Oh captain, my captain!
If you remember my Black Panther (2018) review this time last year, I was bemoaning the Marvel malaise we seemed to be experiencing – hinting that both Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok (2017) were examples of the MCU’s power-that-be making bolder choices to resurrect a thudding, great giant of a franchise.
Thankfully, this year’s Captain Marvel (2019) is a continuation of that new direction, with two indie film director-writers helming the project, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck. Their notable effort, Half Nelson (2006), though not loved by me, sealed their reputation as ‘ones-to-watch’ for off-beat, humane storytelling.
With most Marvel characters gracing the big screen I have had a little prior knowledge of the character’s own universe, backstory or special power, but with Captain Marvel, I was aware of very little. I was therefore relaying on the film to get me on board with Vers’ (Academy Award winner, Brie Larson) alien world of Hala from the outset. Perhaps that’s why it seemed to take a while to really get started, but from the moment that Vers crash lands on earth (into a Blockbuster video store, just so you know its set in the 1990s – ’95 to be exact), the film starts to have a lot more fun.
Feisty, quick-witted, but “too emotional”, we balk to be told, Larson’s Vers has a special power of unlimited strength radiating from her clenched fists, and that she must learn to control it and temper her feelings, says Jude Law, her too-smooth mentor called Yon-Rogg on Hala. Huh. Duuude.
As Vers is reconnected with her real, her former life as hotstot test pilot for the US Air Force, Carol Danvers, her best friend Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch) and comes into contact with a young, amazingly de-aged Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). SLJ really stands out as a younger, vibrant Fury, sans eyepatch and world-weary determination. His scenes with Larson may even remind many of SLJ’s last great ‘amnesia-action-buddy’ pairing – with Geena Davis in The Long Kiss Goodnight, released a year after this is set. The jokes between them flow well, especially when Goose the cat makes them an unlikely trio.
Thanks to a series of overlapping and initially puzzling memories and flashbacks that gather more meaning as the film goes on, Vers’ main mission becomes to track down the elusive Dr Wendy Lawson (originally written as a man and played in fantastic jeans by Annette Bening *insert ‘praying hands’ emoji here*) to get hold of a piece of technology that would be mighty powerful in the hands of the shape-shifting Skrull, led by the always memorable Ben Mendelsohn’s Talos. Through the flashbacks we get snapshots of Danvers’ forgotten life: the struggle to be taken seriously in the Air Force, a loving proto-family unit with Maria and less clearly, a troubled relationship with her father. I suspect there was probably more in the original script that would have made those brief flashes of familial conflict land better.
That said, Captain Marvel packs a punch in more ways than one. A killer ’90s soundtrack from Garbage, Hole and TLC, likeable performances and really quite emotional closing scenes that hint a radical message that will be Danvers’ mantra in following MCU appearances, catapult what could be a confusing origin story out into a world we want to know more about. The moments where Danvers revels in her abilities and runs rings around those who have undermined her are truly satisfying, and we soar with her in the stratosphere as we revel in the possibilities of what’s to come.