'Captain Marvel' Review: The Most Marvel Movie Ever Defies Expectations
One of my favorite scenes from Captain Marvel happens when an ugly green alien screams in Brie Larson’s face. For any normal person, it would be a horrifying experience, but for her character, a badass Kree-Human hybrid, it’s just another day as the most powerful member of Starforce.
And so Larson leans in and screams right back, mocking the alien before hitting it right in the gut. Her hair is a total mess the whole time, but she doesn’t care. She’s here to kick some ass. It’s glorious.
As Carol Danvers (that’s the human name for the person the Kree aliens call “Veers”), Larson is effortlessly cool, whip-smart, and the most powerful being in the universe. By the end of Captain Marvel, she feels more relatable than Thor, Captain America, or Iron Man. She’s also immediately likable.
Captain Marvel feels new and absurdly weird in so many ways, but it also manages to be the most Marvel movie that Marvel Studios has made, blending together the easygoing charm of its characters, pristine action sequences, and shifting plot dynamics into a tidy package.
Avengers: Infinity War might have been the culmination of 10 years’ worth of characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but Captain Marvel is the distillation of a decade of those themes, crafted into what’s probably Marvel’s most universally accessible film for casual viewers. It would be easy to think Captain Marvel couldn’t shake up the MCU, which has been built up over 21 movies now. Except it does.
With that accessibility, Captain Marvel does feel slightly “safer” than other more recent Marvel films, like Ant-Man and the Wasp, Black Panther, and Thor: Ragnarok, each of which took greater stylistic risks than other MCU movies. But Captain Marvel also comes across as so much more earnest and, dare I say, realistic, thanks to excellent performances by Larson as Danvers, Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, Ben Mendelsohn as the Skrull Talos, and Reggie the Cat as a ginger feline named Goose who’s more than he seems.
Most Marvel films are carefully scripted with deliberate, calculated humor. When Groot says, “I am Groot!” on the battlefield of Wakanda in Infinity War, and Captain America responds with, “I am Steve Rogers!”, the moment is an inside joke shared by millions who had seen the previous movies.
On the other hand, Captain Marvel’s humor is chuckle-worthy at best, and mostly mined from Larson and Jackson’s buddy-cop relationship. Danvers and Fury are fast friends who recognize the heroism in each other. Their chemistry and dialogue feels natural in a way we haven’t really seen before in the MCU.
The real star of Captain Marvel, however, is Goose. Every scene with Goose, a cat, is also a treasure — even the ones that are clearly CGI’d.
As different as Captain Marvel feels from other MCU movies, it still operates off its familiar storytelling formula. Most single-hero MCU movies focus on the gimmicky premise, often involving a male hero and the burden that comes with his legacy or reputation. But Captain Marvel feels refreshingly earnest, as Danvers smashes through boundaries and navigates an intergalactic war between the Kree and Skrulls as it makes its way to Earth.
References from the ‘90s pepper Captain Marvel. Danvers’ grunge style, the soundtrack, images of troll dolls and Nerf guns — it’s all there. The movie fuses those Earthly matters with a cosmic narrative in a way that no Marvel film outside the Avengers movies has done before.
As Marvel’s first female-led superhero movie, Captain Marvel addresses the role gender plays for her character, specifically in 1990s America. It also doesn’t dwell on gender-related issues for long, or let them get in Danvers’ way.
How would human men in the 1990s interact with a woman wearing a spacesuit who behaves like an alien? What was the reality of women in the Air Force in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s? Captain Marvel plainly addresses these and other questions related to gender in smart, poignant, and sometimes comical ways before quickly moving on to the next action sequence or joke.
The movie also sets itself apart by flipping the dynamic of a single-hero Marvel movie. Many of these movies simply take a hero and remove what makes them special because it’s an easy way to grapple with themes of identity when people define themselves too much by what they do — Who is Tony Stark without his Iron Man armor?
Captain Marvel flips the script: What if you take a hero and strip away everything but their powers? What if they were just an über-powerful blank slate?
Larson spends much of the movie playing an overpowered amnesiac, starting out as a Kree soldier with no memory of her past. Captain Marvel uses this situation to offer some interesting ideas about identity: Even though she’s brainwashed, her true self still emerges in challenging moments, and that person is funny and endearing, with a heart as big as her power levels.
At no point during Captain Marvel do we ever really get the sense that people are capable of growth or change. There’s only the belief that they can realize who they were all along.
Danvers comes across as a self-possessed person who doesn’t need powers to be a hero. Being female feels inconsequential, but it’s not ignored. Welcome to the new norm.
It isn’t a spoiler to say that Danvers’ adventures soon draw her back to Earth. There, she confronts an invasion from the shapeshifting aliens called the Skrulls, who present a fitting foil for a hero who has no clue who she is or her capabilities.
With or without her real memories, Danvers never hesitates to be the hero. We see she’s been doing this her whole damn life, and in Captain Marvel, it appears she’s only getting started.
Captain Marvel will be released in theaters on Friday, March 8, 2019.