The world, humanity, and/or the universe is at stake. The only thing between the bad guy(s) and utter destruction are 120-180 minutes of all-out CGI action with as many quips as there are dangers for the protagonist(s) to overcome. It can be hard to imagine that these studios are still finding ways to make each film have its own feel. Some have tried by simply going bigger, with more CGI, more fighting, more fast camera cuts. Captain Marvel, on the other hand,succeeded by doing just the opposite. By slowing down and focusing in on one woman and her personal journey more than any large-scale conflict, it managed to reach new places and feel like a Marvel movie, yet still a great film in its own right. Captain Marvel was not a perfect film, but what it got right, it really got right and did better than plenty of the other superhero movies that have been released recently.
For a little perspective, I definitely am a movie viewer who, if I had to choose one or the other, would choose strong dialogue and story writing over action sequences. My problem with many of the MCU films (and comic book films in general) is that they make it far too easy to root for the good guys and against the bad guys in lieu of slowing the pace, and the formula stays too consistent. I don’t fault them for it, as they are huge moneymakers and quite entertaining. But Captain Marvel proved that the action sequences do not need to be the best part of the movie for it to be successful (nor do you have to pander to the most despicable parts of your fanbase). You can count on one hand the number of real fight scenes the film featured, but that didn’t mean that it was boring at all. Information was revealed methodically and with purpose. For a film that had to fill in a ton of information right before what will probably be a record-breaking blockbuster next month, the Captain Marvel plot didn’t feel rushed.
Of course, just filling an entire superhero movie with dialogue could be a terrible pitfall considering how this genre frequently features terrible dialogue and weak jokes (see: Spider Man 3). Thankfully, the dialogue was the best I’ve heard in the MCU. It seemed pretty clear that the story took precedence over the choreographed fight scenes, considering how many they were and how much of it was relatively uncomplicated. Captain Marvel was thoroughly engaging, and the moral ambiguity of all of the characters throughout gave the film more depth than entries like the early Thor and Captain America.
This film’s take on Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel, and Brie Larson’s performance, carried the film in a fascinating way. This is almost a standard origin story, except she can’t even remember her origin and the audience pieces it together at the same time she does. The Kree tried to use her as a robotic killer, thoughtless and emotionless, and Larson played Vers to that end perfectly. This added another, less obvious layer to the clear female-empowerment theme; women can be unfairly chastised for being too emotional, but it was just that trait that she needed in the end to make the right choices and free herself from her Kree programming. There were honestly a couple of times where I thought her restrained emotions showed more than an actor who acts more over-the-top, and it worked for me. I can confidently say this was the first comic book movie that made me choke up since Nicholas Cage’s epic death scene in Kick-Ass (I’m not the only one who was that emotionally invested in the Macreadys right?).
Many of the supporting actors were also incredible. The way that Samuel L. Jackson was de-aged was great, although I wish they went all the way with the ridiculous backstory resolutions like his missing eye and the Avengers name and just broke the fourth wall. Ben Mendolsohn continued his hot streak of world-class acting performances, and Annette Bening was perfectly cast. But my favorite of the supporting cast was Lashana Lynch, who played Danvers’ old friend Maria Rambeau. Her performance was beautifully grounded and relatable, and her conversation with Danvers at her kitchen table was a brilliant, moving scene. Goose was fine too, but I’m a dog person and therefore cannot give too much praise.
When there was action, it was on-par with most of the standard Marvel fare, except for the final battle. From the moment that “Just a Girl” started to her staring down the Kree spaceships is right up there with my favorite action sequences in a superhero film. Consistent with the comics, Captain Marvel had basically unlimited powers, and it was awesome to be able to watch what was essentially a human cheat destroy everyone and throw ships for a few minutes. Now, I wouldn’t enjoy a full film like that, and considering Endgame will be over 3 hours long I doubt that she will just walk up to Thanos and punch the Infinity Stones out of his glove. I look forward to seeing how they handle that. Side note, the Avengers are really, really lucky that Captain Marvel wasn’t part of the 50% that disappeared.
The 90s references were fun, but a mixed bag. I prefer my references to be subtle and not hit me over the head, and flying into a Blockbuster then going to a Radioshack next door was like being hit over the head with a sledgehammer of 90s references. I also winced at first when I saw all the band tees Danvers was outfitted with, but realized I don’t have room to complain when I basically have the same wardrobe. The best hints at the decade were things like Danvers walking past a guy with a Walkman on his hip or when it took an excruciatingly long time for CD media to load. At least there wasn’t a side plot that involved her learning how to inline skate.
Captain Marvel was put in a tough place. As the 21st film in the MCU franchise, people have expectations of quality and formula. Sandwiched between Infinity War and Endgame, a film introducing one final Avenger for this phase and with only one returning player could have been written off as an afterthought. Instead, Captain Marvel was a breath of fresh air for the largely formulaic franchise. Marvel took somewhat of a gamble on this one, and it has clearly paid out. It made me more excited to see Endgame, as opposed to exhausted of the Universe, and I can’t wait to see how Captain Marvel fits into the next phase of the journey.