“Captain Marvel” has been subjected to an immense amount of prejudice by rabid “fans” with regards to its social message affecting its content. While the idea of a super hero being a woman is not new, having a major super hero blockbuster film be led by a woman is bordering on unchartered territory, and for some reason, it is still a valid question to ask as far as whether or not we are ready for that as a society. Well, if the box office returns are any indication, everyone was at least a little curious about this film.
This review will be a little different. I won’t address any spoilers but I will talk about a greater impact the film has. Consider it a review mixed in with a discussion. Usually you’ve got to pay double for that kind of hot ménage à trois action.
“Captain Marvel” is the origin story for the hero of the aforementioned name. You watch her start out as a soldier-in-training, named Vers, and later discovered Carol, for the Kree, a self-described race of alien “noble warrior, heroes”, who are at war with the Skrull, an alien race of shapeshifters that infiltrate societies in secret, and see her try to protect Earth all while trying to recover memories from her past along the way. Pretty by-the-book stuff but it’s all fun. Like Kramer said “It’s the 90’s. It’s Hammer time!”.
The plot is not what keeps the film afloat. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t atrocious. It even has a very satisfying reveal that few Marvel movies have been able to pull off. But there are a lot of generalities in execution that are very reminiscent of Marvel’s formulaic phase, where all of their films felt like a rehash of similar stories just to introduce new characters. “Captain Marvel” is not of the copy-and-paste variety that we have seen, but in a lot of ways it just feels similar to what we’ve already seen. A testament to this is that other than Carol and Nick Furry (Samuel L. Jackson), I left the theater not remembering anyone else’s name. These other characters play roles, especially Ben Mendelsohn’s surprisingly layered character, but you really get the feeling that their impact won’t be felt in most films beyond this one. Seriously, Jude Law’s character was so forgettable that I actually forgot Jude Law’s real name for about 5 minutes after the film (true story).
It may not be Marvel’s magnum opus but it never was supposed to be. “Captain Marvel” was created with an unfair handicap being that it was a prequel film to the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe. Being set in the 1990s, the film had to contort itself to fit in with the preexisting canon established by films such as “Captain America: The First Avenger” as well as all the films that take place in modern times. Nothing that happens in this film could be too big of an event that it would not have been mentioned in any other film, yet so insignificant that Captain Marvel’s importance would be diminished in future appearances. It also had the dubious task of explaining where the hell she’s been since the 90s, especially when the world was nearing its end a handful of times between then and Thanos’s snap in “Avengers: Infinity War”. Basically, the film wasn’t aiming for the top on purpose because it couldn’t be so grand and make sense in the grand scheme. That’s not to say the quality has no room for realistic improvement, but we were never going to get a de-facto Avengers-level film here, as much as a character introduction story.
What the film thrives on is entertainment. It is a lot of fun. This is due to a great performance by Brie Larson in the lead role. She is very funny, personable, and relatable, and her on-screen chemistry with male lead Samuel L. Jackson is a joy to watch. You really get the feeling that they are genuine friends with each other (which they are) and they work very well together. Also, her powers, while exceptionally strong, are understandable and do not feel like she is an unstoppable cheat code that cannot be beaten. She is strong, but Larson does a very good job portraying enough personal vulnerability to make her a reasonable figure. You believe she can achieve anything, but you still believe something within the realm of possibility in the film could defeat her if she is not careful. This is an important trait for any compelling protagonist to have because it creates stakes in the narrative, but this film in particular needed it because of all the prejudice aimed at it.
So, the reason people were, let’s say, divided on this film before its release was there was so much fear from a group of “marginalized” viewers who were sick of feminist messages propagating their innocent films of interstellar genocide. “Captain Marvel” seemed like a film ripe for this message to dominate its narrative because the main character is a female and Brie Larson erroneously claimed that women could feel empowered by a character like her. She basically wants the terrorists to win. Having endured the propaganda myself, I can bring everyone good news! The film doesn’t drown you in this message. You are going to be fine if you sit there and watch it. No, it won’t turn you into a woman. You’re going to be ok, I promise. We can even get you a lollipop for being such a big boy, champ.
The film only mentions Carol’s experiences as a woman being used against her for maybe 5 total minutes, and even then, it is only used in conjunction with other times she was told she couldn’t do something for other reasons, all just to show that she learned to pick herself back up. In “Captain America: The First Avenger”, far more time and energy is dedicated to Steve Rogers being too small to serve in the military than is given to Carol being a woman. The point of feminist empowerment does not come from her besting a man, but it comes just from her bettering herself and overcoming her own obstacles. She just happens to be a woman. So good news to anyone who was concerned that women might feel like they can beat a man in anything. You can rest easy knowing that you weren’t dunked on. Good thing no one overreacted before seeing the film, am I right?
For a less sarcastic take, I think the real-world message of female empowerment was executed very well. When Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in professional baseball, he was chosen because he would be the right player to do so. If he were to fail at any end, his detractors would use that against anybody else who would try to follow in his footsteps and the world would be increasingly hostile to change of that nature. “Captain Marvel” was given the burden of filling the Jackie Robinson role for the MCU and making sure the first female-led film of the franchise could handle itself in a society that had many rooting for it to fail. It needed to prove that not only could it succeed, but others like it too. I can wholeheartedly say that it does succeed. It is a testament that Carol can be a character that is strong without simply being a Mary Sue that cannot be beaten. Some people will never accept this but females can be powerful without being forced and unrealistic. I mean, characters like Thor and Captain America have been shown to be almost perfect throughout the past 10 years to zero complaints. Captain Marvel is in that upper echelon of power tier and that works. There are ways to be a threat to a powerful character beyond brute strength and the way Carol was written shows that the writers are planning on using her in that route. It’s almost like women are just people like you and me. Crazy concept, I know.
In the end, I feel like any fan who went to see the film with even a semi-open mind got what they wanted out of this film. We were introduced to an interesting new character that is fun to watch, all while expanding the lure of the franchise and providing a message to people that is wholesome and executed with enough subtlety that your face won’t melt off.
There is far more to discuss about this film too, as far as spoilers and what they signal for the future of the MCU, but that might be for a different post. But luckily for everyone, “Avengers: Endgame” is a mere month away from releasing and there does not seem to be too much time for paranoid speculation from hereon out.
I give this film a decent 8.2 out of 10.
Directed by: Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck
Starring: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Jude Law, Ben Mendelsohn, Annette Bening, Lashana Lynch
Runtime: 2 Hours and 4 Min