, he’s a big part of the Marvel comics lore but it would add little to this movie to be bogged down with even more sprawling backstory.
Being a prequel period piece, Captain Marvel somehow feels a little less like the Marvel films we’ve seen of late. In an essence, it seems more fleshed out and like a contained standalone with well-rounded and developed side characters and villains – something the MCU often struggles with. The supports in particular are incredibly noteworthy. From things like setting up future heroes like Monica Rambeau to the open-ended fate of characters like Talos, who could return in future instalments. Speaking of which, let’s talk about the complexity of war and the strange allies and bedfellows it can generate. In the comics, the Skrulls are straight-up evil, they were first traders then conquering explorers and finally, when they met the Kree, portrayed as little more than conquest hungry, deceptive killers. This film complicates the narrative a little and adds some nuance and complexity to both sides; which is true of any conflict. But the Skrulls being different from their comic counterpart may be received like the changes to the Mandarin in Iron Man 3. Personally, I really liked it, this isn’t to say the comic standard won’t one day be shown, in the same way the “real” Mandarin can be used in a future release, we are given an open-ended, fairly unexplored establishment which doesn’t clearly cut good and bad. Even Talos says, “this is war, my hands are filthy from it too.” Who is to say that these wise-cracking charming Skrulls are going to be representative of the entire race, maybe over the 20+ years between the events of Captain Marvel and the present day, there won’t be a shift to an eventual Secret Invasion style plot where disenfranchised and bitter Skrulls launch an attack on Earth. Who knows? The point is, it isn’t black and white and that is appreciated.
As with every Marvel release (and if I’m honest, every major contemporary blockbuster), the computer generated imagery utilised throughout veers from seamless to plasticy. If we step away from the failings for a second, it’s worth noting that some of the more subtle, practically unseen VFX standing head and shoulders above some of the more bombastic efforts. Specifically the de-ageing of Fury. I’ve maintained that what Disney and Marvel have been doing with this combination of make-up and CGI tweaking has been frankly breathtaking but to push this for a central supporting role for an entire feature is incredibly bold and it pays off so well because you forget that it is even an effect at all. I was also very impressed with the audio elements (not enough is ever said about the sound design in these movies) and while the song choices were fun and nostalgia-driven, they unfortunately take precedent over Pinar Toprak’s original score. This wasn’t so much a problem with something like Guardians Of The Galaxy because that movie had a very distinct and memorable main theme but here the genuinely grand synth and brass combination work felt pretty incidental and downplayed. Which is disappointing because it conjured an interesting hybrid of the soundscape of Thor, Captain America and Mass Effect with some wailing 90s guitars for good measure. I’ll also add that while I found the pacing to be acceptable, neither dragging nor rushing through at any point, the editing during the action was pretty erratic and clumsy but the final space battle wrapped up far too quickly. I understand that this movie was going for a character development close with Carol quite literally standing up to her captors but much like Wonder Woman the actual final fight is just too rushed and neatly resolved.
Overall Captain Marvel is a solid film with a really strong heart that suffers from a few small problems but nothing that hasn’t appeared in any other Marvel origin story. I have absolutely no doubt that once Carol has been introduced into the ever-expanding stable of MCU characters she will flourish but for the missteps this movie takes, they aren’t enough to hold back the future dynamic shift that is coming.
8th February 2019
The Scene To Look Out For:
Even from the trailer it was always going to be this scene. There’s something chilling about being shown an individual at several stages of their life being pushed to the ground and having the temerity to rise to their feet and face not only the challenge but the slings, arrows and consequences. It’s arguably the movie’s most powerful moment and should hit you like a punch to the gut. As a sign of strength, resilience and determination it is a representation of what should be the defining qualities of our species. Hyperbolic? Maybe but I think it warrants it.
So, it’s still incredibly stupid that nobody knows about SHIELD in Iron Man, to the point they haven’t even figured out a good way to introduce themselves other than the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division to Fury being able to flash his badge in the 90s and every security guard recognising its authority. But that’s retconning. At this point and with this big a franchise, stuff like that is frankly unavoidable at times, so fuck it. But we should talk about Fury. Before the Avengers happened, there was widespread discussion about what kind of releases we could expect and one that was bounced around a lot was a SHIELD/Nick Fury film and while that never came to pass, this is likely the closest we’ll get to see Nick Fury, super spy, the guy whose secrets have secrets in action.. and I was far from disappointed. I also love that some of those secrets are protecting his ego and the line from Winter Soldier about “the last time I trusted someone, I lost an eye” has shifted in tone somewhat. But then we circle back to that retconning and the idea of what Fury is. In Avengers, Fury explains to the proto-avengers that weapons were being built to counteract Asgardians, that since Thor arrived on Earth it has become apparent that mankind is “hopelessly, hilariously outgunned.” With the events that take place in this movie, a fair few people will take umbrage with this, believing it contradicts what has already been established. But the depressing truth is that’s because gatekeepers like to think they know everything about a character and are surprised (and strangely hurt) when that confidence is “betrayed” should evidence to the contrary surface. Same thing happened with The Last Jedi – I know this character inside out, this is what he would do. Then we are shown the character ending up in the predicted place but via a different route and that angers certain fans. To avoid rambling any further, I will simply say that this was a nice exploration of the Fury character that humanises him and puts a grounded perspective on the man he becomes and why he has chosen to a) keep certain truths to himself and b) that he has allowed the semi-fabricated legend surrounding his persona to thrive because it benefits him; the Frank Urquhart logic of “you might very well think that; I couldn’t possibly comment.”
“I have nothing to prove to you”
In A Few Words:
“A flawed but entertaining introduction to what promises to be a very interesting MCU hero”