In between the behemoths of Avengers: Infinity War and the upcoming sequel Avengers: Endgame, Marvel Studios have released two movies: Ant Man and The Wasp and Captain Marvel. In the former, it was the first Marvel Studios production to put a female hero, The Wasp, in the title. The latter is an origin story of the most powerful superhero we have yet to see.
The consistency and success of the MCU mean they can create a blockbuster with an assured confidence. They can tackle bold issues, innovate and challenge attitudes in an accessible and entertaining way. Captain Marvel is all of this and more, with a mesmerising central performance from Brie Larson and an outstanding cast that firmly cements the MCU for the next decade ahead of us. We like to dismiss comic book movies as they churn out similar tropes and plots too often (and Marvel has had its fair share of Daddy-troubled heroes and villainous doppelgangers) but Captain Marvel uses the conventions of the genre to weave in profound sentiments and inspirational messages. This marks another game-changer for the future of flying heroes.
Beginning in a haze of dreams and broken memories, this Captain Marvel awakes in a Kree metropolis. With a leader and teacher (Jude Law) on hand and a war to fight, in the six years she has been training, she is confident that she is getting stronger by focusing and holding back her emotions. In a mission to a planet on the boundaries of the Kree empire, she battles alongside her fellow Kree, against the shapeshifting Skrulls; creatures who can become another, making it difficult to trust anyone that surrounds her. This series of events leads her to earth, smashing straight through a Blockbuster video store and firmly into the mid-nineties to meet Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., who’s beginning to learn the ropes of the galaxy – and all of its inhabitants.
Visually, Captain Marvel’s blurry transitions and unclear visions raise questions and intriguing details from the moment the film begins. Abstract, distorted shapes allude to details that provide the foundations of the birth of Captain Marvel, but this is intermixed with human memories of childhood and friendship that shaped who she became and we relate. Captain Marvel is akin to Thor in the way the film moves from an alien, distant planet and throws our lead onto planet earth to figure out what has happened. It has a distinct Guardians of the Galaxy taste, between the contextual use of pop-music (just wait for Nirvana…) through to the appearance of spaceships and characters that appeared in James Gunn’s hit from 2014. The strength, confidence and impressive character of Carol Danvers carries the film with her don’t-take-sh*t attitude as a constant source of power and independence that immediately separates her from the arrogance and smug machismo of Iron Man, Thor and Chris Pratt’s Star Lord. Then there are the slick car-chases and plane-flying that owe more than a debt to The French Connection and Top Gun. Directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck are happy to openly pay homage to the movies they love.
Samuel L. Jackson’s Fury is seamlessly de-aged and it’s so successful that it can be distracting to think of the possibilities for the future. It feels as if we have more screen-time with him in this film alone than we’ve had in the Marvel Studios films so far – and it is more than satisfying. Jude Law, Annette Bening, Lashana Lynch and Ben Mendelsohn make up the primary cast and they all deliver memorable performances whereby the less you know, the better the viewing. Then there’s Goose; a cat who will go down in history as one of the finest additions to the MCU.
Danver’s story is timeless and the tale of war details consequences that we can often ignore in cinema. More than a movie, Captain Marvel continues a movement that forces change. Actor James Woods tweeted how Captain Marvel “hates half its audience”. The idea that this celebration of life and our capacity for shouldering the struggles of others is an attack on one gender is ill-informed at best and a blatant lie at worst. Captain Marvel may use the functional starting point of an origin story to structure the narrative but it refuses to tell a simplistic tale and peppers themes of progressive politics throughout. The complexities of life are woven into Captain Marvel and immediately establishes this half-human, half-Kree, as the most powerful avenger we have ever seen.
This was originally published for Culturefly.co.uk in March 2019