CAPTAIN MARVEL— 4 STARS
LESSON #1: IMPULSE AND EMOTIONAL CONTROL ARE OVERRATED— Let’s get right to it. In Captain Marvel, the mentor figures around Brie Larson’s titular dynamo constantly admonish the heroine to master herself more than her skill and abilities. In their strict views, controlling impulses and emotions will lead her to become the best version of herself and a more focused warrior. They want her in check and suppress her untapped power and potential.
As a filmgoer, follow Larson’s lead and ignore that limiting advisement entirely. There is excitement and euphoria to be had by witnessing and enjoying the wonders made possible by this soaring female protagonist. Let loose, as she does, and relish in the unbridled power of this new Marvel Cinematic Universe entry that wrinkles the blueprint with fantastic feminine wiles.
Captain Marvel’s yellow starburst icon set over a red-and-blue uniform motif represents the paged calvary called by Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury with his dying, dusty near-profanity demise during the end credits of Avengers: Infinity War. Turning back the clock to 1995, this movie showers the period-era stylings to introduce us to the woman Marvel producer Kevin Feige touts to be “by far the most powerful character” in the MCU. We follow the path-forging collaboration between the future Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the mighty ally that changes his worldview and instigates the need for future initiatives.
Chiefly more importantly, though, is this movie’s deciphering trek of self-discovery. The heroine we meet is “Vers,” a burgeoning Starforce operative on the Kree home planet of Hala. She is trained by Yon-Rogg (a spry Jude Law, following Sherlock Holmes pal Robert Downey Jr.’s casting advice) and engaged in the ongoing war between the Kree and their shape-shifting Skrull rivals. Off the battlefields, Vers is troubled by recurring dreams of a destructive scene where she cannot save an unknown woman from a Skrull assassin. The embodiment of that mysterious figure (Annette Bening, checking off the comic book movie square from the career resume bingo card) becomes the personalized physical form taken by the Kree’s Supreme Intelligence collective that advises her further on the aforementioned goals of emotional control and power containment.
When a spy retrieval mission turns into a pursuit, Vers gets abducted and separated from Yon-Rogg’s team by a detail of Skrulls. Their leader Talas, played by professional movie villain Ben Mendelsohn, tries tapping into Vers’ scrambled memories for information. The Skrull probe uncovers vivid details of an Earthly history, not a Kree one. She was once Carol Danvers, a skilled Air Force pilot under the command and tutelage of Dr. Wendy Lawson (the true lynchpin version of Bening) and the inseparable best friend of fellow ace Maria Rambeau (TV actress Lashana Lynch). Carol’s extraterrestrial escape to Earth draws the intervention of S.H.I.E.L.D. From there, the shifts and turns of revealed truths change directions and allegiances for nearly all involved.
LESSON #2: AFFIRMING YOUR TRUE SELF AND PLACE— Your origin matters. Your true home does as well. With great effect and expansive surprise, Carol Danvers isn’t the only character in Captain Marvel trying to find their personal harmony or calling. No matter the entity and their imposing purposes, the urgent desire is as strong as the resulting sense of validation when the righteous actuality is achieved. These plights reinforce core integrities across the board.
Captain Marvel was woven in a little bit of a random hot potato fashion by the story and screenwriting brainstrust of Inside Out’s Megan LeFauve, Guardians of the Galaxy contributor Nicole Perlman, Geneva Roberts-Dworet of the Tomb Raider reboot, and the indie-minded directing team of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Mississippi Grind, Half Nelson). Between the infusions of heart, intrigue, solidarity, spectacle, and humor, each contributed a flavorful piece to the thick volume of supporting characters to track and exposition to absorb. The movie boasts a very solid ensemble of standouts serving these different qualities. Lashana Lynch is a tremendous dose of courageous sentiment. For once, Ben Mendelsohn is given more than moustache-twirling and Jude Law more than foreboding preachings in a blockbuster movie. The digitally de-aged Sam Jackson is a hoot with his instinctual comic timing humanizing a pre-cynic Fury with one of the most unlikely sidekicks. No, it’s not Agent Coulson, though a youthened Clark Gregg is a nice touch too.
LESSON #3: CATS CAN BE MAN’S BEST FRIENDS TOO— Folks, Nick Fury is a cat person and not the keep-one-around-as-a-silent-symbol to match his future red-assed stoicism kind of cat person. He’s the baby-talking, cuddling, and love-all-over variety of feline fan. Who knew? If there ever was a scene-stealer in Captain Marvel, it’s the marmalade-hued Goose, rubbing on legs, stealing licks, hiding secrets, and meting out justice. You’ll see and you’ll fall in love too.
Brimming with wit and nerve, much of Captain Marvel is refreshingly divergent from the usual and overused “reluctant hero” origin story that has beset many Marvel and DC heroes alike. Brie Larson’s Carol Danvers is a character gilded with confidence over angst. It is a self-assurance that only gets bolder and braver as more of her fibers take form. That all goes back to Lesson #2. Where most comic book films deflate into incoherent maelstroms during their third acts, this one just keeps on rising. Backed by a triumphant score from female composer Pinar Toprak and top-notch 90s soundtrack choices curated by Marvel’s go-to music supervisor Dave Jordan, the energetic vibe and conquering glow increases as the spacefaring stakes gets higher.
These are traits that should not be as a surprise coming from Oscar winner Brie Larson. This is what you get when you hire a proven actor and not just a pretty face. Spanning Room, Short Term 12, The Glass Castle, and more, she has proven a level of palpable poise greater than most of her acting peers for the better part of a decade. That poise and spirit occupies a new stage now. Proud and resolute every step of the way, Larson becomes deservedly altruistic. For goodness sake, as a woman of action and conviction, there are times Captain Marvel makes Wonder Woman look like a stiff fashion model. The only agenda here is destroying weak uncertainty, an empowering and welcome direction of change for comic book films lately if there ever was one.
LOGO DESIGNED BY MEENTS ILLUSTRATED (#766)