Captain Marvel soars higher, further, and faster than I imagined it would. The movie is heartfelt, confident and hilarious. It’s like having your best friend sling her arm around to tell you she’s got your back. It has a lot to say about being a woman, self-doubt, and how we react when we’re told we’re not worthwhile or capable. It’s also about how we get back up when the world tries to keep us down. This is going to be a critically important movie for kids, girls, and women.
It’s also about the titular heroine shooting lasers from her fists and punching space ships. Yes, please.
In Captain Marvel, Brie Larson plays Vers, a Kree warrior who believes she has to stop the Skrulls, an alien enemy, from invading Earth, a planet that brings to mind memories that she can’t tell are real or fake. Of course, we know her as Carol Danvers, a human Air Force pilot who mysteriously ended up in outer space. How did she get there and why do the Skrulls want to be on Earth?
Since Captain Marvel takes place in the 1990s, it would be all too easy for it to fill in the gaps and turn into a movie full of callbacks that Marvel nerds will salivate over. Don’t get me wrong, there are a bunch of callbacks – but they’re well done, and they deepen the story you’re watching as well as the stories of other Marvel characters, even some on the periphery.
Larson herself is fantastic. She’s funny, goofy, and full of that adventurous spirit that embodies Carol. This is a tough character, because Carol has to be a lot of things. In this movie, she’s younger than she is in the comics and is on shakier ground because she’s coming into her own abilities. Larson makes the best choice, which is to show that it’s the world around Carol that’s wrong, not Carol herself. Even from the very beginning, every time another character picks on her, shoves her around, or tries to manipulate her you just get angry that it’s happening. The movie is always on her side.
The supporting performances are equally well realized. I need to hire a plane and a skywriter and blast MARIA RAMBEAU all over the place. I was delightfully surprised that Lashana Lynch not only plays a large role in the movie, she gets to be front and center in a Captain Marvel movie, too. In fact, most of the women do, and girls too – Akira Akbar plays Maria’s daughter, Monica, with a plucky can-do attitude and humor. Writers Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, and Geneva Robertson-Dworet have paid a lot of attention to not only the characters’ motivations and emotions, but also what they could represent to the movie audience and for the women in it.
They also clearly know what to do with adorable animals. Goose the cat does play a role in the movie beyond just pet and I’ll leave it there. Jude Law is great as Yon-Rogg, Carol’s mentor and Starforce leader. He brings a lot of that smug attitude that was part of many of his earlier roles, and it’s clear why he was right for the part. Ben Mendelsohn is amazing, folks. He plays Talos, a leader of the Skrulls. I can’t say much about his character, but just know that Mendelsohn is clearly having a lot of fun and brings such nuance to his role.
Much has been written about the de-aging technology that allows Marvel to turn back time and take 70 year old Samuel L. Jackson and turn him into a man in his mid-30s. There’s also a less dramatic transformation for Clark Gregg, and I am happy to say that the tech has really arrived. I didn’t think at any point that I was watching an older man playing a younger one. He was wholly convincing. Jackson is easily turning in his best and most substantial performance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, dropping hints of the man who would eventually lead SHIELD while giving us a version of Nick Fury that is distinct.
That’s not to say this movie is perfect. I loved it, yes, but there are some things that definitely stand out in need of improvement. For example, the fight scenes veer from being too unclear to being too telegraphed. Boden and Fleck either shot in close up and it would be hard to follow the fight or they would snap the camera around to where something was being thrown so you’d know it was there and out of the way. To me, it seemed clear that they hadn’t shot that kind of action before. This is certainly not unique to Captain Marvel. The third act fight in Black Panther between T’Challa and Killmonger had similar issues. The CGI in Captain Marvel is occasionally spotty as well, just as it was in Black Panther.
Years ago, when I first picked up Kelly Sue DeConnick’s iconic run of Captain Marvel, I was shocked and exuberant. I was hooked and I have never looked away. Carol is my hero. She exemplifies all that is kind, smart, and resilient in comics and in storytelling.
I struggle to articulate just how formative this movie is going to be to many people. Everything Carol deals with – misogyny, manipulation, fear, and doubt – these are my struggles, and yours too, I bet. It’s not that we aren’t good enough; others continually try to make us prove we’re worthwhile and we are continually falling because it’s an impossible standard.
If Carol’s gender is at the forefront, it’s because so many of us who aren’t men are constantly discouraged from having confidence in ourselves. How many of us are told we aren’t going to make it? That we’ll never move up? How many of us believe it?
Carol doesn’t believe it. She always rises to the occasion. Even though she’s so powerful Carol only finds her full strength – physical, mental, and emotional – when she stops listening to what other people want her to be. Carol’s comics, her movies, and her lessons teach us that we can do this too, and we don’t need her powers. There’s something just epic about that.