Captain Marvel (Anna Boden/Ryan Fleck, 2019)
As I always feel compelled to write at the start of a review about a Marvel film, I am no fan boy of the superhero genre, having long-ago abandoned any real interest in comics. I do, however, love good action/adventure sagas, and so I approach each and every movie like this with the hope that it will deliver thrills and more. The good ones (or at least the entertaining ones) among them – Ant-Man, Black Panther, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Iron Man and Thor: Ragnarok – tell their stories through as much wit and charm as muscle and CGI, with the best among them (Black Panther and Winter Soldier, and to a lesser degree Iron Man) folding in socially relevant commentary, as well (and though Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a work of rare genius, it is sui generis, not really part of the general Marvel series). I also happen to like compelling origin tales. Guess what, O fans and casual viewers? Captain Marvel offers not only a great introduction to a new character, but also a super-compelling fable with something to say about the real world. What more could one ask for?
Brie Larson (Room) plays Vers, a Kree warrior of mysterious origin, who dreams of another life she may once have lived on another planet, C-53 (otherwise known as Earth), where someone who looks exactly like her was named Carol Danvers. What are Kree? Powerful humanoid beings from another world who exist, it seems, to protect the universe from the shapeshifting Skrulls. In an early battle between the two forces, Vers is captured, though she eventually escapes, crashing on what may be her home planet (said C-53); not before the Skrulls unlock some unsettling memories, however, that hold the key to her past. How does she escape? It seems that, at some point in the not-so-distant past, the ruler of the Kree, known as the “supreme intelligence,” gifted Vers with powerful energy blasters that emerge from her hands. When riled, she is near unstoppable. How strange, then, that her mentor, Yon-Rogg (Jude Law, Black Sea) constantly tries to get her to contain her emotions, seemingly concerned that she learn control. Perhaps he really intends that he control her. Typical man.
Indeed, as Vers discovers her true identity and blossoms as a character, the movie builds its central narrative around feminist themes that are so embedded in the plot that the message of female empowerment resonates with pure organic energy. Beyond Vers, we meet test pilot Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch) and her precocious daughter Monica (Akira Akbar), both less deadly, perhaps, than Vers, but equally as actualized. In addition, the story we think we’re watching changes midway, introducing ideas about refugees and prejudice that speak to life outside the universe of the movie. Not only do directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Mississippi Grind) invest the film with excitement and humor, therefore, but also with genuine heft and feeling.
Samuel L. Jackson (Glass) reprises his role as Nick Fury, founder and manager of the Avengers superhero collective, except that “reprise” is the wrong word, in a way, since Captain Marvel takes place in 1995, long before any of the other Marvel films (with the exception of the first Captain America). Digitally made younger, he imbues the part with his usual charisma, a worthy sly foil to the hyper-charged Larson (excellent in her role, as well). Annette Bening (20thCentury Women) shows up, as well, in a small, but vital, part, elevating the movie by her mere presence. And then there’s the great Ben Mendelsohn (Untogether) as Talos, leader of the Skrulls. With every nuanced shrug and gesture – all done from under an alien body suit – he delivers a master class in behavioral acting that is worth the price of admission, alone. For all of the above reasons, Captain Marvel is a delight. See it and be transported in as many ways as you choose to be.