Circumstances beyond our control have curtailed our moviegoing for a while, so it was almost the end of March before our first visit to the old Cinemark this year. Luckily the latest MCU outing, Captain Marvel, did not disappoint. It was not the best film in the series, but it was entertaining on the surface and had some involving depths and some good performances, as well as an interesting structure.
But first, a sigh about the title. Anyone who is familiar with either my writing or my comics work know that the great Fawcett Captain Marvel comics of the Golden Age are a touchstone for me. My cartooning style in particular is deeply informed by the work of the creators of that epic universe, particularly CC Beck.
This movie is not about that character. A legal and artistic history of how Cap’s storied name ending up on an unrelated cosmic warrior deeply embedded in the space opera section of the Marvel universe could fill a whole book, much less an essay. And it’s out of place in a movie review anyway, thank whatever. Do I wish this very interesting newer character had a different name? Of course I do. But there are ideals of artistic purity and there are mighty corporations and I know which one of those have both lawyers and movie studios. The name makes sense in context at least, and that will have to be enough.
Now on with the review, under the cut of course since spoilers abound.
The Captain Marvel movie fills several useful roles as a film. It is a feminist superhero movie, or at least a movie about a female superhero, if you can have one and not the other. It is an interesting and curious period piece. And it is an important outing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, being the last installment before the end of the first great cycle.
All the initial talk about this movie seemed to focus on the fact that the main character is a woman. My blood pressure won’t tolerate a discussion of the gender politics of this issue, particularly within the comics community. But anyone expecting a vitriolic feminist screed is going to be disappointed. The main character is a psychologically realistic woman and a superhero and manages to be both effectively and without preaching. Brie Larson’s performance here is quite good (in and out of the suit) There is also a wonderful secondary character (played with both power and sensitivity by Lashana Lynch) who is a woman and a non-super hero pilot and manages to be both too. There is a courageous and interesting woman elder in a dual role (Annette Bening) and a brave and intelligent girl (Akira Akbar) with a future you know is coming. If you look at all this and see only a contrived political statement, then that’s what you see. The rest of us will see a well drawn cast of characters and move on.
And if you happen to be worried that there are no men in this story, be assured that Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury has enough testosterone for an entire movie. More subtle, but equally masculine, are Clark Gregg in a semi-cameo as a youthful version of fan favorite Phil Coulson, Jude Law’s yellow eyed brainwashing Kree baddy (you will never be so happy to see Jude Law casually smashed against a rock wall), and a surprisingly powerful performance by Ben Mendelsohn as of all things, a Skrull. Seriously, this Skrull steals the show in every scene he appears in.
From the moment Vers/Carol Danvers first appears/reappears on Earth by falling through the roof of a Blockbuster video, this movie is an entertaining 90s period piece. From the cars (note SHIELD’s selection of Chevy Caprices), to the clothes, to the settings, to the social attitudes, this is a movie fixed in time. And it’s not just decoration: the storytelling recalls both classic “buddy” action movies in the rollicking partnership between Carol and Younger Nick Fury, and The Right Stuff in the Air Force scenes, the flyboy camaraderie and trust in the relationship between Carol and Maria Rambeau, and many elegant details including the name of the bar.
And then there are the parallels between Captain Marvel and the other great MCU period piece Captain America: The First Avenger, from the theme of the revelation of the hero within to the symbolism of the leather jacket. If nothing else, the two Captains are shown as exactly the same kind of person: someone who gets knocked down and gets back up again, every single time. Which is pretty much as good a definition of a Marvel hero as you can get.
The final significance of Captain Marvel, as the origin story a probably pretty important character in the last chapter of the first Big Story of the MCU, is probably yet to be revealed. But the hints were delightful and the last bit of waiting for the finale has been made both more interesting and slightly more unbearable.
It didn’t really fit anywhere in my structure for this essay (bad structure!) but the plot structure of Captain Marvel was surprisingly excellent, and much more interesting than the fairly linear structure of most MCU plots. The revelation of the truth about Carol’s life story (and the nature of the Kree, particularly their recruiting and training) comes in steps, and each one completely twists up the assumptions you made in the step before. You end up in a completely different space opera than the one you started out in. Very entertaining.
This movie (as a movie about a female superhero) is often compared to the much praised Wonder Woman. I am no fan of the latter film, which I found clumsy and stiff, with cardboard characters and no ending to speak of beyond 20 minutes of destruction of property.. Captain Marvel is none of those things, although the final battle, as always, could use a trim.
Finally, no review of Captain Marvel could be complete without a few words about the cat (?) Goose, who is the runaway breakout star of the whole thing. Played by Reggie (and also by Gonzo, Rizzo, Archie and some CGI creations) Goose is Fury’s best foil ever– snarkier than Tony Stark, more sincere than Captain America, though never more intelligently loyal than Phil. Does Goose provide the canon answer to the biggest question of Nick Fury’s backstory? Even I won’t spoil that.