Captain Marvel review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Bagged with a lot of online hoopla from feminism-feasting trolls and a controversial campaign of white males against what they deemed a condescending move by Marvel, the Captain Marvel movie ultimately arrives as a strong addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and not the downfall of the saga many had been spinning for months. Though not quite the cultural milestone of Black Panther for its insertion of female empowerment more tacked-on than interwoven, the film stands its ground as a solid workhorse picture of a sci-fi spy story, while also adding to the MCU timeline.
One could argue that it follows the same Marvel formula but there’s a more unique angle present. Most Marvel solo pictures follow the format of posing a hero as comfy in his ways and forced to redefine themselves as a better man. Now we have Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) with a much different take. At the beginning of the film, she’s Vers, a soldier of the intergalactic Kree Starforce. But she’s not like most of the Kree she serves alongside, harboring an amazing ability to shoot energy out of her hands. She also has a fractured memory with dreams of a life on Earth, thoughts that linger while she serves the Kree’s war against the shape-shifting Skrulls, pointy-eared creatures who can manipulate their bodies into any species.
The battle soon leads to 1995 Earth and Carol is determined to find answers. Accompanying her on unraveling both her past and a galactic conspiracy is a young Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), starting to climb to the higher ranks of the secretive SHIELD organization. Jackson has been given a visual effects makeover to make him look as youthful as he did in the likes of Pulp Fiction or more accurately Die Hard With a Vengeance (no mention of those films in this timeline, despite Carol crash landing inside a Blockbuster Video). And yet the film never lets itself get too carried away with trying to make Jackson as booming as he was during that decade.
I suppose that’s the best way to describe most of the movie in how it stages Carol’s sci-fi spy plot of missing memories, invading alien forces, and shape-shifting creatures. It never goes overboard with the 1990s references, avoiding a geeky ode more akin to how Guardians of the Galaxy dipped into a 1970s vibe. It never makes Carol’s true story all-the-way clear until the end, keeping her past diced up in intriguing non-sequential nuggets. I just wish the whole female empowerment angle didn’t feel quite so bold as it does when the message comes smashing into the third act. It doesn’t hamper the rest of the film but it does come with a surprising bluntness that contrasts from the more subtle presentation of the rest of the themes.
The action is as capable as it is in any Marvel film and helps breaks up the story when the fun and exposition may go too long. Carol’s fascinated first exposure to Earth culture quickly leads to a fast and exciting chase and fight on a train. She will later pilot an experimental aircraft with Fury and a cat in tow. And, wow, that cat is a lot of fun in more ways than one.
Many may equate Captain Marvel to the previous Marvel solo movies of heroes defining themselves but I found this one a bit more refreshing. Where most solo heroes start at the top, have their powers stripped, and need to redefine themselves, Carol spends this film just trying to define herself period. And while this does hold her back from coming into her own as the character more comfortably, it does make for a brisker take that left me more excited for the third act than most of these solo movies where we can see the writing on the wall as the film nears home plate. But what I dug most in the film is a scene where Carol finally harnesses her powers and refuses to fight fair with her rival, arguing she doesn’t need to prove herself that way. It’s a statement that Captain Marvel need not be held to a higher degree than the previous solo superheroes in terms of her motivations and pride. And from this aspect, she’ll fit into the MCU just fine.