‘Captain Marvel’ review [2 of 2]: Unconventional, dismantled origins

Captain Marvel creatively spins an origin story by reversing the wheels of the classic MCU Phase 1 formula.

Fresh off from the monumental showdown of Avengers: Infinity War, Captain Marvel carries a ton of expectations for fronting the ‘strongest superhero’ in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Not to mention that this stand-alone/Phase 1-ish material competes with several experimental and crossover films in Phase 3, the titular heroine is at a disadvantage for having zero narrative to begin with unlike Spider-Man and Black Panther who have prior introductions in Captain America: Civil War.

And if we should extend the comparison by a universe, when it comes to female representation in this increasingly sensitive era, DC’s Wonder Woman is the first one to blast through that barrier in 2017. Still, a multitude of female demographic in particular are looking forward to this film with the hopes of seeing a part of themselves represented on screen. The result is hardly a game-changer but it sure does have several things going on that other superhero films simply don’t have.

Since most audiences have no idea about Captain Marvel, it is to the film’s benefit that co-writers/directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck structure the screenplay like a mystery. The reverse origin story kicks off with Vers (Brie Larson) already possessing an array of powers under her belt, and that includes superhuman strength and photon blasts (with flight ability to follow). There’s a lot of backstory teased in her fragmented visions but the film cuts right to the action of an intergalactic war. Vers is a member of an elite Kree military unit called ‘Starforce’ whose purpose is to hunt down Skrulls who have been invading peaceful planets in the galaxy.

The Kree Starforce (L-R): Djimon Hounsou (Korath), Algenis Pérez Soto (Att-Lass), Brie Larson (Vers), Rune Temte (Bron-Char), Gemma Chan (Minn-Erva).

Her misadventure sends her crashing to planet C-53 (a.k.a. Earth) where she crosses paths with a young S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury, played by a magically and seamlessly de-aged Samuel Jackson. From then, the film then turns into an entertaining buddy-cop romp as they try to uncover the truth of Vers’ human origin. Oh, and the film is set in the 1990’s so Gen-Xers and early millennials can expect a healthy dose nostalgia – payphones, pagers, blockbuster video rentals, CD-ROM, Alta Vista search engine, etc. – all of which are intended to evoke warm and fuzzy feelings..

Larson and Samuel L. Jackson (as a young Nick Fury) in ‘Captain Marvel’

While Wonder Woman is evident in its feminist themes (given that Diana Prince lives in an island solely inhabited by women), Captain Marvel has a more complex undertone to its proceedings. At one point, Vers/Carol Danvers breaks free from the conventions that bind her. In particular, her mentor Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) constantly reminds her not to let emotions get the best of her. It’s a subtle commentary on the sexist notion that women are too emotional to handle tough jobs. She then comes to a realization that this perceived vulnerability can also be the source of her greatest strength.

Jude Law (Yon-Rogg) and Larson in ‘Captain Marvel’

More than anything, the film is about a superhero’s existential crisis. As the plot progresses, loyalties get reconfigured and Vers starts to question her identity and core. Is she just a mere pawn fighting for a cause she never truly understood? A soul trapped between two worlds, neither of which she feels truly belonged? Her former best friend Maria (Lashana Lynch) helps her to keep in touch with her humanity and given the film’s structure, most of her backstory is filled through quick flashbacks, expositions and testimonials. The storytelling style has its share of weaknesses as this is not the best way to mine emotional depth. Hence, when it comes to an empowering and moving montage of a beaten-down Carol standing up through various stages of her life, it never reaches its maximum desired catharsis.

Lashana Lynch (Monica Rambeau) and Larson in ‘Captain Marvel’

As for the former indie darling, Brie Larson radiates with spunk and girl power. There’s an air of chill arrogance and stubbornness in her portrayal similar to Tony Stark and Stephen Strange, but the former deserves worthy of her attitude because of her unimaginable extent of powers. One can argue that there’s something off with the Oscar-winning actress’ performance and maybe that has something to do with the fact that she spends most of the film running without a solid backstory. Some may lazily dismiss her portrayal as bland but I would have to firmly disagree with that, Larson takes full ownership with what she’s given. And with some chunks of her history still missing, we can agree that the best parts of her character’s journey are still ahead of her.

Admittedly, I came out of this film feeling invested with the powers that Carol has to offer for Avengers: Endgame more so than being emotionally connected with the character herself. Still, that does not make this film a weak entry to the franchise for there are plenty of things to like here. It’s amusing to see Jackson in a different light and his scenes with the orange cat Goose are one of the scene-stealers. Even Mendelsohn’s Talos lends an unexpected emotional weight to the story, making the character memorable in MCU’s current pantheon of villains.

Higher, further, faster. Brie Larson is Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel.

Overall, Captain Marvel succeeds in accomplishing the goals it has set upon. It offers more female representation in the superhero genre and it introduces a kickass heroine’s origin story that nicely retrofits to a larger machine. Hence, this film has enough substance to make it an essential viewing before Endgame.

At one point, Carol says an empowering line, “I have nothing to prove to you.” While the film proves a lot of things, this is a universal shared sentiment that we can all keep in mind against those who try to put us down.

4 out of 5 stars
Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck from a screenplay written by Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck and Geneva Robertson-Dworet, ‘Captain Marvel‘ stars Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Djimon Hounsou, Lee Pace, Lashana Lynch, Gemma Chan, Annette Bening, Clark Gregg, Algenis Pérez Soto, Rune Temte, Azari Akbar and Jude Law. Based on Marvel comics character ‘Carol Danvers’ by Roy Thomas and Gene Colan. Run time: 124 mins.

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