As soon as the MCU’s famed opening banner hits the screen, it’s easy to tell that Captain Marvel (2019) is an important film. It would be naive to say this feeling comes simply from the movie being the megalith’s first female-led flick. Or because its protagonist is widely considered to be the billion-dollar franchise’s most powerful character. No, it’s more than that. Because despite the labels, expectations and agendas at play behind the scenes here, there’s one thing Marvel couldn’t predict about this blockbuster. And that is the legacy this picture upholds, innately though that may be, as the studio’s first film shown following the passing of comic-book creator Stan Lee. It is important because of all the features that could have found themselves in this position, it wound up being this one. A movie about a young woman who gets knocked down, time and time again, and refuses to give up. A woman who’s resolve is to go higher, further and faster. A woman who represents exactly what Mr Lee’s motto Excelsior means – upward and onward to greater glory.
That being said, a lot of what Captain Marvel (2019) delivers isn’t exactly original. Plot-wise we have a soldier sacrificing themselves. An underdog obtaining special powers. A superhero losing their memory. And a classic good-guy, bad-guy twist dominating the entirety of act three. Repetition is an unfortunate by-product of comic books (Carol Danvers has been appearing in issues since the 1960s, after all) but that doesn’t mean cinemagoers are willing to accept the same thing. I mean, there’s a reason Rotten Tomatoes makes it’s living off what’s considered “fresh”. Furthermore, it’s hard to get past the fact that the entire first half of the film meanders through unnecessary exposition and chase scenes, all-the-while stumbling over what little humour it does bother delivering. However, when the movie finally does takes off in part three, boy does it fly. There’s explosions and quick-witted quips aplenty, giving the filmmakers some sort of attempt at redemption before the credits roll. And in a praise-worthy move that is rarely seen in blockbuster’s these days, there’s no love story being shoved down audiences’ throats. Not even a hint of one.
It also needs to be noted that while Marvel are great at taking chances with their properties and filmmakers, such as with Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) and Thor: Ragnarok (2017), it is painful to see them turn down an opportunity to make this – such a prominent piece in their portfolio – less than the kick-ass, all-female-driven production it could have been. Yes, the writer’s team is largely made up of women. And yes, Anna Boden is one half of the team in the director’s chair. But part of what made DC’s first female film, Wonder Woman (2017), so exquisitely good was that it was helmed solely by Patty Jenkins. There’s power in a decision like that, whether you admit it or not. And, perhaps if Marvel had stuck with a single director their latest offering would have wound up less disjointed too, with everything from its humour to its timing always coming across just a little off. Because while its script may be dotted with Easter eggs for the fans, there’s little fun to be had from it.
As for the casting, Brie Larson’s selection has been a contentious one ever since the early days of production, with concerns she lacks the emotional depth needed to make Danvers superhero sympathetic. And despite her Academy Award-winning talent it’s a fair assessment, with the actress struggling throughout the film’s first hour before finally finding her footing just the curtain’s about to fall. It’s telling, though, that Marvel don’t seem too concerned about her ability to carry the Avengers films moving forward, with the studio going so far as to provide their own tongue-in-cheek reference to those who asked why she was “not smiling” enough, in a sardonic moment at around the thirty-minute mark. As for the others, Samuel L. Jackson gives a dynamic performance as a young Nick Fury, but after nine appearances in the role you’d expect nothing less. And Ben Mendelsohn is equally as fantastic in his part as antagonist Talos, providing one of the best additions to the series in years. There’s great humanity and humour to be found under his colossal make-up and costuming. As far as scene-stealer’s go though, there’s no passing Goose, a cat whose powers extend well-beyond simply being the cutest of the cast members.
The retro-stylings of the film are something critics have also been hotly debating and interestingly on this issue it’s harder to come down on one side or the other. Marvel pitched the movie as a nineties-centric piece and it’s certainly that, with pointed references to the horrendously slow systems of Windows 95 computers and the dead artform that was VHS. But it almost feels like we’re always on the periphery of what that era was. There’s dribs-and-drabs of pop culture littered throughout, from mentions of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990) to classic grunge fashion (leather and plaid anyone…) But there’s not a lot of emphasis on other, bigger issues, like woman taking their first-steps forward in male-centric fields. And don’t even get me started on the lack of slang from that time (where’s the hey dude’s and the that’s so fly’s?) Fans can take solace in the musical choices, however, because there’s plenty of top nineties tracks to go around. Nirvana’s Come As You Are makes its mark, as does a well-timed dose of Just A Girl from No Doubt.
While it may be a boring production for the first 60 minutes and a busy one for the second, it would be amiss to label Captain Marvel (2019) flat or a failure. It’s simply a superhero film that is a little off kilter. Unlike the origin flicks that have come before, the filmmakers are beginning to be wary of showing us all the insecurities and personal problems of our protagonists, less they give away too much for future instalments. And while we would love to know more about why Carol hated her father or what the full extent of her powers are, this is not and never was going to be the film for those questions. Instead, this picture is the one designed to tell girls to believe in themselves. To remind them it’s okay to stop looking for approval. To push themselves onwards and upwards to greater glory, regardless of the damn naysayers. And we think Stan would be proud.
Rating: 3.5 Gooses out of 5
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