Review: Messy 'Captain Marvel' overcomes a rough (and convoluted) start to finish strong
Courtesy of Marvel Studios
Serving as the appetizer before the porterhouse steak next month, “Captain Marvel” has arrived to both save the box office slump of 2019, and offer another rousing origin story that’s not as fun or clever as it thinks it is. The film is all over the place, starting from the far-flug depths of the laser cosmos, to the vintage Blockbuster video store of the 90s’ set Los Angeles, the latest Marvel offering features Academy Award winner Brie Larson suiting up in spandex haunted by her past and memories (most notably Annette Bening?) Therefore, she’s confused about herself and figuring out her identity, and the movie has a similar problem (it can’t figure what to do with its main character). “Captain Marvel” eventually finds a rhythm with the introduction of Samuel L Jackson’s convincingly de-aged Nick Fury, and a spout of clever twists late in the third act which offer credibility to an otherwise routine narrative, but as far as Marvel films go, this one (compared to its non-Marvel counterpart, the excellent female fronted “Wonder Women”) feels like a let down.
For starters the opening thirty minutes gets bogged down with several character introductions and an intergalactic war that never lifts off the ground (I was having my own terrible flashbacks to Kenneth Branagh’s “Thor”). In one area you’ve got the shapeshifting Skrulls, and the other: The Kree (both looking like they auditioned for “Star Trek Discovery” and got rejected). The Kree take orders from Supreme Intelligence, a bio-organic MacGuffin who has an important mission for Larson’s crew of military runts. Like a videogame, each squad member has a unique set of skills: for Vers (Larson) she’s got the muscles with her fists of proton energy. Minn-Erva (Gemma Chan) is the sharpshooter from a far. Dumbledore, I mean, Jude Law is the commanding officer who slings advice at all the wrong times. And in keeping with continuity, “Guardians of the Galaxy’s” Korath (Djimon Hounsou) makes an extended cameo.
On assignment, the team is sent to a planet of ruins (oddly familiar to the final showdown where Iron Man and crew failed to stop Thanos in “Infinity War”). Here, the over bloated first act becomes the scapegoat for cool space terminology, and slimy looking creatures. The film eventually throws Vers on Planet C-53, a blue spherical landscape her peers call Earth. Crash landing into a Blockbuster, where the year is 1995 (and yes the #1 song of the year is still TLC’s ‘Waterfalls’) some Skrulls have also made their way to track down the pilot. There’s a few campy sequences involving these Mystique like creatures, but the plot seems to keep driving them away any chance it gets.
Keeping with the themes of subplots and shinagaiens, Jackson’s Fury and Clark Gregg’s fan favorite Agent Coulson are given new life in the pre-Avengers initiative world (and their bromance sparks memories of “Lethal Weapon”). Except, the best part about “Captain Marvel” isn’t Marvel herself, it has to be Nick Fury. Before, Fury was this hardass, screaming and authoritative voice of reason, here, we find out he’s just a cat person as all the best superheroes are. Jackson clearly has a blast playing the comic relief, and just your normal pencil-pushing crimefighter standing alongside a real-life intergalactic hero. What a pair!
Still, Larson’s continued flashbacks offer a troubled glimpse into who she was or is. After all, she’s a Kree soldier, so why does she keep seeing visions of an old life in the United States Air Force? In those instances, she has a trusty sidekick named Maria (Lashana Lynch) and had to deal with a wide array of “Top Gun” wannabes mansplaining how it’s called a “cockpit” for a reason. Yeesh.
Considering Larson is the first female to headline her own Marvel Studios films, those snippets remind you of the gender equality females have tried to implement in the workforce since, like, ever (hell, female pilots weren’t allowed in the Air Force until 1993). There’s countless memories that come into play, and “Captain Marvel” isn’t shy about its stance on feminism, it’s just the overall message seems to get buried the more mysteries and slimy creatures become introduced in the films two hour runtime. (Though, give Larson credit as she’s a cosmic force to be reckoned with and will be a worthy addition to the Avengers lineup).
“Captain Marvel” is a hard film to keep track off, and that could be attributed to the writing squad of: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, Geneva Robertson-Dworet, Nicole Perlman, and Meg LeFauve each having their own interpretations of how Carol Danvers be portrayed on screen. Thankfully, Larson is able to offer enough charm to make the ride worth it, and she’s well-matched by an antagonist played by the wonderful Australian actor Ben Mendhelsohn. You’ve probably seen the actor hamming it up recently with the likes of “Ready Player One” and “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” - and here he’s allotted the opportunity of playing something different. In the span of ten minutes, you’ll see him playing a Skrull, then he’s the human version of himself (because why wouldn’t you want to transform and look like Ben Mendelsohn?) Also, there’s a really great cat that basically steals the entire movie.
The soundtrack features a variety of pin dropping goodies from No Doubt to even Nirvana, the 1995 landscape (the year this writer was born) is a fun setting, though it can play a bit thin (I couldn’t really tell you why this movie had to be set in 1995 other then for nostalgic reasons). I could go on about the era in which this takes place, specifically Samuel L Jackson’s career exposure in that time frame (“Pulp Fiction,” “Die Hard with a Vengeance” or how about “The Long Kiss Goodnight”) and I love the subtle blasting of Arnold Schwarzenegger cardboard cutout for the film “True Lies” inside Blockbuster and the subsequent shots that feature VHS covers of: “Last Action Hero” and “Junior.” Not to mention all the “Top Gun” inspirations (even though it was released in 1986 - Tom Cruise still had a major presences in the 90s’).
Ironic as it is, many of those bankable Hollywood icons represent what the industry used to be. Safe to say times have changed, and “Captain Marvel” has arrived to combat those stereotypes. It’s an empowering film that, I’d assume, could get better with age (though the real question is: Why did it take Marvel this long to produce a movie around a female superhero anyway?) At least directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck are able to sprinkle their organic indie coda in the films closing minutes. Not only does it save “Captain Marvel” from becoming a punchline in the era of female superheroes, it inadvertently turns Brie Larson into those bankable Hollywood icons from the past. Thanos better watch his back.