Ever since DC Comic's Wonder Woman shattered box office records and won over critics and fans alike across the globe, a new path has been paved for women in comic-book movies. And whilst it may seem almost ridiculous to hold movies about superheroes in tights as an important medium for representation, this could not be further from the truth. Once ridiculed as cinematic self-sabotage, comic-book movies are now billion dollar industries: Kevin Feige's Marvel Cinematic Universe all but rules the box-office nowadays. As superheroes in themselves have become such a fundamental part of childhood, along with Star Wars and Harry Potter, there is something very satisfying in young girls having a figure to look up to on the big screen, especially one devoid of stereotype, cliché, and who takes no prisoners.
As an origin story for a largely unknown character (Marvel has worked magic with harder source material- they made Ant-Man successful after all) Captain Marvel is refreshingly different from the rest. Rather than taking us through our protagonist's humble origins, the discovery of their new-found powers (be it through nuclear waste, radioactive animals or other honoured tropes of the genre) and their mastery of said powers, Captain Marvel begins with our main character, Vers (pronounced Veers) already possessing her extraordinary abilities, living upon Hala, a technical utopia, as a member of the elite strike force of the alien race of the Kree, locked in a bitter war with the shape-shifting alien Skrulls. Vers (played by Brie Larson) is plagued by constant nightmares of a past-life and a violent accident, though is unable to recall anything other than her arrival on the Kree home-world. Aided by Yon-Rogg (Yes, the names are a bit silly), her military commander and confidant (played by the ever-brilliant Jude Law, who whilst charming hints at the arrogant, condescending holier-than-thou personality of the Kree behind a veneer of friendliness), she is cautioned to always keep her emotions in check, as they make her inherently weak, despite Vers struggling to control her pride and occasionally rage, flaws which thankfully make Larson's protagonist human and fallible rather than a bland ‘Mary Sue’.
The film's first act (whilst admittedly confusing to those who have not meticulously followed the Homeric saga of the Marvel Cinematic Universe) is a visual treat for any science-fiction fan at heart. From the futuristic metropolis of Hala to sand-blasted ruins of alien planets that could have been torn straight from Frank Herbert's Dune, the cosmic universe is stunningly portrayed and established, accompanied with hectic, flashy action scenes and visually striking presentations of both the Kree and Skrull factions (the CG used for the Skrull's shapes-shifting effect in particular is quite unsettling). Yet the CG reliant first-act rapidly risks becoming bogged down in spaceships and often clunky exposition. It is only when Vers arrives on Earth that the story truly begins to pick up. Suddenly we are thrust away from intergalactic warfare and into the world of the 90s- a forgotten time when flannel was cool, Blockbuster still existed and bands like Nirvana and Salt N' Peppa ruled the charts. There is admittedly a tingle of nostalgia exploited here, but the atmosphere fits with the often intentionally flashy and zany alien antics portrayed in the movie. Larson adapts well to the role of "fish-out-of water" as Vers struggles to piece together her very sense of identity, a task made all too difficult by the arrival of S.H.I.E.L.D- cue a satisfying cameo by Clark Gregg (as S.H.I.E.L.D agent Phil Coulson) and of course the arrival of Samuel L Jackson himself as the legendary Nick Fury, sans eye-patch.
This is clearly a different Fury to the suave, grizzled spy-master we have met in previous movies, as Fury's younger self is much more easy-going, calm and humorous (Samuel L Jackson's limitless stores of charisma are perfect for the role) and the chemistry between Larson and Jackson as comedic foils to one another bursts off the screen. The Skrulls (long-time fan favourite villains in the comics) serve as entertaining villains, in particular Ben Mendelsohn as Skrull General Talos, who brings an ironic, dry wit to the character that sets him apart from other cartoonishly megalomaniacal villains so prevalent in films of the superhero genre. Furthermore the Skrull's shape-shifting abilities at times add a sense of paranoia to the movie, of who to trust. One is reminded of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. And without revealing any details, the more perverse and unexpected details of the true nature of the Kree-Skrull war serve to add a layer of subtlety and intelligence to what is on the surface, a black and white conflict. Add to this brief but fun cameos from Djimon Hounsou and Lee Pace (reprising their roles as Kree warriors Korath the Pursuer and Ronan the Accuser from Guardians of the Galaxy) and the universe ties itself neatly together.
Yet in a film led by women, it is important to shed light on the amazing performances delivered by the female cast. Lashana Lynch is on top form as Maria Rambeu, Vers’ (real name revealed to be Carol Danvers) best friend, and not only shies firmly away from the awkward and played-out stereotype of "sassy black friend”, but delivers dialogues and monologues with powerful emotion and conviction (even though to my surprise her role was smaller than the trailers had perhaps led me to expect.) Annette Benning stands out as Dr Wendy Lawson, Danver's mentor whilst she was on Earth as well as portraying the chillingly autocratic and ruthless Supreme Intelligence, an A.I ruler of the Kree who appears differently to each individual as the person whom they most respect. The scenes within the Supreme Intelligence's domain are some of the most entertaining of the entire movie.
But how can we forget the eponymous character herself, Captain Marvel? Larson outdoes herself in her role as protagonist, delivering a portrayal of a confident, at times cocky and playful heroine who nevertheless is burdened with flaws and struggles and the emotional damage of reconciling her memories as a Kree with her past life on Earth. She can be funny and witty, and also impressive, and when Captain Marvel takes flight, she does so explosively, with a message of such infectious inspiration only the most depressive cynic could ignore it.
Which brings me to one of the more important aspects of Captain Marvel as a whole. Since the film's release it has been bombarded and plagued by internet trolls frothing at the mouth and whinging at the film's obvious "girl-power" message. And whilst at certain times the film does lose its grasp on nuance a little, this is not Jane Austen. It is a product aimed at children as well as adults in which a woman flies and shoots laser beams out of her fists. It is fine to be a bit goofy, as Captain Marvel is aware of not taking itself too seriously (the villains are called Skrulls after all) and when all is said and done, is there really something that inherently wrong in Captain Marvel, a female superhero, sharing the limelight that Spider-Man, Captain America, Iron Man and Thor have all basked in? Not at all. And at the heart of the matter, any critic so insecure that they are willing to damn and demonise a movie simply for having a female lead and promoting a message of female empowerment isn't worth having their opinion considered remotely valid.
There are perfectly reasonable criticism to be levied against Captain Marvel (the first act can be confusing, certain characters are less developed than others, the script is at times weak and awkward) but the act of promoting a feminist message does not (in my book at least) merit criticism on a film as a whole.
All in all, despite a few hitches along the ride, Captain Marvel, whilst never outstandingly exceptional, is just plain fun. It is creative, visually breath-taking, action-packed and occasional gems of emotion truly shine, though not as bright as the performances of its talented and star-studded cast, who give depth and dimension to the film as a whole. Add to this genuine humour (Captain Marvel's cat, Goose in particular steals every scene), an extremely touching series of homages to the late, great Stan Lee, and the sheer exhilaration of watching the cosmic Captain Marvel finally take flight, glowing like a supernova to take on her foes, Captain Marvel as a whole remains a film that not only takes major strides in empowerment, but is simply an all round great time, and I look forward to see Larson's heroine in later installations go higher, further, and faster.
Pablo L, Year 12