Directed by Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck. Starring Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Jude Law, Ben Mendelsohn, Annette Bening, Lashana Lynch, Clark Gregg.
The Plot: In another galaxy, Vers (Brie Larson) is a Kree warrior and part of a crack unit headed by Yon-Rogg (Jude Law). They’re fighting a galactic war against the alien Skrull race, of which Talos (Ben Mendelsohn) is the leader. The Skrulls have been infiltrating Earth in an attempt to locate a mysterious piece of technology. Vers ends up on the Earth of 1995, whereupon her superpowers are harnessed by S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Vers is haunted by memories, possibly real or possibly implanted, of a life on Earth where she may have been an ace pilot. She sets out to discover her true identity and the nature of the war that has come to define her…
The Verdict: It’s entirely appropriate that Marvel’s first superheroine film Captain Marvel is opening on International Women’s Day. It’s a triumphant acknowledgement that women can be just as good at saving the world as men. Behind the scenes, it has a female co-director in Anna Boden – a move in the right direction. It even passes the Bechdel Test, in that there’s no romantic interest to distract our superheroine. While chauvinistic keyboard warriors have been review-bombing it with low ratings on Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb – without actually having seen it – Marvel need not be concerned. The film stands proud and tall on its own two feet, while being highly entertaining to boot.
Beginning with a lovely salute to a recently fallen comrade, we’re immediately plunged into an alien war in another galaxy. It then spills down onto an Earth when True Lies was a big hit and Blockbuster Video was still around. Boden and her co-director / partner Ryan Fleck make some amusing nods to the ye olde dial-up days of the Internet, but don’t overplay the jokes. If anything, Vers fits in fairly quickly and bonds with Nick Fury, moving the plot forward at a brisk pace. In the most startling example of digital de-aging cream yet, Samuel L. Jackson appears remarkably as his 1990s self circa The Negotiator. If you’re looking for any seams, you won’t find them. The technology has come on dramatically since X-Men: The Last Stand. The story becomes something of a buddy film between them, while also introducing Vers’ wingwoman Maria (Lashana Lynch).
Boden and Fleck really hit their stride when the plot thickens and loyalties come into question. They’ve worked together on small but acclaimed indie flicks Half Nelson and Mississippi Grind, but the duo have graduated to the big league here. That’s a sign of confidence from Marvel, who have previously entrusted their megabucks tentpole films to such indie talent. Not having worked with a film laden with visual effects before, they show a firm command of how to wrestle it under control and make it serve the story rather than the other way around (take note DC). If only the story was a bit more involving though… It’s all a bit too conventional and safe, an origin story about a young woman’s journey of self-discovery which is very rock n’ roll in its delivery.
Vers is a great character and a commanding superheroine. Larson brings her to vivid life, making her fiercely independent while also instilling a firm sense of justice. She lacks depth though, with the script only hinting at what’s going on in her mind. The script, which was co-written by the directors with Geneva Robertson-Dworet, is busily-plotted and doesn’t allow much time for introspection or soul-searching in what appears to be a film about genocide. The kind that we’ve gotten use to in other doom-laden Marvel films. There’s room for more character development here of course, with Avengers: Endgame just weeks away. Consider Captain Marvel a tasty appetiser for that film, while also acting as a neat prequel to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and a justifiably strong female-led superhero film. It’s not classic Marvel, but it’s still hugely entertaining and is proof that representation is important. The industry is listening. Now, what about the Black Widow film Marvel?