Brie Larson in Captain Marvel (Photo: Marvel)

CAPTAIN MARVEL
*** (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck
STARS Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson

There’s a scene in the first trailer for Captain Marvel that shows the title character (played by Brie Larson) falling from the skies and crashing straight into a Blockbuster Video store, thus helpfully establishing that the movie is set in an earlier period (1995, to be exact). What the trailer doesn’t reveal is what happens next: Our startled heroine whirls around and blasts a large stand-up of True Lies, blowing Arnold Schwarzenegger’s head clean off.

Is this meant to be just a surface gag, and any noggin from any movie stand-up from the period would have served (say, Tom Hanks’ from Forrest Gump or Jim Carrey’s from The Mask or Jodie Foster’s from Nell)? Or is this a statement for those who care to subscribe to it — that the era of the muscle-bound he-man is over and it’s time for the clearly-not-weaker sex to have its moment in the sun, and on the marquee?

It could go either way, but the evidence is certainly there for the latter interpretation. We’re perhaps finally getting that Black Widow movie that’s been promised since the early 2010s, and we already received a Wonder-ful gift in the form of 2017’s box office bonanza Wonder Woman (full review here). And now here’s Captain Marvel, whose mere existence has predictably triggered those male mouth-breathers who think that having one MCU film out of 22 (including the upcoming Avengers: Endgame) that focuses exclusively on a female superhero is excessive and overreaching, just as having one MCU film out of 22 that focused exclusively on a black superhero was outrageous and unfair. (The whining reminds me of the furor over the presence of an all-female Ghostbusters film; see the post at the bottom of this review for some hilarity, and credit to Molly Fitzpatrick for this awesomeness.)

Of course, representation isn’t worth much if the film in question isn’t worth a damn — just ask Elektra or Catwoman. Happily, that’s not the case with Captain Marvel. In other words, ignore the imbecilic MRAs, frightened fanboys, and all the other insecure dude-bro crackers shellacked in misogyny: The truth is that this film is reams of fun and, significantly, no different in quality from past solo superhero flicks produced by Marvel.

Part space opera, part earthbound adventure, Captain Marvel certainly fits nicely into the MCU template, dividing its time between hither and yonder in the same manner as, say, Thor and Avengers: Infinity War. At its center is a young woman who’s known as Vers to those around her — that would be the Kree, a humanoid alien race locked in eternal combat with the shapeshifting Skrull. Vers is part of an elite fighting outfit headed by her mentor Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), and their latest altercation with the Kree and their fearsome leader Talos (Ben Mendelsohn) ultimately results in her encounter with that aforementioned Blockbuster.

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Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson

The Earth landing is fortuitous, since Vers has hazy memories of having once lived on this planet, where she was called Carol Danvers and served as an Air Force pilot. In her attempts to piece together the past, she’s assisted by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), who at this point in time is already working for S.H.I.E.L.D. but still sports two eyes. Fury doesn’t believe in either aliens or superheroes, though Danvers makes him a true believer on both counts. Also along for the ride is Goose (a Top Gun nod), a strange cat who catches Fury’s, uh, eye.

One of the most appealing aspects of Captain Marvel is the humor as exemplified by Larson’s excellent performance as Carol Danvers. It’s decidedly on the sly side, which marks it as a nice change of pace from such overt jokesters as Tony Stark and Peter Parker. (Oh, yes, rumors to the contrary, Larson smiles in this movie. A lot.) Equally amusing — and ingratiating — is Jackson’s turn as Fury. This isn’t the Nick Fury who pops up for a few moments to bark orders and make sarcastic asides. Rather, it’s a looser version of the stoic character than we’re used to seeing, and it’s to the credit of the screenwriters (five total, including co-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck) that Jackson is allowed more room than usual to test-run this other side of the persona. This is the character’s best use since Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Jackson takes full advantage of the expanded screen time. And even though both he and Clark Gregg (as Agent Coulson) have been made to look younger via digital magic, it’s rarely a distraction. In fact, this represents the best use of the application to date — gone is the creepiness that marred the use of the technique on Robert Downey Jr. in Captain America: Civil War and Jeff Bridges in Tron: Legacy.

The plotting isn’t the film’s strongest suit — it’s par for the course with an MCU offering, with the expected origin beats, the usual CGI slugfests, and the normal plot twists that won’t knock anyone out of their seats. But the attention to characterization makes up for it, particularly Danvers’ journey toward becoming a formidable female who ultimately realizes that she doesn’t need to answer to anyone.

As always, stay through the end credits for the usual one-two punch of codas. But more importantly, make sure not to miss the very beginning of the film, when the Marvel logo fills the screen. It’s been altered for this picture, and this modification is both potent and poignant. Nuff said.

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Today’s Captain Marvel is yesterday’s Ghostbusters:

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This also seems oddly appropriate:

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19 Comments »

  1. Spot on, Matt! Saw CM on Thursday with my 12 year daughter. We both loved it, and plan to return with my wife next week. This is a worthy addition to MCU canon.

  2. The Captain Marvel movie had a poor story and arc for the title character. The only good was the acting of the supporting cast.

  3. UPDATE: In the last 48 hours, I’ve had several MRAs write me sputtering about this review, either A) raving about the glories of Trump (even though I never mention him in my review; then again, he IS the MRA poster child), B) stating that it’s impossible for REAL men to like movies with female protagonists (um, OK?), and/or C) claiming that I said that anyone who hates this movie is a sexist moron. I can’t help these dim bulbs with A) and B); as for C), I never said any such thing (then again, reading comprehension isn’t always a priority among these types). It is entirely possible to see this film and not like it, as is the case with ANY film; many other critics (both male and female) had problems with it, and even in this very comment section, a woman named Gemma didn’t care much for it. My MRA/sexist comment was obviously directed at those troglodytes who voted the movie down on Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb on opening day and BEFORE THE FILM EVEN OPENED (this, folks, is known as review-bombing). If you’re going to hate a movie simply because it stars a woman and without even planning to see the film, then, yeah, you’re kinda pathetic. As for everyone else not terrified of women or insecure about the mere existence of this movie, thanks for reading!

  4. I saw the film this past weekend. I agree with this review 100 percent. I enjoyed it and so did my daughter, who is almost as big of a Marvel fan as I am. I don’t know what everyone is whining about. It’s an origin story, people.

  5. UPDATE 2: Well, it’s been a terrific week in the “CAPTAIN MARVEL vs. The Haters” sweepstakes. It was just one week ago that the imbecilic MRAs, frightened fanboys, and other insecure dude-bros were salivating their smelly slobber in anticipation of review-bombing the film on both Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb, figuring that such an assault would show their might by crippling the film’s box office. Of course, none of this happened. CAPTAIN MARVEL proved to be a box office smash both stateside and internationally, and, even if said b.o. plummets drastically in its second week (not likely), the movie is already a financial cash cow. As for the ratings, the 32% Rotten that greeted CAPTAIN MARVEL on opening day on RT couldn’t withstand the might of the tens of thousands of RT users who actually saw and enjoyed the film, and its audience rating soon catapulted to its present 63% Fresh (which logically would be even higher if one removed all those negative ratings from that early wave of sexist dimwits who didn’t even see the film). And over on IMDb, the film stands at a respectable 7.1 out of 10 — higher than (among others) CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER, THOR and IRON MAN 2. Hilariously, these women-hating simpletons never give up, stating that the critics were all bought off (alas, my check never arrived) and also that the film is actually playing to empty auditoriums across the country but the media is spreading “fake news” (the rallying cry of losers everywhere). Final Score: Captain Marvel over the haters by a resounding KO.

  6. UPDATE 3: It was another good weekend in the “CAPTAIN MARVEL vs. The Haters” sweepstakes, as the imbecilic MRAs, frightened fanboys, and other insecure dude-bros were once again revealed as ineffectual man-babies. When it turned out that the movie’s second Friday box office dropped 69% from the first Friday, they crowed about how this showed that the movie was a flop. What these nitwits failed to mention was that this is a typical drop for a superhero movie. I doubt these women-haters were bellowing when AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 and LOGAN all dropped 70% in the same Friday/Friday comparison. What’s more, the film dropped 55% for the entire weekend; as Forbes noted, “This is, quite frankly, a deeply boring result, as it’s neither a super-duper hold or a super-super drop. It is more-or-less on par with most MCU flicks (Guardians of the Galaxy, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Ant-Man and Thor: The Dark World among others). Boring is good when you’re dealing with numbers this large.” Final Score: Captain Marvel over the haters with yet another resounding KO.

    In other news, I continue to receive frothing-at-the-mouth missives from right-wing misogynists, this time variously 1) again suffering from reading comprehension by accusing me of bashing everyone who disliked the film (nope; see first UPDATE above); 2) accusing Brie Larson of being “bigoted” and “racist” (racist? Against other whites?) and misrepresenting what she actually said (her actual quotes: “Am I saying that I hate white dudes? No, I’m not.” “For the third time, I don’t hate white dudes.”); and 3) hilariously bashing my manhood (which of course reveals more about their own insecure and fragile states). All have also called me an SJW, as if THAT’S gonna make me lose sleep at night (that’s actually a compliment!); besides, as one of my learned friends — an award-winning college professor — once stated, “Anyone who uses the term ‘SJW’ automatically reveals himself to be an asshole.” True that. (The MRAs also want to know why I’m not posting their comments. Simple: If you’re here to legitimately criticize the movie, like Gemma above, then I am happy to post such missives. If you’re only here to troll, bash women/feminists, or show off your limited vocabulary by repeatedly using words/terms like “libtards,” “faggots,” or “Trump will put women in their place,” then I have no intention of promoting your hate.)

  7. What if, you know, you’re not a man-baby, not a misogynist, not a Marvel fanboy, not a Brie Larson fan — and, you saw the movie, didn’t like much about it, thought it was a lazily constructed film that largely pandered and, as such, found it kind of terrible?

    What about that? Is that possible? Sure it is. I’m proof.

    And, I’m a writer. I care and know about he construction of stories. This one wasn’t good.

    • Hi, Joshua. Thanks for writing. It is perfectly fine to see this movie and think it’s terrible. The fact that you actually went to see the film means you don’t fall into those camps. As I note a couple of times above, my comment was solely directed at all those guys who were “review bombing” the film before and when it came out, without even having seen it (and with no plans to see it) and while tossing around misogynistic terms like “feminazis,” “SJW,” etc. — pretty much the same types who trashed BLACK PANTHER and/or GHOSTBUSTERS before they even came out and without even having seen them.

  8. UPDATE 4: A fellow on YouTube going by the name “Thor Skywalker” posted a video episode that focused largely on this review. While he misconstrued some of my points and doesn’t have a complete understanding of the tenets and requirements of film criticism, I found him to be interesting and sincere, and he and I had a pleasant exchange. While my comment got buried under all the subsequent ones — a mix of smart comments and rabid ones (I like the guy who said I must be a woman using a male pseudonym, as in his world it’s impossible for a man to actually care about, ewwww, girls!) — I am posting it here: “Thanks for this video, Thor. I found it quite thoughtful and fair. As I’m the critic mentioned in it, I do have a couple of points: 1) I am always honest in my reviews; otherwise, I would be pretty terrible at my job and would have been fired years ago. So, yes, I genuinely enjoyed CAPTAIN MARVEL, and I have genuinely disliked countless left-leaning movies over the years (ha, many seem to star Matt Damon for some reason: GREEN ZONE, PROMISED LAND, SUBURBICON). Also, I don’t go on junkets and don’t receive freebies and don’t get $10,000 checks deposited into my account from Disney; while I imagine there are a few critics who are influenced by niceties (perhaps some online-only comic-site crix who see these films ultra-early), most reviewers call ’em like they see ’em; 2) I figured this was obvious in my review, but I added an addendum afterward to clarify; I NEVER said anyone who hates this movie was an MRA/etc. (after all, many women dislike it as well). I was referring to the tons of guys who were trashing the movie on Rotten Tomatoes before it even opened and without having seen it; 3) I really can’t believe that you said only “a small minority of men” have been bashing this movie. This phenomenon is nothing new; remember the furor surrounding the female GHOSTBUSTERS film before it even came out? You’ll have to take my word that there were WONDER WOMAN trolls back when that film came out (I remember them very well), but that largely subsided for the reasons you stated (great film plus appealing Gal Gadot). And I’m seeing tons of CAPTAIN MARVEL haters trashing it solely because it has a female hero and/or they think it promotes feminism and/or they think Brie Larson wanted male critics thrown out of junkets (not true; she pleaded for more inclusion, not exclusion). Heck, many of them are writing me personally to vent (while calling me “an emasculated male,” “a douche,” and “a cuck who needs to hand in his man card,” all of which amuses me greatly!); 4) You state that movie critics should only review movies and not let outside factors into the reviews. I don’t know how familiar you are with the alternative press — current and former weeklies and websites like the Village Voice, the Boston Phoenix, the Stranger, Slant, etc. — but it is expected (heck, maybe even required by some) that their critics bring real-world politics, history, issues, controversies, etc., into their arts coverage (not just movies but literature, theater, music, etc.). It’s a more irreverent and often inflammatory brand of criticism than what’s offered in mainstream media, and, as someone who has spent the vast majority of his decades-long career writing for an alternative weekly, it is the sort of writing that, for better or worse, is in my blood; 5) Why, yes, I am “a cool dude in real life,” and always love to talk about movies! Cheers!”

    P.S. In between calling me every name in the book and bashing feminists and liberals, a lot of comic fans who have been writing me have also made a point of noting that I wasn’t attacked by Brie Larson like they were. Actually, as a white male film critic, I was “attacked” more than anyone, but it didn’t bother me since she made some valid points and since I’m not triggered easily. And contrary to popular opinion, I have nothing against superhero movies, as I enjoy most of them and subscribed to many comic books in my youth (among them X-Men, Avengers and Justice League) — so there goes their “comic fan” defense as well.

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