Well ladies and gentlemen, we’ve done it. We’ve finally moved beyond the fad of 80’s nostalgia and have found ourselves planted firmly in the angsty, flannel-populated depths of 90’s nostalgia. It was only a matter of time, I suppose, but still…I thought I’d have more time with the neon and synth-wave.
Captain Marvel had the important and almost impossible task of serving as the final film before the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe’s grand finale in Avengers: Endgame while also needing to introduce the first ever Marvel heroine to headline her own film. Either one of these two jobs would be daunting in their own right, so it was an incredibly bold move by Disney and Marvel to try and hit two birds with one Brie Larson powered stone.
So does Captain Marvel succeed at either of it’s two jobs?
The answer is: …maybe?
I’m a bit biased here (which I think is something I say every single review because it’s always true) but Captain Marvel is one of my favorite superheroes. I have trade paperbacks collecting her most recent runs and I play her in almost every Marvel video-game in which I’m given the chance to do so because she’s just a cool character with a great design and really unique powers.
But even as THAT kind of Captain Marvel fanboy, I was still a little disappointed by Captain Marvel the film. This didn’t really have anything to do with the character herself, because the character was pretty great and Brie Larson played her wonderfully. The “introducing-Captain-Marvel” aspect of the film, as it were, was a success.
I think my disappointment here stems more from the Avengers: Endgame build-up side of the equation. As a Marvel Cinematic Universe film, Captain Marvel was asked to deliver it’s own story while also serving as a lone episode in the much greater saga that Marvel Studios is trying to tell. And as unfair as that might be, I still have to consider that when I review the film because that’s the route that Marvel chose to take when they started this whole ambitious connected universe thing back in 2008.
And it’s in this job that Captain Marvel falls short. It doesn’t really add anything at all to the existing Avengers universe. Sure, we get to see Agent Coulson and Nick Fury back in the day as young guns. Sure, we get to see how Nick Fury loses his eye. Yeah, we get to see Lee Pace’s Ronan the Accuser make an almost completely pointless cameo (who here among the casuals even remembers his villain from the first Guardians of the Galaxy?) before buggering off to be beaten in a dance competition by Star Lord. But there’s really not much else here to hype us all up for Avengers: Endgame outside of the brief post-credits sequence that’s also a bit underwhelming. The entire film taking place in the 90’s is both it’s biggest strength and it’s biggest weakness: this lets it flourish as a standalone origin film, but fall utterly short at being the penultimate episode of the MCU’s 10 year experiment.
I guess the best comparison I can make is to a TV show. Imagine if Game of Thrones spent 8 seasons getting us all MEGA hyped for the very last episode of the series. Everything we know and love about the show will all come to a conclusion in that episode. Now, imagine the episode immediately before that is just a flashback episode following Robert Baratheon’s rebellion against the Mad King Aerys however many years ago. Sure, this would be a nifty origin story for a cool character but it is absolutely going to break the pacing into pieces. You can’t have the last bit of build-up before your story’s climax be a flashback to events that are mostly inconsequential to the present day story. Unlike Robert Baratheon, Captain Marvel will find herself at play in Avengers: Endgame, so I guess that comparison isn’t perfect. But I still came away a bit disappointed that Captain Marvel didn’t do a better job of building up to the very last entry of Marvel’s current story.
Having said all of that, the movie itself is a lot of fun.
The plot is carried along with a semi-disjointed storytelling style where our hero doesn’t remember her past at all but is bombarded at random times with images from her former life. The audience is kept on edge not knowing exactly how our hero became the powerhouse she is today, which kind of twists the typical origin story formula on its head. Usually we just see the straightforward progression from normal spunky human to superpowered badass, but this movie gives us a superpowered badass first and then shows us later that she was basically already a badass before that anyway.
The Skrull are our alien villains for the film, who also serve as it’s biggest problem at least to a Marvel purist such as myself. Without spoiling exactly what happens, I’ll just say that I was a bit disappointed to see the way that the Marvel Cinematic Universe handled the Skrull. When Marvel first announced that they had the rights to the iconic shape-shifting villains, I was beyond excited to see some of the most nefarious and sneaky comic villains come to the big screen. 2008’s Secret Invasion story arc in the comics basically had every single hero losing trust in one another as the Skrulls secretly invaded Earth and mounted a foothold while being disguised as important heroes and villains. There were twists and turns every step of the way and it was really engaging. Maybe Marvel felt that they already did something too similar to this in the movies with their Hydra storyline and maybe that’s why they decided to take the Skrull in a bit of a different direction this time around to avoid repeating themselves. Regardless, I expected the Skrull to be a bit more…well…I don’t know…Skrull-like.
The Kree-Skrull War is iconic among Marvel fanboys, and it’s this conflict that Captain Marvel finds herself in between before falling to Earth in the glorious age of the 1990’s. Her goal is simple: she needs to find and defend a valuable MacGuffin from the evil Skrull who’ve come to claim it for themselves. She finds herself in a very 90’s America, complete with Blockbuster, Radioshack, and other very 90’s things that the film kind of hammers you over the head with. Her unlikely partnership with Nick Fury is even straight out of a 90’s buddy cop film. As a child of the 90’s, it’s fun to revisit the world right before the turn of the century ushered in the social media and constant connectivity of the present day, but I realized that the 90’s don’t have quite the same charm and innocence that the recent onslaught of 80’s nostalgia does. There’s less sense of wonder and far more cynicism, which I guess is right in line with what the 90’s were all about. Captain Marvel plays off this nostalgia in spades and even Stan Lee’s cameo is a love-letter to a certain film from the era that also served as one of his earliest cameo appearances.
But there’s also a lot about this time period that isn’t quite so glamorous. Carol Danvers and her friend Maria Rambeau (played awesomely by Lashana Lynch) are treated like second class pilots just because of their gender. There’s also an instance when a random scumbag tells Danvers that she’d look prettier with a smile, so she steals his bike like a badass. The film does a good job of showing some of the BS that women are expected to take from men on the average day, without the whole film feeling like a Women’s Empowerment PSA. I think the film’s biggest strength is that it isn’t trying to preach about how women are just as good as men: it just nonchalantly shows this to you instead. There’s no huge fanfare because it’s not a big deal, and by making it not a big deal the film’s message is made even more effective. Carol trying to prove herself to the men who control her life would have been making it a big deal, but Carol ultimately realizing she has nothing to prove to them is the film’s true success and the message little girls everywhere should be picking up on. It’s actually pretty genius in it’s simplicity. Women’s true strength comes not from doing the same things a man can do, but from doing what they want to do because they have nothing to prove to anyone. In that respect, I think Captain Marvel did an excellent job of giving women everywhere a Marvel hero they can get behind, it’s just a shame that it took like 21 films to do it.
What I feel for Captain Marvel is basically summed up best by my favorite Facebook relationship status: It’s complicated. I think the movie was pretty good, but not spectacular. It was a pretty typical entry into the Marvel pantheon and didn’t really take a ton of huge narrative risks, but was still a solid movie with decent storytelling and great comedic moments. The villains, as always, were not that great or compelling. The flashback into the 90’s was great for nostalgic reasons, but less great for Avengers: Endgame reasons because it kept the story trapped in the past. Brie Larson is already one of my favorite actresses, and I think she did a wonderful job bringing Carol Danvers to life. The film also contains one of my absolute favorite scenes in any Marvel movie to date, and I’m sure you’ll find it just as powerful and inspiring as I did the next time you get knocked down and have to pick yourself back up. I’ll definitely buy this when it comes out, but I’m more excited to see what Avengers: Endgame and the sequel can do for a character that I believe has a lot of potential moving forward.